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Sunday, Sept. 29, 2002


30 years of China relations aired out

Thirty years ago, the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka normalized relations with the People's Republic of China. Historically, the relationship between Japan and China has often been compared to that between Rome and Greece, since much of Japan's culture (writing system, Buddhism, handicrafts, etc.) was imported wholesale from China. Last week, about 13,000 Japanese people participated in an anniversary celebration in Beijing that was topped off with a Sino-Japanese concert headlined by superstar Ayumi Hamasaki.

However, the ties are both deeper and more complicated than a pop concert. This month will see many television specials devoted to various aspects of Sino-Japanese relations. Three, in fact, will be aired Sept. 29.

At 2 p.m. on that day, Asahi TV will present a program hosted by veteran political journalist Soichiro Tawara that will look at the predictions of famous men of the past and how those predictions compare to the reality of East Asia today. Among these men are Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese revolutionary leader who helped overthrow the Manchu Dynasty in 1911. Sun, in fact, formed his political party, the United Revolutionary League, in 1905 while in exile in Tokyo.

At 3:30 p.m. on the same day, the news staff of TBS will present its own 90-minute live special about Japan-China relations based on recent news reports and the expertise of its reporters who are China specialists.

NHK, which has fostered very close ties with China's media and government, has been producing excellent documentary programs about the country for at least a decade, mainly in the areas of economics and technology. Japan's public broadcaster has been far ahead of any other foreign media concern in its coverage of these two vital areas.

At 9 p.m. on Sept. 29, NHK-G will present the second of four specials (the remaining two will be broadcast on Oct. 5 and 6) commemorating the normalization anniversary. The theme of the series is the economic activity that has taken place between Japan and China over the past 30 years. During this time, trade has ballooned by a factor of 80, and the amount of human resource traffic between the two countries has increased 200-fold.

The second installment zeroes in on these human resources, specifically "sea turtles," or students who study abroad, mainly in Japan or the United States, and then return to China where they "deposit the eggs of their learning" in the form of new venture businesses and executive positions in Chinese high-tech companies.

These returning students are in such demand that they are often the object of extremely competitive headhunting activities. In the information technology and biotech fields, salaries of at least 10 million yen are the norm. In order to attract talent to regional cities that aren't very glamorous, some companies build luxury homes for potential executives.

Japanese tend to think of themselves as being unique as a race, both culturally and physiologically (that old saying about the longer intestines), and to a certain extent the Sept. 30 science special "Japanese are Descended from Nine Mothers?!" (TV Tokyo, 10 p.m.) should help to debunk the various myths attached to this "uniqueness" idea.

It is generally believed that, based on mitochondrial DNA, all humankind can be divided into 35 fundamental types. The Japanese population comprises nine of these types, which means in theory that each Japanese person can trace their ancestry back to one of nine "mothers" of the world, so to speak.

On the special, actress Yuki Amami has her DNA checked, and it is found to match those of remains from the Jomon era of prehistoric Japan. Her DNA also falls into the category of Type 8, which means she has ancestors throughout the Eurasian continent. Amami travels throughout China and Russia looking for these ancestors. There are also sidebar reports on related topics, including the famous European Iceman.

On Oct. 11, NHK will begin bilingual broadcasts of the Emmy-winning NBC series "The West Wing," which in Japan will be retitled "The White House." Created by award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and modeled on the dizzying multicharacter format of shows like "NYPD Blue" and "ER," the series focuses on the White House staff of a fictional Democratic president played by Martin Sheen, but nevertheless addresses problems not unlike the ones that have confounded recent administrations.

Though very entertaining, "The West Wing" is also pointedly educational (Republicans might also accuse it of being liberal-leaning). One's enjoyment of the intricate, interlocking intrigues will depend somewhat on one's knowledge of current events and American civics. Just as "ER" never slows down long enough to allow viewers to catch up on their medical terminology, "The West Wing" often assumes that its viewers hold master's degrees in political science.

In order to help alleviate some of this confusion, NHK-G will broadcast a special introduction to the series Friday at 11 p.m. Gaijin tarento/American TV producer Dave Spector and others will travel to the real White House in Washington D.C. and interview staff members about their work, and also explain the various characters on the show.

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