Portrait of an LBX: A Search for Humanity in China

cnreviews introduces us to the crew writing Portrait of an LBX (laobaixing), a blog documenting in English and French the travels by bike of three foreigners who are seeking out everyday, run-of-the-mill Chinese citizens and their stories. From the blog’s self-introduction:

We’re interested not in how wonderful is the world of the modern Chinese man or how his comforts are tripling or how his access to information is ever increasing. All of that too has been well documented, but more importantly implies movement by something greater than the man while the man passively receives from below. The essence of an animal is lost when it is described in terms of its ever bigger cage with air conditioning and more nutritious food – and harmony among its co-cage-dwellers. No, we’re searching for how the modern Chinese man flourishes in his own environment, where he feels relaxed and free. We’re out to tear down the walls of his cage to find signs that red blood still flows in his veins and that he has potency on his own.

Don’t get us wrong — this project is not meant to be destructive toward people or the systems in which they live, although God knows we’d love to have the magic button to destroy a system or two. We’re philosophers, and as philosophers, we’re out to seek inspiration in an old place full of secrets that can further our enlightenment, and hopefully at the same time further enlighten anybody who stumbles upon our work. A rather pertinent Chinese saying goes something like, “The essence of a mountain is not in its height; the presence of immortals there makes it celestial. The essence of a body of water is not in its depth; the presence of a dragon there makes it divine.” So we’re not looking for big mountains or deep waters; we’re looking for remaining traces of divinity and immortality embodied in humanity, which we value more highly than the physical observations that point thereto.

Or, in other words:

China is a world where the currents of reality run deep, and the waves come hard and fast. Many are either drowning or just barely staying afloat, but we’re not interested in them, pitiable though they may be. We’re looking for those who craft their own boats and sail atop the waves. That said, most of the characters we seek are hanging onto little bamboo rafts while huge tankers dominate the straights. We’re interested in getting to know these raft pilots, where they go, and why they go there.


The most recent post
finds the trio in on a search for a real live Chinese Jew:

Before I proceed to the meeting, I should describe more in depth the surroundings in which we found ourselves. Recently I explained to a Chinese friend that the purpose of our trip is to better understand China, and to do so we are going to spend as much time as possible cruising through farm villages. “Laobaixing aren’t only on farms, you know!” she responded, and all of a sudden I realized that we can’t just leave 30% of the country’s population – the city dwellers – without mention. Here in Kaifeng and especially in the old alleys we were probing existed a dense, palpable cultural vibe. There were hawkers and food stands – mostly Hui Muslim – and old stores and even older courtyard dwellings. In every nook a table could be fit were elderly playing chess or Mahjong or cards, and everywhere people bustled. Just down the road on our way out of the alley we stumbled upon a group of old musicians performing the most beautiful old Chinese opera from their house. An old blind man deftly pulled at his erhu while a female accompaniment knocked out the beat on two pieces of wood, and a graceful old woman stood stiff as a board belting out the tune. If we hadn’t had to keep moving to our appointment, I could have stayed and listened for hours. (video to come) There was charm in this part of the town.

The site also includes many photos and videos, because part of their quest, according again to their self-introduction, is a search “for beauty in the form of mastery of the art of human life.”

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