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  • Jul 13, 2014
  • Updated: 1:37am

Voices of a new China

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 August, 2011, 12:00am

As global power shifts from the West towards the East, China has come under the media spotlight. Many people are keen to document changes in the country at a pivotal point in its history.

British photographer Adrian Fisk's project, iSpeak China, gives a rare insight into the preoccupations of young Chinese.

Fisk says the idea for his project came about when he realised how little he knew about the young people that will have a great influence on the world's future.

'It is these young generations that will become future leaders, industrialists, thinkers and politicians,' he says. 'To find out where the world is heading, we have to talk to the ones who are inheriting it and see what they think about life.'

With his camera, large sheets of white cardboard and a translator, Fisk travelled through China for a month covering thousands of kilometres. Beijing, Guangxi and Quangsu were among his many destinations.

On his way, he stopped young Chinese people, aged 16 to 30, randomly on streets and encouraged them to write down whatever was on their minds. Some scribbled their statements in Chinese, others in English. Those who could not write were photographed holding a blank page.

To break down cultural and psychological barriers, Fisk coaxed his interviewees into speaking up freely. 'Sometimes they asked me what I wanted them to write,' Fisk recounts. 'But I told tell them it's not about me. It's about you.'

The young people he met addressed a variety of issues. They spoke about their family and career and serious topics like migrant labour and cultural differences.

'Huge cultural differences exist between the east and the west,' wrote Li Qisheng, a computer science teacher from Liaoning. 'Do not tell us what to do.'

Another placard displays a message by Jia-jia from Guangxi: 'Nowadays many young people do not care about the development of China and the world. They only care about themselves.'

One of Fisk's best shots was taken in Inner Mongolia. In it sheep herder Ba Te-er sits on horseback holding a blank piece of paper.

'It is a powerful image reinforcing what he said: 'Without my horse I am nothing',' Fisk explains. A ban on keeping livestock, he adds, turned the sheep herder's world upside down. He is now making ends meet as a tourist guide with his horse.

Many of Fisk's interviewees questioned China's one-child policy. One signboard reads: 'If I had a sister, it would be better.' Another person counters: 'I don't want children.'

Fisk says he discovered that the government's family planning programme has put a lot of pressure on young people.

His collection of pictures have swept across major Chinese web portals and forums. Fisk says even many Chinese people admit they are surprised by what their compatriots think. 'We are the lost generation. I'm confused about the world,' Avril Liu, from Guangxi,said.

'Young generations are facing a multitude of choices against the backdrop of materialism and consumerism,' Fisk notes. 'I think they are feeling somewhat lost and confused in this whirlwind of change that is taking place.'

Fisk is now planning to take his iSpeak project global in a new two-year project. He will visit 25 countries to interview young people. His first stop is likely to be Egypt. It is important, Fisk stresses, 'to create dialogue between different societies, people and cultures. This project also gives them a chance to learn more about each other.'

Visit www.adrianfisk.com for pictures of iSpeak China

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