Meet Meng Hai Lin. She’s a 29-year-old mobile phone engineer from Beijing, China. She has learned some English and is skeptical of marriage. Meng’s voice is but a small murmur from an unprecedented global generation—one witnessing a dramatic restructuring of traditional relationships between countries, cultures, and people. Advances in communications technologies have made it easier for her voice to be heard—and drowned out. Photographer Adrian Fisk wants to show the world what Meng and the rest of her generation want to get off of their collective chest. Thus, iSpeak was born.
So far, Fisk has taken iSpeak to India and China, traveling widely around each country. He describes his impetus and methodology (specifically for iSpeak China) on his website:
For the last few centuries the West has dominated economics, politics, and culture. But now there is a shift toward the East, in particular China, a country of 1.4 billion people of which we know little about.
It is the young Chinese who will inherit this new found global influence, but who are they and what do they think about life?
I traveled on a 12,500 km journey through China to find an answer to this question. I looked for young Chinese from 16-30 years, gave them a piece of paper, and simply told them they could write whatever they wanted to on the piece of paper. I then photographed them holding the paper.
Fisk’s portraits are occasionally funny and occasionally heartbreaking, but genuinely candid. The messages communicate the hopes, dreams, quibbles, and fears of the crowd that shares our planet’s close quarters. “Understanding is the basis for tolerance towards each other,” said Fisk in an e-mail to Utne Reader, “and this can only come from communication.”
Fisk is currently trying to acquire financial support for iSpeak Global, which would broaden the project’s horizons to 25 more countries.
Abhishek Pandey, 17 years old, Hindu, Calcutta, college student. “Young people are bringing down the ethical culture of India.”
Chow Liang, 17 years old, Gansu province, cosmetology student on his way to see his father who works in another province. “In adult eyes I am a bad person in society, but in fact I am a very obedient person.”
Priyanka Jhanjhariya, 16 years old, Hindu, Haryana, schoolgirl. “I want to be an airforce pilot. Everyone should have high dreams and work hard to fulfill them.”
Saksham Bhatia, 16 years old, Hindu, New Dehli, senior school. “Wake up! Indians are coming!!”
Heng She Dong, 16 years old, Qinghai province, junior high school student. “I want to save people’s lives.”
Hari Chandra Behera, 21 years old, Hindu, Orissa, farmer. “I want our village to have electricity.”
Yang Long Long, 30 years old, Gansu province, farmer, illiterate. “When I go to the big city I feel like I don’t know anything.”
Bharati, 23 years old, Muslim, Bombay, prostitute, has one child and pregnant with another, illiterate. “Like you, we need the same things in life.”
Sarah Yip, 22 years old, Hong Kong, receptionist at an investment bank. “Do whatever you want in life because you might DIE tomorrow.”
Karsang Yarphel, 29 years old, Buddhist, Himachel Pradesh, waiter, Tibetan refugee. “I want to go home but . . .”
Vibhuti Singh, 22 years old, Hindu, New Dehli, studying converging journalism with honors. “I want to date somebody and not be frowned upon.”
Wong Jing Yi, 30 years old, Hong Kong, works in a sex shop. “I don’t want children.”
Chan Jie Fang, 28 years old, supervisor in bag making company in Guangdong province, but learning English in Guangxi province. “I’d like to see any supernatural thing, such as alien, UFO, mysterious thing.”
K Mallappa, 27 years old, Hindu, Karnataka, migrant manual laborer. “Without an education, I am doing the work of a manual laborer, but I am happy. Though I would be more happy if I was a bird or an animal.”
Akhilesh Kumar, 20 years old, Hindu, Bihar, unemployed. “Because I am unemployed I roam around with other boys, so people call me a vagrant. This makes me sad.”
Avril Liu, 22 years old, Guangxi province, post-grad student. “We are the lost generation. I’m confused about the world.”
Images courtesy of Adrian Fisk.