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CNN International Inside Asia

Top Stories of the Week In Asia

Aired January 8, 2000 - 0:00 a.m. ET


ANAND NAIDOO, INSIDE ASIA: Hello, and welcome to INSIDE ASIA. I'm Anand Naidoo in Hong Kong.

(voice-over): Coming up -- we'll tell you how one man is trying to prove that China's outlawed Falun Gong movement is a fraud. Also in China, the war on poverty continues. But for many, a better life is still a distant dream. And a modern Chinese pop star reaches to the past for musical inspiration.

(on camera): Thanks for joining us. We begin in China, where members of a spiritual movement are fighting for the right to practice their beliefs. Despite its outlaw status, Falun Gong continues to have tens of thousands of practitioners across the country. The Chinese government says Falun Gong is a threat to social stability.

Others are accusing Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi of being little more than a charlatan. In this week's "Cover Story," CNN Beijing bureau chief Rebecca MacKinnon talks to one man out to discredit Falun Gong's claims of possessing supernatural powers.


REBECCA MACKINNON, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Sima Nan is trained in the ancient Chinese breathing art of Chi Gong. But he's out to show these seemingly supernatural skills are little more than parlor tricks.

SIMA NAN, CULT BUSTER: Hog nonsense.

MACKINNON: That's how he describes the Chi Gong-based teachings of Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi, now living in exile in New York, who claims to have special healing powers. Last April, more than 10,000 Falun Gong followers demonstrated outside the government leadership compound in Beijing, demanding an end to official persecution.

SIMA NAN (through translator): Li Hongzhi wants to turn himself into a god. He's trying to trick people.

MACKINNON: To back up his point, Sima Nan teamed up with American magician James Randi, offering a million dollars to anyone who can prove without question they do have supernatural powers.

JAMES RANDI, MAGICIAN: I am very alarmed at the growth of Falun Gong because if it's only a religion, I have no problem. If it's only a philosophy, I have no problem. But the minute that they begin to claim that they have supernatural healing powers or any other kind of supernatural powers, I think it becomes very dangerous. I prefer, rather than legislation, education.

MACKINNON: According to government figures, tens of thousands of Falun Gong followers have been detained since the group was banned as a threat to social stability last summer, a tactic Sima Nan says is counterproductive.

SIMA NAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The government bans them, but they make trouble anyway because they believe in it. You can only help them by treating them as psychological patients. They should be respected and treated humanely.

MACKINNON: He says televised trials of organizers and reports on state-run television condemning Li Hongzhi just give Falun Gong credibility.

SIMA NAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The result is that people say this Li Hongzhi must really have something, otherwise, why would the government talk about him every day?

MACKINNON (on camera): But Sima Nan's appeal for education instead of intimidation appears to have fallen on deaf ears. According to human rights groups, arrests and trials of Falun Gong members have continued into the New Year.

Rebecca MacKinnon, CNN Beijing.


NAIDOO: Our focus on China shifts from religion to economics. In 1993, the government promised to elevate the lives of some tens of millions of Chinese living in poverty. While modernization has brought prosperity to some, INSIDE ASIA'S Hope Goh (ph) reports it has yet to change the lives of many others, particularly those who live in China's remote areas.


HOPE GOH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The bright lights and fast cars of Beijing and Shanghai are a world away for Zhou Tianxi and other residents of Dingxi County in northern China's Gansu province. Life for Zhou and his neighbors isn't about making a profit, but about making ends meet.

The World Bank says as many as 120 million people across China earn less than one U.S. dollar a day, although the central government claims the figure is half that. In 1998, Dingxi residents earned about $10 a month, putting them well below the poverty line.

Education in a poor county like Dingxi is a luxury. The children here attend school built with donations from a Hong Kong charity. Tuition fees of $16 a year are subsidized by a government foundation called Project Hope.

YANG WEI MING, TEACHER (through translator): Although this region is very poor and life is hard, the government is trying to come up with ways to provide financial assistance that will allow students to receive an education, even if they can't afford it.

GOH: Some, like Zhou, are able to take advantage of the tuition break and send their children to school.

ZHOU TIANXI, FARMER (through translator): My heart is heavy. Without a tuition subsidy for my daughter, life would be even more difficult. I'm trying my best to keep my daughter in school.

GOH: But for others, even the educational allowance is not enough to keep their children out of work.

ZHOU YAOHONG, STUDENT (through translator): The children from very poor families can't afford to go to school. They have to work in the fields and don't get an education.

GOH: The Chinese government once promised that everyone in the country would have enough to eat and wear by the year 2000. But if Dingxi County is any indication, poverty is still a very real part of China's landscape.

Hope Goh, for INSIDE ASIA.


NAIDOO: The poverty in China's Gansu province is largely due to the harsh natural conditions there. But our next story deals with a place where poverty was aggravated by war. East Timor was devastated by the rampage of anti-independence forces last September, and though it's now free of Indonesian rule, the war has left some people with a hand- to-mouth existence.


