World / Reporter's Journal

Filmmaker opens minds on China through economic lens

By ZHANG YUWEI (China Daily USA) Updated: 2014-12-08 10:59

When Miao Wang, a New York-based filmmaker, visited South Carolina in the summer to film a documentary about Chinese investment in the United States, she was surprised to see how little the local people knew about China.

Let alone how Chinese investment helped the local economy in South Carolina — which is one of the US states that attract the most Chinese deals — China as a country had minimal impact on the local populace.

"A lot of places in the middle of America are very homogenized, and many people there have never met a Chinese person," Wang recalled. "Our local PA (production assistant) said I was the first Chinese person she has met."

Wang's seven-minute documentary — Made by China in America — tells several stories about how Chinese investments in manufacturing facilities in South Carolina impact the local economy — is part of Morgan Spurlock's We The Economy series.

The 37-year-old award-winning filmmaker describes herself — she grew up in China and moved to Chicago at age 12 — as bicultural, which has given her a sense of responsibility to explain both cultures through her films.

"In my films that related to China, I tried to bridge the gap, because I have that kind of nuanced understanding of both cultures, and I want to bring that out," said Wang.

One of the elements Wang believes is important to bridge that gap — or enhance the mutual understanding of peoples from the world's two largest economies, as she put it — is to highlight the human aspect.

Her other documentary film, Beijing Taxi (2010), using the 2008 Olympic Games as a backdrop, follows the lives of three taxi drivers to show how the dynamic Chinese capital is confronted with modern issues and changing values.

Using a similar approach, Wang spoke with local workers in South Carolina about their attitude toward Chinese investment.

Walking with Danny, a factory worker who witnessed how the old textile facility he worked at had emptied out — which resulted in 500 workers losing their jobs in Richburg — Wang detected a sign of hope as he introduced the new space bought by Chinese firm Sun Fiber LLC.

"It's really brought hope to a lot of people that don't have jobs," Danny told Wang.

"A lot of the factories we visited were still at the early stage — they were still being built," said Wang. "But they (workers) were actually very happy about the acquisitions, and they said the new (Chinese) owners are very friendly."

Wang particularly chose somewhere in America's heartland because she wanted to represent a positive reality of Chinese investment even as many people in that region still consider China a country that takes away their jobs and opportunities.

"I didn't want to make a film that was just based in New York or California (where there are Chinese communities), so I wanted to be somewhere in the heartland," said Wang. "When you talk to people on the street, a lot of them think China has taken their jobs away," Wang said.

But the reality, said Wang, is that "the people did say their benefits have been improved" after the Chinese owners took over.

Keer America, Greenfield Industries and Sun Fiber, companies featured in the film, totaled $243 million in Chinese investment in South Carolina, which potentially will create more than 1,000 local jobs.

Of a 100 million-member labor force in the US, about 70,000 to 80,000 people are employed by Chinese-owned companies, according to New York-based consultancy Rhodium Group.

Chinese deals in the US totaled $13 billion in 2013, and South Carolina received 14 deals worth $451 million.

"That's the new part of the story that we are living through right now, and we are just at the very beginning of it," said Daniel Rosen, partner of the Rhodium Group.

Most Popular
Hot Topics