On my journey, I try to find out what
it’s like to live and work in today’s China. With my camera, I travel through
the heart of China, from north to south. Where is this gigantic country headed? And what do ordinary Chinese people
appreciate or value? through the heart of China We made it to Beijing. I never know
whether to love or abhor this city. More and more people flock to Beijing
and the stress is increasing. Beijing is so massive and overwhelming,
you can easily disappear. Oddly, that’s also what makes it
so special. When you manage to disappear,
you can be yourself. As long as you don’t stand out. In a next life I wouldn’t want to be gay. double lives
episode 2 Fresh grapes from my own garden. A smartphone is a necessity in China’s
big cities. There’s nothing it can’t do: It helps you navigate, pays for a taxi
or a meal, buys presents… …and finds you a job. Without a
smartphone, you’re an outcast in Beijing. In the fight for more consumers,
a very peculiar plague has emerged: Bikes. They’re everywhere,
piled up by the hundreds. Online services are so desperate for
your custom that they offer them for free. And this is the latest model:
a golden bike. And the nice thing is that while cycling,
you can charge your smartphone. It’s now unlocked. And because I’m taller
than the average Chinese person… …I can automatically adjust the seat
height, simply by using the app. The bike is also the fastest mode of
transport, because it’s always rush hour. What never ceases to amaze me,
is the popularity of live streaming girls. These Lolita-esque girls for example. All
they do, is look into the camera and chat. They dance a little or sing a song. That’s so funny. You see the messages coming in.
Here are the compliments. The lady also receives little gifts
for which she thanks her fans. at times I have waited for you until dawn but you never show Is there a live stream going on right now? Hello, my dear fans. Please give yourself
a warm round of applause. Whether it’s your first time or whether
you have been here before, give me a like. Who is going to give this hostess
a little present? Or have you stopped watching? I’d better close the door. Hello. Are you busy putting on makeup?
– Yes. Are you about to go live?
– Yes. What do you normally do
during a live stream? A bit of talking and dancing. Do you sing too?
– Yes, but I’m tone-deaf. It’s so bizarre.
I’d really like to interview them… …but they’re too busy with their phones. Do you have a lot of fans?
– Not that many. Others have many more,
sometimes even tens of thousands of fans. How many fans do you have?
– 600,000. No way.
– No, it’s true. That’s a lot. Would you happen to have
a painkiller for me? Are you going to sing?
– Yes, but I have a sore throat. Are you done?
– Yes, I have time for you now. How did it go today?
– It was alright. There was somebody
who told me I was ugly… …but other than that it was fine. Can people just say that?
– There’s no accounting for tastes. You are really handsome.
– I don’t think so. No, you really are. What do you like about live streaming?
Or do you sometimes not like it at all? When I first started out,
I was only in it for the money. I won’t beat around the bush,
I did it for the money. But once I got going,
I started to like it. This room has become my stage. I’m not famous, but many people do watch
me, so I must be worth something. Are you serious?
– Yes. Did you ever feel differently?
– I didn’t use to think it was important. But here on this stage
I get to shine like a superstar. How many followers do you have?
– 20,000. Are they predominantly male or female? I think I have more female followers.
– So more women? Why do they like watching your show? Maybe they think I am cute,
or something. Many of them suffer from work-related
stress and feel like they don’t matter. It’s my job to be their friend,
someone they can talk to. Do people feel invisible?
– Yes and no. People like me who were born
in the 90s… …we are all only children
and we feel lonely. Not everybody knows how to make friends,
that’s why they’re watching us. We make them feel worthy again. Beijing is the capital of China. An huge number of people live here
and many of them are very talented. You know China, so you know this.
Take the traffic, for instance. More and more people come here
so the competition is increasing. Everybody wants to get ahead,
which causes stress. When your boss criticises you,
you can’t go against him. You have to provide for your family,
you’ve got rent and bills to pay. Life is busy and other people
tend to ignore you. If you’re surrounded by that many people,
you realise you may not be the best. Simply because there are
too many talented people. You mean nothing if you’re just a soldier
and not a general. Are you on Instagram and Facebook?
– Not often. So you live in the real world.
– Yes. you need time to muse,
love is kind of sweet Are you giving me little gifts?
Thank you, darlings. How do you want me to pose?
I don’t know anything about it. Just be yourself. If you have been here for more than
five minutes, then give me a like. They blocked my profile picture again. ‘Rent me now’? What’s this?
– Rent me now. Quick. Men can rent a girlfriend.
– ‘Dinner, talking, catching a movie’? We provide all kinds of services.
We can talk about culture, you name it. ‘Rent me as your boyfriend or girlfriend.’ How about visiting my parents?
– We do that too. Would you pretend to be my girlfriend?
– Yes, I would. Also on Chinese New Year?
