Co-produced documentary airing on Discovery shows how four decades of reform and opening-up changed millions of lives
Published: Dec 16, 2018 07:48 PM

Promotional material for How China Made It Photo: Courtesy of Liu Hui

Discovery Channel Vice President and General Manager of Greater China and South Korea Tony Qiu Photo: IC

The editor-in-chief of Youku Zhang Lina attends a media event for How China Made It in Beijing on Friday. Photo: IC

Sixty-something You Mingrui still works in the fields like he has for the past few decades, but now he runs an organic farm, which directly supplies the 12 restaurants his son, You Hebing, owns.

"I live during a time when we can change our destiny through hard work. This is different from my father's time, when growing rice and cotton was the only way he could get by," the younger You, who also owns four restaurants in Manila, says in a new documentary series in which dozens of Chinese recall how China's reform and opening-up policy changed their lives after it was first adopted in 1978.

"I believe the 21st century will be China's century," Laurence Brahm, founding director of the Himalayan Consensus Institute, notes in one episode of the series.

Telling China's story

The three-episode documentary How China Made It, co-produced by the China Intercontinental Communication Centre (CICC), Chinese streaming platform Youku, the Discovery Channel and Meridian LINE Films with support from the Chinese government, began airing on Discovery and Youku on Saturday.

"We really hope to share the great social and cultural changes taking place in China over the past decades of reform and opening-up with our overseas audiences through our channel," said Tony Qiu, Discovery Channel's general manager of Greater China & South Korea, at a media event for the series held in Beijing on Friday.

Filmed in 4k resolution, the series makes use of a host of creative visual effects, such as slow motion, ultra close-ups and time-lapse photography to tell the story of China's reform and opening-up.

According to Qiu, the same international production team that helped make the documentary China: Time of Xi in 2017 worked on this project.

This is not the first time that Discovery has teamed up with the Chinese government. Five years ago, the channel produced a program aimed at introducing China to the world.

"The Magic of China is a good example of the cooperation between China's State Council Information Office and foreign media," Qiu told the Global Times on Friday.

"This creative model allows us to air two hours of co-produced content about China's changes and stories every week."

Other highly popular co-produced programs are already in their second or third seasons.

"How China Works, now in its second season, has been received pretty well in the TV ratings, especially in areas like Southeast Asia and Australia and New Zealand," said Qiu.

"Local people show great interest in content about China because of their close economic relationship with the country."

The dreams of millions

Since China implemented its reform and opening-up policy in the late 1970s, millions of people's lives have been changed and great changes have taken place throughout the nation. One of those impacted was You Hebing, as these policies gave him the chance to pursue his college studies in the capital city of China, Beijing, and live and work there after graduation.

"As a boy from the countryside, I'm proud to have made it in Beijing and achieved what I have now," the young man from East China's Jiangxi Province says in the series' first episode: Love of Land.

This episode dives deep into China's rural regions and explores, through personal testimony, how the reform and opening-up changed the lives of China's farming families, from the beginning of the household responsibility system in 1978 to today.

Like the younger You, millions of young people today are no longer tied to the fields like their fathers were, instead they have the economic freedom to pursue their dreams.

The second episode delves into these new freedom. Chasing Dreams zooms in on the stories of entrepreneurs and industrialists, both large and small, who jumped at the chance to take advantage of the new opportunities created by the different policies of the reform era. These individuals share the personal stories of the ups and downs they experienced while chasing their dreams.

The last episode, Future Focused, explores the many ways the daily lives of Chinese have continued to change since 1978, from education to travel, culture and health. The episode reveals how innovation and a green agenda promise a brighter future for China and her people.

According to Wang Yuanyuan, the head of CICC's production center, co-productions such as these require constant communication and discussion to ensure the needs of the two platforms, and the two very different audiences, are met.

"We need to spend a lot of time thinking about how we can capture overseas audiences with Chinese stories on the Discovery Channel, and at the same time consider how to make our series stand out from the many similar programs in China," Wang told the Global Times at the event.

"Learning from previous hit programs like China From Above and Chinese New Year, we've found that a good series is able to break cultural boundaries, especially when it comes to young people, who tend to care little about whether a story belongs to 'you or me.'"