In my latest Olympic-walkup column about how pop culture has largely ignored modern China, I mentioned very briefly that some cable documentaries and news shows have been trying—albeit with relatively small audiences—to fill in the gaps. So it’s only fair that I mention some of them. Last month, Discovery viewers saw Ted Koppel portray China as a country balancing the legacy of authoritarian communist rule with a drive to become an economic powerhouse in The People’s Republic of Capitalism. Tonight, the Sundance Channel explores this new China from a more limited, but I’d say more engrossing, perspective than Koppel’s sweeping panorama.
The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World is about just that: The West Lake, a massive, 800-employee, 5,000-patrons-a-day restaurant in Hunan province. Part news report, part reality show, the four-part documentary looks not just at the restaurant’s culturally rich, but constantly evolving, menu, but also at the restaurant and its business as a symbol of the changes in China at large, as it struggles to keep up with the tastes and indulge the desire for novelty of the country’s growing middle class. The West Lake’s owner is Ms. Qin, a driven, phenomenally successful businesswoman and—of course—a member of the Communist Party. Here’s a YouTube trailer of the doc:
Meanwhile in Olympic-media news, China still doesn’t feel it needs to open up the whole Internet to journalists.