– Yes. Really?
– Yes, rent me. I’m a bit surprised. I don’t even know you.
– So? Why would I rent you? We could go for dinner
and get to know each other a bit. If there’s a click,
we can go do some karaoke. This app offers a platform
to meet people in real life. You can talk to people without having
to become friends. Right now, people don’t really trust
each other in China. So young people use this app
to make friends. We’re too embarrassed to discuss
sensitive topics with people we know. Online you can talk about these things
with people you don’t know. So basically what you’re saying
is that you feel freer… …when discussing those topics
with strangers? Really?
– Yes, it’s true. I feel free to talk about
my life and experiences with you. My parents may think they know me well… …but they only know one side of me. When I tell them about the other side,
I realise they don’t understand me at all. People from my parents’ generation
all had three or four siblings. They never felt lonely as a child.
I have been alone all my life. I find it hard to make friends.
I feel alone and empty inside. Empty?
– Yes, I often feel that way. I rarely fall for slick sales pitches,
and definitely not in China. But if it gets that personal, I’m game. That’s why I decide to rent this guy
for a day. Where are we going?
– Let me see. I would like to take a picture
that depicts this loneliness. It feels a bit uncanny here. What about that building?
– Near the viaduct. Are you alright? Yes, it’s just very hot.
It feels like the desert. Hopefully we can get on the roof
with a ladder. Can we open that door? No, this is the engine room. The view is beautiful,
but I can’t take a picture here. I wouldn’t if I were you.
– Okay. Do you think parents raise the bar
too high for their children? A bright future, yes. Are they disappointed?
– Yes, they expect too much. That’s why more and more young people
commit suicide. That might explain the bars in front
of the windows, to prevent suicide. You will find these precautions
in every high-rise building. The Chinese don’t want to lose face.
We call thatmianzi. Nobody wants to come across
as a loser. Men don’t want their wives to say
that he has no money… …or that he’s just a little man. They don’t want to be publicly humiliated
by their wives. The Chinese will do anything
to prevent loss of face. Me too. Do you feel freer on the Internet? Yes, freer than in real life. Absolutely.
A lot freer. On the Internet, you don’t have to look
each other in the eye. There is no need for physical contact. You’re literally hiding behind a screen.
That makes us feel more self-confident. You dare to open up and tell people
that you’re gay, for example. Whereas in real life you’d say:
I’m not gay, don’t laugh at me. What do you think? Do parents accept it
if their child is gay? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not gay. I fancy women, I am straight. But if I were to tell my parents
that I was gay… …they would disown me as their son. Would it lead to a conflict?
– A huge conflict. Are they conservative?
– Not really. They wouldn’t mind at all
if I had several girlfriends on the go. But they wouldn’t understand it
if I fancied men. They are conservative in that respect.
– But being gay is not a choice. I agree. But they have their own ideas
about what is and isn’t normal. And to them, being gay is not normal. Imagine if you were gay in China… Twenty years ago,
homosexuality was legalised. It can no longer be considered a disease,
like before. Nevertheless, most Chinese still think
that gays aren’t normal. And yet, one of the most successful
Internet companies… …is gay platform Blue D. Hello.
– Hi Ruben, welcome. Is that you, in the middle?
– Yes, that’s me when I was young. Now I’m getting old and fat.
– But you’re still young. You’ve got many people working here. We have over 200 employees and
each year, that number doubles in size. Really?
– Yes. Could you please explain
what your social platform has to offer? Chinese gays face a couple of challenges: First: Who are they and how can they
be accepted for what they are? Second: Can they find like-minded people? And third: How can they protect
themselves, for example against AIDS? Blued is a platform
that wants to solve those problems. We say to them: ‘You are gay
and that’s completely normal.’ There are tens of millions of gays
using our platform. They’re all afraid of being judged
for their sexual orientation. When Internet arrived in China in 2000,
I started looking for answers. I wanted to create a website
to talk about homosexuality. It was all a big secret, because during
the day I was a police officer. In the evening I would make new friends
on my website. I wrote down my personal story. And
only then did I become who I am: gay. Many of my classmates had girlfriends. I realised that I didn’t fancy girls,
but good-looking boys. I was confused. I felt strange
and wondered why I wasn’t ‘normal’. Did you feel abnormal?
– Yes. I had no idea back then. I thought I was ill and needed a doctor. I wanted to go to a hospital
where they would make me normal again… …so I could find myself a girlfriend
and start a family. I didn’t want to be discriminated against. Most gays in China
are scared to come out of the closet. It’s easier to stay in the closet.
It feels safer. It lets them lead a normal life with
a wife, kid and a white picket fence. Coming out means having to deal
with many problems. We want to make the world a better place
by treating everybody the same. Is it okay if we look around?
