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From Mountains of Taishan to Faces of Amsterdam – Interview with Photographer Jimmy on the Run

His past in China, his present in Amsterdam and his future in photography – Jimmy is always on the run.

Manya Koetse

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Fashion & Street Photographer Huang Jianmin a.k.a. Jimmy is the focus of the recently released short doc Jimmy on the Run by filmmaker Wytse Koetse. The short film [7 min] shows Jimmy’s passion for the lens, his dynamic lifestyle, and his struggle with family expectations. What’s on Weibo spoke to Jimmy about his past in China, his present in Amsterdam and his future in photography.

 

ANOTHER LIFE

“I had never even seen a city until I was 12 years old.”

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I meet Jimmy in his home in the city center of Amsterdam. It is the first time we meet, but I feel like I know him quite well – it is because I have seen the short doc Jimmy on the Run that gets up close and personal with this photographer and his work. On Jimmy’s comfortable couch, we talk about his life in China, his love for the streets of Amsterdam and the journey he’s made to get where he is today.

“I was born and raised in a village in China’s Guangdong province,” Jimmy, whose Chinese name is Huang Jianmin (黄健敏), begins: “Taishan is my hometown, Taishanese [台山话] is my native language. We lived in a rural area on the outskirts, which was like a small village. There was nothing there when I was young. I had never even seen a city until I was 12 years old. It has now changed enormously; there’s even a train going there. It was a good place for me to grow up. I could play outside with my friends all day. We would catch fish, go up the mountain and pluck fruit from the trees.”

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“My dad started working in Amsterdam when I was seven years old, so I mostly grew up alone with my mum. Many people from Taishan leave for America or Europe. Already since the 1900s people from [tooltip text=”Taishan is known as the No 1 Home of Overseas Chinese.”]Taishan[/tooltip] left in great numbers to the ‘Old Gold Mountain’ [旧金山, San Fransisco].”

“I was sixteen when my mum and I also moved to Amsterdam. I was afraid to leave China, and actually did not want to go. But gradually, I started to see that life in the Netherlands might bring me new opportunities. Some of my friends in Taishan are jobless now. If I would’ve stayed, I probably would’ve been married and have my own family now. I’d be in the village, and would go to the big city once a year. But my life turned out differently.”

 

COMING TO AMSTERDAM

“I was lucky to discover my love for photography – it saved me.”

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“I soon discovered I really liked Amsterdam. It’s easier to get what I want here. It’s colorful and people are very approachable. I have been to big cities like Hong Kong, New York and Paris, but never got that same feeling there. People are down to earth here. Amsterdam might not be a fashion city like Paris, but Amsterdam sure is a people’s city.”

“I started out doing different jobs after I arrived in Amsterdam. I never graduated from any school, because of the language barrier and the different educational systems in China and the Netherlands. I would work in Chinatown supermarkets, help out in restaurant kitchens here and there, sort out the luggage at Schiphol Airport. I was also a mailman for some time, and worked as a cleaner in houses. I once found a dead guy while cleaning. After that, I was no longer afraid to get my hands dirty.”

“I am prone to addiction, and this started becoming somewhat of a problem after I came to Amsterdam. I developed an addiction for gaming. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I don’t gamble – but I couldn’t stop gaming.”

“Some years after I’d moved to Amsterdam, I had a girlfriend and it was through her that I first got interested in photography; she had a brother who was into it. He would take pictures at parties. I thought it was pretty cool. I would play around with my father’s camera, but then bought my own first camera in 2008 – I was just smitten with it. I started going out into the streets with it. I would search for something to shoot, and would always find it. I was lucky to discover my love for photography – it saved me from gaming. It became my new addiction.”

 

JIMMY ON THE RUN

“I am used to running after things – I’ve done so all my life.”

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“Taking self-portraits became a way to express myself. I did not take these pictures to represent myself to others, but to record a moment in time and try to capture the feelings I had. It was something personal.”

