Wukan Journal Unfinished

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Using a fat Chinese man, a large backpack, a baseball cap and the hood from my sweatshirt I attempted to hide myself.

I was hiding in between the beefy man and a 35 kg f-stop Satori camera bag on the back of the fat man’s motorcycle. He drove me down a dark dirt road in the middle of the night near the uniquely autonomous village of Wukan, Guangdong Province.

I was hiding from those that might not want attention drawn to this small village of about 13,000 people.

Town Meeting

Earlier in the week, pissed off villagers had over thrown their leaders and in mass numbers forced the police out of town. When the police came back, they setup barriers and created a stronghold around their fishing community, only letting in sympathizers.

The New York Times’ Edward Wong described it as:

The outsiders had come to see how furious residents had transformed their village on China’s southeast coast into a temporarily autonomous zone. Their anger focused on two issues: what they called illegal land sales by village officials, and the death on Dec. 11 of a village advocate while he was in police custody. The villagers chased out Communist Party officials, repelled an assault by police officers and barricaded all roads leading into Wukan with tree trunks. The two police stations in the village stood empty. So did the headquarters of the Communist Party committee.

This was not a new conflict nor is it unusual in China. The villagers were protesting illegal government land grabs. And after a village representative was killed in police custody, they had simply had — enough.

Wukan Protest

Within one week of the Telegraph’s Malcome Moore breaking the story — the stronghold had drawn media attention from all across the globe and eventually landed me at what would be the tail end of the conflict. The international media gave the small village the ability to rage “a propaganda war.”

And while I certainly missed the hot part of this story, I think I may have witnessed the strange part.

It makes perfect sense to me that people would be mad about government land seizures and certainly over the death of a villager — however, what didn’t make sense to me was the “end” of this story.

Taking down protest banners

My video journal above for the New York Times gives a brief outline of what happened, but to me it seemed not much was resolved — given how mad everyone was days earlier.

Minutes after the protest ended life seemed to go back to a pretty normal state pretty quickly.

Wukan Villager

During my last interview with reporter Edward Wong, the crowd was dispersing from the town hall meeting. While people slowly drifted away, a pancake vendor frantically shuffled his cart out to the crowded street to capitalize on the mass numbers. This was the China I knew. Someone had to take advantage of the opportunity and make money.

The pancakes were delicious …

Ed and I walked down to the ocean to see the fishing port. Fisherman were getting their boats ready and some young kids played on a dock as the sun set over the small town that had made global headlines.

Fishing Boats

The “ending” to me seemed to abrupt. Its hard to believe it could end so peaceful and so suddenly after what had occurred. And as one villager put it — ““I’m afraid they might come and take people away … The local government always says one thing but does another.” I hope for the sake of this village, this man is wrong.

But for now, it seems the book has been left open …

Video Journal

Media Scrum

My video goes along with a written journal by Times’ reporter Edward Wong. See Ed’s journal here.

This package comes out today on nytimes.com and is a bit different than the reporting that has previously been done on the incident. While we give the news, our assignment was for both of us to give a more personal story of what it was like to come to the village and the process in which we watched the news unfold. This falls into the “journal” category of news rather than a traditional “this is what happened” type report.

From a reporter’s perspective this was a bit a media circus. Toward the beginning of the video I show one shot of reporters almost being run over by a minivan with a village leader in it, as one example of the amount of media there.

To see how this story unfolded check out Timess staff earlier reportage on the event:

While I was shooting video for this assignment, I kept a camera attached to my hip with a Blackrapid RS 7-Strap. The photos from this post are mostly taken with one hand while holding a camera rig in the other.


Although this video is pretty straight forward, on the technical side, if was hard to produce. The video journal (top video) was produced Thursday night/Friday morning Beijing time in between 12:00 am and 5:00 am. However, I had made a news clip one day earlier for TimesCast that also had tough deadlines. Working DSLR’s and breaking news can be very tricky with workflow, especially with file sizes and transmitting times. The news clip above was actually edited from the back of a crammed car in the middle of the night. Transmitting from this type of remote location slowed data rates down to about 15 Kbps which forced me to convert all video down to 720p and quality to below 50%.

One reporter I saw at the scene had a proper microphone attached to — just a cell phone camera with a tiny steady cam on it. Compared to caring around tons of weight, glass and a shoulder rig — this is amazing. Given that the information needs to get out as quickly as possible, if you are put in the scenario where the files will be compressed anyway, this almost makes more sense. It allows reporters to be extremely mobile and transmit and much faster speeds. However, the down side would be if you actually wanted your footage to look good post event …

Smoking VIllager

With my normal workflow, all files out of a Canon DSLR get immediately re-codaced into Apple ProRes to make editing easier and export quality better. This step really slows down your work flow so for the news clip directly above, I skipped it and the main journal at the top of this post, was re-codaced.

While the quality you can get from DSLRs is great, I think they are less than ideal for stories like this that need to be turned around as soon as possible … otherwise, you might find yourself getting very little sleep.

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