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Andrea Hsu

Journalism Versus Backbreaking Work

We've all had days of feeling like work is just too hard.

Today was one of them for me.

A few of the interviews we were hoping to do fell through. I left my apartment only briefly, to go buy a Coke because I needed the caffeine.

Then, looking for something to blog about, I came across these photos I took on a visit to nearby Qingcheng Mountain the other weekend.

And I suddenly felt sheepish for feeling so sorry for myself.

Man Carries load

A mountain porter carries corrugated sheet metal up Qingcheng Mountain. Andrea Hsu, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Andrea Hsu, NPR

That day, we saw a bunch of these porters carrying construction materials up the mountain.

I didn't get a chance to ask this man (above) how much he makes, but another guy carrying a sack of cement mix in a basket on his back told me he earns 110 yuan a day (about $16), for two 3-mile trips up to a spot where a guesthouse is being built.

Men cross bridge

Earlier, I saw these guys carrying sacks of cement mix up the mountain. They'd finished for the day and were heading home. Andrea Hsu, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Andrea Hsu, NPR

I saw that same guy with a few other porters after they were done for the day. They were bounding down the mountain so fast I couldn't get to them in time to snap a good photo.



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I remember those men carrying things!

I met them when I climbed QingCheng and Emei Mountain decades ago. I felt very bad at that time and feel even worse ,for things have not changed.

Sent by Beverly Peng | 11:37 PM | 4-28-2008

I would love to hear how the China of today compares with other countries or regions that went through rapid growth in the past. I am thinking of the US in the early 19th century (I think that there are others too).

We in the US tend to feel that China is different; almost alien from anything in our experience. However, the more I hear about it, the more I feel that China is going through something that has happen many times in the past, but with a unique Chinese angle (just like our American perspective).

With the insight of history, perhaps this could give us some hope for the future.

Sent by Mark Hoover | 11:50 PM | 4-28-2008

Porters, as well as builders, are a group of people living at the bottom of the society. They build up every skyscraper in the city. As we all know, the Olympics gymnasiums can't be built without these hard-working builders.

But people have got used to taking things for granted. Discrimination leads those uneducated people's life hard. Plus, we are indifferent to their demands. They are a large number of people eager to be heard.

Sent by Song Qiuying | 1:15 AM | 4-29-2008

Those workers you write about are very healthy.

Jicai Feng, a famous writer, authored an article "Mountain Porter. The article was published in primary and secondary school textbooks.

You will find that the Chinese people appreciate them very much.

In any case, these mountain porters are happier than Americans in Afghanistan. At least, there's no war in China.

Sent by moss | 3:05 AM | 4-29-2008

I saw those porters on my trips to Emei and QingCheng mountain. I felt sorry for their hard work. However they looked happy and content. I wonder what they think about their life now and how the economic change in China changed their life?

Sent by yang | 2:28 PM | 4-29-2008

This snapshot on your blog brings back my own first-hand encounters with mountain porters in China.

The back-breaking work of these porters on Qingcheng Shan is no different from what I saw in 1981 at Huang Shan, in 1983 at Tai Shan, in 1990 and again in 2004 at Emei Shan.

In a China that has advanced phenomenally in the past quarter century, why has this scenario remained unchanged? As a nature lover and someone who cherishes the sacredness of these mountains, I also want to ask why can't we confine construction projects to the foothills and save the mountains as a sanctuary for communing with nature on nature's own terms, without the material encumbrances of modern culture?

This blog also brings home the truism that even in the most ideal profession, we inevitably hit a frustrating day once in a while, and that a "bad day" will usually jog us out of our routine and expand our vision and possibilities.

Andrea has shown us that even journalists -- who are supposed to have their eyes turned toward the world around them -- can use an eye-opening "bad day" now and then. Thank you, Andrea, for sharing your "bad day" with us!

Sent by Vivian | 2:44 PM | 4-29-2008

That is just one way for some people to make a living. I believe our government is to blame for the failure to educate people. Only a few years ago, all Chinese people could attend free primary school of their first 9 years. ) The poverty-rich gap is certainly a big problem we need to face in China.

Sent by C. Liang | 4:34 PM | 4-29-2008

Thank you for bringing us the real stories of the average Chinese from China.

I think and sincerely hope that the NPR series will open up the eyes of Westerners, especially the American people to the true China and its people, both good and bad things, in honest, unbiased reporting.

I hope NPR will do other series after Chengdu to bring the true picture of China to Americans' home. I have never been to China, but many of my friends have, so and they all are fascinated about the progress China has made.
These are not Chinese nationals or students. These are native-born Americans and highly educated people. They all say that the Western media has been sensationalizing the problems in China.

I appreciate you expressing your feelings on a bad day and comparing yourself to the hardworking lives and daily struggles of people earning minimum wages to just survive.


Sent by LJQ | 1:04 AM | 4-30-2008

China continues to undergo profound change, much like America's Industrial Revolution. But unlike China, America was short on labor and rich in resources. China, on the other hand, is rich in labor and short on resources. If America's experience is any guide then workers (especially low skilled) are bound to be exploited without laws committed to their protection. In the case of these Chinese porters, I wonder what the truth is. Are they exploited or are they happy with their lot?

Undoubtedly, there is dignity in manual labor that many people fail to see.

Our blogger, Andrea, in just a few words and simple pictures treated these men with dignity. She shows the best in the American character.

Why anyone in response would want to compare the lots of Chinese porters and American soldiers in Afghanistan is beyond me, unless it is simply for tit for tat gamesmanship.

American soldiers maybe under a lot of stress, but their profesionalism and espirit de corps keeps morale high. These brave men and women are helping to transform a society for the better. And in doing so, happily serve their country.

Sent by Gil | 2:21 AM | 4-30-2008

It's not just men who do this work. I've seen female porters in Huanglong carrying timber up the valley.

Why do people do a mule's work?

Huanglong is high in elevation, and tourists from big cities can be seen struggling mightily just to catch their breath, while these women carry huge logs in harnesses hanging from their heads, walking past the tourists going up the slope. There is a tranquility about their walk: the quiet forest, the most energy-efficient posture and gait.

There's nothing overly strenuous about it, really.

Sent by Joe | 10:50 PM | 5-2-2008