Guest Stephen Maing‘s documentary High Tech, Low Life reveals the efforts of two of China’s most visible bloggers, Tiger Temple and Zola, two very different reporters with apparently different motivations whose work scaling “the Great Firewall” walks the fine line between political dissidence and social commentary.

A retired businessman, Tiger Temple’s career as a blogger began when he posted photos of a murder in his neighborhood. They were not taken down, and so emboldened, Tiger Temple began to report on larger issues, such as bicycling across China to cover floods, pollution, homelessness, and other stories the Chinese government would prefer be ignored. He is followed by security forces, and for his family’s safety, has not seen them in years.

Twenty-something vegetable hawker Zola sees the Internet and blogging as a way to become famous and hopefully wealthy, much to his parents’ consternation. They would prefer that he put his family and the “Big Family” of the country before his own ambitions. But Zola, whose brash reporting style draws fans and critics, advocates only covering

Time, place, character, cause, development and conclusion

and makes a name for himself with cheeky irreverent posts (at one point, at the funeral of a girl allegedly raped and murdered by the son of a local official, he shoots himself smiling in front of the coffin–and while this outrages some readers, it does draw attention to the case).  He advocates for the individual as a means to end oppression. Able to overwrite ISPs, Zola reaches outside of China, gaining an international audience, and gradually develops more social awareness, though he still desires to be an Internet star.

As blogging expands and citizens are more willing to speak up on camera, both men fall under increasing pressure from government security forces. Zola is forbidden to leave the country to attend an international blogging conference. And while Tiger is able to get an NGO to help farmers, police force him out of Beijing, and his landlord evicts him. The annual Chinese blogger conference is monitored by the police.

Concerned about the rise of the bloggers and the Arab Spring, China institutes even tighter Internet censorship, but Zola begins to train a legion of citizen journalists while Tiger Temple continues his work in the countryside, armed only with a camera, a laptop and bicycle.

With revelations about America’s own Internet monitoring as well as China’s rapidly expanding global presence, High Tech, Low Life is especially timely and thought-provoking.