Land in China: Über Touchy

On his personal blog, Jonah Kessel writes about the making of his three-part video project ‘China’s Consuming Billion’, which accompanies the second installment of The New York Times’ latest series on China, ‘Leaving the Land’. The series looks at China’s government-driven effort to urbanize and how it is reshaping a nation with thousands of years of history of rural life.

Kessel’s first video zooms in on a family in Xi’an who were relocated from their rural village to a housing estate of high-rises. They explain how they left all their old belongings behind and furnished their new apartment from scratch. The other two videos are yet to be released. Kessel speaks about the unexpected, sometimes scary obstacles he encountered:

Throughout the three videos I interviewed dozens of people, and only once did an interview go uninterrupted without problems … that interview was with Jonathan Woetzel, of the McKinsey & Company.

While I never felt in danger, or physically threatened, time-after-time 10 minutes into an interview my subjects would change their mind and back out. It happened over and over again. Other times, the interviewees would become scared for me and tell me I should leave before someone knows I’m there. One time while filming on a street, the subjects pleaded with me to move on, because other journalists had been beaten up there in the past.

[…] Although the sources don’t have much to hide, the fact that there’s so much fear means something shady is happening. They’ve already been through a lot and tying to figure out when to push to get a story done can be tricky. But when dozens of interviews fail, this becomes exhausting. [Source]

Stay tuned for Kessel’s next two video installments, which will be released alongside articles by Ian Johnson in the New York Times.

Catch up on The New York Times ‘Leaving the Land’ series part one and part two, via CDT.