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“One time when I was out taking photos, I saw a girl on the streets. She probably was around 16 years old, and was very slender with long legs. Blue jeans jacket, boots and a cigarette dangling from her mouth. When I saw her, I knew I had to take her picture. I am used to running after things – I’ve done so all my life. But this was the first time I ran after someone to take a picture, and it turned out perfect. She was the start of me taking pictures of people. I started blogging and getting active on social media. I then became Jimmy on the Run.”

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“I can’t really explain how I work in doing street photography. It’s a feeling. I met a 17-year-old ginger boy today, and I thought: I need to talk to you, I need to photograph you. There will always be people saying no when I ask if I can take their picture, but you still need to ask. It has made me more confident.”

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“Faces, fashion, people moving – my photographs are about the moment someone gives me. I like unique faces, they don’t have to be pretty. I like anything that’s timeless. Portraits, classic looks. I don’t feel like I need to capture the era we live in, I want to capture the moment we live in. My photos should still look good on your wall fifty years from now.”

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“Filmmaker Wytse Koetse liked my pictures, and started following me on social media. I also liked his work, especially the short documentary Cola Chicken. It was real, simple and pure. I loved the scene where Chen Chen [the main subject] talks about how he loves dogs, but also eats dog meat, and then says sorry to the dog. That guy is real, that’s the real shit.”

“I did not just agree to him filming me because I liked his work, but also because I felt a little lost at the time and it helped me. I had just started as a freelance photographer. It was the right timing. Wytse started coming over and followed me as I worked. We spent so much time together that we became much closer throughout the process of filming. The documentary initially was supposed to be just about my work, but in the end, it also became more about myself. We talked a lot, and I’m quite a sensitive person. My father is the man I respect most, but he’s not proud of me. When I start talking about him, I often have to cry. It’s good to face yourself. Things are much better now. If I’m gonna show my dad the documentary? I’m not sure yet. Maybe later.”

 

BETWEEN CHINA AND AMSTERDAM

“I grew up with Deng Xiaoping, but we learned that Mao was the sun. He was like a God to us.”

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“Amsterdam has helped me open my eyes to new things. In China, I always felt restricted. In school, I had to wear a uniform and the teachers were very strict. I grew up with Deng Xiaoping, but we learned that Mao was the sun. He was like a God to us. We had one cinema and the only movies we saw were those about Mao fighting against the Japanese. Of course, my parents had it much worse than me and my life was good, but I did not feel free. Amsterdam has changed me. I look differently at life now. I never really saw things over there. I now see fashion, and see different scenes. Like the gay scene – I had never seen something like that before.”

“In China there is a great divide between the rich and the poor. In Amsterdam, there is this overall vibe of people being people – it doesn’t matter if you’re homeless or a celebrity. It’s one of the reasons I love Amsterdam so much; there’s a sense of equality.”

“For me, Holland means freedom. I can dress how I want and say what I want here. In China, I cannot. I was once hit when I tried to take a picture in Hong Kong. I am not sure I want to try to do photography in China anymore. I am more scared to do it there.  I feel safer here. People here are very straightforward, and I like that: yes is yes, no is no. Shit gets done this way.”

“I don’t miss my life in China, but I do miss the food. I used to go back a lot, but now not so much. I sometimes feel a bit caught between China and Amsterdam. I’m a mix of both now. Many of the second generation Chinese who were born in the Netherlands don’t understand me. I was not born here, and our backgrounds are very different. I don’t consider them Chinese like me. But at the same time I can no longer move back to China, because I might be too Dutch now. Although I must admit, I am not as open-minded as Dutch people are. My parents will never be my ‘friends’, like it is for many Dutch here. Anyway, there is no way I could indefinitely move back to China, maybe only for a year or so. I can’t handle the smog. My friends in Shenzhen have started to look old. Besides, there is no life there for me now.”

 

CHOOSING A NEW PATH

“There’s no sweet without sweat – you have to work hard to achieve your dreams. ”

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“Am I a street photographer or a fashion photographer? I am both. Street photography is in my heart. I want to mix street and fashion. My style is raw, I like to keep things as authentic as possible. I’m rather nostalgic and have a soft spot for the 1950s and 1960s. Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Gray, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon. I love doing everything analog, not digital. I hate social media. I need it because it helps me, but I hate it. I used Chinese microblogs before, now I use WeChat and have Tumblr, Facebook, my blog and my website. I sometimes post very personal stuff and people don’t even see it. Every time you post something on social media you give away a little bit of yourself.”

