Issue #8: China's winter sports frenzy + tutoring industry collapse + Dongbei's Pauper Paradise
Great stories you may have missed recently.
It’s Beimeng, Charlotte and Yan here. This week we are back to a regular issue of Far & Near, with visual stories produced by Chinese photojournalists and documentary directors that you should not miss.
The 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics are over. Will the Games spark a long-lasting passion for winter sports in China? We recommend two visual stories from one ice rink in Beijing—one about a 77-year-old pensioner nicknamed Mr. Lawrence who’s been ice skating for decades; another about the boom in figure skating among children and teenagers that shows the popularity—and cost—of winter sports.
We also highlight a video that follows three laid-off tutors looking for new opportunities after a government crackdown on private tutoring; a long-term photo project about students cramming for the national graduate school entrance exam; and a photo/video story about a beerhouse for laid-off workers in Northeastern China.
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China’s winter sports frenzy
Beijing promised in 2015 to attract 300 million people to participate in winter sports during its successful bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. That goal has apparently been achieved, according to a report released by the National Bureau of Statistics. While this government-run campaign took a lot of top-down measures, such as constructing sports infrastructure and adding winter sports to school curricula in some regions, we think it’s worth highlighting some human stories that reveal why people are drawn to ice and snow (or not).
Ji Kaifeng first began skating in his 30s to enjoy the speed. When his 15-year-old son passed away after a heart attack, he skated to cope with grief. Now at 77, he skates every day at the ice rink in the Guomao shopping mall in Beijing to dance and immerse himself in the music. He became widely known as Mr. Lawrence after a video of him skating to the soundtrack of the 1983 film “Merry Christmas, Mr.Lawrence” went viral. This video by Tencent Guyu Story captures Ji’s happy-go-lucky attitude to life and his candid interactions with young reporters from different news publications eager to get his take on life. Watch the video here.
The same ice rink is filled with children taking figure skating classes on weekends. For some, figure skating is just one of many extracurricular activities they pursue. For others, it’s a sport that can help them get into a good high school and college. However, ice skating is no working-class sport. It costs at least 1 million yuan ($160,000) for a skater to learn to complete a double axel, according to Tencent. View the photos here.
The (un)affordability and popularity of winter sports are analyzed in a data story from The Paper. Among children and teenagers, figure skating, skiing, curling, and hockey are the most popular winter sports, all of which require hundreds, even thousands, of dollars of investment in equipment. Check out the data visualizations here.
What else we’re seeing:
In July 2020, China launched the “double reduction” campaign, cutting back homework and banning off-campus tutoring in the hopes of lifting the financial burden for parents and improving education equality in the country. The sudden announcement and rollout of the policy caused massive disruption for the booming tutoring industry—several private institutions filed for bankruptcy and thousands of tutors were laid off overnight. Arrow Factory followed three former tutors as they explored new career paths in the aftermath of the crackdown.
Of the 4.5 million students who took China’s national postgraduate entrance exam and received their results in late February, not even 1 in 3 will make it into a graduate program. The number of exam-takers has increased sixfold compared with two decades ago, when photographer Chen Dong, a college faculty member in Anhui province, began taking advantage of his unique access to document the extraordinary examination phenomenon. Students study under almost any condition—under the stairs, at odd hours, inside garages—seeking moments of silence and focus amid crowded Chinese campuses. Chen’s photographs illustrate the lengths many are willing to go to get ahead in a highly competitive job market and a culture of meritocracy and elitism.
Following China’s economic reforms of the 1990s, factory workers in the northeastern Rust Belt lost their “iron rice bowl,” or jobs thought to be secure for life. In the shantytowns of Shenyang, Liaoning province, known locally as “Pauper’s Paradise,” people sought comfort in cheap dance halls, noodle joints, and bars. But decades of demolition and development have left Paupers’ Paradise with only Wanshun Beerhouse, a place with $1 beers frequented by laid-off workers. The owner, Wang Fengying, was also previously laid off herself. Sixth Tone’s Wu Huiyuan recently published a profile video of the establishment and of the bar’s characteristic regulars. Wang shares her struggles to keep the place as she ages: “If this place disappears, where will all these lonely souls go?”
What we noticed:
The Nord department in France suspended the loan of 280 artworks from the Matisse Museum to UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, citing concerns over geopolitics amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While emphasizing that they had not received an official notice from the French authority, UCCA announced on March 3 that the exhibition “Matisse by Matisse”, which was set to open on March 26, would be postponed. This may be the first cross-border cultural event in China affected by the country’s tie to Russia since the war began.
Who we are:
Yan Cong is formerly a photojournalist currently pursuing a research MA in new media and digital culture in Amsterdam.
Beimeng Fu is a video journalist based in Shanghai. She is a lover of languages and documentaries.
Ye Charlotte Ming is a journalist and photo editor covering stories about culture, history, and identity. She’s based in Berlin and working on a book about her hometown’s German colonial past.
Writers: Beimeng Fu, Ye Charlotte Ming, and Yan Cong; Copy editor: Andrew Menezes
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