Chinese Newsstand

Chinese Newsstand480
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One Essay Response

  1. Tristan Brown | 2014 Second Prize Winner says:

    A Chinese man selling newspapers and journals from a mobile cart. This touching scene captures a moment and a method of the dissemination of information that has become ever rarer in today’s China. This man puts a series of recent newspapers and journals on his mobile cart, and customers can browse freely and leisurely. The man in this photo probably did not worry much about theft; he knew many of his morning and afternoon clients. He never expected to get rich through this profession. He probably just wanted to get by and pay some basic bills. Most importantly, as customers skimmed over the day’s news, this man could give a word or two of commentary or recommendation – a kind of insider’s view from the streets – from the perspective of a person whose job it is to sell the news. In this photograph, we are treated to a moment when, maybe due to a lack of customer or simply a mid-day rest, he shuffles through his own papers to look for a headline which catches his eye. Yet he is not bored, not does he dislike the job: this vendor has agency and power more than his humble cart might imply.

    The practice of selling newspapers in this fashion became common in Hong Kong during the first half of the twentieth century and gradually spread to the mainland in subsequent decades. These carts have almost completely been replaced by much more daunting and less inviting stands in twenty-first century China. At the time this photo was taken, this vehicle of information (the news cart) was mobile. In the image, two rocks have to be placed on either side of the wheel to prevent the cart from moving. At the end of the day, he would take his cart back home. The place on the street where his cart stood that day would be empty by night’s fall.

    This beautiful photograph captures a system of distribution of knowledge and allows viewers to see it on par – as important – as the information itself. We get a living example of what Manuel Castells has defined in his trilogy, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture as “production, power, and experience” (2000), localized social dynamics produced through and invariably linked to the economy, state, and social order. This is experience: the image informs by documenting a way of knowing that informed the self and societal narratives of a generation. In this image, we see China as a media-saturated society and as a developing information society (Giddens: 1991), but one which has still retained a personable experience of information consumption. In this pre-internet world, customers might need advice on which news or magazines to consume as they head to work. The man in this photo was that middleman, whose functions are no longer necessary with the increasing saturation of the information society we see in embryo here. At last, there is a feeling of dismay that perhaps the decline of persons like this has left the distribution and commentary of media information to invisible and powerful actors.