BBC documentary: China's Capitalist Revolution

June 20, 2009, 11:05 PM posted in General Discussion

For those of you that missed it in the UK, there was a brilliant documentary on BBC2 earlier tonight on Deng Xiaoping's reforms during the 80s. It tells the a gripping tale of the path that China took to opening up its economy, with plenty of anecdotes (e.g. the novelty of synthetic t-shirts), how people made a lot of money, but also how the changes created social unrest through corruption, inflation and unemployment. It places 1989 in context (not the simple pro-democracy Western media view), and how Deng Xiaoping struggled to prevent his reforms being undone in the aftermath of the disaster. I found it absolutely fascinating, and has plenty of interviews with people who were around at the time (so lots of advanced Chinese practise!)

Watch it on iPlayer:


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June 21, 2009, 12:50 AM

Hi Sebire,

Really thoughtful of you to post this up for everybody.  This looks really interesting, and as you say, great Chinese practice.  Unfortunately, I live in Beijing and so cannot use iplayer to watch British TV content. And with youtube being blocked we're pretty much in the dark "out here" in the middle of the Middle Kingdom.  

So, did you learn anything new from the programme?  Any new perspectives?  

My wife and I are currently in the process of buying a new flat and we're getting to know a whole new facet of life in Beijing - and lots and lots of new words too.  Cpod was obliging by doing an Upper Int lesson on buying flats just at the exact time I needed the words and phrases!  

So please do tell more of this recent attempt to explain China in a TV documentary ~ Sometimes (but only sometimes these days) I think getting a grip on China can be like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle while blindfolded.


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June 24, 2009, 01:14 AM

OK I watched it! Very well produced docu, particularly interesting if like me a lot of the basic background knowledge on figures such as 邓小平 passed you by.

There's no doubt that he was a remarkable man, he deserves the high esteem he receives in China. His personal style and qualities stand out in such sharp contrast to 毛泽东, who clearly brought immense suffering to so many through the 大跃进 and the 文化大革命.

There are other facets to the issue of China embracing western style global capitalism though aren't there? It's all very well cheering our hearts out and lifting a glass to the millions 'lifted out of poverty', but how about the future of the planet, and for that matter the future of civilization? Personally I believe that global capitalism's looming energy crisis will be the end of it, and the environmental degradation and climate change which is global capitalism's unavoidable consequence will be the end of many millions of us in the decades to come.

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June 21, 2009, 10:09 AM

Mike, I didn't actually notice the accents, I was too busy concentrating to see if I could pick up anything of what they were saying. I did notice one language point - the subtitles translated the students (or someone) as being fiery, and I could hear the guy saying what sounded like 很热. I thought it was funny that we use the word "hot" in a very similar way (if that is indeed what he said). Are you talking about the Sitong electronics guy?


keruise, you're not alone - no one outside of the UK can watch iPlayer either (well, unless they can really be bothered to come up with some fancy technical solution).

I liked the programme personally because it had a really good narrative. I can't remember the protests in Tiananmen, so most of my subsequent exposure are just news clips etc, where very little context is provided. Moreover, I've read a bit about Mao's China, and the changes in 30 years since are little short of a miracle. There is a great anecdote when China and the US restart diplomatic ties, and the US agree to remove their embassy from Taiwan, and an American asks Deng "our President has suffered a political cost from reopening ties with China. Have you suffered any political costs?" And Deng replies "Yes of course. The province of Taiwan was very unhappy!"

I also particularly liked the story about how a state-run industry had lots of new machinery made in the West, and when one of these entrepreneurs came to visit, he noticed that all the workers were just sitting around doing nothing and playing poker. He asked them why they weren't doing anything, and they said that by running the machines for 3 days, they had filled their quota for the year. So said entrepreneur took over the company and tripled revenue within a year.

Another anecdote told how huge swathes of workers in the state industries were completely unproductive, and all they did were read and shout slogans all day.

Finally, the most surprising thing was a transcript of a meeting that the leaders had during the protests was one where Deng said something like "of course we want democracy, but the immediate change to a multi-party system would create chaos", and suggested that Deng had been very reluctant to declare martial law.

What was left unclear is how Deng is viewed by the Chinese today. Based purely on this documentary, he surely must be one of the most significant leaders of the 20th century in my mind.

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June 21, 2009, 01:38 PM

@keruise - if you sign up here, you should be able to download this documentary and many other fine examples of British TV. I'm doing so myself right now and will comment on it when I've had the chance to see it.

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June 21, 2009, 01:50 PM


let me know if it  works. I would like to watch it.

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June 21, 2009, 02:19 PM


Yes, that's the guy who invented the software printer - Not an sh sound in sight!  I even wondered whether he had a speach impediment.

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June 21, 2009, 07:40 AM

I saw it.  Very interesting.

Lots of different Chinese 'accents' on display.  Quite a challenge.   In particular one industrialist had such a (in my opinion) Southern accent, it was almost painful to listen too.


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June 21, 2009, 05:32 PM

Same issue here but I read on the site that there is a time delay for newly registered user: I still have to wait 15 hours before I am allowed to dl it (when I'm finished I promiss to keep seeding it :-) ).

Ty for posting this link Sebire!

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June 21, 2009, 06:44 PM

Gosh, I hope with all this expectation you won't be disappointed! It does spend a good 20-25 mins on Tiananmen.

mikeinewshot, I had a listen again at that guy's accent, and you are right, all his 是s sounds like 四s.

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June 22, 2009, 12:26 AM

Humph! Yes, I've yet to download the smallest part of it, looks like I have to wait another 4 hours or something. I'll be back.

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June 22, 2009, 08:54 AM

OK just to update, I've successfully downloaded this prog from the site I posted. (If you're a new user at that site then you have to wait 12 hours or more to download, but after that it comes down the tubes pretty fast.) Err... now I'll watch it, comment later.

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June 21, 2009, 05:26 PM

Might be best to wait until the British have gone to bed before trying to download or stream this video. Could be my ISP, but I've been having trouble today, even in the UK.

The BBC IPlayer is ambitious. This documentary is 90 minutes of high-res video. Total 979 Megabytes!