The Chinese bloggers featured in the new documentary High Tech, Low Life insist they are not breaking any laws. The reaction to their New Media reporting, however, casts a light on the country’s distrust of freedom as well as social and political injustices.
Director Stephen Maing’s film, available now via iTunes and slated for a July 22 broadcast via PBS’s POV documentary series, follows two bloggers whose work fills in the gaps left by the state-controlled media. The pair expose government malfeasance, exploited workers and other issues ignored by the country’s mainstream journalists.
Maing says he knew right away after meeting “Zola,” a 20-something blogger with a charming smile and zest for publicity, he had found a ripe subject for a documentary.
“I was surprised that no one was making something about him,” Maing tells Big Hollywood.
For both Zola and “Tiger Temple,” a 57-year-old blogger with a strong connection to China’s history, the documentary offered a chance to garner more international support. Maing says local officials operate in an understated manner when it comes to questioning those who share information online, pressuring such bloggers to back off on certain sensitive topics while sharing tea in some instances.
“In some situations like last year’s high speed railway tragedy, the Chinese Communist Party understands that to maintain their control of power, they must also occasionally let citizens believe they are expressing themselves freely online,” he says.
In the film, Zola insists he is not a journalist even though he helps break news.
“It’s a system they don’t want to associate with … what they’re doing is telling a counter-narrative,” he says.
Maing says the High Tech subjects are affecting change in China, albeit one small story at a time. They also want to change their fellow citizens.
“Everyone has a responsibility to speak out against injustice whenever they see it,” he says. “This is a new era, and the technology of social media and the internet are new kinds of tools.”
In a New Media age, people in countries where freedoms are closely monitored are finding ways to report on censored news as best they can, but not without some degree of risk and personal sacrifice. It’s a message the High Tech bloggers want the world to know.
“One of the biggest forms of censorship is self-censorship,” he says. “People can speak out more than they realize.”