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Picks and Pans Review: Beyond the Great Wall: Journey to the Demon Kingdom of China

updated 03/27/1989 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/27/1989 01:00AM

Xishuangbanna is a mysterious, isolated region in the southwestern Yunnan province of China. Known as the "land of 12,000 rice baskets" because of its fertile soil, it was less favorably dubbed "land of the demons" by the ancient Chinese. Among the 22 ethnic groups inhabiting this faraway place were those thought to possess spiritual powers—some tribal women, it was said, could transform themselves into pigs and dogs. Bob Jones, former NBC correspondent in Asia and Africa, was one of the first reporters to take a camera into Xishuangbanna in 1985, and his film reflects the fascinating, if uneasy, balance between ancient and modern beliefs. In one scene a crowd gathers to watch a young boy forcing a live snake down his throat; in another, local factory workers grumble that peasant farmers are making more money because they are permitted to sell their excess produce on the open market. The 60-minute tour ends with a lively New Year's celebration in a village where male dancers, costumed in bright feathers, preen like peacocks. When Jones asks why their faces are painted to look like women instead of birds, one man says, "Ah, but the beauty in the face of a woman far exceeds the face of a peacock." (Media Resources, $29.95; 800-367-8047 ext.112)

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