– Of course. Here we have different teams:
operations, live broadcasting. This is the verification team,
they check content… …and remove content like porn,
as that’s forbidden by law… …as well as the selling of weapons
and drugs. We’re like a place of pilgrimage for gays. They come here from all over the country
and take pictures outside our door. Then they post them online: ‘I was in Blue
City’ or ‘I have seen the rainbow flag’. In only a few years Blued has become
the biggest gay platform in the world. The company is now worth
more than half a billion dollars. Because of this success, Geng Le was
able to make his dream come true. Where was he born?
– In the US. Surrogacy is legal there. Who looks after him when you’re busy?
– My parents. They live out of town. My partner often helps them out. Turn right.
– Is this it? You can park your bike here,
I’m taking mine upstairs. We’re having crayfish for dinner. Can we sit here?
– Yes, we can talk and eat here. How did you know I like eating here?
– I’ll help you clear the table. We normally have dinner at the table. Are both dishes the same?
– Yes. Fifteen crayfish per bowl. How do you eat this again?
– I’ll help you. First, remove the head. From here?
– Yes. What was it like when you first realised
you were gay? I was attending the police academy.
I must have been 17, 18 years old. The boys vastly outnumbered the girls. I fell in love with a classmate
who seemed kind of a slick guy. We became the best of friends. We ate together, played together. Sometimes we even shared a bed.
As brothers, nothing ever happened. I was in love and it felt terrific.
– Did it? But he only saw me as a brother. We were still young,
he was my first love. Then I started to ask myself: what is this
that is making me feel so terrific? I was happy all the time
and I missed him during holidays. I would write him letters,
this was before we had phones. During our holidays
we wrote letters all the time. Before he replied,
I had already written another one. We would tell each other what we’d been
up to. He lived in the country. Did he write back?
– Yes. He’d tell me who had been out with
or that he had worked the field. I was curious about life in the country,
so I told him I was coming over. I visited him at home.
It was a special time. After we both graduated,
he bought a motor bike. He lived miles away,
but during winter he came to see me once. When he arrived at my place,
his face was covered in ice. It was winter and he wore a thick coat. I thought it was exciting
and it really moved me. Later on, he got married.
I was very sad about that. It sounds like you were really in love. I was heartbroken. It felt like I had lost
the love of my life. I still miss my first love.
I sometimes dream of our time together. We lost sight of each other. In a next life I wouldn’t want to be gay. Because this life is too hard,
too exhausting. Even if the world would become
more tolerant, I’d want a different life. I’d like to feel what it’s like
to discriminate against homosexuals. I’m really curious
what it’s like to be heterosexual. Then I can just focus on my life… …instead of thinking about
how to hide myself. It’s so hard to always have to fight
for acceptance. Geng Le is exceptionally open
about his life. He’s a shining example for gays in China
who haven’t come out yet. But for many, that’s still unimaginable. I’ve been trying to get in touch
with the founder of another app… …that could be important
for many gays in China. It’s a dating site for gays and lesbians
to arrange sham marriages. I’d almost given up, fearing she wouldn’t
want to be filmed like many gays here. But then she texts me. She wants to
meet, late in the evening in a quiet park. Shall we sit here?
– Okay. Can you show me the app?
– Yes, but no filming. Privacy regulations. They come from all over China. If you click here,
you will get information… …about whether people are open
to a sham marriage. A sham marriage is a marriage
between gays and lesbians. China is a very traditional country. Our parents want us to find a nice guy… …have a baby and start a family. Do your parents know you’re a lesbian?
– No, not yet. So you haven’t come out of the closet yet?
– Not yet. Isn’t pretending to be married deceitful?
– That depends on which way you look at it. For example, me and my pretend husband
are good friends. There is a strong friendship between us
and we know each other well. It has grown over time. And because of that,
it doesn’t feel like deceit. We just don’t want our parents to worry. I was wondering… Why isn’t legalising same-sex marriages
an option? Because this is China. The circumstances in this country
are very different. China happens to be
a very traditional country. Our civilisation and culture
are over 5000 years old. So… Our parents have this deep conviction… …that you must marry, have children
and continue the family line. You can’t change that overnight. I heard that coming out of the closet
can have serious consequences. The worst example I know is of parents… …who commit suicide
or force their children to do it. Other parents send their child to a clinic
for electroshock therapy. Does that really happen?
– Yes. There have been reports. Parents forcing their child
to commit suicide? Or parents telling their children
they will commit suicide… …should their child decide
to come out of the closet. Some people cannot live
with their parents’ disapproval. There are many of such cases, often
in combination with domestic violence. Parents who tie up their children
and lock them in the house. Those can be the consequences
of coming out of the closet. Horrible. It makes me very sad. I can tell by looking at you.
