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Modern China caught on camera
Modern China is one of the world's most rapidly developing countries and one man is hoping to chart those changes through film.

Ben Tsiang is setting up a film fund just for Chinese film makers in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. He hopes these films will be able to provoke Chinese audiences to think a little deeper about the issues affecting them.

China correspondent, Huey Fern Tay, reports.
BEN TSIANG, CEO CNEX: Documentary has a special charm that you always touch some part of the society, that we see a very strong response from certain sectors of the people who shares that cause.

HUEY FERN TAY, REPORTER: This is a story about how a boy in Hong Kong became a world class musician. It was filmed over a period of six years, starting when Wong Ka Jeng was only 11.

The film 'KJ' went on to win a slew of awards in 2009, including one for best documentary at the Taiwanese equivalent of the Oscars.

The production is one of the pride and joys of Ben Tsiang, a former internet entrepreneur with a passion for film making.

BEN TSIANG: Documentaries, since I was a student, undergraduate, I watched quite a lot Chinese documentaries because that was the time when the whole society was facing a lot of change, a lot of political reform in Taiwan. So I kind of like know what's going on, but not quite sure, so documentary helped me to gain upper ground to see what's going on there.

(Footage of Ben Tsiang speaking at networking event with the Sundance Institute)

HUEY FERN TAY: Ben Tsiang is the Taiwanese founder of a company called CNex which bankrolls documentaries by aspiring filmmakers from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Today he has organised a networking event for them together with the Sundance Institute, giving these non-fiction artists a chance to tap into top level industry expertise.

He's also constantly looking for ways to reach out to young Chinese. They form the core of documentary audiences.

(Footage from documentary on Sichuan earthquake)

Ben Tsiang's goal is to fund 100 documentaries in a decade, building a library of films that chart the changes in Chinese society.

Every year his company comes up with a theme. Filmmakers who want their production made submit a proposal according to the topic of the year. Some that address current and potentially sensitive issues of the time, like the Sichuan earthquake, do so in a non-confrontational way.

(Excerpt from documentary plays)

WOMAN (Subtitles): Uncle Wen should have travelled incognito, like Emperor Kangxi.

MAN (Subtitles): Doe he serve the rich people or us?

WOMAN (Subtitles): They'll cut your words in the film.

(End excerpt)

BEN TSIANG: Our directors, I think surprisingly, in China directors they have - they're very skilful to tell some story without getting into trouble.

HUEY FERN TAY: You're saying they work within the system?

BEN TSIANG: Yes, they know where is the line; they can get the message across.

HUEY FERN TAY: It has been six years since Mr Tsiang founded CNex with some of his own money. He says none of the filmmakers have advocated a confrontational approach even when addressing tricky issues.

He also says CNex does not have a policy about the types of films it will or won't fund.

BEN TSIANG: 20 years ago when Taiwan also in a very strong, under martial law, there's a lot of like music or movies, they don't talk directly against anything that they tried to convey message, embed the message in our piece.

HUEY FERN TAY: Charting changes of society through film is a very creative way of recording history. And in today's China changes are happening faster than ever. But the new found wealth has come at a price.

BEN TSIANG: When I'm here I see, I hear and I experience, it is very much like 20 years ago in Taiwan, there is so much similarity.

HUEY FERN TAY: In what way?

BEN TSIANG: In a way that I can see money is the primary value that every family and all the society always worship - almost like worship.

HUEY FERN TAY: Ben Tsiang understands better than most about reaping the rewards of China's rapid rise and the cost that can bring.

At 25 he co-founded a company, SinaNet, that was the precursor to Chinese internet giant is the company behind Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter that's become a microphone for hundreds of millions of Chinese to speak out about social issues.

BEN TSIANG: I think that's the value. Weibo has to be liberal enough, but without being capped by being over the line. You know, that's the know-how of Sina.

HUEY FERN TAY: Six years ago, Mr Tsiang decided to leave Sina because of a heart condition, but remains an adviser at the company.

His time, energy and importantly money, is now very much dedicated towards promoting the cause and popularity of Chinese documentaries.

BEN TSIANG: If my personal injection for the fund can decrease every year, that means healthy growth. (Laughs)

(Footage from 'KJ')

HUEY FERN TAY: The plan is to repeat all the documentary themes once every 10 years, giving audiences a chance to view the changes of Chinese society through the eyes of its filmmakers.
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