Executive Producer Peter Charley blogs about his latest trip with Dateline host George Negus to Beijing, where an economic revolution is reshaping China.


The New Beijing

We’ve heard a lot in recent weeks about the pollution of Beijing and of the struggle for free speech during the 2008 Olympic Games. Clearly, both are key issues in China at this moment.

But more striking to us when George Negus, cameraman Jorge Zarate and I went there recently for Dateline was the pace of economic change that is reshaping China.

In Pictures: Dateline in Beijing

The doctrinaire communist nation with its hard-line policies is undergoing a new kind of revolution, with its economic might spawning a legion of nouveau riche entrepreneurs and its new, cashed-up class developing a taste for the once-reviled excesses of the capitalist west.

While we were filming in downtown Beijing, we found ourselves standing in front of a Rolls Royce dealership and a Maserati outlet. Across the street, four storey-high posters displayed top-of-the-line designer wear. This new Beijing is rolling over the old city, crunching its one famous ‘hutong’ districts into little more than old-world curiosities. Certainly, poverty still exists in the Chinese capital, but in the show-and-tell Olympic city is putting on a dazzling display of its wealth.

A successful movie producer, Wang Zhongjun, showed us his multi-million dollar collection of Chinese art in his gated mansion on the outskirts of Beijing. His driver later showed us Mr Wang’s red Ferrari and his collection of brand-new BMWs. It is becoming more common, he said, for China’s new business tsars to display their financial prowess in this way. But how does this over-the-top conspicuous consumption fit with the communist doctrines that guided Mr Wang when, as a young man, he worked as a soldier and a government employee?

“I think I still have ideals similar to that of a communist. I haven’t changed too much in what I want to achieve,” Mr Wang told us. “I still remember Xiaoping (Deng Xiaoping) said “let some people get rich first”. I still can remember this…I really like what he said.”

So, too, it seems, do the 415,000 millionaires and over a hundred billionaires, that the People's Republic of China have created.

Blog: The New Beijing