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A new look at the mother river
Latest Updated by 2006-08-11 10:18:22
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Upstream of Yangtze River in Qinghai

ON Aug. 7, 1983, China Central Television (CCTV) aired the first episode of what turned out to be a national documentary blockbuster.

"Talk About the Yangtze River," the 25-episode documentary, aired every Saturday night (Aug 10) for half a year. It was the first time that Chinese people got to see the entire Yangtze River, the country's mother river.

Shot between 1981 and 1982, "Talk About the Yangtze River" recorded scenes along the river, which originates in the rugged Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and winds east of the commercial hub of Shanghai.

At a time when few Chinese traveled, the documentary was an eye opener for the public, with a record-breaking 40 percent of all homes with television tuned in.

In 2004, more than 20 years later, CCTV returned to the river for a mighty update. The 33-episode series began airing in July on CCTV-1 with reruns now on CCTV-4.

Documenting the personal aspects

"The original one expressed the beauty of the landscape along the mother river, while the significance of re-shooting is to explore the changes along the river in the past two decades," said director Li.

The changes along the river are the changes of China. The new documentary is a mirror of the society which experienced substantial social and economic change in the past 20 years.

For the mother river, it was the emergence of the Yangtze River Delta and the relocation of millions of people living near the Three Gorges.

The new production shows change through a journal kept by Li Huiying. Now a Shanghai grandmother, Li Huiying wrote down her daily expenses - from three to four cents for a popsicle in the 1980s to 30,000 to 40,000 yuan (US$5,000) for house decoration expense.

The new production also seeks out ordinary people who made brief appearances in the original series. In 1981, CCTV videotaped Li Xi, an 11-year-old Chongqing boy running on a Yangtze River bridge. CCTV again shoots Li Xi running on the same bridge, but now he is an advertising company manager.

Old river, new technology

Li Jinzhu, music editor of the old "Yangtze River" and chief director of the new documentary, said the original one relied on rough and ready techniques. The subtitles were handwritten on pieces of paper, which a crew member reeled off as they were videotaped. The original aerial photography was light years away from the current technology.

The new production deployed an air force UH-60A helicopter to shoot a solid ice bank with the size of Shanghai from an altitude of 5,000 meters - unimaginable in the 1980s, said Li. They also use 3D technology and capture underwater scenes with high-resolution cameras.

Editor: Wing

By: Source: Szdaily web edition
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