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Sneak Preview: The People's Republic of Capitalism

Koppel on Discovery: The People’s Republic of Capitalism
Tuesday, July 1, 7 p.m.
Q&A with Producer James Blue, Moderated by Ralph Litzinger, Director, Asian/Pacific Studies Institute
Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University (Pettigrew Street near the intersection of Main Street and Broad Street in Durham)
DIRECTIONS: http://cds.aas.duke.edu/about/here.html

Presented by the Discovery Channel and the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, with support from the Film/Video/Digital Program, the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute, and the Department of Asian and African Languages and Literature, all at Duke University.

In the wake of the catastrophic earthquake in China’s Sichuan province and on the eve of the Olympics this August in Beijing, Discovery Channel Managing Editor Ted Koppel presents Koppel on Discovery: The People’s Republic of Capitalism, a sweeping four-part series that examines modern China. An advance screening of the documentary, followed by a question-and-answer session with one of its producers, James Blue, will be held July 1 at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Blue, a native of Durham, is an award-winning television news producer and reporter with extensive experience in international journalism (see bio below). The Q&A session will be moderated by Ralph Litzinger, associate professor of cultural anthropology and director of the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute at Duke University.

The event is free and open to the public. The advance screening, running about 45 minutes, includes excerpts from the four-part series. A reception will follow the screening and Q&A.

Ted Koppel describes The People’s Republic of Capitalism as “the most extensive project I’ve ever undertaken in its reporting and production.” In each of the hour-long programs, Koppel and his team of producers explore America’s economic relationship with China as well as capitalism’s effect on the Chinese people. The documentary traces the interconnected web of U.S./China trade, from Mexican migrant workers in North Carolina to a Chongqing teenager working on a boom-box assembly line; quality control inspectors at Ethan Allen to a Chinese homemaker shopping at Wal-Mart in Chongqing; and laid-off workers from Briggs & Stratton’s Rolla, Missouri, plant to the American who runs the Briggs & Stratton plant in Chongqing.

"The U.S. would have an easier time disentangling itself from Germany or France than from the Chinese,” said Koppel. “In fact, as one Chinese billionaire told me, ‘China is the most business-friendly government in the world.’ The kicker is, he’s probably right. Chinese and American businesses are taking full advantage of it, and you have to wonder how either country would get along without the other.”

Based in southwestern China’s industrial hub of Chongqing, the documentary was one year in the making. The individual programs focus on China’s changing values as a result of urbanization, the role of the automobile in making the Chinese more mobile while saving some U.S. automakers from financial ruin, and the impact of corruption on China’s economy and government efforts to reduce it.

The series premieres on the Discovery Channel on Wednesday, July 9, at 10 p.m. ET/PT and continues for the next three nights at 10 p.m. through Saturday, July 12. (Check local listings; air times may vary.)

James F. Blue III is a producer in the Koppel Group at the Discovery Channel. In this role, he joins news anchor Ted Koppel and executive producer Tom Bettag, in working with the company’s senior executives to develop a slate of long-form programming – including town hall meetings – that examines some of the most important issues in the world today. Blue joined the network in January 2006 in London. During the group’s debut season he co-produced the critically acclaimed Iran – The Most Dangerous Nation on the decades of mistrust between the U.S. and Iran. This documentary received a national news Emmy award for best long-form informational program. His current production, The People’s Republic of Capitalism, a four-hour series on contemporary China, debuts on the Discovery Channel in July 2008.

Prior to joining Discovery, Blue was an award-winning producer with ABC News for twelve years, most recently based in the network’s London bureau as the Nightline producer. In addition to extensive reporting on the war against terrorism and military affairs, he has produced several series for Nightline, including Heart of Darkness, on the 3.5 million people who have perished in an under-reported African civil war; A Matter of Choice, on gays and lesbians in the U.S.; and America in the Red, on the nation’s core economic problems. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Blue reported as part of a unilateral team based in southern Iraq. Since the end of large-scale military combat in Iraq, he has frequently returned to the country. In late 2005 he produced a town hall meeting in Baghdad on Iraq’s future that included a panel with those opposed to the coalition presence there. Blue has reported extensively from overseas.

