One thing that impresses me about Beijing, despite its shortcomings and inconveniences (as I write this, the pollution level has surpassed 500 on the PMI 2.5 scale – read about it here in Bloomberg today), is that people are just generally interested in foreigners. After all, of the population of over 20 million in Beijing, only about 200,000 are foreigners, roughly 1%. For locals, its simply curiosity. For Chinese society, foreigners treading on China’s land is an essential part to China’s strategy to continue to expand and grow in the modern economy.
As a result, it has become common practice on Chinese Central Television (CCTV) to periodically feature foreigners as part of their programming. Quite frankly, any foreigner worth his salt really has to be featured on a Chinese television show at some point during “the China experience.” Its a right of passage, a sign that one has stayed here long enough to almost be considered a “China – hand.”
For almost 2 years living and working in Beijing, the TV opportunity had escaped me. And then suddenly – it happened. Actually, it was the Spartan Network that finally delivered the opportunity to grace the bright lights and cameras of Chinese television. My friend and fellow MSU alum, Ray Wu, invited me to part of the show his wife, Cici, hosts on CCTV 7 农业节目电视台（Agriculture and Education Channel) this week, and needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.
The show is called “助跑80后” (english translation：The Road After 1980), and the program involves Cici inviting famous entrepreneurs or public figures that have had success in the “New China” since the economic opening up in the late 70s – early 80s.
My role was to be part of the hudongtuan, which essentially is a group of 3 to 4 people that sit on stage and engage the guest and the host in a meaningful dialogue.
I participated in two shows, and among other things, it turned out to be a great networking opportunity. The first show featured Zhang Cai Ming, CEO of China’s largest underwear and lingerie brand, Aimer. On the second, we spoke with the CEO of JP Morgan’s China Investment Banking Division, Fang Fang. In the latter, I was able to give a major shout out to the Michigan State University Beijing Alumni Club when discussing networking techniques in China, which I felt pretty great about :).
While the shows both went smoothly, as a foreigner, it is a bit of an exhausting and challenging experience. Quite obviously, everything is done in Chinese, from the pre-production planning meetings, to the backstage interviews, to the on stage dialogue. For anyone that understands how difficult it is to communicate in a foreign language, you know that it is more than just being able to have a conversation and use the vocabulary you know. One has to simultaneously demonstrate cogency in the Chinese language while following the flow and dialogue of the show. These are very much professional skills learned over years of training.
I think I held my own up there, but most of my comments remained short. I was, indeed, the “token white guy.” Honestly, that really was the point. I learned that, regardless of my ability to contribute substantially to the show, in the end it did not matter. It is just important to have foreigners periodically show up in Chinese domestic productions to demonstrate China’s efforts to reach outside its borders. It will be difficult for China’s culture and production to really expand out into the world. Most people do not speak Chinese, which makes it difficult to recruit foreigners like me to take part in production, or even watch their movies or television. But as genuine efforts like this continue to grow, and Americans grow the confidence to use their Chinese participate in these types of productions, these exchanges can lead to some extremely beneficial results for U.S. – China relations.
The show debuts in a few weeks. I will be sure to send you all the link when it goes up online! Another great example of the power of the Spartan Network!