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Case Number 16631: Small Claims Court

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The People's Republic Of Capitalism

Acorn Media // 2008 // 176 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // June 17th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Victor Valdivia dreads the day DVD reviewing is outsourced to China. He can't compete with that.

The Charge

Ted Koppel takes an in-depth look at the economic ties that bind the U.S. to China.

The Case

At the heart of The People's Republic of Capitalism is a simple question: how can a self-proclaimed Communist country embrace capitalism so fervently without becoming politically liberated? Over the four episodes and nearly three hours collected on this two-disc set, host and producer Ted Koppel attempts to answer it. In the end, he does, but the answers and revelations about China's economic rise and relation to the United States will deeply disturb American viewers. Koppel has done a typically thorough and compelling job of presenting the story of China's economic rise, but that sure doesn't mean you'll like it, unless you're a Chinese businessman.

The People's Republic of Capitalism is split over four 45-minute episodes that each cover a different aspect of China's economic ascent:

Disc One
• "Joined at the Hip"
U.S. companies outsource jobs to China, resulting in a complicated relationship that only gets more and more intertwined.

• "Mao-ism to Me-ism"
Chongqing, a city in western China, represents the explosive growth of capitalism in the country as a new generation of Chinese with no memory of Mao Zedong comes of age.

Disc Two
• "The Fast Lane"
China's rapidly growing auto industry will overtake the U.S. in only a few years now that Chinese citizens are allowed to buy cars for the first time in China's history.

• "It's the Economy, Stupid"
The explosive growth of capitalism in China has led to an increase of corruption and pollution, but the Chinese government refuses to consider any sort of political reform.

What Koppel concludes, after talking to Chinese businessmen, students, yuppies, workers both blue and white-collar, and rural peasants, is that China's current government can in no way be described as Communist or Socialist. It would be more accurate to describe it as a Capitalist Dictatorship. The Chinese government has, in essence, struck a Faustian bargain with its citizens: It will deliver economic prosperity and the promise of upward mobility as long as its citizens do not question the government in any way, shape, or form. As long as Chinese citizens feel that the country works, in the sense that they have plenty of opportunities to make money and buy products, they will ignore the government's appalling human-rights violations and lack of transparency. It's not a coincidence that not a single government official appears on these programs, apart from some blurry news footage of President Hu Jintao. The Chinese government clearly wants to be invisible while simultaneously controlling the population. At the same time, the government wants to shed the old image of Communism as fast as possible. One Chinese businessman bluntly states that the only people who consider China a Communist country are Americans, and Koppel visits bars and restaurants in which budding Chinese yuppies go to laugh at satirical plays and songs about Maoism and the Cultural Revolution. Clearly, Mao is spinning in his grave, but then the Chinese government would probably just turn it into a tourist attraction.

What does this mean for China's relationship with the U.S.? Here, Koppel has made some even more unsettling discoveries. What it boils down to is this: as long as American companies value cheap labor, they will outsource to China, because no country has more cheap labor available at any given time than China. That's no exaggeration. Koppel shows a Chinese couple digging out rocks for an expressway by hand, even though there's presumably no shortage of machines that can do the job faster and more efficiently. However, there are so many thousands of poor peasants in China who are eager to work for the tiniest of wages that it's actually easier and cheaper to use people instead of machines for menial labor. That's why the American CEOs that Koppel interviews become increasingly evasive and tense as he presses them on their future plans for expansion in China. What are they going to say—that American workers would have to agree to work for wages of a few dollars a day (which is a fortune for most Chinese rural peasants) in order to compete? Koppel, however, doesn't pin all the blame on CEOs. When a woman who was laid off from her longtime manufacturing job in the Midwest because it was outsourced to China mentions that she shops at Wal-Mart to save money, she is informed that it's Wal-Mart which most ravenously demands the dirt-cheap labor that China has to offer. She has no answer.

Maybe that's not fair. What The People's Republic of Capitalism proves, firmly and definitively, is there really are no easy answers. China is ascending economically, in a process that isn't necessarily painless or just. There are many Americans helping that happen, for reasons that are not altogether altruistic, and everyone is just going to have to live with it. This is a definitive look at the economic realities of the new millennium, done with the characteristic intelligence, wit, and thoroughness that Koppel brought to his years on Nightline. Anyone who wants to understand this new economic world needs to see it. Be warned, though, you probably won't be cheered by it.

The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix are sterling, sharp and clear while making good use of both the widescreen image and the surrounds. The only extra is an interview with Koppel (31:43), in which he discusses his experiences in China since the late '60s.

The Verdict

Not at all guilty, but depressing as hell.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: Acorn Media
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 176 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Interview


• IMDb

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