top of page

More Famous than Anyone?

1987-08-19 | Parade Magazine

In the U.S., there are Barbara Walters, Phil Donahue, Bryant Gumbel, Jane Pauley, Dynasty, The Cosby Show and Masterpiece Theater.  In China, there is Yue-Sai Kan.

Every Sunday for a year, an audience of more than 300 million Chinese has tuned in to watch a 38-year-old broadcaster who has, in the words of one Beijing newspaper, stunned china with her 15-minute program, One World.  Every word she says is printed in that weeks edition of the Chinese equivalent of TV Guide.  School use her programs as teaching aids; factory workers discuss her broadcast in the world place.  And, in what may be the ultimate compliment, part of the new generation of young Chinese women is abandoning the traditional post-revolutionary style for a fluffed out hairdo that has come to be know as the Kan Cut.

Though her audience is probably the largest in television history, Yue-Sai Kan can still walk down almost any street in her hometown without being noticed at all.  The biggest TV star in China is, of all things, a New Yorker. 

Three years ago, this program would never have been, says Kan. I have become a part of Chinas open-door policy.  The responsibility scares me to death.  In her 52 programs-which were filmed around the world, edited in New York and broadcast in China twice each Sunday, once in English, once in Mandarin- Yue-Sai Kan has introduced the long-isolated nation to the world it cut itself off from for nearly four decades.  Viewers have watched Kan interview Pope John Paul II, French Premier Jacques Chirac and Jim Henson and his Muppets.  She has shown them skyscrapers in Manhattan, the Louvre in Paris and the long houses in Malaysia, where whole villages live in rickety structures longer than football fields.  You have opened a window through which we can see& life outside our country, wrote one fan in the Beijing Review.

To American eyes, One World is a fast-paced and tightly packaged program with an energetic and attractive host; but a nation that has lived with Today, 60 Minutes and National Geographic Specials for decades would not be amazed by it.  Television in China is still in the 40s, Kan explains.  The Chinese audience ahs been accustomed to black-and-white programming presented by formal announcers looking uncomfortable on-camera; Kan brings a brash enthusiasm to her programs that viewers find exotic and irresistible.

Her first show took China by storm; It was a profile of New York City that most Americans would find professional but unexceptional.  Kan shows the skyline and the glitter but al interviewed working people, like the Polish immigrant sausage-maker whose entire family had scratched and scrimped to buy him his own small store.  A lot of Chinese were shocked, she remembers.  Some Chinese call America The Golden Mountain.  They have this concept that all Americans are millionaires.  I showed this guy and how it took a lot of years of hard work to own his own store, and they were very surprised.

They might have been equally surprised at Kans road to television stardom.  She was born in 1949 in Guilin, in western China, to a wealthy family that relocated to Hong Kong the same year, fleeing in the face of the Maoist revolution.  Her father, a well-known painter, sent Yue-Sai to a Catholic missionary school in Hong Kong.  She learned to play the piano and aspired to a concert career; she also became a Mormon and enrolled at Brigham Young Universitys Hawaiian campus.  I just always wanted to be an American, she says.


bottom of page