– You are absolutely right. Nobody wants to go through
something like that. I simply cannot believe it. Deep down we all hope… …that one day, same-sex marriages
will be legalised. Because then you will be accepted
on paper. We all want to be accepted
and we hope that that day will come. The following day, the government
announces new guidelines… …for television, film and Internet. Effective immediately, homosexuals
are no longer to be mentioned. Luckily, some people still get worked up
over that. One of them is prepared to tell me more
in my hotel room. Hello, how are you? Come on in.
– Hello. I am Cong Rong’s mother.
– I am Ruben, come on in. Thank you so much for coming.
– You are welcome. Right then, welcome.
– Hello. I’m from Chongqing. So not Beijing?
– No. I came here on Tuesday
to drop something off. My daughter is a lesbian.
In China we call themlala. With two other mothers, I took a letter
to the Ministry of Radio and Television. A short while ago, homosexuality became
a sexual deviation, just like incest. A petition?
– Yes. We think it’s not fair to our children. We think it’s discrimination.
– I see. Homosexuality is not a disease. We think our children are
absolutely wonderful. There is no law in China
that prohibits homosexuality. And according to the Mental Health Law… …it is clear that homosexuality
is not a disease. Then why are there so many doctors
who offer treatment? They’re only in it for the money. Why do people wish to be treated?
Because of social pressure. Many Chinese parents want to change
their children. We as mothers want to give our children
a voice in this matter. Every day, people contact me online
for help. They find me online through my WeChat-
account, the Chinese version of WhatsApp. I can help them.
– So you run a kind of helpline? I do.
– Can you show me? Of course. Hello, Wawa. I’ve got 212 people watching
my live stream. As you all know, new media regulations
have come into force. According to those regulations,
homosexuality equals crime. We think that’s discrimination
of gay people. That’s why we decided to hand
in a petition on behalf of our children. We want to fight for equal rights. Goodbye, everybody.
I have to go to the airport. I will see you at the next live stream.
Bye, bye. Do you remember the exact moment
your daughter came out of the closet? Every mother will remember the moment
when her child did that. How was that for you?
– My daughter came out in 2008. So ten years ago.
– That’s right. I can still see it.
It was on my birthday. Her present was a letter… ….in which she told me
she was a lesbian. We waited for our guests to leave. And then we sat down opposite
each other. We cried silently. I’m sorry.
– That’s alright. And that’s how it went. After I got home,
I didn’t sleep at all that night. Were you worried?
– Yes. At that moment, I couldn’t believe it
and I refused to accept it. I’m sure that every mother
will feel exactly the same. First comes the pain, and after that,
very slowly, comes understanding. I think you’re incredibly brave… …for wanting to share your story
with us. It takes courage to achieve certain goals. Love lets us be open to each other
and accept one another. Love will make this society
a better place. I realise that these new censorship laws
could have devastating effects… …for Geng Le and his dating platform
Blued. When I get in touch,
he is indeed incredibly worried. The night before yesterday I didn’t sleep
a wink because of the new rules. I feel an enormous pressure
because of them. In what way? The atmosphere changed completely.
People were crying. According to these rules,
homosexuality is a perversion. My colleagues were hurt. They cried. This sudden turn shocked us.
Where did it come from? Are you worried?
– We are terrified, actually. We feel threatened. Can we carry on?
Are our apps at risk? Has your website been blocked yet?
– Not yet. Are you scared it will be?
– Of course. It makes you wonder if there is going
to be a new government policy. Will there be a new policy
against homosexuality? Can we carry on with our business? Will gays be accepted or excluded? Without these rules,
there would be no problem. You can easily watch art and movies
about gay love on the Internet. It’s very confusing.
I’m mostly just wondering why. I hope it will get sorted soon.
The sooner, the better. We cannot wait another five or ten years. This policy is wrong
and it could have a disastrous effect… …on a whole generation of young people. Every life counts.
There’s no time to wait. Sometimes I’m about to give up
and then I have to admonish myself. I am very tired and it’s very hard. But I also have my employees to consider. I am responsible for China’s
gay community. They see me as an icon and opinion leader. They look up to me, but sometimes I just
want to tell them that I’ve had enough. It’s just too exhausting. I greatly admire you.
The work you do is so important. I want to make this long-cherished wish
come true. But it doesn’t come naturally.
It takes a lot of effort. I hope I can continue to inspire people.
That’s what keeps me going. It’s almost as if this city demands you
to lead a double life. As if you can only be yourself
when online and anonymous. For many, daily life is fake. Real life starts with a swipe
on a smartphone. I exchange the big city for the countryside,
further south. I still have thousands of kilometres
of China ahead of me. next time: In the next leg of my journey… …we see why millions worth of stuff
is burned every year in China. And I find myself at an exuberant funeral. If you want to see even more
of my journey, go to vpro.nl/china.