What NBC's Tom Brokaw learned about China
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''This time I also found that people were often dressed in Western style, women had their hair done, they were wearing sweaters and many different styles, whereas before it was just this monotonous look to them. But it's still a society closely run by the Communist Party and by a handful of leaders in Peking.''Skip to next paragraph
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How about food?
''An American tourist who goes there in a package deal eats in a dining room set aside for tourists and pays a lot more than Chinese pay for food.
''We wanted to give a dinner, and the people showing us around asked us to let them order it. We got a much grander meal at half the price. So it's a bizarre kind of thing; the price of food in restaurants depends upon where you are and who you are with.''
Mr. Brokaw admits that he loves Chinese food and reveled in the chance to eat it at every meal.
''I ate everything. I ate chicken feet; I ate eels. Everything. The food was exceptional. There's a certain amount of prosperity in China now and there's lots of food around. They've had good crops, so people are eating well. The food is the same as New York Chinese food . . . only more exotic. They say that the Cantonese will eat anything with four legs except a table and anything with wings except an airplane. And that means cat, dog, armadillo, anteater, snake, everything.''
What has happened to all those millions of little Red Books which contained the sayings of Chairman Mao Tse-tung?
''I had to take my own into the country. They are hard to find. There's now a new book,'' and he holds up a copy. ''The Expressions of Deng Xiaoping.''
Do the Chinese see much television?
''I saw a lot of English lessons on TV. And a lot of 'Zoro.' They are worried about showing too much of Western TV, not merely crime but the whole Western value system. The dress, behavior, violence and crime.''
Is crime a growing problem in China?
''It's growing sufficiently so there's a crackdown. But it's still not like anything in most Western countries. In one district of 300,000 people they had 100 court cases.
''But there were reports of street fights that we couldn't track down. And the punishment for rape and kidnapping and murder is execution . . . people get shot in public.''
What would Tom Brokaw like the show to accomplish?
''I think Americans must have a more realistic view of what Chinese society is all about. That it is unique as a culture and yet it is richly varied within China. There are thousands of local dialects and many distinctive minority groups, for example. That life in an industrial town can be quite harsh, up in the northwest quite regimented, whereas life in Shanghai is quite urbane and fairly Western. In the villages, life is very primitive. People in America sometimes don't understand that in the 20th century this great society can be so primitive that a real sign of wealth is just two pigs. And they keep the pigs right next to the house and pump the methane gas from the pig waste right into the house and use it for fuel. That's very primitive.
''What I'd really like the show to do, ultimately, is demonstrate to the American people what China and the Chinese people are all about.'' He doesn't seem at all awed by the rather awesome goal he has set for his two-hour special.
Brokaw believes his ''NBC Nightly News'' is going very well. ''I think if people look at this program night after night on a qualitative basis, which is the important thing, they will find that this is a first-rate news program fully competitive every night. Judge us that way, not by the weekly score card of ratings.''
He says he misses the ''Today'' show. ''I miss the longitude and latitude of it. You had all this time to do things and really get deeply into matters . . .''
Although the ''NBC Nightly News'' remains in second or sometimes third place, there is unanimous agreement that Tom Brokaw ranks as No. 1 in good looks among TV newsmen. His still-boyish grin and business-wear-ad appearance sometimes seem to put a strain on him to make certain that the world knows that he is a serious , intelligent, hardworking adult. Occasionally that even results in accusations of pretentiousness.
I didn't find him so at all. The interview started with Mr. Brokaw offering me a David's chocolate-chip cookie and ended with him tossing a miniature football around the office with the producer of ''NBC Nightly News.''
Not exactly pomposity in action.