It is said that when the government fails to protect and address the interests of the people, the job is passed down to the fourth estate. But what happens when the press becomes another arm of the government? Director Stephen Maing offers his answer in “High Tech, Low Life,” a documentary about two Chinese bloggers, Tiger Temple and Zola, reporting on the news the government feels is “unfit” to publish.
Zhang Shihe, known online as Tiger Temple, is a fifty-something “citizen reporter” whose distrust of the Chinese government has prompted him to travel and report the overlooked issues in impoverished rural China.
The quirky, cat-loving bachelor began blogging when he captured a brutal murder on his phone’s camera. When police arrived on the scene, their primary concern was not catching the culprit, but questioning Zhang about the photographs he took. Zhang reminds us that perception is power, and the Chinese government will go to great lengths to preserve its image.
Turning to the newer generation is the story of Zhou Shuguang (Zola) whose attitude towards Chinese censorship is far more volatile. As interested in social awareness as he is in personal fame, the thirty-something blogger reflects a cheekier attitude. While Zhang’s contempt for the government comes from its failures to provide for the people who built it, Zhou’s views are more Westernized. The youth seeks not to protect the forgotten peasantry and elderly, but to promote individuality over the group thinking that dominates Communist culture. Loud and self-promoting, Zhou’s blogs always frame himself—his interactions with locals and his reactions.
The full force of the Chinese propaganda in the film is lost in translation. Best viewed in its original Chinese, “High Tech, Low Life” excels in its ability to capture the irony of modern Communist China, a world best demonstrated by one Beijing local whose shanty home was scheduled to be demolished by the Reconstruction Bureau. He put up posters of Communist party leaders and the great Mao so any destruction of his property could be construed as anti-party actions. This move has halted demolition plans.
Throughout the film, the clash between Tiger Temple’s view of blogging and Zola’s view of blogging is very evident. Nevertheless, the result is the same—a gradual knocking down of the Great Firewall of China.