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Freelance -- fact and fiction about freedom and fun 2007-07-17 10:08:03
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    BEIJING, July 17 -- Young people who don't like dreary white collar work sometimes idealize the freelance life and think it means freedom, flexibility, fun, fun, fun and fistfalls of money. Yao Minji looks behind the freelance facade and finds some fact, some fiction, and lots of hard work.

    Recruiting season is here. Employers typically seek solid additions who will fit in well with their office workforce and adjust to its hierarchy. In addition to certain skills, they seek such characteristics as "capacity to absorb new knowledge, strong management and leadership, teamwork spirit and communication skills," among other less than exciting traits.

    And freelancers, who have no long-term commitment to a single employer, don't fit that typical recruitment bill. Yet they manage to make ends meet and some do very well. They are considered by the old Chinese standards to be unstable, irresponsible and to lead a messed-up life without a professional future.

    Freelancers (the name comes from medieval hired knights, literally "free lances," soldiers for hire, mercenaries) who don't have steady jobs like white collars are increasingly admired by youth today.

    But many people have the wrong idea about them. They think freelancers just sit at home, wake up very late or don't wake up at all at some days, enjoy what they do, make a lot of money while working very little and party all the time.

    Some of these things might be true, others exaggerated. Freelancers in whatever field - art, music, writing, editing, photography, design, public relations, translation, journalism - do lead a very different life from traditional "white collars."

    But young freelance photographer Yuan Shunhua, scriptwriter Bonbon Zhu, and illustrator Wang Dongni warn that not everyone can become a successful freelancer. Young graduates need to think twice before freelancing - most freelancers only become successful after regular work experience.

    Anyone who aspires to be a freelancer needs the following - talent, persistence and hard work, networking skills, passion and ability to handle a crazy schedule, they all agree.     

¡¡¡¡Yuan Shunhua, commercial photographer     

    Yuan Shunhua, 29, started as a photo assistant in media companies and then advertising firms, like some of his classmates from the Design Department of East China Normal University. He assisted the photographers who took pictures of commercial products for advertising. His monthly salary was less than 1,500 yuan (US$198) before taxes.

    "And I had to wake up early every morning to catch the bus to the office although I didn't really do anything in the office - just chatting online and surfing the Internet," says Yuan.

    He loved photographing but thought he was wasting his life while earning very little money.

    He changed companies a few times but it was all the same boring schedule. Finally, he couldn't stand it anymore. To escape the office tedium, he started taking small jobs from acquaintances.

    The dreary office environment made him especially appreciate the opportunity to take pictures in other settings. He worked very hard in the officeto learn how to set up and present different products. Quickly, Yuan established his own network and quit the job.

    "Without hesitation!" notes Yuan, "once I realized that I had enough jobs to support myself, I quit immediately."

    Since 2003 Yuan has been taking pictures of products for magazines or companies like the Chinese art magazine "All." Subjects include all types of food, cuisine, interiors of clubs and restaurants, artworks on exhibit such as 18 on the Bund, among others.

    A job usually takes a few hours, or one day at the longest. The pay ranges from a couple hundred yuan to more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,315). Working for about 12-15 days a month with a few stable jobs from his network, Yuan makes about 10,000 yuan for an average month.

    True, he usually sleeps until noon because most of his jobs are in the afternoon or at night. But he has worried about not having enough jobs when he has completed one. And he often gets rush jobs that mess up his day's schedule. But that's part of being a freelancer.

    "In fact, I can't really have a schedule, because I might get work at any time," says Yuan, who calls himself a "rookie" in the freelancing photography world, in which the more you work, the more you make.

    Bonbon Zhu, TV scriptwriter ¡¡¡¡

    Unlike Yuan's absolute hatred for the office, TV scriptwriter Bonbon Zhu, also in her late 20s, is seriously considering going back to work "like a normal person."

    "I suffer from a lot of illnesses because of my abnormal schedule," says Zhu, who also moved out of her parents' apartment because she needs a quiet and isolated space in which to work.

    She suffers from a variety of ailments, many linked to a lifestyle of long irregular hours, stress, lack of sleep and irregular meals. She catches colds easily, gets the flu, fever, has digestive problems and insomnia.

    Zhu, who studied drama writing at Shanghai Normal University, started in post-production for some multimedia companies. Entering the world of freelancing in 2002, she experienced a dramatic change in her life.

    "I have to work at night because I have to concentrate. During the day, there are all kinds of distractions, noises, friends calling me, among other things," explains Zhu. "That's also why I have to live by myself, so I can concentrate."

    Zhu says she is lucky because "95 percent of scriptwriters who entered the industry about the same time quit," although the Chinese television industry is in urgent need of fast and good writers.

    "They need writers, but you have to be able to deal with them," notes Zhu. "First of all, you really need talent. Unlike other fields, effort and hard work cannot make up for talent in writing dramas. Moreover, you need to be good at telling and selling the stories to the boss and networking."

    Zhu also warns newcomers about not getting paid, which is rather common in the field of scriptwriting here, especially when you are working with small companies.

    At the beginning of her career, Zhu tried her best to satisfy all the needs of the producers to secure her jobs. "I do the script really quickly and will change whatever they want me to change in the story because I know I cannot argue with them."

    After writing a few popular love dramas like "Warriors of Yang" ("Yang Men Hu Jiang"), Zhu says her rate has reached 200,000 yuan (US$26,430)for each episode and she has stopped taking scripts that are designed by the producers.

    "I write about 60 to 80 episodes every year now and then try to sell them to the producers," says Zhu, who works about eight months every year, which sounds rather laid-back.

    "No, it is not easy at all. It is really stressful, because during the eight months, I probably work for more than 12 hours every day for a couple of weeks straight. I will be doing nothing else at all," she says. "You really need to be strong both physically and mentally to survive with this job."

    Zhu seriously considers going back to an office because "writing should not be a profession but a complement to one's life." Moreover, she predicts the trend in TV dramas will be stories based on real life, targeting young office workers.

    "But I have been away from that kind of life for four years. I need to go back and understand what they really think about and like," concludes Zhu.

    Wang Dongni, magazine art editor

    Wang Dongni, 25, is the youngest of the three freelancers. He quit his job as a magazine art editor in April and does much the same work now. Mostly he makes a living by designing posters for commercial events and illustrations for magazines.

    "But I have more time working on my own stuff," says Wang, also known as Blackframe. "I quit because I want to focus more on illustration, which is what I really love."

    Making about 5,000 to 6,000 yuan every month, slightly more than his salary before, Wang admits a regular job guarantees stability. "But one will become lazy with a regular job. Especially for someone with creativity like me, it is easy to lose passion in a regular job."

    Wang doesn't fit some people's stereotype of a lazy freelancer. He is always busy, "much busier compared with my previous jobs. If I'm not doing customers' work, I'm busy doing my own illustrations."

    But he enjoys his current occupied schedule. He is working on a series featuring "Hei Nan," a stubborn guy in black who has a cool appearance but childish thoughts. He stays the same whatever he does, be it a DJ, a Peking Opera performer, an angel, or a demon.

    As a newcomer to the hired lance field, Wang has already gotten used to his new schedule and quite enjoys it.

    "For many people, the dream is to wake up when you want and have a lot of money. Being a freelancer can at least satisfy the first half - I can sleep in," he says.

    (Source: Shanghai Daily)

Editor: Yan Zhonghua
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