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November 28, 2020

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China shown through lens of foreign youths

USAMA Kalim, a 27-year-old university student who grew up in rural Pakistan, always longed to live in a big city until he experienced rural life in China.

While in China, Kalim joined the “Looking China Youth Film Project” and directed a short documentary about a young Chinese Lang Xiaoyong, who gave up his job in the big city and chose to start a business near his hometown in the countryside.

The project, co-hosted by the Huilin Foundation and the Academy for International Communication of Chinese Culture since 2011, aims to present Chinese culture to the world through the lens of young foreign filmmakers and promote communication between younger generations in China and overseas.

Kalim’s protagonist Lang was born in Shiping Village, southwest China’s Chongqing. In 2015, he went back to his hometown to develop rural tourism.

Kalim learned from Lang that tourism benefits villagers by providing them with job opportunities and giving funds to local primary schools.

“I am so touched by him. He came from a poor family, but he didn’t disdain himself because of that,” said Kalim.

“Lang was always one of the top students in the class and endeavored to get a well-paid job in the city. He could have continued his urban life, but he chose to come back and do something for his hometown,” he added.

During his seven-day stay in the village, Kalim was moved by Lang’s struggle and discovered the keys to his success — a range of improved rural infrastructure that includes cement roads, convenient communications, sufficient water and power supply.

“As some countries still concentrate on urbanization, China is working on village transformation. The Chinese government did a lot of work in rural areas. I believe this is the biggest draw for Lang,” he said.

In the village, Kalim found that people he met always wore a smile and would say hello to him warmly, with some villagers also offering him local delicacies, he said.

“Rising from a backward situation, China has taken serious efforts to seek development. And now that China owns the world’s cutting-edge technologies, it has begun to help other countries,” said Kalim, adding that he sees Lang’s life experience as a typical example of the rapid and positive changes in the country.

Over the past decade, a total of 610 young foreigners have visited China through the program, producing 609 short documentaries.

Joseph Dwyer, an American director, has joined the program twice to record the development of transportation in China.

Six years ago, curious about how people moved around in populous cities, Dwyer visited north China’s Tianjin and made a documentary called “Through Tianjin.”

“I rode buses, taxis, subways, electric bikes and walked around on foot, filming as many different aspects of transit as I could. I really enjoyed seeing and filming the wide variety of places around the city,” he said.

Last year, he was invited to China again and made a short video on the railway linking Beijing and Zhangjiakou. It was known as China’s first independently designed and built railway.

“China is on a relentless pace of construction to connect the country together with modern transportation and high-speed rail,” said Dwyer.

The scale of such initiatives is really impressive, and high-speed rail unlocks considerable positive economic potential when citizens can take high-speed rail quickly and easily between large cities, he added.

As for his impression of his two visits to China, Dwyer said there is a lot China can offer to the rest of the world when it comes to high-speed rail and transit technology, and he appreciated China’s unique culture, work ethic and progress.

“Right now the world is very tense, and relationships between countries are not at their best, but I think through the continued free exchange of ideas and culture through programs like Looking China, we can work together to promote a better shared understanding between cultures and create a more positive world,” said Dwyer.

He added that he is looking forward to continuing to use his skills in sharing images and visual language to support that effort.

Adria Guxens Chaparro, a 28-year-old Spanish director interested in Chinese culture, was invited to China last year and presented the 10-minute documentary “I don’t think it is going to rain” to the Malaga film festival in Spain.

His video records the daily life of an elderly man and his grandson in Shanghai and reflects on the intergenerational relationship specific to China. “These unique emotional bonds between generations make a unique and great China,” he said.

Chaparro said this program helps him discover new experiences, broadening his artistic horizon.

He said that because of the COVID-19 epidemic, he cannot visit China this year, but he plans to join the program again to go deeper into rural areas and find out more about China.


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