Portraits of a Changing China
Witnesses to Transformation of World's Most Populous Country
Beijing Bar Owner Henry Li
Unemployed Worker "Li Hua"
Migrant Worker Wu Dongmei
Millionaire Survivor Yin Mingshan
American Maoist Joan Hinton
Henry Li, owner of Beijing's trendy Neo Lounge.
Photo: Lavina Tien, NPR News
"We don't need to take over the world... China will join the whole world and we will party together."
Bar owner Henry Li
Wu Dongmei, a migrant factory worker, sends money to her family in her home village 1,000 miles away.
Photo courtesy Wu Dongmei
"If we insist we don't want to do overtime, then that's okay. But if you complain, you may get fired. And anyway the more you work, the higher your salary."
Migrant worker Wu Dongmei
Yin Mingshan, founder and CEO of Lifan Group, China's leading exporter of motorcycles.
Photo: Lifan Group
"The party is evolving in line with the changes going on in China. It's not interested any more in making the whole world believe in communism. Today, the main aim of the party is to make the country and the people prosperous."
Yin Mingshan, millionaire businessman
Joan Hinton went to China in 1948 to take part in the Communist revolution. Today she runs a dairy farm outside Beijing.
Photo: Lavina Tien, NPR News
"I have taken part in two of the greatest things of the 20th century -- the development of the atom bomb and the Chinese revolution. Who could ask for anything more than that?"
Joan Hinton, nuclear physicist and dairy farmer
In a series of reports for Morning Edition, NPR Beijing correspondent Rob Gifford profiles five people from across China who symbolize the massive changes the country is undergoing as it makes its transition away from communism.
In "Portraits of a Changing China," Gifford reports on the owner of a trendy Beijing night spot, a jobless worker in northeast China, a villager who migrated to a big city, a Cultural Revolution survivor who became a millionaire and an American nuclear physicist who now runs a dairy farm outside Beijing.
Aug. 6, 2002 -- Beijing Bar Owner Henry Li
Henry Li's Neo Lounge is one of Beijing's hottest night clubs. It rivals any New York, Los Angeles or London club for hipness.
As Gifford describes it: "Throbbing music, vodka martinis, designer furniture. This isn't the Communist China of old. But after decades of being convulsed by Marxism, Leninism and Maoism, many young people in China's cities are discovering a new ism -- hedonism. And people like Henry Li are providing the clubs and bars for China's new wealthy urbanites to come out and play."
Li says he wants to "introduce the good lifestyle" to China, and its people deserve "a better life."
But he has no sympathy for the student movement that's tried to overthrow the government. Economic development must precede political reform, Li says.
Aug. 13, 2002 -- Unemployed Worker "Li Hua"
He lives in China's northeastern rust belt, a vast wasteland where state-owned enterprises are laying off hundreds of thousands of workers. Laid off from his factory electrician's job three years ago, "Li Hua" (he probably didn't give his real name because of his anti-communist views) feels betrayed by the party.
"In my generation, we all talked about realizing the goals of communism, but now it doesn't exist anymore," he says. "So what are we realizing? Nothing. Nothing at all."
He hopes for a better life for his daughter and that she will "have more freedom to do and say what she wants... "
Aug. 20, 2002 -- Migrant Worker Wu Dongmei
Wu Dongmei is one of an estimated 150 million Chinese migrant workers. From her home in a small village 1,000 miles away, she traveled to work at a clothing factory in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen. There she earns about $100 per month and sends much of it back home to her family.
"This was my only escape from the poverty of the countryside," she says, adding that she hopes to learn to operate machines and earn even more money.
"I feel I am being exploited a little," she says. "But what can I do? I need the money."
Aug. 27, 2002 -- Millionaire Survivor Yin Mingshan
For 20 years in the 1960s and 1970s, Yin Mingshan was persona non grata in strictly Maoist China. But he survived the Cultural Revolution, secretly taught himself English and started his own business. Today, Yin is the head of Lifan Group, the country's biggest exporter of motorcycles, and one of China's wealthiest businessmen.
Yin says: "The party is evolving in line with the changes going on in China. It's not interested any more in making the whole world believe in communism. Today, the main aim of the party is to make the country and the people prosperous."
He says his "real hero" is Deng Xiaoping. But he also admires Thomas Jefferson and Margaret Thatcher.
Sept. 3, 2002 -- American Maoist Joan Hinton
Concluding the series, Gifford profiles someone who is not Chinese, but who makes her home in China. Joan Hinton, an American nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, first came to China in 1948 to take part in the Communist revolution. She never left and now runs a dairy farm near Beijing.
Hinton says she moved to China because she wanted to get away from the atom bomb and preferred to work to help the Chinese mechanize their agriculture. "I want to make people have a better life, not worse," she says.
She says China has gone down hill since Mao's death in 1976 and is angry that the Communist Party has betrayed its roots by starting economic reform and becoming "completely capitalist."
Search for more Rob Gifford stories on China.
The Lifan Group, founded and run by Yin Mingshan, is China's biggest exporter of motorcycles.
Yin Mingshan was on Forbes magazine's list of China's 100 wealthiest business people in 2001.
Learn about the city of Shenzhen, where migrant Worker Wu Dongmei labors in a clothing factory.