In the course of his career Blue’s work has been awarded a George Foster Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton, an Overseas Press Club Award, and seven national Emmy awards. In addition, he has twice been selected as a finalist for the Livingstone Award for Young Journalists.

Before joining Nightline in 1994, Blue spent three years at NBC News as a producer with Today, Now, and other broadcasts. During this period he worked as a guest producer on the Rodney King trial, the Branch Davidian standoff, and Hurricane Andrew. He began his journalism career as a desk assistant at ABC News in New York in 1990.

Blue, a native of Durham, North Carolina, and a graduate of Hillside High School, is a 1991 graduate of Princeton University, where he studied domestic policy in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He completed a thesis on the coverage of poverty by the broadcast news networks in the late 1980s. He and his partner, John Rowell, are the fathers of two South African-born children: a son, Alden, 8, and a daughter, Eleanor Frances, 7. They currently reside in Baltimore, Maryland.


The American and Chinese economies are irreversibly intertwined. The common complaint that the Chinese are taking jobs away from American workers is in many cases true. China’s cheap and abundant labor attracts manufacturing from all over the world. Still, American economists estimate that the U.S. is as much as $70 billion richer each year because of its relationship with China­something must be going right. Wal-Mart, America’s largest retailer, is able to maintain low prices in part because of cheap Chinese labor. And when Apple sells a $299 iPod (designed in California and assembled in China), the American computer company makes an $80 profit while the Chinese assembly plant makes just $4. Part 1 traces the interconnected web of US/China trade, from Mexican migrant workers in North Carolina to a Chongqing teenager working on a boom box assembly line; quality control inspectors at Ethan Allen to a Chinese homemaker shopping at Wal-Mart in Chongqing; and laid-off workers from Briggs & Stratton’s Rolla, Missouri, plant to the American who runs the Briggs & Stratton plant in Chongqing.

Chongqing is a city of 13.5 million people­it could be the most populous city that most Americans have never heard of. The largest migration in human history is underway as millions of peasants are on the move from China’s countryside to its booming industrialized cities. The central government has plans to increase Chongqing’s population to 20 million. This population redistribution, combined with the emergence of capitalism, is having a dramatic effect on Chinese culture. Part 2 profiles a cast of characters in and around Chongqing to examine the central issues of traditional values, religion, sexuality, and political freedom.

China’s streets have gone from being jammed with bicycles to being jammed with cars. The nation is adding 25,000 new vehicles to its roads every day­that’s more than 9 million a year­and the government is building tens of thousands of miles of new highways. As millions of new drivers hit the road, this newfound freedom is bringing more accidents, more traffic, and more pollution. China will soon become the world's largest producer of cars as well as the biggest market for new cars. Foreign automakers like GM and Ford are already enjoying huge success in China­today, more Buicks are sold in China than in the U.S. Meanwhile, Chinese automakers are planning an assault on the U.S. market with low-cost cars, and they hope to be in American showrooms as early as next year.

China has lifted 300 million people out of poverty in less than a generation. It's a remarkable feat, but one that has had profound and often harmful consequences. In Part 4, Koppel looks at the downsides of a booming economy. Pollution is one of the biggest problems. China powers its economy primarily with coal, a dirty fuel that blackens its skies and cities. Ted Koppel descends 1000 feet into a coal mine to show viewers the work and danger that is involved in relying on coal to fuel the country's industries. With increased investment in infrastructure and new business, corruption is an escalating problem that costs China billions of dollars a year. Koppel explains what its government is doing to stamp it out. Finally, Part 4 examines the thorny issue of human rights and how China's economy continues to thrive despite the suppression of free speech and the iron fist of the Communist party. Capitalism after all, is merely an economic system. While China has wholeheartedly embraced a capitalist economy, it still governs its people with communism’s authoritarian rule.
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Posted 30 June 2008

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Last modified July 1, 2008 10:25:57 AM EDT