(voice-over): Dozens of East Timorese stake out the Komoro (ph) rubbish dump every morning waiting for military trucks to unload refuse. This is where United Nations agencies and the multi-national peacekeeping forces dump their garbage in East Timor. The arrival of a truck sets off a mad scramble among the scavengers. They sift through the rubbage even before it hits the ground.

Since the former Portuguese colony was laid waste by pro-Jakarta militias last September, the East Timorese have had to struggle to eke out an existence, and for many, the dump is the only means of survival.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We stay here everyday waiting and finding food to eat. But mostly, we wait for our children to come back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Every day, we come here and wait for food for us. Maybe tape recorders, shoes, biscuits and other things.

NAIDOO: The increasing amounts of garbage being dumped here raises many health and environmental concerns. Shirley McQueen of Medecins Sans Frontieres believes the scavengers are exposing themselves to danger.

SHIRLEY MCQUEEN, MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERES: I think one of the things we have to try and what could be done to prevent the scavenging, if you like, is to somehow separate it, to either to move to another dump or advise the people not to set up their shanty towns there within all of the rubbish and within all of the stagnation.

NAIDOO: For many children foraging at the site, going to school is not an option. As East Timor struggles to rebuild its economy, it seems the dump, at least for the immediate future, will remain a means of support for many families.


(on camera): For the moment, the United Nations is administering the territory until full independence can be achieved, most likely in two or three years' time.

Time now for a short break. But when we return, a Chinese pop star tries to fan modern-day interest in a centuries old musical instrument. And musician and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto goes back to basics for his latest work. Stay with us.


NAIDOO: Welcome back. China has a musical history and tradition that goes back thousands of years. INSIDE ASIA focuses now on a young Chinese musician who's keeping that tradition alive. She's Beijing- based Cheng Ling. One of China's best known musicians and singers, Cheng is a virtuoso on the er hu, a stringed instrument that dates back to the beginning of the last millennium.



CHENG LING, ER HU PLAYER: The er hu is a very old instrument, probably is over 1,000 years old, and it's two strings. And we - sometimes we introduce as Chinese violin, but only two strings. It's different from the Western violin.

I think it's one of the most difficult instrument and Chinese instrument to play. You have to start very young. If you start like 10, probably is too late because if you don't play the proper way, it sounds like crying all the time. It's really not pretty at all.

I think most of Chinese people know me as a singer. I started to sing when I was very young. I was very first pop singer in China, one of very first generation pop singers.


I went to the States in 1990. I spent four years to study Western music, so I combined with Chinese traditional music with like R&B background, contemporary background. I think it's really unique because Chinese - you know, er hu is very unique sound. You hear it, you know it's Chinese instrument.

But this instrument, we need to keep the tradition. At the same time, we need to develop to the other level in order to let other people from another country and the audience can appreciate, identify with. So that's what I'm doing, trying to do.

I don't think the rest of world know me, maybe some of them know me as the er hu player in the States. But what I'm going to do is I want to release my instrumental album in the West. So I'm a singer in China. This is already - a lot of people already know this. And not so many people in China know me, can play er hu.

So the next step is for me to launch my instrumental career. I hope next year - because I still do a lot concerts in China. But next year, I hope I'll go to Europe, to the States.


NAIDOO: Cheng, who started playing the er hu when she was 6, is also an accomplished pianist and guitar player.

A famous Japanese composer known for movie scores such as Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor" says he's going back to basics with his latest project. INSIDE ASIA'S Ram Ramgopal has more.


RAM RAMGOPAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto has enjoyed much success as an award-winning film score composer. But recently, Sakamoto's musical focus is on a new recording expected to be released early next month.

His solo piano collection is called "BTTB," which stands for "back to the basic." Sakamoto says he chose to make the recording because he loves the piano.

RYUICHI SAKAMOTO, MUSICIAN: The piano is heavy, well-built, well- designed. It's hard to move. You know, the instrument has a lot of limitations musically. And once you hit a key, you can't control the note or sound. So it's limited. And that limitation is a big, you know, condition for - that limitation controls a composer's imaginations a lot.

RAMGOPAL: Sakamoto's career accomplishments are quite impressive. He composed and performed the music for the film "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" in 1983. But considered by many to be his greatest achievement was his film score for "The Last Emperor" in 1987.


That score won Sakamoto a Grammy, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and other honors.

SAKAMOTO: The film I've worked so far, most of them are somehow, they're related to the, you know, kind of breaking the boundary between the cultures or something like that.

RAMGOPAL: Though Sakamoto is Japanese, he has never held on tightly to his nationality.

SAKAMOTO: I was never comfortable about being Japanese or something, you know. Since I was little, I always thought of being, going beyond the walls or boundaries. That must be in my nature, part of my nature.

RAMGOPAL: And many would agree it's also part of Sakamoto's nature to create beautiful music.

Ram Ramgopal, for INSIDE ASIA.


