Whose Century Is It?: Ideas, trends & twists shaping the world in the 21st century-logo

Whose Century Is It?: Ideas, trends & twists shaping the world in the 21st century


"Whose Century Is It?" explores ideas, trends and twists shaping the 21st century, through a global lens. Host Mary Kay Magistad, a former NPR and PRI East Asia correspondent, offers interviews, stories and perspectives from around the world.


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"Whose Century Is It?" explores ideas, trends and twists shaping the 21st century, through a global lens. Host Mary Kay Magistad, a former NPR and PRI East Asia correspondent, offers interviews, stories and perspectives from around the world.





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On China's New Silk Road Podcast Preview

If you like Whose Century Is It?, check out this preview of my new limited series podcast with the Global Reporting Centre, On China's New Silk Road. I've teamed up with great local journalists on almost every continent to explore how China's global ambition is seen around the world, and at the impact Chinese investments in one of the biggest global infrastructure efforts ever, are having on the ground.


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Modern slavery in your grocery cart

Next time you sip your tea or bite into a bar of chocolate, or load up your grocery cart with other treats, spare a thought for the underpaid or unpaid workers who made it possible. Modern slavery comes in many guises, and politics professor Genevieve LeBaron of the University of Sheffield in England, who's done field studies on the subject, is here to tell you how it happens, and what you might want to look out for as you shop.


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Wizards, Prophets & the Fate of the Earth

We're pretty clever, we humans, but we ignore unintended consequences at our peril -- like climate change, after a couple of centuries of fossil fuel-driven growth and innovation. Can we innovate our way out of that growing crisis, or must we cut back and conserve if we want a habitable planet? Or both? Science journalist and author Charles Mann, author of 1491, 1493 and The Wizard & the Prophet, tells the tale of these two competing approaches through the lives of the 'wizard,' Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, and the 'prophet,' William Vogt, early ecologist and author of the hugely impactful 1948 book, Road to Survival.


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Sci Fi Future

In the imagined world of novelist Eliot Peper's near-term future in such books as Bandwidth and Borderless, San Diego's burning, polar ice caps have melted, everyone's got their heads in their digital feeds, and a powerful social media company called Commonwealth controls --well, seems like just about everything. Eliot talks to host Mary Kay Magistad about writing speculative fiction, about the value of sci fi in helping us all think through current crises and possible futures, and about what sci fi has seen coming, and what it's gotten just plain wrong.


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Why half the world's languages may disappear in this century

Embedded in each language is a reflection of life as lived by its speakers, over thousands of years. And when a language disappears, that embedded knowledge is lost. As the world grows more connected, and as dominant cultures push their own languages for wider use – think English, Chinese and Arabic, for starters -- languages are disappearing. As many as half the world's 7,000 languages may be gone by the end of the century. The good news is that linguists are on it, like this episode’s guest Laura Welcher, who oversees the Long Now Foundation’s Rosetta Project in San Francisco.


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Ethnic cleansing, human tragedy & the future few saw coming for Burma

Not so long ago, Myanmar (Burma) was a good news story, with democratic reforms, a booming economy and falling poverty rates. Then came ugly military-led attacks on Rohingya Muslims, who killed, raped and burned houses, and forced more than 700,000 Rohingyas to flee to camps in Bangladesh, with little pushback from pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. What does this mean for Myanmar's democratic future? Khin Ohmar, an exiled Burmese human rights and democracy activist for 30 years, shares her thoughts.


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We'd All Love to Change the World

What happens when you mix the efficiency and energy of the entrepreneurial world with the idealism of philanthropy? A growing number of social entrepreneurs say, you can do a world of good. But just like real entrepreneurs, more such efforts fail than succeed, and both smarts and resilience are needed for the long haul. Jonathan Lewis, author of The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur and founder of the microcredit funder MCE Social Capital and cofounder of Copia, a kind of mail-order catalogue for poor women around Nairobi, shares what he's learned over years as a social entrepreneur.


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China's counterintuitive bet

Can China become a global leader in innovation by protecting state-run companies from competition at home, while acquiring innovative companies abroad? Can that innovation be sustained in a society where free speech and intellectual inquiry is sharply curtailed? China's leaders are betting on it, and in this episode, journalist-turned-business analyst Jim McGregor, chairman of APCO Greater China, mulls over the odds.


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Leading -- and following -- in turbulent times

Populist leaders and strongmen often rise at times of dizzying, unsettling change. But what if that's exactly the wrong kind of leadership to face the challenges and seize the opportunities of this century? Futurist Bob Johansen argues the era ahead will be one with less hierarchy, more shared and shifting leadership, and clarity and agility will be rewarded, while rigid certainty will be punished.


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In the Amazon

Breathe in. Breathe out. The oxygen that keeps you going, that keeps life going on earth, comes in part from the vast Amazon rainforest, most of which is in Brazil. Lush, vast and rich in biodiversity, it is the lungs of the planet. But it also attracts miners, loggers, farmers and developers who, over the past 40 years, have contributed to reducing forest cover by some 20 percent. Foreign investors have played a role too -- American, European and now, Chinese. Many dams have been built. Hundreds more are planned, to create power to drive further development in the Amazon, creating short-term profits, but at what cost to the planet? Speeding climate change, and losing species are only the start of it. Host Mary Kay Magistad travels in the Amazon with Jon Watts, environment editor with The Guardian newspaper, and author of When a Billion Chinese Jump: How China will save mankind, or destroy it, to explore the complicated present and uncertain future of the Amazon, and what it may mean for all of us.