“The relationship with my parents is now good, but they are more traditional than I am. My mum is somewhat more western than my dad is. My dad is the one I respect most in this world. I love him. But I cannot let go of the fact that I don’t make my father proud. He envisioned another life for me than the one I chose. They’d hoped that I would’ve been married by now, with kids.”

“My dream for the future? I am a one-child-policy kid, and I’ve always been jealous of people with brothers or sisters. I hope to have at least two children one day. And I would really love to have a daughter. I would take her to Disneyland. She can dress up as Batman, I’ll be Robin.”

“I also want to publish a book with my photos. It will be called the Faces of Amsterdam. I hope I can work for high-end magazines. For now, I’ll just keep on working hard. I live by ‘xian ku hou tian’ [先苦后甜, Chinese expression]: ‘there’s no sweet without sweat’. You have to work hard to achieve your dreams. That’s what happiness is, right?”

This interview was conducted and condensed by Manya Koetse in Amsterdam.

To watch the short film about ‘Jimmy on the Run’, see the featured video on top of this article, or go view it at Filming Freedom. For more of Jimmy’s work, see www.jimmyontherun.com.

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Arts & Entertainment

‘American Factory’ Sparks Debate on Weibo: Pro-China Views and Critical Perspectives

‘American Factory’ stirs online discussions in China.

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Award-winning documentary American Factory is not just sparking conversations in the English-language social media sphere. The film is also igniting discussions in the PRC, where pro-China views are trumpeted, while some critical perspectives are being censored.

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Even as China posts its lowest industrial output growth since 2002, Weibo’s ongoing reaction to Netflix documentary American Factory is rife with declarations of the Chinese manufacturing sector’s impending victory over its US rival. This, however, is not the full story.

The first documentary distributed by Higher Ground Productions, owned by former US President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, American Factory painted a damning picture of Trump’s protectionist policies.

US manufacturing cannot keep up with the brute efficiency of its Chinese competitors. The story of a shuttering American factory revived by Chinese investment and an influx of Chinese workers, opening up a Pandora’s Box of cultural clashes, paints a telling, but pessimistic, picture of the current strategic conflict between the two superpowers, from the ground-up.

Image via Netflix.

Despite the Great Firewall, Chinese netizens found ways to watch the documentary, that was made by Ohio filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. Temporary links to streaming and subtitle services litter the Chinese Internet, making any accurate count of total mainland viewership nigh-impossible. However, one indication of the film’s popularity among mainlanders was the 259,000 views for a trailer posted on Bilibili.

One likely reason for netizens’ interest is that it neatly plays into Chinese state media rhetoric on the US-China trade war.

The inevitability of China’s rise up the global supply chain (and a corresponding decline on the US side) is a recurring theme in opinion pieces penned by the likes of Xinhua and Global Times, but also an increasingly louder cacophony of bloggers.

 

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing.”

 

One Chinese company (Wind资讯) posted on Weibo that “what Obama means in this film, in a very oblique way, is that anti-globalization will produce a lose-lose scenario.”

The official Weibo account of Zhisland, a Chinese networking platform for entrepreneurs around the world (@正和岛标准) posted a review of the Netflix film titled: “Behind the Popularity of American Factory: Time Might Not Be on America’s Side” (“《美国工厂》走红背后:时间,或许真的不在美国那边了“).

It warns the audience right off the bat to “not assume that this film will promote cooperation between China and the United States. In contrast, it will surely stir up mixed feelings among both audiences.”

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing,” Zhisland writes. The article argues that China will win out due to its lower labor costs, lack of trade unions, and more disciplined managerial styles. “It’s an uneven playing field,” the author continues: “Time may not be on America’s side.”

