Chinese crew filming documentary makes a stop in Macon

As marketing plans go, it’s a pretty good one: Make certain the product is seen by at least 15 million people.

The product is the state of Georgia, and the marketer is the Georgia Department of Economic Development, which is serving as host for a Chinese film crew that’s planning a four-hour travel special on the state to air this spring on China’s Travel Channel.

The four-person film crew stopped Wednesday in Macon and saw the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, Wesleyan College and other sites during its one-day visit.

“Because free travel is opening up over there, this is a film to tell people where they can go (in Georgia),” said Ruth Birch Sykes, vice president of media relations and marketing for the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Our hope is that we see some conversion from viewers to visitors.”

Richard Meng, the show’s host, said the idea of coming to Georgia came from the country’s familiarity with former President Jimmy Carter, who established diplomatic relations with the country 30 years ago. Meng said he wanted to tour around Georgia to give viewers a better idea of Carter’s home state.

“This is the 30th anniversary of when Jimmy Carter signed a treaty with China,” Meng said. “That’s what brought us here. We met him and interviewed him. ... But we wanted to explore Georgia as well. America is now open to Chinese tourists.”

Meng and his crew visited various parts of the state, including Savannah and Fitzgerald, and continued their tour through Macon.

Wednesday’s visit to the hall of fame proved to be a different experience for the visitors, since they had heard virtually no soul, country or gospel music before. Names such as Otis Redding, James Brown and Little Richard were unfamiliar to the visitors, Meng said.

“I found out that Otis Redding was more popular than Elvis in 1967,” Meng said, referring to Redding topping Presley on the United Kingdom’s pop charts that year. “I’m so impressed. We don’t have museums like this one, where you can listen to the music and they let you know what the music is.”

After taking a driving tour through historic sections of Macon, the film crew went to the post office on College Street, the former home of Wesleyan College.

Wesleyan has gained a lot of fame in China, Meng said, because it was the college the Soong sisters attended in the early part of the 20th century. The film crew later went to the current campus, where the crew was to meet with some of the 16 students from China who attend Wesleyan, said Susan Welsh, the college’s director of public relations.

The Soong sisters were three daughters of a wealthy Chinese businessman who sent them to be educated in America during the time of the Boxer Rebellion. The eldest daughter, Ay-ling, would go on to marry China’s finance minister, while the second daughter, Ching-ling, became known as the “Mother of China” while serving as first lady. The youngest daughter, May-ling, would go on to marry Chiang Kai-shek.

Welsh said the school gets about 200 visitors a year from China specifically because of the sisters’ connection to Wesleyan.

That’s why Meng wanted to make it part of his travel program.

“We’re interested in this,” he said. “They left the foundation of China. We wanted to see the Chinese students at Wesleyan.”

Meng said other travel programs are seen by audiences of between 15 million and 20 million people in China, and the channel reaches as many as 200 million.

That could translate into some important tourism business over the next few years, said Fay Tripp, director of the regional tourism program for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

“It’s a whole new market,” she said. “Tourism comes on the heels of trade. A lot of (Americans) have started to travel to China, and now we are seeing the reverse, because they’ve loosened all travel restrictions. Within five years, we think they will be as big as the U.K. or Germany in number of tourists here.”

To contact reporter Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.