Two of China"s first and most daring citizen reporters challenge the status quo by reporting on censored news stories and pushing the boundaries of free speech. Armed with laptops, cell phones, and digital cameras they travel the country as independent one-man news stations while learning to navigate China"s evolving censorship regulations and avoiding risk of political persecution.
In April 2007, 27-year-old vegetable seller Zhou Shuguang a.k.a. "Zola," heard about a family in a neighboring province locked in an unrelenting battle with city developers bent on leveling the neighborhood. Moved and curious, he decided to close his vegetable stand and see things for himself. This marked the beginning of his career as a roving citizen reporter. Inspired by a search for truth and the potential for fame, Zola challenges the boundaries of free speech with his comedic and provocative reporting style. Two thousand kilometers away in Beijing, 57 year-old Zhang Shi He a.k.a. "Tiger Temple," had closed his struggling bookstore and was riding his bicycle throughout mainland China in an effort to document rural life and "rewrite the history" of China"s Cultural Revolution. With one eye on history and the other on the very current struggles of the lives he witnesses, Tiger Temple"s thoughtful use of language and historical references is a marked contrast to Zola"s irreverent and entertaining approach. But both men are making contributions to social progress while offering those within and outside of China a rare glimpse at untold stories. China"s rapid economic and technological developments have created a vast new social space for a restless blogosphere to step up and fill information gaps left by China"s state-run media. In this space, citizen reporters can become online heroes and celebrities but they must also learn to walk the risky line between social commentary and perceived political dissidence. Zola"s media-savvy instincts help him do this, and his technical prowess allows him to circumvent China"s strict censorship barrier, aptly called the "Great Firewall." Tiger Temple prefers the unconfined title of "Ccitizen recorder," and a more objective and observational reporting style has allowed him to disseminate news stories largely uncensored. To both of their surprise, however, they each run into difficulties with local authorities and must find ways to continue their work safely. HIGH TECH, LOW LIFE documents the inspired efforts of these two roving reporters and the achievements of a fearless new digital populace. From the perspective of vastly different generations, Zola and Tiger Temple must both reconcile an evolving sense of patriotism, social responsibility and personal sacrifice. The juxtaposition of Zola"s coming-of-age journey from produce vendor to internet celebrity, and Tiger Temple"s understated and life-long commitment to understanding China"s historical and social issues provides an alternate portrait of China and of news-gathering in the 21st century.