Mary Kay Magistad’s Podcast “Whose Century Is it”

I used to be a big fan of Mary Kay Magistad when she was The World’s East Asia correspondent, based in Beijing. I was always impressed with her sharp intellect as well as her common human touch. I came across her seven parts radio series called “Young in China”, looking into the coming of age of the one child generation when I was writing a story on the subject. The series won ‘Overseas Press Club Award’, one of the many awards Mary Kay has snatched during her more than 20 years of reporting from Asia.

After she returned to the States, I haven’t stayed close in contact with her. I heard that she was doing some podcast but haven’t paid much attention. Recently I skpyed her to pick her brain about something and in her typical unassuming fashion, she talked about how she was devoting much of her energy into making this podcast. That night, partly because I was curious and partly because I felt I ought to, I found “Whose Century Is it” on the internet. A co-production between PRI and Mary Kay, it is a biweekly podcast, exploring new ideas and trends that are shaping the 21st century. Is it a Chinese century? Americans? Mary Kay offers interesting ways to look at the question by stories, interviews from China, US and the world beyond.

The first episode I picked is entitled “Maker Movement Meets China”. I was surprised and delighted to learn that the movement has been brought to China, by a Taiwanese man David Lee. The Maker Movement’s playful, open-ended approach is so different from the Chinese government’s goal-oriented approach as the country is trying to shift towards a more innovation driven economy. How interesting that some officials are taking a keen interest in this movement! Mary Kay is at her best here,not only because she’s an extremely experienced radio journalist but also because she’s always fascinated by technology and innovation. In fact, she’s writing a book about innovation in China and its impact on the society.

Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I listened to two episodes of “Whose Century Is it” a day until I went through them all. It wasn’t just simple interviews as I originally imagined but well-crafted, sophisticatedly produced radio pieces with commentary and with sounds and music.

One episode I loved is “Conspiracy Theories, China and the real John Birch”. My vague impress of John Birch was associated with some right wing society. He was a young Christian missionary who was killed by the Chinese Communists, allegedly ‘the first victim of the Cold War’. Mary Kay’s interview with Birch’s biographer Terry Lautz tells the story of a complicated man who didn’t hold an extreme and raises the interesting question about conspiracy theories and the mistrust deeply rooted between China and US.

I laughed out loud as I listened to the latest episode about propaganda. The chief talking head is Nena Khruscheva, a greatgrand-daughter of the Khrushchev and an expert on propaganda. I actually had the pleasure of meeting Nina before in New York and remembered her outrageous statement about her one-sided passionate love affair with ‘the Dick’ – Dick Cheney. While laughing, I gained some new insight about propaganda: emotional events, such as ‘9.11’ always provide those in power with the opportunities to send messages they want the public to perceive.

Anyone who is interested in the future of the world, indeed, anyone who got a curious mind, you’ll love “Whose Century Is it?”

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