NAIDOO: Time now for INSIDE ASIA'S musical countdown. This week, we look at the top five music videos from India, and they come to you courtesy of Channel V.



NAIDOO: INSIDE ASIA takes a short break now. But when we return, we'll tell you how Japanese pop culture is making a stand in a country that once rejected it -- South Korea.


NAIDOO: Welcome back. Japan's economic prowess has long been recognized as has its influence on popular culture. If you have doubts, just ask any kid about Nintendo video games or Pokemon.

But one country tried to stay away from Japan's cultural influence, South Korea. For years, Seoul banned the import of Japanese music, films and videos. But that's no longer the case, and as INSIDE ASIA's Riz Khan reports, Japanese imports are making up for lost time.


RIZ KHAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was just three months ago that South Korea lifted its ban on Japanese movies and music. Now, Japanese pop culture, which has swept across much of east Asia and other parts of the world, has taken South Korea by storm.


Younger South Koreans are packing into music and video shops to check out the latest hits from Japan, book stores to see the new cartoons and fashion magazines and the movies to catch the latest Japanese box office draw. Older South Koreans are more reluctant consumers of Japanese culture. They remember Japan's occupation of their country, when the Korean language and many other things Korean were banned.

CHUNG BYUNG-SEOK, KOREA-JAPAN CULTURAL EXCHANGE CENTER (through translator): The older generation tend to have ill feelings toward the Japanese because our culture was stifled by Japan during 36 years of colonial rule.

KHAN: Still, the unease of their parents and grandparents is not keeping South Korean kids from following the beat of a different drummer or following the dance-dance revolution, or DDR - a game imported from Japan.

The rules of DDR are simple. The player must step onto the corresponding squares of the foot pedal to match those shown on the monitor.

SHIN DONG-GYUN, KOREA AMUSEMENT MACHINE ASSN. (through translator): The games are good for the health and good for relieving stress and are a phenomenal hit in Korea.

KHAN: The Japanese cultural invasion has been swift and successful, outselling the albums and movies of many Korean stars. This young Korean says that's because Japanese culture is more diverse than that of South Korea.

And now, with the ban lifted, the world-famous Pokemon has made its debut in South Korea. Pokemon products, and especially the kids' favorite, Pikachu, with its smiling yellow face and yellow body, are now featured prominently in store displays.

So if you're getting ready for a night on the town or a little recreation in Seoul these days, don't be surprised if it looks and sounds surprisingly like Tokyo.

Riz Khan, for INSIDE ASIA.


NAIDOO: Time now to take a quick look at what else is happening around Asia.

(voice-over): An artist in India's western city of Nagpur has made a clean break into a new medium using cakes of soap to carve out his creations. Artist Sudhaker Pathak says he likes the challenge of working with a softer medium. Pattock says soap carving is difficult because mistakes can't be corrected. Now he's teaching children his art, and if they don't get it right, well, at least their mistakes can be washed away.

Residents of China's northeastern city of Harbin don't let the winter cold get them down. Instead, the city sparkles with the lights and sounds of the annual ice festival. It's a chance for ice sculptors to work their magic and thousands of visitors to enjoy it, and a chance for a wide variety of slippery wintry games.

A lonely wild monkey in Taiwan has found a new mother in the shape of a dog. The lonely Ching Ching (ph) met Jin Shan (ph) after she was given to her owner as a wedding present. The little monkey is happiest when she's hitching a ride on the back of her new mother and gets angry when someone tries to split the unusual duo apart.

(on camera): Politics could bring about the destruction of a centuries old temple in northern India. INSIDE ASIA's Ronnie Loveler explains.


RONNIE LOVELER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This once-glorious ancient sun temple in northern India is but a shadow of its former self. Neglect and apathy took the first toll on the temple in Uttar Pradesh. The apparent misuse of funds that had been donated for temple renovation but spent on something else has also contributed to the temple's decline.

Now, rights to the monument in the small town of Gorakhpur are being disputed by temple authorities and a group of peasants who have decided to make the temple and its grounds their home. Temple authorities say the peasants had been granted access to the property not to live there, but so that their cattle could graze.

But right now, it's unclear who can claim title to the temple and its land. The general understanding is that the temple and the land connected to it belong to the temple priest. But at present, there is no temple priest. The property is still in the name of the last temple priest, and he died quite a few years ago.

A local aristocrat had donated funds to renovate the temple, but temple authorities say the money never got to them. City officials acknowledge a possible misuse of the funds and say they are willing to investigate. But they say they will not make any money available for temple renovation until temple authorities and the peasants reach a legal agreement about the land.

In the meantime, the ancient structure is crumbling, on its way to becoming another Indian ruin.

Ronnie Loveler, for INSIDE ASIA.


NAIDOO: And that's it for this week's edition of INSIDE ASIA. I'm Anand Naidoo in Hong Kong. Thanks for watching, and we hope you'll join us again next week.



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