Toward the end, the author claims: “We are about to enter a new era in which China will gradually become the most dominant player in the global marketplace.”

The fact that many on Weibo shared these kinds of pieces as a reaction to the documentary suggests there is confirmation bias at work here. As is common on Weibo and other social media, comments on the pieces like the above simply rattle unsubstantiated claims, frequently descending into ad hominems.

Another Weibo user (@用户Mr.立早) adds comments when sharing the above article: “The American workers repeat Trump’s mantra, but won’t act on it. They’ve been idling for almost a century. They’re hopeless.”

 

“American Factory tells you: separate the US economy from China, and the US will go bankrupt.”

 

Chinese state media also chimed in on how American Factory proved their most important talking points on the ongoing US-China trade conflict.

Xinmin Evening News, an official newspaper run by the Communist Party’s Shanghai Committee, published an article by Wu Jian called “American Factory Tells You: Separate the US Economy from China, and the US Will Go Bankrupt” (“《美国工厂》告诉你:将美国经济从中国分离,美国会破产“).

In this piece, Jian claims that “in the age of globalization, ties between China and the US cannot be cut. Using high tariffs to force U. S. manufacturing return to the States… is simply not realistic. Separate the US economy from China, and the U.S. will go bankrupt.”

The article was also shared widely on Weibo. Thepaper.cn, an online news site affiliated with Shanghai United Media Group, published a review titled “American Factory: The Things that Are Spelled Out and the Things that are Implied” (“《美国工厂》:那些说出来的,和没有说的“).

The author, Xu Le, writes: “What struck me most about the film was the look on the faces of the American workers. All of them … had the same burnt-out expression… Their faces reminded me of photos of people in the late Qing Dynasty. That dull expression reflects a civilization in decline.”

“We’re a family at Fuyao” American workers listen to a rosy speech from their new bosses.

In the film, When American foremen visit a factory run by glass manufacturer Fuyao in China, they are alarmed to see Chinese workers picking up glass shards without safety glasses or cut-resistant gloves.

A Chinese worker picks up glass shards with minimal safety equipment, shocking his American co-workers.

Xu comments: “Why is it that Chinese workers are able to put up with even more drudgery while being paid far less than their American counterparts? This is something we Chinese are very familiar with.”

 

“Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

 

Qin Hui, professor of history at Tsinghua University, once argued that China’s economic growth isn’t because of economic liberalism or government oversight, but because of China’s refusal to guarantee certain basic human rights.

In Maoist China, the state stripped the underprivileged of all political power in the name of the greater good dictated by socialist dogma. Post-Mao China continues to exploit the underprivileged, but now for monetary gain. He called it China’s “advantage” of “low human rights.”

Despite the nationalism sentiment fanned by American Factory, it has also provoked reflection on China’s advantage of low human rights summarized by Qin Hui.

Weibo user ‘Zhi21’ (@ZHI2i), a recent college graduate, writes on Weibo: “I just finished an internship at a factory. I worked 12 hours a day. More than 11 hours of every shift was spent on my feet without stopping, just to keep up with the assembly line. It didn’t make sense to me. After watching American Factory, I feel like American workers are lucky to only work 8 hours a day. That’s why the production costs are higher in the States. They pay too much attention to whether or not workers are comfortable.”

Another Weibo blogger (@GhostSaDNesS) notes that “in American Factory, Fuyao employees believe that to work is to live. They defend the interests of capitalists while they are actively exploited. Unions in the West chose human rights, Chinese capitalists chose profit, and Chinese workers have no choice at all.”

Some of these posts were apparently censored; threads that displayed as having over 200 comments only showed 12, and users complained that their posts were being deleted or made invisible to other users by Weibo censors. “They didn’t give any explanation,” one blogger wrote: ” I only expressed that I felt sorry for the people at the bottom. I didn’t question the system. I didn’t ask to change society.”

Views like that of @Crimmy_Excelsior (“I was confused. Which country is the capitalist one and which country is the socialist one?“) are apparently sensitive enough to be taken offline – they touch upon the tension between the CCP’s espousal of Marxist-Leninism and the plight faced by hundreds of millions of Chinese that have their working conditions driven down by capitalist markets.

