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Beyond Beijing: Exploring China’s Cities

2007
Distributed by Choices, Inc., 3740 Overland Ave., Ste. F, Los Angeles CA 90034; (310) 839-1500
Produced by Wang Shulin
Directed by Wang Shulin
DVD, color, 120 min.
Sr. High - Adult
Area Studies, China, Asian Studies


Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 11/5/2008

Billed as an introduction to six Chinese cities other than Beijing and aimed at English-speakers planning to visit China for the 2008 Olympic summer games in Beijing, this is, essentially, a travelogue that would not ordinarily elicit strong interest from academic librarians. However, the production is outstanding and the focus of interest is on the cities’ architecture, history, people, and changing lifestyles, not typical tourist attractions like Shanghai’s “Pearl of the Orient” tower, which is not shown here. As a result, it warrants serious consideration for academic collections supporting study of contemporary China.

The featured cities are Shanghai, Tianjin, Qindao, Qinhuangdao, Shenyang, and Hong Kong. The program can be viewed sequentially in this order or at random by clicking on “Chapters” in the main menu. Shanghai consumes the lion’s share of the disc—approximately 45 minutes out of the 120, with Tianjin and Qindao also covered at some length. Qinhuangdao, Shenyang, and Hong Kong are shorter, although they are described in similar terms. Given that Shanghai is China’s largest city, the differences may be justified or, perhaps a city’s coverage reflected its importance to the Olympics.

Sports—particularly Olympic sports—figure importantly. Coaches and athletes give brief interviews. Sports facilities are described and the people using them are interviewed. Observers and participants in China’s sports scene opine on the Olympics, their sport, and their city. Many interviewees are expatriates from Europe, North America, and elsewhere. They explain briefly why they chose to live and/or work in China. A good feature of the program is that the interview segments are brief, yet the pace is leisurely without any hint of dragging.

The visuals are beautiful. Shots of noteworthy buildings, temples, parks, and other historic sites are thoughtfully presented, often from numerous angles. Spoken material has clear, easy-to-read English subtitles. Since much of the dialogue is in Chinese (some in French, etc.), the subtitles are important, but they help also for English speakers with accents.

Some drawbacks prevent this from being ideal. An advertised teacher’s guide is not on the DVD. One must download it as a PDF file from the distributor’s web site. A small map pinpoints each city within its region, followed by one or two pages of information about that city that duplicates the video narrative. There are no discussion questions or facts that go beyond the video presentation. The final page of the guide is a map of China as a whole. This reviewer was irritated by constant repetition of the title frames every few minutes to separate program mini-segments. Viewers don’t need to be reminded of the title followed by a shot of a fire-breathing dragon dozens of times during the two-hour program. It is an unnecessary distraction.

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