Director of “Man Zou: Beijing to Shanghai” reveals China on bike

Imagine traveling 1,000 miles from Beijing to Shanghai…by bike.  That’s exactly what four American guys decided to do after the Olympics in 2008.  Equipped with cameras, a map, and their bicycles, they were able to capture the true essence of China’s people, culture, and environment, untarnished by the lens of Western media.

Director of the documentary “Man Zou: Beijing to Shanghai,” Jason Reid, 32,  treks through China to tell of how his view of China changed, as well as what dog meat tastes like.  The documentary is being submitted to the Shanghai International Film Festival in June.

Why did you pick China to film your documentary?

The China project hashed when a couple of friends suggested that we go on bicycle tour from Bangkok to Beijing for 2008 Olympics.  There is website called Bike China with a bunch of routes and there was a bunch of Chinese guys who would take people on these trips.  That’s where we found Doven Lu (their guide).  He was our lens to see China.

What image did you want to portray to your audience about China?

We had three major goals.  I wanted to see what the growth actually looks like economically, socially, and technologically.  I wanted to see it with fresh eyes as opposed to what Western media would like to dictate.  We just wanted to go there with open mind, with little to no preconceived notion or research, and just let China reveal it to us.

Second was the environmental aspect of it. By going on bike, you are more connected with environment more so than if you are in a car.  It was an interesting dichotomy to see what Beijing is like with blue skies where people are doing things to regulate the environment, versus Shanghai which is an industrial area.

Third was to look at the relationship between China and the U.S.  Our goal was to learn more about the country that is so mysterious over here and that is only seen through lens of Western media. It was also an opportunity for us to break down the preconceived notions people have of China.

How did cycling through China bring a new perspective to how you viewed the country?

It revealed a country much different than what Western media would like to be.  It was open, and people were happy and proud of their country.  People didn’t seem mad and oppressed. They took pride in their country and what China has accomplished in past 10 years.  They were proud of new standing place in world.

On the environmental front, a lot of people think China isn’t doing anything about the problem, but in actuality, China has been extremely focused on that. They realize this model of growth isn’t sustainable and they don’t want unrest.  They have to do something or else they’re going to have unrest of people.

You mentioned the food was awesome, but what’s the weirdest dish you had?

Blood liver.  It’s essentially solidified blood.  There were multiple questionable meals. In the movie there’s a scene where Kevin’s eating a chicken head.  We also had dog.  It was a lot better than the other things I mentioned in terms of straight taste, but the thought of it was the worse.

In the film, you said the paparazzi took pictures of you and your crew.  People asked where you were from and did things like touch your arm.  How did it feel to be treated that way?

I wasn’t expecting that. By the time we got into these towns, it was crazy.  We were the minority.  We were four white dudes and were the only white people in cities of over a million people.  People were completely and utterly bewildered that we were bicycling from Beijing to Shanghai.  They couldn’t get their head around it.  It was very rare that we had a negative experience. I think we were getting chased by  a woman with broom when we were riding by, but that’s about it.

Describe the difference between the lifestyle in China and America.

Man Zou means “walk slowly” in Mandarin. China historically has been an agriculture society.  The way of life in small towns is the “walk slow” philosophy.  In big cities it’s getting further away from that and becoming more Americanized.  They are trying to keep up with America and grow economically, and so they are gradually losing that slow agricultural style.

People want to keep the slow pace of life, but because of globalization and how China is growing, China can’t maintain that lifestyle.

Want to watch Jason and his crew cycle through China? Catch the film on its website (streaming free until April 4).  Don’t forget to check out the Facebook site!

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