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.”