Koppel on China: My Thoughts

Wednesday, August 20, 2008 10:47
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Last Month, I covered a NY Times piece on a Ted Koppel series on China.  Based in Chongqing, this 4 part series was as I put it at the time, Skewered By NYT

Following that piece, I was contacted by a member of the Chongqing team and was sent the discs of the series so that I could view it (I promised to write my review if they paid for shipping)… and so, here are my thoughts:

1) Disc 1:  Joined at the Hip
First in the series, my feeling after watching the disc was that everything was pretty fairly portrayed, that Koppel did a good job of showing that the relationship between that the US and China is complex, interesting, and overall a win win, and that in both countries people are getting screwed.

One point that was hammered home was that while people in middle American got content in their jobs and their lifestyles, the Chinese have made massive sacrifices in family, health, and economy to make sure the next generation has it better than them.

Where I get a bit lost in the episode is that Ted jumps around a lot and tries to incorporate a lot of elements that on their own legs would require their own episode, and I think he lost a big of punch there.

Perhaps a future episode would be to go back to Rolla and see how the town was leveraging its strong Engineering University  capabilities to retrain its people

2) Disc 2: From MAO-ism to ME-ism
Dinner theaters remembering the days of the cultural revolution, gays in China, prostitutes and KTVs, design and architecture, and even religion are covered in this episode.. and while this episode tied some of the people from the first clip to the second, and drew further ties in general, it really tried to hit too many points.  There was a bit in the middle that showed how they were all interrelated as they were all “safety valves” that maintained stability… another topic he looks at from

and that allowed Vincent Lo to continue investing billions into Chongqing

the best quote of the clip was when one of the interviewees (Allen) said: “I do love my country, but I don’t love my government, but I trust my government”… and this lead to what I think was were the really interesting part of the episode entered.

What would happen if China moved away from the one party rule? Vincent seems to think would impact his bottom line as the current system has worked for him and he thinks it has worked for others.  Even for Ted things have changed, and he rightly pointed out that 5 years earlier his taps would have been confiscated for some of the things he had filmed

Disc 3: The Fast Lane
this episode spends its time with auto related topics, and overall does a good job of looking at the various aspects of it: consumers buying more cars, safety, the government building more roads, the Chinese making strides to develop their own cars, Chinese auto firms buying into the China market, gas subsidization, foreign firms in China, and the safety/ emission records of Chinese made firms

The two sections I really liked were: (1) on the site of a road build where you get a nice slice of the workers building roads and digging ditches, their workload is back breaking, their harsh lifestyle, and what motivates them – their kids.. (2) Lifan CEO interview – the future of China’s auto executive and (3) Ford CEO interview – or should I say grilling

Disc 4:Its The Economy Stupid

This episode covers another wide range of topics.  Corruption, real estate development, corruption training, relocating people, harmonious society and safety nets, to political structures… it was an episode the really covered a lot of ground.

Final thoughts:
contrary to the initial reports by the NY times and some who said Koppel was out of water, I think he (and his team) did a pretty good job of identifying real issues. They didn’t settle for the low hanging fruit of air pollution and high gas prices.

Where this series failed for me was where it tried to cover so many topics in so little time, and at times the topics shifted without much of a link. No doubt, the team has a library of footage that they could bring together for some very interesting behind the scenes on several important issues, and I hope at some point they will.

their angle on the migrant issues, environmental costs, and corruption had some of the best stuff, and I was hoping to see more of it.

Three major themes to take away from the series (1) poor people are exploited by the rich/ powerful (2) poor people through hard work, sacrifice, and education believe the next generation will improve, and (3) Everyone in China, no matter how bad they have it, say their lives now are better than at any other time.

My 2 cents. Watch the series and see some stories that you will not typically see of China.

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