Yale Bulletin and Calendar

November 17, 2000Volume 29, Number 11

Taylor Krauss

Student shares his travels
in China via video 'journal'

Yale undergraduate Taylor Krauss might be described as a Marco Polo for the Digital Age.

A film major with a year of conversational Mandarin under his belt, Krauss is spending his junior year abroad in the People's Republic of China, and is enrolled this fall in the Beijing Institute of Education.

The undergraduate was armed for this journey with a portable kit of video equipment and laptop computer from the Yale Digital Media Center for the Arts (DMCA) and asked to post video journal entries online for the Yale community.

Krauss has taken advantage of his status as a student to stray beyond officially sanctioned paths while filming in a country which, to many Westerners, is still shrouded in mystery as well as political controversy. "I've been very free to film many things, mainly because I stay out of the way of the police," he writes from Beijing.

Censorship is a very real issue in China, he notes, describing a rally of fa long gong activists that he witnessed in Tiannamen Square on the Chinese National Day. The fa long gong are a religious sect who are considered subversive by the Chinese government, explains Krauss, noting that the sect deliberately stages illegal assemblies in public arenas in the hopes that their clashes with police will win them sympathy in the West. On this occasion, Krauss had left his camera behind -- a fortunate circumstance, he says, since "I would have had my camera confiscated had I filmed the fa long gong arrests."

In fact, little seems to escape the notice of the authorities, Krauss reports, recalling the case of friends whose film negatives were confiscated because they showed pandas living in squalid conditions in a Chinese zoo.

Krauss himself was arrested once, ostensibly for a technical infringement of a bureaucratic regulation. He is convinced, however, that his arrest is linked to the fact that he was working as a substitute English teacher for a friend who had previously run a Christian school and was being closely monitored.

Krauss is travelling on a Richard U. Light Scholarship, which allows Yale students to continue advanced language studies and broaden their familiarity with Asian cultures through studies in Japan, Korea and China. A total of 37 Yale students are travelling in those three countries during the 2000-01 academic year.

In addition to images, the digital reports Krauss is sending back to campus include descriptions of the customs and subtleties of communication that can elude the camera's eye.

So far three segments of Krauss' video journey have been posted at the website the DMCA set up: www.yale.edu/dmca/ ymmm. "Riding My Bicycle," the first report, is an impressionistic pastiche of street scenes and sounds, from dancing and whirring traffic to music and the outdoor market. The second and third segments concern a community in Beijing Krauss has been visiting regularly. This group, the Xinjiang, is a Turkish-speaking minority population from an area of northwest China -- above Tibet and below Mongolia -- known as Chinese Turkestan. Most of the Xinjiang are Muslim.

"Every week I return to the community to film more," Krauss writes. "And every week I have new sentiments ... find out something new."

Krauss must also be mindful of the difficulties of being a video journalist in such a complex society. "I could very easily decide to go out and film something without having any idea as to the background of the situation," he reflects, "and sending it to the world can cause problems."

For example, he says, "I was interviewing the head of tourism in Shanghai and he spoke to me about the Xinjiang communities, telling me that some sell drugs and some don't have living permits. ... This could have been the reason one of the communities I was filming was destroyed," he notes, pointing out he might not have discovered that information "had I filmed one day and sent home the news that the Chinese government was pushing out this minority group. ...

"The two sides or few hundred sides of the coin always take time to gradually surface," he says.

The "mobile media unit" -- as Krauss' package of camera and equipment is known -- is part of the DMCA's recently launched Yale Mobile Media Mix (YMMM) program. Through this program, the DMCA is exploring the academic and aesthetic possibilities created by the alliance of the Internet and mobile video technology.

Eventually, such video reports from remote locations may be transmitted live to the classroom at Yale or posted on the Internet as they are happening. "Ultimately, a mobile media studio might be connected to the web in a totally wireless fashion. The artist, now free from physical Internet connections, could present works live from any venue to any audience globally," notes Lee Faulkner, the DMCA head of production. "The portability of a media package has the potential for a global classroom," he adds.

The YMMM program is being funded by a challenge grant by Yale alumni Norman Selby '74 and Melissa Vail Selby '74, who seek to foster entrepreneurial activity using the Internet among undergraduates.

Meanwhile, whether he is training his camera on the Beijing opera, an outdoor fish market or one of the popular American jazz clubs in China's capital city, Krauss aims, most of all, to be true to himself. "I will be challenged to make sure the images I do send back are honest to my experiences," he says.

-- By Dorie Baker


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