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Film chronicles China’s rising global power

While on a busi­ness trip to China in 2010, James Gabbe was struck by the can­didly dra­matic obser­va­tion of the owner of a printing com­pany in Shen­zhen, who explained that that the East Asian nation would soon pass the United States as the world’s top eco­nomic powerhouse.

Gabbe, a 1966 North­eastern grad­uate with a bachelor’s degree in his­tory, was inspired by the con­ver­sa­tion and set out to make a doc­u­men­tary exploring the validity of China’s rise to global stardom, how it has hap­pened, and what it means to the United States and other nations. His obser­va­tions are deliv­ered largely through the eyes of the Chi­nese people in Journey with the Giant, which will be screened at North­eastern on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in West Vil­lage F. The public event is pre­sented by the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design.

“We’ve stayed away from focusing on the polit­i­cally repres­sive nature of the Bei­jing gov­ern­ment and other things you can read about in the press every day,” Gabbe said. “What hasn’t gotten through is that real story of human striving and accom­plish­ment that’s hap­pening on a daily basis in China. This film is about us get­ting right in with the people.”

Gabbe, an accom­plished writer, pho­tog­ra­pher and video director/​producer, is co-​​owner of gabbe­group, a public rela­tions and mar­keting firm in New York City. The company’s print and dig­ital pub­lishing arm, Racon­teur, pro­duced the documentary.

After a year of exten­sive research, Gabbe and his co-​​producer/​cameraman trekked through China as tourists—to avoid the restric­tions typ­i­cally placed on for­eign film­makers. They filmed in nearly 20 loca­tions and met people from all walks of life—from fac­tory workers and mer­chants to clerics and teachers.

Gabbe observed that many people he met were quite knowl­edge­able about life in the West; con­versely, he noted that many Amer­i­cans appear to know little about China and its people beyond the eco­nomic and polit­ical issues cap­tured in main­stream media head­lines. Per­haps related, he said, is the skep­ti­cism he encoun­ters fre­quently about China’s long-​​term prospects as a global dynamo.

“Many people in the U.S. flatly deny that China has staying power,” said Gabbe, noting that China’s rise to promi­nence has occurred in just 20 to 30 years, an astound­ingly short period of time com­pared with the 150 years it has taken the U.S. and the rest of the West.

While the idea for Journey with the Giant ger­mi­nated from the meeting in Shen­zhen a few years ago, Gabbe explained that his North­eastern expe­ri­ence served as an early and very impor­tant foun­da­tion for the project. For one, he was an ROTC cadet and was com­mis­sioned as an Army officer upon grad­u­a­tion; he served in Vietnam in 1970–71. There, he devel­oped a fas­ci­na­tion with Asia and recalled being “struck by the energy there,” which gave him an early inkling that some­thing big was brewing in the region.

Gabbe also pointed to his co-​​op expe­ri­ences, which aug­mented the appre­ci­a­tion for his­tory that he devel­oped in his North­eastern courses. He worked along­side pro­fes­sional his­to­rians at the Statue of Lib­erty, the Theodore Roo­sevelt Summer White House and Birth­place, and the Fed­eral Hall National Memo­rial on Wall Street—the site of George Washington’s first pres­i­den­tial inau­gu­ra­tion and the home of the first Con­gress, Supreme Court, and Exec­u­tive Branch offices. Gabbe’s co-​​op work ranged from con­ducting research to serving as a tour guide.

“It was the co-​​op expe­ri­ence that solid­i­fied my love for get­ting out into the world and learning his­tory where it hap­pened,” he said. “My Journey with the Giant started with North­eastern and co-​​op.”

– by Greg St. Martin

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