Many users don’t buy into nationalist interpretations of the film, and argue that economic gain achieved at the expense of human rights is shameful. @陈生大王 raises a poignant question: “This is a glorious time for China, but I hope this film inspires you to think about who you really are as an individual. Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

“The cost of the glory” is derived from a quip popular on China’s internet. The Chinese government often urges its citizens to rally together, using the rhetoric, “We must win this trade war at all cost.” Some netizens then twisted the phrase, saying, “We must win this trade war at all cost, and we later find out that we are the cost.”

 

“China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.”

 

Even among those in favor of China’s controversial work ethics, there have been concerns over the status quo. Earlier this year, engineers in the tech industry publicly aired their grievances about their “996” lifestyle. The term refers to a high-pressure work schedule of 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This is the kind of life workers in Fuyao are living, with no hope of improvement – they are that the company would find a replacement in no time, making any form of complaining moot.

Recent events in mainland China only increase the credibility of this representation. Factory workers at Jasic, a maker of welding machinery in Shenzhen, attempted to start a union last year. All those involved were fired. A number of college students and activists who actively supported the workers were detained and persecuted.

According to the “China Labor Movement Report (2015-2017)” by China Labor Bulletin (a NGO based in Hong Kong that promotes and defends workers’ rights in the People’s Republic of China) “intensification of social conflicts, including labor-capital conflicts, has crossed a tipping point, and directly threatens the legitimacy of the regime.”

More conspicuously, there are netizens that don’t buy the narrative that Chinese workers are innately “tougher” than their American counterparts. As user @胡尕峰 observes: “(In the film), a new Chinese CEO explains to his fellow Chinese that Americans have been encouraged too much growing up, and can’t take criticism. Chinese born after 2000 have been raised the same way! In my circle of friends, some mothers nearly faint when their babies are finally able to poop. Is China going to end up the same as America?”

American Factory’s objective portrayal of cultural shocks between American and Chinese workforces clearly generated thoughtful reflections and incisive criticism from a sizeable number of netizens, while also being another reason for Chinese state media to highlight the rise of China in the global market.

The chairman of Fuyao Group, Cao Dewang, made headlines this week with the quote: “China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.” “We indeed worked hard for it,” some commenters agreed: “That’s definitely true.”

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Edited by Eduardo Baptista

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Arts & Entertainment

Famous Chinese Nursery Song “One Penny” Inflates to “One Yuan”

One penny becomes one yuan in this children’s song. What’s next – changing it to QR codes?

Manya Koetse

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Famous Chinese children’s song “One Penny” (一分钱) has changed its penny to a Chinese yuan ($0.15).

The lyrics to the song are now published online and in children’s books with the different lyrics, Chinese news platform City Bulletin (@都市快报) reports on Weibo.

The altered text in a children’s book.

The classic song, in translation, says:

I found a penny on the street,
And handed it over to Uncle Policeman.
The Uncle Policeman took the penny,
And nodded his head at me.
I happily said: “Uncle, goodbye!

The song, by Chinese composer Pan Zhensheng (潘振声), is known throughout China. It came out in 1963.

Apparently, in present-day China, nobody would go through so much hassle for a penny anymore, and so the text was altered (although it is very doubtful people would go through the trouble for one yuan either).

The penny coin (0.01) in renminbi was first issued in 1957, and is somewhat rare to come across these days. “It’s probably even worth more than one yuan now,” some netizens argue.

Chinese media report that composer Pan Zhensheng said the song is just an innocent children’s song, and that it should not be affected by price inflation. Sina News also quoted the composer in saying that changing the text is “not respectful.”

Although some Chinese netizens think the change in the song is just normal modern development, others do not agree at all. In Hangzhou, some say, all you can find on the streets nowadays is QR codes rather than coins. Surely the song should not incorporate those new developments either?

Some commenters on Weibo say the song would never be realistic in China’s current cashless society anyway: “Kids nowadays are not finding cash money at all anymore!”

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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