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TV series aims to 'decode' China

By : China Daily | Published: 2014-June-18

China hand Robert Kuhn shares his observations in the five-part TV documentary series China's Challenges. [China Daily]

Tian Lipu, head of the State Intellectual Property Office, is interviewed by China's Challenges host Robert Kuhn.

[InKunming--China]  An award-winning documentary series has shone a light on some of the most troubling issues faced by the nation's leaders and people. He Wei reports.

"To see China as it is, not as we wish or fear it to be" was the catch-cry of well-known US diplomat and China expert Charles W. Freeman, Jr.

But despite Freeman's visionary words, foreigners today are still wary of China's goodwill, no matter how genuine.

While this may frustrate Beijing, old China hand Robert Kuhn believes it is not wise to simply cast blame or conjure conspiracies.

Kuhn, author of How China's Leaders Think and many other books, including a biography of former president Jiang Zemin, intends to depict China "as it is" showing China's candid acceptance of some of its most challenging problems.

He has delivered his observations in a five-part TV documentary series, China's Challenges, which aims to chronicle China's tremendous changes, and show how the problems caused by these changes are shaping the lives and futures of more than 1 billion people.

But the program was not initially designed this way. Kuhn says the documentary was supposed "to honor the achievements of China's previous leaders".

"But I suggested that to explore the problems and the challenges that China's new leaders face might be a better way to tell the real story to international audiences," Kuhn says.

The TV series is now being broadcast on PBS, a mainstream US station that is wary of airing anything that looks like government propaganda, a rare achievement for a Chinese-made program.

To develop original stories while maintaining a balanced, objective view, Kuhn sought intelligent partners, who know China well, have an international perspective and are not afraid to tackle thorny and sensitive subjects.

The International Channel Shanghai, an English-language TV channel under the municipal government-run Shanghai Media Group, seemed a perfect fit. A group of five young and talented women directors, together with Kuhn's team, crafted the year-long project.

While China's growing strengths have global import, the series touches upon the severe problems that China is beset with: economic dislocation, disparities between the rich and poor, inadequate and imbalanced social services, tensions over political reform, uncertainties of belief systems and more.

"We would like to have the series framed in terms of President Xi Jinping's Chinese Dream but not make it too apparent," says Sun Wei, channel director at ICS.

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