In 2021 I had the pleasure of meeting up with Matt Tye in Carlsbad, California, to talk about his experiences and YouTube channel, LaoWhy86. He is knowledgeable about all things China-related, and I think he has one of the deepest understandings of Chinese culture I’ve seen online. This is because he lived in China and Taiwan for ten years.
Matt returned to the US in 2019, and I want to get his take on America after being away for such a long time.
During our frank discussion, he admitted that, at first, he dreaded coming back…but that’s not the end of the story.
Why Was Matt Tye in China?
I wanted to know what would inspire Matt Tye to make such a big move.
He told me he left the US because he was disillusioned with the white picket fence American-style dream. Matt wanted to see if there was more to life than living in a rural town in New York State and getting a job to pay down his student loan.
After graduating from university in 2008 and receiving an offer to teach English in Huizhou in the Chinese Province of Guangdong, he moved to China.
This was an opportunity to see a world far from what he was used to in the US, and he grabbed it.
Laowhy86 Was Started in 2012
Matt Tye loved his time in China and wanted to share his experiences with others, so he started a Youtube channel called Laowhy86.
His content was very positive initially, showcasing the best aspects of living in China. Comparing Chinese and American cultures and discussing various aspects of his life abroad.
This started to change in 2016 as Chinese nationalism grew. Spurred by Xi Jinping’s policies, people began to give him a hard time because he was a foreigner married to a Chinese woman.
Life in China is Complicated
This was not the only challenge he encountered. As you can imagine living in a communist country has many drawbacks, and censorship is one. Matt found himself trying to buck the system and, over time, seriously tested the boundaries. I think this is one of the reasons why his content is so compelling. He wanted to see what he could get away with.
From shooting documentaries to running into SWAT teams and the People’s Liberation Army at every corner – nothing seemed off-limits, which, as exciting as it was, had its downsides too.
Matt and his business partner explored northern and southern China by motorcycle and created two documentaries. While filming the second in Mongolia, a special police unit interrogated them for hours – asking Matt whether he and his partner were journalists creating illegal videos – charges Matt denied.
Matt Tye Tested the Limits
Experiences like this were a reality check. At times his life in China was daunting, and slowly he found himself tiptoeing around certain subjects to avoid incurring the wrath of the authorities. It’s not a place he found comfortable.
This was disappointing because China is such an expansive country with so much going on, but he was prevented from telling many stories because he feared the consequences of sharing them.
Ten years in China pushed Matt to his limits, and these experiences (both the good and the challenging) made him the person he is today.
Unfortunately, in 2018, Matt had to escape from China with his wife, Vivienne Wei, because they attracted the attention of the authorities. He was accused of taking drone footage of a military facility. It has also been reported that he interviewed Chinese citizens without the appropriate Journalist credentials.
He was concerned that he would be barred from leaving and the Chinese authorities would push charges, so he and his family quickly left for Hong Kong. This is where they stayed until Vivienne received her green card.
Laowhy86 and Life in the US
Matt’s experience in America was quite different from what he expected. He found himself seeing the US through more mature eyes. After living away from this country for so long, he saw that America provides so many opportunities, and the experience is literally what you make of it.
He no longer saw the town he grew up in as representative of America as a whole. Every place in the US is different, with a wide variety of cultures and people.
Returning also allowed him the freedom to discuss the serious problems created by the Communist Party of China. LaoWhy86 focuses on these crucial issues and how they impact the world.
Censorship In China & the US
Life in the US is far from perfect (what is?), and Matt saw some things that concerned him after his return. He feels American society is becoming more censored. People are afraid to speak up and share their opinions because they might offend someone or not fit into the “narrative.” China has been censoring its citizens for years, and the US is slowly following in its footsteps, which is worrisome.
“Cancel culture” is a very different beast in China compared to the West. For starters, the Chinese government uses cancel culture at the state level. If you step out of line or speak against the party, you and your family are finished.
It’s a ruthless regime where dissent is not tolerated. Meanwhile, in the West, “cancel culture” is driven by an obsession with social media and celebrities.
The Corporations Are Also a Point of Concern
Matt Tye is also disturbed by the control American corporations exert in the workplace. These problems need to be addressed by people coming together and asserting their rights. Although this is more of an internal issue, it still restricts freedom.
This hits home after living in countries where people were scared of expressing themselves. One minute you’re engaging in great conversation, and suddenly things get tense because they know there will be trouble from the government if they speak out in any meaningful way. The worst kind of censorship is when you can’t even voice your opinion without fear of reprisal.
Matt Tye’s US Experience & the Future of Laowhy86
Matt’s return to America has been overwhelmingly positive.
Despite our flaws in the US, people still have the opportunity to make something of themselves. There is access to free education. Maybe it’s not the best quality, but it’s still better than what most of the rest of the world has, and we still have the toolbox in the US to make a better life.
You don’t know how much you have until you see it from a different perspective.
With everything going on in the world in 2023, I think Matt provides invaluable insight into China. As we all know, the world has become increasingly connected, and Laowhy86 is an excellent resource for information about what is happening there. It’s one of my favorite channels on Youtube because he goes deep on a subject not many of us have experience in.