China’s First Citizen Reporters Leaping the Great Firewall Chronicled in High Tech, Low Life


“Zola” in High Tech, Low Life. Photo Credit: Stephen Maing.

New York, May 20, 2013HIGH TECH, LOW LIFE, award-winning filmmaker Stephen Maing’s chronicle of two of China’s first citizen reporters as they travel the country  documenting underreported news and social issues stories while facing censorship for leaping China’s ‘Great Firewall’ – will  be released June 18 on iTunes in North America, with a roll-out on other digital platforms to follow, through the Sundance Institute Artist Services program and its exclusive aggregation partner, Cinedigm. HIGH TECH, LOW LIFE will also make its National Broadcast Premiere as part of the 26th season of the award-winning PBS series POV (Point of View) on Monday, July 22, 2013 at 10 p.m. (check local listings).

HIGH TECH, LOW LIFE follows 57-year-old “Tiger Temple,” who earns the title of China’s first citizen reporter after he impulsively documents an unfolding murder and 26-year-old “Zola” who recognizes the opportunity to increase his fame and future prospects by reporting on sensitive news throughout China. Armed with laptops, cell phones, and digital cameras, they develop skills independent of one another as one-man news stations while learning to navigate China’s evolving censorship regulations and avoiding the risk of political persecution. From the perspective of vastly different generations, Zola and Tiger Temple must both reconcile an evolving sense of individualism, social responsibility and personal sacrifice. The juxtaposition of Zola’s coming-of-age journey from produce vendor to Internet celebrity, and Tiger Temple’s commitment to understanding China’s tumultuous past provides an alternate portrait of China and of news-gathering in the 21st century.

In April 2007, vegetable seller Zhou Shuguang, aka ZOLA, hears about a family in a neighboring province resisting unlawful eviction by city developers. Moved and curious, he decides to close his vegetable stand and see things for himself. After posting reports on “the toughest nailhouse,” a reference to citizens who stubbornly resist eviction like a nail stuck in wood, his blog receives thousands of hits and requests for him to report elsewhere. This overnight fame jumpstarts an unexpected career as a roving citizen reporter. Inspired by a search for truth and overnight fame, Zola begins to travel the country, giving his own comedic and provocative take on the news and challenging the boundaries of free speech in China.

Two thousand kilometers away in Beijing, 57-year-old Zhang Shihe, aka TIGER TEMPLE, is dubbed China’s first citizen reporter when he stumbles upon and impulsively documents the scene of a gruesome murder. After his photographs are censored from mainstream media, he is compelled to post them on his blog. Angered by propaganda-driven mainstream news, he commits himself to looking for other untold stories. 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 reference is a marked contrast to Zola.

Strangers to each other, Zola and Tiger Temple share a common desire to offer those within and outside of China a rare glimpse at censored stories – and to stay out of trouble. 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 the 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. And at a time when social media is playing an increasingly vital role in social progress around the world, their work asks us to reconsider the value and meaning of journalism.

“In the early years after the Great Firewall was installed, I was intrigued by the stories of young Chinese ‘netizens’ who were circumventing the online barriers, what they called ‘leaping the GFW’,” says director Stephen Maing. “I wanted to make a film about youth, activism and technology, but after getting to know Zola and Tiger Temple over the course of four years of filming, I realized their stories revealed a deeper narrative about a new China still trying to reconcile with its painful Maoist past. As a new China hurtles toward a rapidly changing future, the government and online netizens continue to try to outsmart each other, and people like Zola and Tiger Temple are emerging as the forefathers of a brave new civil society.”

Maing adds, “Since completing the film in April of 2012, the number of Internet users has skyrocketed to over 513 million, over 300 million of them using some form of social media. Advancements in online censorship include increased numbers of Internet police and engineers as well as web monitors employed by privately owned Internet companies. Among the numerous new policies and regulations to control online content, the government has formed The State Internet Information Office to organize these efforts and more effectively control online activity.”

About Stephen Maing – Director/Producer/Cinematographer/Editor
New York-based filmmaker Stephen Maing co-produced and edited the award-winning documentary Lioness, which premiered on PBS’ Independent Lens; produced and shot the short documentary The Hunted and the Hated; and directed the narrative film Little Hearts. He works as a director, cinematographer and editor and is an adjunct professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston. Maing, whose parents emigrated to the United States from South Korea, was born in New York and grew up in Colonia, N.J. He graduated from Boston University with a double major in art history and film production. He is a fellow of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and a recipient of grants from the MacArthur Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts and ITVS. HIGH TECH, LOW LIFE is his first feature documentary as a director.

HIGH TECH, LOW LIFE has screened at dozens of internationally acclaimed film festivals since last year, picking up several awards along the way. To name a few: Best Documentary Special Jury Prize, Independent Film Festival Boston, 2012; Best Documentary Film, Little Rock Film Festival, 2012; Best Cinematography, Woods Hole Film Festival, 2012; Emerging International Filmmaker Award, Open City Docs Fest, 2012; Spirit Award, EBS International Documentary Festival, 2012; Official Selection, Tribeca Film Festival, 2012; Opening Night Film, Lens Politica Film and Media Art Festival, 2012; Official Selection, Hot Docs, 2012; Official Selection, Sheffield Doc/Fest, 2012; Official Selection, Movies that Matter Film Festival, 2013; Official Selection, Docaviv International Film Festival, 2013; and Official Selection, One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, 2013.










Dir. Stephen Maing
85 minutes, 17 seconds
In English, Mandarin, Chinese dialects and Romanian with English Subtitles
A co-production of Mud Horse Pictures, ITVS and American Documentary | POV, in association with the Center for Asian American Media.   
Made available online in North America by Sundance Institute Artist Services program.
For more information on HIGH TECH, LOW LIFE, visit

About Sundance Institute Artist Services
The Sundance Institute Artist Services program provides Institute-supported artists with exclusive opportunities for creative self-distribution, marketing and financing solutions for their work. The exclusive aggregation partner for distribution across all portals participating in the Artist Services program is Cinedigm. The Artist Services initiative is made possible by The Bertha Foundation. These deals were brokered via pro bono legal services generously provided by law firm O’Melveny & Myers, which has built the legal framework for the Artist Services program and participating filmmakers since its inception.

About POV
Produced by American Documentary, Inc. and beginning its 26th season on PBS in June 2013, the award-winning POV is the longest-running showcase on American television to feature the work of today’s best independent documentary filmmakers. POV has brought more than 365 acclaimed documentaries to millions nationwide. POV films have won every major film and broadcasting award, including 32 Emmys, 15 George Foster Peabody Awards, 10 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, three Academy Awards® and the Prix Italia. In 2012, POV achieved a new milestone, winning five News & Documentary Emmy® Awards. Since 1988, POV has pioneered the art of presentation and outreach using independent nonfiction media to build new communities in conversation about today’s most pressing social issues. Visit 

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    China has long said it is a victim of hacking. Here was a contractor for American intelligence who had fled to Hong Kong saying he wanted to expose US “hypocrisy”; China’s claims, he said, were true.

    Do this and get somewhere in the world.

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