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March 4, 2021

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Poverty and coronavirus fight gives rise to promise for future

CAMERON Andersen, an Australian, was shocked when a Shanghai law firm asked him to start work the next Monday at the end of a phone interview a decade ago. He arrived on a Saturday evening, giving him only one day to familiarize himself with the city before starting his new job.

Andersen has now moved on to become a veteran TV anchorman in China.

“That was the biggest decision of my life,” he said of the offer that brought him to the city. “I was still in Australia. I thought, ‘I need to decide whether to go. I need to pack …’ Nowadays, I am used to this kind of speed after spending 10 years in Shanghai.”

Speed is reflected in the title of his new two-episode documentary entitled “China on the Move.”

The 60-minute documentary presents intriguing personal stories and various creative ideas related to China’s antipoverty campaign and post-pandemic recovery.

The film is presented by Andersen and Jenny Cortes Ybanez.

Andersen is best known in China as host of the travel show “Getaway,” a bilingual show that takes viewers on adventures around China and the world. The work has taken him to numerous rural areas of China and to more than 40 countries around the world.

Ten years ago, when he first started living in China, local people asked him if Westerners ate only hamburgers, and Westerners constantly asked him why he had decided to live in China.

Nowadays, the comments have shifted. Many Westerner compatriots now tell him that he was lucky to come to work in China when he did because access is more difficult now.

Andersen characterizes his stay in China simply.

“I brought the world to the Chinese,” he said, “and now I want to introduce China to the world.”

Though he has been in Shanghai for many years, he said he remains very much a foreigner.

“I have some difficulties in the Chinese language sometimes,” he said. “But I am also proud to be a foreigner in China. I still get surprised from time to time by what’s happening in the country. That’s a perfect balance to tell the China story. You have to get the facts right.”

Co-produced by Shanghai Media Group’s documentary center and UK’s Lion Television, the new documentary was broadcast locally last week, with Chinese subtitles. It is being prepared for airing internationally.

Production teams from China and the UK selected eight stories that they believed would resonate with Western audiences. Among those appearing in the documentary is Liang Zhongmei, who lost the use of one of her arms at age 7 but went on to master traditional embroidery that sells in high-end shops in Shanghai and London.

Another profile in the series is Li Fengjie, the “superhero” deliveryman who walked nearly 50 kilometers back into Wuhan in January 2020 when he heard his fellow residents there had been quarantined due to coronavirus. He said he wanted to help them.

Andersen said he was surprised when he went to interview Li in Wuhan last September.

“It felt like he was a hero rushing to the scene, but he said he was just doing his job,” he recalled. “Real heroes are very modest.”

The host said he was also impressed by Wuhan, a city he briefly visited once years ago.

“It was September, and in China, the pandemic was quite under control by then,” he said. “I felt completely relaxed there. Everyone in the city had been tested. They wanted to be tested. And China was able to provide all those tests. The city was absolutely gorgeous, and people were still wearing masks. I joked that it was the safest place to be.”

Andersen said he was planning to do a commercial film, but it was canceled due to the sudden outbreak of the virus.

“Wuhan is now world famous for all the wrong reasons,” he said. “I want people to know not about the pandemic there but how the people in the city emerged from it. If Wuhan can do it, why can’t other cities? The city’s experience could even become a tourist attraction for foreigners.”

Having seen China from both inside and out, Anderson said he tries to understand why the country is so misunderstood.

In his interview with Anta Sports livestreamers, when the pandemic started, all outlets of the sports brand were closed, and staff turned to livestreaming studios.

“In the beginning, the company asked employees to personally use platforms to sell the shoes,” Andersen explained. “If I look at it from my Western view, that’s an invasion of privacy and taking over too much. But then, it is necessary sometimes to step back and realize that desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s so hard to make the right decisions fast. But they did it.”

He also did a program on Alibaba’s “virtual” eco-initiative. The project accumulates virtual tree seeds and lets users plant virtual trees when they use the Alipay app for payments. Alibaba then pays for real trees to be planted in western regions of China suffering from desertification. Farmers in those regions, in turn, are offered jobs to do the planting and benefit financially.

Aware of the negative reporting on China in mainstream media and social media platforms outside the country, Andersen said he sees hope in the younger generation.

“The youngest generation didn’t grow up with war,” he explained. “They are not heavily influenced by the labels of older generations.”

He added, “The next generation of Chinese is starting to think like Westerners. They cheer individualism, and hence you see a lot of innovation. The next generation of foreigners is starting to think like Chinese, seeing strength in grouping together through the Internet, such as in the recent Gamestop stock story.”


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