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Young China

Few generations in the world face a reality as dramatically different from all that have come before, as China's one-child generation. Since the one-child policy started in the early '80s, China has gone from aspiring developing country to powerful global player. It has shifted from being majority rural to majority urban, with per capita annual GDP rising from $300 to over $8,000 now. Young Chinese are more connected with the world than previous generations, thanks to the internet, smartphones, films, television and travel and study abroad, with some 330,000 studying in the United States alone. What does all this mean for the kind of power China might become in this century? Host Mary Kay Magistad talks with Alec Ash, long-time Beijing resident and author of "Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China," in this final episode as a coproduction with PRI's The World (but not the last of the podcast — details in the episode).


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Rebuilding Brazil's economy requires more than BRICS and China

Brazil's economy was blazing along in the first decade of this century, turbo-charged by China's appetite for commodities. And there was the added boost of being named, by a Goldman Sachs exec, one of the rising economies to watch — the BRICS, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Then China's economic growth slowed, demand for commodities dropped and Brazil fell into its worst recession in a century, intensified by its worst corruption scandal ever. Brazil is beginning to emerge now, after two years of economic contraction and political turbulence. What are its prospects for again being seen as one of the great rising economic powers of this century? Host Mary Kay Magistad visited Rio de Janeiro to find out.


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Bumps along South Africa's yellow BRIC road

South Africans' hopes and expectations that their country might become a democratic and economic leader in Africa, helped by a strong relationship with China and membership in the BRICS group — a collection of big countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) expected to emerge as economic leaders in this century — haven't turned out quite as planned. South Africa dipped into recession this year, has unemployment near 30 percent, and a deeply unpopular and, many South Africans say, ineffective president, Jacob Zuma. What happened, what now, and what do South Africans make of the similarities they see between their president, and President Donald Trump? Host Mary Kay Magistad reports from South Africa.


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Requiem for Liu Xiaobo

Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo spent much of his life advocating for basic political rights and democracy in China. For that, he spent years imprisoned by a government that feels threatened by such demands. He was in prison when he won the Nobel Prize in 2010, serving 11 years for "subversion of state power," and he was in prison as his liver cancer advanced. He was released, under guard, to a state hospital, and died there July 13, 2017. Chinese authorities have repeatedly called Liu Xiaobo a criminal. They have censored information about him at home and appear to hope the world will forget him. That's unlikely. When an individual is brave enough to stand up to an authoritarian power on behalf of justice and rights for many, that stands out. And at a time when authoritarian tendencies are creeping in, in unexpected places, because people aren't always vigilant about protecting the democracy and rights they have, Liu's work and focus stand as a reminder that these things are precious to those who don't have them, and that authoritarians, once in power, rarely volunteer to cede power to citizens, unless pressure builds, and they have no other choice.


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How China's past shapes dreams of future power

China was one of the world's great powers for most of the past couple thousand years, and back on its heels only for a couple of centuries, as the Industrial Revolution took off and European colonialism expanded. Now, China's drawing on its past and moving with deliberation to reclaim what many Chinese feel is China's rightful place in the world. The challenges are many, but with slowing economic growth, an aging population and uncertain future challenges from within and outside China's borders, there's incentive to act now to cement China's place as a regional if not global leader. And that's what China's leaders are doing, drawing on their past for inspiration. Host Mary Kay Magistad talks with Howard French, author of "Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Path to Global Power."


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Can Chinese pragmatism help save the planet?

China's leaders may not exactly be evangelizing about the perils of climate change, but compared to Donald Trump, these days, they look downright statesmanlike on this front. And Chinese policies on renewable energy, while often driven by pragmatic self-interest more than selfless concern for the planet, may nonetheless help tip the balance in the right direction in this century.


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Seeing into the future

Blind seers aside, it's easier to see where you're going, on the road and in life, if you can actually see. More than half of Americans wear glasses; in poorer and more remote regions of the world, it's estimated that some two billion people need glasses but don't have access to them, cutting into their ability to learn, work and live a full life. A social entrepreneurial effort called VisionSpring has reached millions of such people in Asia and Africa, selling glasses at affordable prices to customers who earn less than $4 a day. Host Mary Kay Magistad talks with VisionSpring's founder Jordan Kassalow, and president Ella Gudwin.


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Radio Free(ing) Africa

An unsung weapon against terrorism that has proven successful in Africa is the power of the airwaves — shortwave radio reaching people with reliable information, and programming that helps educate them, connect them and imagine a different kind of future. The ubiquity of cellphones allows people in conflict regions to call in, challenge abuses of power and have a voice. That's worked in the Congo, with Radio Okapi. It's working now in areas where Boko Haram has been active in West Africa, and the new Dandal Kura radio network is now broadcasting. Host Mary Kay Magistad talks with her old editor and friend David Smith, who helped set up both.


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Soul searching in China

A resurgence of interest in religion in China, after more than half a century of Communism and in the midst of China's rapid economic transformation and global rise, comes as new generations search for spiritual meaning and an ethical foundation. Host Mary Kay Magistad talks with former China correspondent colleagues Ian Johnson, author of "The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao," and Jennifer Lin, author of "Shanghai Faithful: Betrayal and Faith in a Chinese Christian Family," about how her own Chinese family, including Watchman Nee, the Billy Graham of China in the first half of the 20th century.


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Enemies of the (Corrupt) People

With kleptocratic autocrats on the rise, good journalism that explains what's going on matters more than ever. Fresh from sharing a 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting, for coverage of the Panama Papers, Drew Sullivan, founder and editor of the Organized Crime & Corruption Project, talks corruption, authoritarian creep and the future of journalism.