August 12, 2004

Incredible Roadtrip and Incredible Radio

Route 312 which crosses China from Shanghai through the Gobi Desert to the western edge of China is one of the ancient stretches of the exotic Silk Road. In Marco Polo's day, crossing the Gobi Desert was done by camel. Today, Route 312 is the main road and trucking route that connects the eastern, populous and prosperous coast of China to the rural edges on along the western front. Many of those heading east are migrants looking for a better life in Shanghai. And those heading west are servicing the great engine of China, delivering the manufactured goods of the east to the hinterlands and hauling the resources of the west to the factories of the east.

china_roadmap.jpg This month, NPR broadcast the roadtrip of their reporter, Rob Gifford, across China providing an audio picture of the people of China and the changes that are rippling through China at a rapid pace. This is radio at its absolute best and here is a series that provides remarkable insight into the world's most populous country which is steadily growing into its own as a world class superpower.

Rob Gifford, the NPR reporter, is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and has spent a number of years reporting from China already. Thus, he was able to talk with people all along the route about their lives, their troubles and their dreams. It makes for incredibly compelling radio.

Some of the more fascinating pieces? Rob finds himself having to preach to a Christian church whose preacher didn't show up, talking to the prostitutes and truckers that ply the road and running into some bicyclers cycling across the Gobi Desert just as cyclers join Cycle Oregon to have an excuse of touring Oregon. When discussing the cyclists, he points out how unusual, yet a real sign of modernization it is for people on Route 312 to be traveling for fun.

On the road he encounters mothers worrying about whether their sons will find a wife. One of the unintended consequences of the "One Child" policies imposed by the Communist government when combined with the preference for boys led to the huge deficit of girls available for marriage in this generation. Girl babies were aborted or abandoned to make room for the one male child needed to carry on the family honor.

The seven part series makes a richly complex mosaic and one that paints a picture of a country steeped with tradition which is facing rapid change. If we ever wonder where the world is heading, we can do no more than to reflect on the history of China through the ages and what it takes to bring over a billion people into the modern world without running into catastrophy.

So do take time to listen to the whole series.

Posted by Mary at August 12, 2004 01:07 AM | Media | Technorati links |

I've been listening to this series as well. Fabulous.

Posted by: RSLS at August 12, 2004 06:08 AM

It's been one of their best series so far. I can only hope that Rob Gifford will be sent out for other roadtrips, and not just during the summer months.

Posted by: Kayne at August 12, 2004 06:25 AM