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Documentary cooks up interest in Chinese cuisine

By Zhang Yunbi | China Daily | Updated: 2012-06-21 09:01

A Bite of China, a hit documentary focused on Chinese cuisine, is reaching out across the ocean and attracting fans in Japan.

Maiko Usui, a 35-year-old Japanese woman and former student of Mandarin, began publishing a series of blogs in late May. Her aim was to introduce the essence of the documentary, which was aired by China Central Television earlier the same month.

"I saw the documentary when it was aired the first time round and I read the news about it online every day. I was fascinated by that first glimpse into the magical world of Chinese culinary culture," she said.

Usui has also compiled a glossary for each episode, featuring the names of Chinese dishes, crops and culinary terms mentioned in the documentary, in Japanese, Chinese characters and pinyin, the system of rendering characters in Western script, to help Japanese readers.

She also uploaded clips from the documentary showing the daily lives and work of Chinese farmers. One series of clips showed a farmer in East China's Zhejiang province digging up winter bamboo shoots, combining patience with judgment and technique. Screengrabs of the clips were also posted to illustrate the process. "I want to share my experience of being touched with Japanese netizens - that's why I started introducing A Bite of China in Japanese," she said.

Usui, who lives in Sapporo, Hokkaido prefecture, studied Mandarin for three years and also worked in China for two years. Her blog on the documentary is ongoing and so far she has posted more than 20 articles.

The blog has not only attracted a growing number of fans, but also provides translation tips to help volunteers write Japanese subtitles for the documentary.

Meanwhile, Mao Danqing, a Chinese national who teaches Mandarin at Kobe International University in Japan, discovered a surprising degree of interest from students when he screened an episode of A Bite of China that focused on the staples of Chinese cuisine.

"It had never occurred to them that so many things could be made out of traditional cereals," said Mao, who urged the students to look up the words mentioned in the series to deepen their understanding of their origins and meanings.

According to Mao, the documentary series also presents Japanese viewers with things that seem "tangible" to them and footage of a blindfolded donkey providing the muscle power for a grain mill piqued their curiosity.

"They then realized that Chinese culture is very deep. Their previous impressions of China were mainly of grand hotels and limousines in major cities such as Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai," wrote Mao in one of his blogs.

In a joint report released by China Daily and the Japanese think tank Genron NPO on Wednesday, 31.4 percent of Japanese people surveyed said that their positive perceptions of China stem mainly from an interest in the country's culture, especially the cuisine.

Meanwhile, 34.5 percent of Japanese respondents said that the improvement of cultural exchanges should be a priority, according to the report on public opinions about the Sino-Japanese relationship.

Analysts said that the search for common ground, especially in terms of culture and cuisine, was a major factor in the success of the documentary series both in China and Japan.

"Cuisine and culinary culture are topics that transcend national boundaries, are easily acceptable to overseas viewers and are greatly welcomed in international exchanges," said Xu Fangzhou, a professor of television studies at the Communication University of China in Beijing.

The popularity of A Bite of China in Japan also indicates the public's willingness to communicate on acceptable, shared cultural topics, despite any political frictions between China and Japan, added Xu.

Meanwhile, 81.2 percent of Chinese respondents believed that public diplomacy, including culture and the arts, is "very" or "relatively important" in improving bilateral ties, the report said.

Both countries have experienced growing cooperation in the media sector to show cultural highlights, and a series of documentaries co-produced by both sides has attracted massive attention from the general public in both countries.

Mocomichi Hayami, a Japanese actor, starred in a documentary aired by Japan's BS Asahi Television in February. He visited northwest China by train to explore places of interests and Chinese delicacies on the ancient Silk Road.

Warm Current, a 360-minute documentary series to mark the history of the bilateral relationship, has already completed location filming in China and has been filming in Japan since late May.

Both documentaries were produced to mark the 40th anniversary of the normalization of Sino-Japanese ties.

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