Since my first solo trip to China, each trip and experience reminds me about how fortunate I am. Since graduating and becoming a young adult, my recent trips to China have extended beyond my cravings to go to the club, enjoying the perks of having the worth of the American dollar extend beyond my means of leisure (eating out everyday, massages, facials etc.), and enjoying the benefits of being an ABC. My recent trips have opened my eyes the the economic disparities and division between the upper and lower class, leaving me to ponder on why the middle class is so small (does it exist?). As I explore different Chinese cities, my eyes are not immune to the common extremes I see, on a street you might see a kid younger than me driving a Maserati (just one of his/her extensive collection of rare cars), yet down the same road, another kid, making ~14RMB/$2 an hour (I asked) at a local restaurant. Unlike the U.S. where I believe it is common to have a blue collar job and still grow up to have a bright future, the brightness seems to be dimmed in China. With my growing curiosity, I asked many of my native Chinese friends about the likely hood of individuals being able to create the future they dream of. Sadly, an overwhelming majority of their answers came to the same consensus, its very unlikely for many of individuals to escape the social class they are born into. The sheer amount of people, robust competition, and limited amount of resources, makes it difficult, while not impossible, for them to truly create the life they envision, essentially, Chinese equivalent to the “American Dream” has yet become a defining characteristic of the country. While I am hyper sensitive to this in China, it sadly exists throughout the world.
When I think about China, I think of a society that is not only financially rich, but also rich in culture. Yet, in recent years, I feel like much of what is shown or spoken about is China’s rapid development and booming economy. This impressive feat has opened China to the outside world, but, to me, it seems that it has also divided the country into two main groups/populations, upper and lower class, co-existing but living very different lives. While many Chinese individuals have benefited from the booming economy, the other subset seems to have been left or frozen in time. It’s crazy that one can go to Beijing and see a ultra-modern, well cultured population, but down the road, you can visit traditional Chinese 胡同’s (Hutongs), alleys filled with traditional residences, and see communities of individuals that seem to live in a pre-China economic development era.
My intention for this shoot and story is to to capture these two separate cultures, societies, and populations that, at the same time, co-exist.
The hair for first part of the story, “modern” China, is inspired by ancient imperial hats worn by government officials during the Ming Dynasty, 乌纱帽 (wu shu mao). The clothing is sleek and clean to represent the population that progressed with the economy. On the other hand, the second half of the story was shot in the 胡同 (Hutong), I lived in while I worked in Beijing. The styling and choice of location is symbolic of the grunginess, yet, beautiful nature of the China that has seemed to be left behind but is still an integral part of China’s culture and society.
I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed shooting it, it is my hope that individuals can see the stark differences between both sides of China, yet, can still appreciate the beauty in both.
featured on Sicky Magazine
& thank you.
After being away from Beijing for 3 years, I came back with little to no resources, but with the help of friends, word of mouth, and luck, I was able to assemble a team of artists and pull this shoot off. Thank you to everyone involved, those that shooting with me day of and those who shared my photos, and sent me messages.
& to my amazing Beijing team - THANK YOU!
Photographer/Creative Director: Me
Hairstylist: 程文 | Cheng Wen
Models (China Bentley):
Wang Xuan Bo