As the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games loom ever closer People & Power is running a special series of films from inside China - the country that many believe will define the 21st century.

The images of premier Wen Jibao at the site of the devastating earthquake in Sichuan province provided a rare display of openness from the communist leaders and demonstrated how far the country has developed since the rule of former leader Mao Zedong.

The Yangtze Tales

In China, people do not own the
land - it belongs to the government
To understand China, the saying goes: you should take the pulse from the nation's main artery - 'The Mother River'.

The River Yangtze has always been the spine of the "Middle Kingdom" - once it divided the two empires of North and South, today it is China's most important transportation highway connecting the interior with the coast and represents a cross-section of changing social, political and environmental landscapes.

We begin in Tiger Leaping Gorge, in the upper reaches of the river to explore the impact of the rise of the power of the provinces - corruption is now so widespread that at any one time there are over 40,000 officials being tried in the courts.

The Yangtze Tales – the birth of a revolution?
On to Chengdu to witness how the people are fighting back - confronting the government and military head-on.

But the people are increasingly being backed by an emerging civil society - NGO activists, cyber-dissidents and even lawyers. In Wuhan we meet one of the generals of the movement, an environmental lawyer who is hauling the government and state-owned industries through the courts.

The Yangtze Tales is an investigative report into the heart of China, including dramatic pictures of direct action, government abuse and the challenges of reporting.

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This episode of People & Power airs from Sunday, June 1, 2008 at the following times GMT:
Sunday: 14:30
Monday: 01:30 and 13:30
Tuesday: 06:30 and 20:30

Religion on the Run

Preacher Zhang on the run from the authorities
as he continues to practice his faith
The Chinese Communist Party officially recognises only Buddhism, Daoism, Islam and Christianity.

On the run from the authorities that have just closed down his 'illegal' house-church in Beijing, we follow an evangelical charismatic Christian preacher as he tours the country spreading the word of God.

From believers explaining how they have less religious freedoms now than during the Cultural Revolution to sermons about politics and religion that rile against Hu Jintao and the Communist Party, and from scenes of mass conversions to hearing accounts of Christians being imprisoned and beaten, we learn how religion is being suppressed in China.

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Modern Villages

Guo Fenglian is known as the 'Iron Lady'
During the failures of the Great Leap Forward, Mao famously told the nation that they should all learn from the village of Da Zhai.

Da Zhai rose to prominence under the leadership of Guo Fenglian, nicknamed 'the Iron Lady'.

As much of China's 900 million rural population falter through the reform period, Guo has returned to oversee Da Zhai's second rise.

A quick tour around town and it seems that picture perfect China is thriving - a new cement factory, a coal mine, new houses are rising, even a new Buddhist monastery where religion is tolerated, even supported, and onto the hills outside of town, where trees are being planted to demonstrate their environmental responsibility.

Once again Da Zhai has returned to the forefront - this is the China that the Chinese Communist Party want you to see - a model village, a piece of living, working propaganda.

On the surface, the 'Iron Lady' may sound like Da Zhai's very own Margaret Thatcher, except this model China is not being run on the beat of 'laissez-faire capitalism', but to the rhythm of 'socialism with Chinese characteristics'.

The people of Da Zhai are all stakeholders in Da Zhai PLC - everything is owned collectively by the commune and all tax and profits are reinvested into the village. Here capitalist growth is underpinned by social responsibility where the old are looked after, and everyone receives free education and health care.

Filmmaker Oliver Steeds asks if is this is a real picture of rural China or simply Communist Party propaganda?

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On the Coalface

In video

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China's extraordinary economic growth is fuelled by coal. There are currently plans to build a further 500 coal-fired power stations.

It is a booming industry as well as a deadly one, with over 6,000 miners killed last year alone.

Filmmaker Yang Shaobin is a former policeman from the heart of China's coal country. He travelled into one of China's state-owned coal mines, where the air is thick with coal dust.

Inevitably it will end up coating the lungs of every miner, causing emphysema, silicosis and black-lung disease to name but a few.

Many are less fortunate - flooding, collapsing mine shafts and even the dry coal dust igniting into fireballs make working these mines a daily dice with death.
The majority of accidents and deaths occur in the illegal mines in China's industrial heartlands where men toil in tunnels, hundreds of miles of dark and damp, where their deaths go unnoticed.

Class of 2008

The Class of 2008 follows the lives of three very different university students that graduate this year.

Against a visual backdrop of youthful China, each character reveals a social class of the new China and very different personal aspirations that reflect what they each want both for themselves and for the future of their country.

We learn how young Chinese are the drivers and chief beneficiaries of the country's current boom, and how many see democracy as a potentially destabilising force.

The upper and middle class students care little for politics, believe they cannot change it and see their political lives within a greater nationalist agenda.

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Red Guards

In video

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Today China is experiencing a new cultural revolution about as far from Mao's original version as you could get.

The new 'Red Guards' are embracing new forms of empowerment and expression to explore the changing political, social, environmental and economic landscape.

Some of the change-makers are carving original paths into the unknown, others are reinventing the past and together they represent a changing Chinese identity.

The new 'Red Guards' are increasingly moving beyond the clichés of Chineseness to deal concretely with issues faced by their society.

Filmmaker Oliver Steeds meets punk bands, comedians, pop idols, authors, artists and China's answer to Oprah, as he explores the changing cultural landscape and its social and political implications.

How these tensions will be resolved, no one knows. But in the meantime, their actions are turning this very friction into a pioneering source of inspiration and change.

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