PBS focuses skillfully on two widely different communities. Rural Long Bow, near Peking, strives to hold on to its ancient traditions as it adjusts to new developments in the Chinese economy.
One Village in China PBS, Tuesdays, 9-10 p.m., Aug. 25, Sept. 1, Sept. 8, check local listings. Director/interviewer: Carma Hinton. Producers: Carma Hinton, Richard Gordon, Kathy Kline, Dan Sipe. A production of the Long Bow Group, presented by KQED, San Francisco. If you're planning a guided tour of China in the near future, ``One Village in China'' is essential orientation. It manages to part the bamboo curtain that shields the daily life of ordinary Chinese from the inquiring eyes of the typical 21-day tourists.
Carma Hinton is an American born in Peking, who spent her first 21 years working and traveling around China before she came to America in 1971. Now a PhD candidate in Oriental art history at Harvard University, she returned a few years ago to Long Bow - a more or less typical Chinese village of around 2,000 people near Peking to make this three-part series. Because she speaks the language fluently, she could meander around the village, chat with the natives, observe current customs, inquire about the past, speculate about the future.
What emerges is an informative yet engaging personally guided tour, though the series tilts a bit too much now and then toward the didactic.
In the first program, ``Small Happiness,'' she interviews women of the village and probes insistently into contemporary marriage customs as they differ from the traditional. She delves into the history of foot-binding and the breaking of that tradition, too. The current work situation of women is also examined and, surprisingly, piecework systems seem to result in higher pay for women.
Although much has changed in Long Bow since Hinton's father came to the area in 1947, she finds that male dominance remains.
``Many improvements may take place in the countryside,'' she comments,``but as long as a woman must leave her own family, marry into a man's household and continue his family line, she will be considered a small happiness from the day she is born.''
To give birth to a boy, one Long Bow grandmother explains, ``is considered a big happiness. A boy will remain in the household while a girl will be married off.''
The second segment, ``To Taste a Hundred Herbs,'' focuses on the practice of medicine in the village.
The final segment, ``All Under Heaven,'' investigates the major changes that have occurred in rural China in the past 40 years - the easy security of the cooperatives and the current uncertainty of land-division ``privatization,'' the growth of rural industry and private enterprise.
In the midst of new affluence, according to Hinton, there is evidence of a return to tradition as household farming takes hold again with individuals subject to the dangers of local famines. Although she finds much uncertainty in the village as to the new freedoms, she also recognizes the innate pragmatism of the Chinese villagers, who seem to be willing to accept whatever the future brings.
``One Village in China'' is about as exciting as life in a rural Chinese village. Which means that there are no great thrills except an occasional holiday fair. The series is repetitive now and then, lingers too long in many of its interviews. It is a bit like a brilliant but slightly disorganized thesis that needs one more rewrite.
But this opportunity to experience the changing quality of rural Chinese life based on solid traditional values, the insight into the day-to-day existence of real people, is a unique television experience which viewers, especially inveterate China-watchers, should not miss.