calin dan on Sat, 10 Jun 2000 14:50:19 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Bill Gates joins Stalin

>> Wall Street Journal, May 26, 2000
>> Ukrainian Thespian Saminin Becomes The Toast of Shenyang in Pavel Show
>> Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
>> SHENYANG, China-Backstage at the taping of a television variety show in
>> this northern steel town, Andrei Saminin sneaks out for a cigarette.
>> Someone shouts "It's Pavel!" and suddenly teenagers, old couples, even
>> the studio's security guards are clamoring for autographs of the
>> Ukrainian actor who plays Pavel Korchagin, the fictional hero of a TV
>> series running here (and dubbed into Chinese) called "How Steel Is
>> "People told me I was popular in China, but I never imagined it would be
>> like this," says a bemused Mr. Saminin, whose wavy locks and soulful
>> eyes make him a sort of East bloc Shaun Cassidy.
>> Meet China's latest media phenom: Pavel Korchagin, a mythical Soviet
>> railway worker who has been brought back by propagandists to preach
>> struggle and sacrifice to a new generation. In an age of media overload,
>> Pavel enjoys enviable recognition: 97% of young people are aware of him,
>> according to a recent poll, and Chinese President Jiang Zemin is said to
>> be a fan. The 26-year-old Mr. Saminin-who back home in Kiev is an
>> obscure theater actor-has been mobbed at every stop of a two-week
>> national tour to promote his series.  He once had to be evacuated from a
>> sidewalk crush by security guards fearful for his safety.
>> A propaganda victory? Not exactly. China's state-run media have indeed
>> worked overtime to promote the railway worker who labored so devotedly
>> in service of the Russian Revolution. Working through the Ukrainian
>> winter, the story goes, he contracted typhus, was shot in the head, went
>> blind and became paralyzed. But for a young audience fixated on
>> consumerism and celebrity, Pavel has morphed into the newest star on
>> China's variety-show circuit, where the man who portrays him does
>> interviews, plays the guitar, sings and dances.
>> "We should all learn from the Pavel spirit," says Yi Mi, a 17-year-old
>> in suede platform shoes who has come to the TV studio to add the star's
>> autograph to her collection. Asked to elaborate, she ponders for a while
>> and says, "We learned it in the seventh grade, but we've already
>> forgotten it. But Pavel is so handsome, don't you think?"
>> How did Pavel get so far off-message? For China's older generation, many
>> of them Soviet-educated, veneration of the heroic Pavel is real enough
>> and steeped in nostalgia for what they recall as a simpler time.
>> Generations of schoolchildren who grew up under Mao devoured the
>> purportedly true Pavel tale in textbooks and comic-book versions. The
>> author of the novel "How Steel Is Forged," Nikolai Ostrovsky, was feted
>> by Josef Stalin and the book took off in China during the 1950s, when
>> the two nations shared aspirations of spreading Communism around the
>> globe.
>> Now after a two-decade hiatus, Pavel is enjoying a second coming in
>> China- never mind that worker unity is dead and poverty distinctly
>> unfashionable. The 20-part "How Steel Is Forged" has aired twice on
>> national TV and is now being unrolled on provincial stations across the
>> country. A Beijing middle school plans to revive "Pavel classes" for
>> elite students who exemplify the "Pavel Spirit." "To learn from Pavel
>> and Bill Gates is no contradiction," intones a recent newspaper
>>"From Pavel we can understand the value of human life, and from Gates
>a spirit of emphasizing science and technology," the editors concluded.
>> "In today's materialistic society, we need spiritual heroes," says Han
>> Gang, the show's director, sitting in a Beijing teahouse with his mobile
>> and his Mild Seven Japanese cigarettes on the table before him.
>>Then he sighs and admits,
>> "A lot of young people say to me, 'Pavel is so silly, he just thinks
>> about struggle and doesn't worry about money.' "
>> That has forced Pavel to navigate a surreal region that is part Marxist
>> propaganda and part tacky game show. On the set of the variety show,
>> Mr.  Saminin sings Pavel's trademark paean to a dying Red Army soldier
>> ("The heart of the Communist Youth League is beating, Tell my lover this
>> sacrifice was for the workers") against a backdrop of flashing lights,
>> eruptions of dry-ice fog, and a massive billboard urging viewers to
>> drink Huishan Milk, a sponsor of the show. He joins a dance medley with
>> young women in purple tutus, fends off questions from the show's hostess
>> about a possible romance with his co-star, and spins a makeshift wheel
>> of fortune to win "a platinum diamond ring worth 2,000 yuan!" The ring,
>> in less exciting words, is worth about $240.
>> Little lip service is paid to the Pavel myth. After Mr. Saminin delivers
>> the hero's deathbed monologue about his great struggle to liberate
>> mankind, host Wang Ping asks whether the show has aired in Ukraine yet.
>> "It still needs Chinese approval," says Mr. Saminin. "Oh, then it's a
>> question of money," jokes Mr.  Wang. The series is entirely a Chinese
>> production, with Chinese financing, though it was filmed in Ukraine with
>> Ukrainian actors.
>> Small wonder, then, that young people today are confused about what
>> Pavel stands for. Stripped of his central goal of liberating the masses,
>> the modern-day Pavel is a perfect stand-in for today's Chinese Communist
>> Party, which continues to preach class struggle even as it promotes
>> capitalism.
>> Money has a lot to do with Pavel's latest reincarnation. The idea to
>> remake "How Steel Is Forged"-which was made into three film versions in
>> the former Soviet Union, most recently in the 1970s-came last year from
>> an unlikely quarter: China Vanke Co., a property developer in the
>> country's richest city, Shenzhen, which has a film-production unit. "The
>> major Chinese emperors have all been done, but no one has done Pavel,"
>> explains Sun Jing, a Vanke executive.
>> The Shenzhen propaganda bureau loved the idea, and in league with China
>> Central Television lined up $1.3 million in investment. Profiting off
>> Pavel has since run rampant. Organizers of the National Games for the
>> Disabled got Mr.  Saminin to appear at a Shanghai event earlier this
>> month-after all, Pavel is paralyzed by the end of the novel. Publishing
>> houses have issued competing editions of "How Steel Is Forged,"
>> including a version for children illustrated with scenes from the TV
>> show.
>> Yet if Pavel has gone Hollywood, that is largely by design. In the
>> original book, Pavel's romance with Tonia, the beautiful daughter of a
>> wealthy official, founders on the shoals of class conflict. As a child
>> of capitalists, Tonia scorns Pavel's lowly worker status. He joins the
>> Bolsheviks and defeats enemies of the revolution in stirring battle
>> scenes.
>> In the current TV version, the lovers are separated by war but meet up
>> again at the end, where Tonia has named her young son Pavel.
>> Translation: She has never stopped loving him, class-consciousness be
>> damned. Pavel also rejects the violent tactics of his Red Army cohorts
>> in putting down an uprising in Kiev, dealt with in passing in the novel
>> but expanded to fill two TV episodes. And Pavel has taken up other
>> modern issues, including the evils of smoking and sexual harassment.
>> "We've watered down the class-consciousness and made him more of a
>> human-rights figure that everyone can relate to," says director Mr. Han,
>> who rewrote about two-thirds of the original book for the TV version.
>> "We are at the end of the 20th century. You can't look at things in the
>> old narrow way."
>> Write to Leslie Chang at leslie.chang@wsj.com1

Calin Dan
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