Deaffest Co-founders and Directors’ Unforgettable Trip to Shanghai!
By Nikki Stratton & Marilyn Willrich
We were delighted and honoured to be invited to Shanghai by China’s Award winning Deaf talented Filmmaker Sam Zheng (Zheng Xiaosan) and Shanghai Open University’s consultant Dr. David James. The nature of this visit was, as co-founders of Deaffest, to support and offer our expertise in the organisation of the first ever Shanghai International Deaf Film & Arts Festival (SHIDFAF) to be launched in Autumn 2018.
During our visit, we were delighted to have the opportunity to visit Shanghai’s Open University, Xuhui University of Continuing Education, where we were greeted by a large number of Deaf Chinese students studying degrees in Film and the Arts. We also had the pleasure of consulting with the Head of Xuhui University’s Mr Du. Fortunately for us, he was able to speak fluent English, allowing our BSL/English interpreter to translate fluently. The language logistics were not always the easiest but fortunately Sam is proficient in ASL as well as International Sign and as Dr. David James is Canadian our communication was not stilted.
We were shocked to learn that, despite a population of 24 million in Shanghai alone, with approximately 1 million d/Deaf people, that there are no recognised qualifications for Chinese Sign Language/Chinese interpreters. The same applies to the rest of China, which is a very different story to that of the UK, other European countries and the US. Instead, establishments rely on CODAS to interpret and or Teachers/Head of Departments to convey either Chinese or basic gesture to deaf Chinese sign language users.
Unfortunately, many social media apps/websites are banned in China due to censorship; however, they have their own very popular alternative called WeChat, which has many additional features such as a built-in translator. This proved to be a very useful tool during our visit. Another key technological advancement in China is that cash, or paying by card is considered archaic with the ‘digital wallet’ and use of QR codes leading the way in mobile payment. Just about everything you need, whether it’s a taxi, bike hire, food, paying bills, or ordering a McDonalds, can be paid for by scanning a QR code on your mobile phone. It really is making carrying around cash a thing of the past!
Our next stop was Shanghai’s Vocational Technical School for the Deaf and Dumb Youth, where several talented young Deaf students aged 17 – 21 greeted us. The Head of the college Yang Qiping, gave us a guided tour and we particularly enjoyed meeting the students and witnessing their creativity and the outstanding examples of student work that was on display.
We went on to visit “Shanghai’s 4th Deaf School” where children from preschool age to 11 are taught. We were greeted and guided by the Principal of the school Jin Yuping, who had worked there for several years. It appears that with the advances in medicine (cochlea implants) and technology, Deaf children attending mainstream education etc., the Chinese Deaf community is also on the decline, much the same as the rest of the world. However, as this is a Deaf school, pupils here were able to feel comfortable, mixing with others that shared their language. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet some of the pupils who demonstrated their excitement by signing “AMERICANS”. We explained we were from England, but seeing their delight in meeting other Deaf people that shared a visual language was truly a sight to behold.
We also had an informal gathering with Deaf Chinese people during the evenings where we communicated using International Sign. During our conversations, we discovered that some of the Deaf people had attended Gallaudet University to study media and technology, a field that they excelled in. Their desire was to return home and share their knowledge and expertise in the hope of creating a brighter future for members of the Deaf Community that have a passion for film making and working in the media industry.
Towards the end of our one-week stay in Shanghai, we were invited to Shanghai’s Educational TV Centre to attend a media seminar focusing on the media industry, schools with film and media and Schools with Deaf education. We were given the opportunity to present about how the UK encourages and develops Deaf talent in mainstream media and the arts. The aim was to show attendees what could be done and to stress that an event like Deaffest could be replicated in Shanghai if Deaf people work collectively, encourage organisations to get on board by collaborating. The Television Centre also interviewed us about Deaf people’s potential in the fields of media and the arts; this was aired the following day. We were also delighted to have had the opportunity to meet Chen Jie, the Chairman of the Shanghai Deaf Association.
Last but not least, The British Council and China-Britain Business Council invited us to the British Consulate to deliver a presentation of Deaffest’s achievements and what SHIDFAF can achieve with our support.
On our last day, we were fortunate to have Sam and his acquaintance He Lifeng, guide us around Shanghai’s famous Yuyuan Garden. What an amazing city Shanghai is, brimming with culture and an impressive skyline, not forgetting other hidden gems such as historical Pudong, a district of Shanghai, with its breath-taking monuments entrenched in Chinese history.
We shall be going back next year, and we would love for you to support us with this inaugural festival by sending in your films, which will be showcased in Shanghai next Autumn 2018. It would be great if you could book your flights and visas to join us for what is going to be an amazing Festival! We are very proud to be partners with SHIDFAF and look forward to working with them over the forthcoming months….