The Mancunion

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Manchester student aims to connect East and West with Behind Beijing

Architecture student David Adesanya made the most of his opportunity to travel to Beijing with Study China by carrying out this photojournalism project


A University of Manchester student has set up an exciting photography project to explore the lives and experiences of citizens of Beijing and help people understand a culture so far removed from ours better.

Behind Beijing, “a glimpse into the culture of one of the greatest wonders of the world”, was started by David Adesanya, an Architecture student at the University of Manchester, who travelled to the Chinese capital over Easter on the Study China trip which is funded by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

David was inspired by the international success of Humans of New York, a photojournalistic series by American photographer Brandon Stanton, who photographs and interviews ordinary people in New York City about their lives, sometimes in intimate detail, and publishes them on Facebook. Since 2010 Stanton has gained 17 million Facebook likes and prompted the creation of many similar ‘Humans of…’ projects by photographers across the world.

David carried out a similar process, interviewing people on the street with the help of a native translator whom he met whilst in Beijing, and taking their photograph. “It’s very simple—it’s clear and honest. You ask a question and detail exactly what they say. There’s no Photoshop or editing,” he says.

He hopes that his work can connect people from the polarised cultures of West and East in the age of instant social media—often derided as making us more antisocial and disconnected from one another.

“I find it quite interesting that we live in the West and there’s so much going on in the East. They have completely different traditions and live completely different lives to us. It’s great to discover and uncover these differences, but also to see the parallels”, says Adesanya.

“In this age we seem to have become disconnected due to an increase in social media, so being able to connect through this project is amazing—it shows a form of hope. Creating connections is what drew me to it.”

The Study China programme offers British students the unique chance to live and learn in China. Students attend university to learn Mandarin and Chinese culture as well as going on excursions, and return home with a qualification and experiences not previously available to many.

Behind Beijing launches at midnight on Sunday the 1st of May. You can sign up to be notified at the project’s launch on the website, as well as following Behind Beijing on Facebook and Twitter.

  • What an interesting project. China is a magical place of mystery and wonder. Cant’ wait to see all the great photos.

  • Lauren Perry

    I really enjoyed reading this – China is still a closed off part of the world in some retrospects but it’s so great that westerners are being given an opportunity to visit and also be able to study and work there now

  • What an intriguing project! I know a few people who taught English in Beijing, so I’m excited to see what you have to offer!

  • Cristina Oprea

    A very interesting initiative! I agree, social platforms have actually got us disconnected in real life, therefore we need more similar actions to what David is doing.

  • KyennaPepper

    Wow! So interesting! I am traveling to Japan this summer and am excited to truly experience eastern culture. It’s going to be amazing seeing the similarities and parallels, as stated above!

  • Indeed a great initiative.
    Social media is starnge, it connects as well as distances. Good that the project is bringing all closer.

  • Bex Ter

    Fascinating read! Social media has added such an interesting element into our lives!

  • Lenka Hazuchová

    Great post! You wrote this perfectly. :) I have seen recently a quote, that we hold our cellphones in our hands more than the hands of our loved ones.

  • Brooke Armendinger

    Love this! And I have committed to staying off of social media more in 2017 bc of these reasons! I would stay off completely but it’s so nice to stay in touch with family and long distance friends.

  • Andrea Broom

    Love this read, so true. I agree we need to stay a bit more off social media. I have mixed feelings about it, it’s great but it can also be used a bit too much.

  • Social Media makes me crazy I think, lol – I definitely need to take a hiatus once in awhile <3

    -Clarissa @ The View From Here

  • Sounds like a cool project. There are so many differences between the east and the west yet so many similarities at the same time. We need to remember that and respect the differences at the same time.

  • 2travellingsisters

    What a lovely thought to shade light into the culture and lifestyle of people various cultures. Not only does give us knowledge about other places. it also connects us with one another. At a time when everyone is dependant on social media on daily basis, this seems like a perfect initiative. Great work!

  • sauumye

    That is a really good photo project!!! It seems a perfect amalgamation of the east & the west.

  • Amber

    This photo project is so cool! Such a good read.

  • Sandy & Vyjay

    The essence of travel is to understand new cultures and get a real understanding of the people. This is a very apt project in this connection and a great idea too.

  • Sonali Aggarwal

    Fascinating read! Social media has added such an interesting element into our lives

  • Kelly Ann Duhigg

    I love the idea of using photography to connect people across the globe. I agree that social media has isolated people and anything that can help people understand and experience the lives of othets is an added bonus.

  • Sounds like a great project! I love the idea of trying to bridge the gap between cultures through photography. Nice work!

  • Hayley

    What an awesome project! Living in South Korea has really made us so aware of the differences between the East and West, but there are also so many similarities. There is nothing better than immersing yourself and learning about a new culture. What a great way to form incredible connections and learn more about one another :)

  • Bakery and Cakery

    wow, what an amazing opportunity – a beautiful use of talent as well, to bring people together, make the world a little smaller and a little less divided!

  • Deborah Nicholas

    oh wow this sounds like a fascinating project, China is on my bucket list and I will be looking out for the photos!

  • Katina Davenport

    Definitely an interesting project. The Humans of New York did so well. I wish him luck with this similar project.

  • Casey

    What a cool project! I love Humans of New York so I’m glad to see that others have been similarly inspired.

  • That is definitely a cool project. Hope you makes a lot of inspiring photos like ‘Humans Of New York’. Definitely would love to see photos of China.

  • FlunkingMonkey

    I love Humans of New York! Considering I really want to visit china this seems like a really cool concept to me! I can’t wait to see these images

  • Ha Lef

    An interesting project – East and West are definitely different, and I wish I would read more on Adesanya’s personal experience in China.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Alex

    What an interesting and meaningful project. I’ve been studying in South Korea as an European and it was a great opportunity to learn a lot about other culture. It’s very important nowadays.