Accomplished seniors tell stories of their lives on new talk show

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They are octogenarians, nonagenarians, and even centenarians, but age does not seem to be the threshold for them to have emotional resonance among TV viewers from younger generations.

As this year marks the monumental centennial of the founding of the Communist Party of China, Pillars of China, a new talk show from China Central Television which premiered on Sept 30, seeks to show how the destinies of individuals are closely linked to that of the country through the touching stories of older members of society.

They are all stars in fields to which they have devoted their lives, including China's leading astronautical engineers Lu Yuanjiu, 101, and Luan Enjie, 81. The widely acclaimed gurus of the humanities also participate in the program-including 92-year-old Zheng Xiaoying, China's first female orchestra conductor, 90-year-old Yue Daiyun, a pioneer of Chinese comparative literature study, and Chang Shana, also aged 90 and the artist renowned for her studies of the Mogao Caves and design of the ceiling in the Great Hall of the People.

They talk about their lives and work and, no matter how established they are, producers of the program intended to make the dialogue "warm and sincere".

"When you go deep into the inner world of these senior citizens and hear them talk about their glory days, you also share their lifetime of wisdom and experience," Wang Ning, presenter of the program, says. "Their ambition is still burning."

Wang says there is no complicated criteria for choosing interviewees for the show.

"The only one being that they've made a great contribution to our republic," Wang says. "They're the founders of their respective fields, but perhaps they're not household names because their expertise sometimes seems unrelated to people's daily lives. So, this show is like a visualized chronicle of our country."

As might be expected, the crew encountered some difficulties. Being focused on their own specialized fields for so long, many interviewees had deliberately distanced themselves from the media and public exposure.

"No matter how much energy and time it has taken to find and record them, it's been worthwhile," Wang recalls. "I think the show will be one that continues, because what we are doing is racing against time."

Time is probably their biggest enemy, leaving the showrunners with many regrets. During preparation and production, some names at the top of their list of intended interviewees, which included around 120 people, were lost forever. For example, the agricultural scientist Yuan Longping and the translator Xu Yuanchong both passed away this year.

Nevertheless, in the show, producers also endeavor to blur the passing of time.

"We like to encourage the interviewees to recall their younger days," Wang says. "Time is changing, but every generation of young people experiences similar pain and confusion, and also shares the spirit to explore and dream. Inspired by their stories to fight, today's young people can think about their own lives.

"People pursue diverse personalities now. However, for us, the ultimate goal, one generation after another, is to realize our value."

Consequently, when several interviewees mention their bad days and failures, Wang considers them to be encouragement for the audience and a precious opportunity to reflect on their own setbacks.

"When stepping into their home, it is obvious how simple their lives are," Shen Gongfu, director of the program, recalls. "But their rooms are full of memories, and the support from family in their successful careers that served the country is evident."

This also explains two key themes of the program-home and country.

According to Shen, the upcoming list of interviewees will cover a wide spectrum, ranging from ecologists and archaeologists to writers and artists, among others.

"It's like building a database," he says. "These video clips, in cooperation with museums and libraries, can be exhibited in the future."

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