19 Feb, 2016 Source: Xinhua News Agency
BBC documentary series The Story of China is being broadcast. In an interview with Xinhua News Agency, the executive producers said that Chinese history and Chinese culture is a fascinating topic to the audience around the world. “We need no reason to explain why China is on the spotlight,” and “it’s very important to let the world know more about Chinese history.”
The Story of China Comes Just in Due Time
As writer and host of The Story of China, Michael Wood had traveled to China in the 1980s. To meet the needs of the audience, he decides to produce a documentary on China’s history and traditional culture.
In 2007, Wood made a documentary series entitled The Story of India, by which he won high praise from the audience. As he told Xinhua News Agency, BBC suggested him to shoot a documentary about China afterwards. “The audience want such a documentary. There is no need to convince others of it,” said Wood.
Before working, Wood wrote an outline of the shooting plan in 50 pages. Then he went to America with Producer Rebecca Dobbs to bring forward the plan to his American partners. They showed much interest in it, too.
“This documentary series comes just in due time,” said Dobbs as she noted that there were few high-quality TV programs on Chinese history in the west. “China is such an important country that it’s time for the westerners to know more about it.”
Wood couldn’t agree more on that. He has long been interested in culture and history of China. However, primary school textbooks in the U.K. rarely deal with Chinese history, except for some reference to the bronze ware in Shang Dynasty. As for high school courses, information about Chinese history is even less.
Wood believes that it’s a big problem as the British public know too little about Chinese history. China has entered a new period of opening up and rising. “The history of China is uniquely fascinating. It’s very important to let the world know more about it.”
He hopes that the documentary series made by his team could tell the stories of China in a much easier way and that the British audience will find interest in Chinese history and have a favorable impression of China.
“There has always been some misunderstanding about Chinese history among the western countries. For us, one of the most interesting thing is that westerners try to divide Chinese history using their own method. They choose historical terms like ‘classical age’, ‘Middle Ages’, ‘ Renaissance’, and ‘early modern period’ to describe historical stages in other parts of the world. But if we talk about Tang Dynasty in Chinese history, will it be proper to call it China’s Middle Ages? Actually China enjoyed a high level of civilization during the Tang Dynasty,” said Wood.
Wood introduced that the second episode shows China’s readiness to open up and exchange with other civilizations in the world. Not every civilization could do the same as China did. It needs not only self-confidence but strong cultural identity. For instance, the Song Dynasty is definitely not the same as the Middle Ages. If we choose an European historical term to describe it, it’s like a great ‘Renaissance’. But it’s several hundred years earlier than the Renaissance in the west. Moreover, scientific and technological development during the Song Dynasty is just like a ‘industrial revolution’. “So when you start to pay close attention to China, you’ll find that not all the historical ideas of the two sides is a one-to-one correspondence,” said Wood.
Let the Chinese People Tell The Story of China
In recent years, a large number of documentaries on the theme of China have been broadcast on BBC. Unfortunately, most of these documentaries judge China from the conventional western way of thinking, including interviewee’s quoting taken out of context and a deliberately distorted image of Chinese people. The Story of China is also presented from the Western perspective and chooses the British and the American as its target audience. But it has tried its best to allow Chinese people to tell the story and explores Chinese history by adopting a more objective stance.
In doing so, the camera crew tries to make contact with local people as much as possible. According to Dobbs, they have interviewed a lot of Chinese scholars. The goal is to show how the Chinese people view their history without imposing western ideology on it.
“After watching all the episodes, you will find that almost all the experts interviewed are Chinese. Most of the people talking with us on the scene are also Chinese, including professors of Chinese literature and people who know about Lu Xun. So we spent a lot of time working with the common Chinese people, including not only scholars but people from all walks of life,” said Dobbs.
As Wood notes, in previous documentary series focused on China, most of the interviewees are western scholars who make prejudicial remarks on Chinese history and their research has been in a position of dominance all the time. He hopes that The Story of China could make the voice of Chinese people heard and that they are given opportunities to tell their stories themselves. But it may be a big challenge as most westerners don’t want to watch a film where too much Chinese are spoken and they don’t like to read the subtitles, either. So the camera crew make every effort to interview Chinese scholars and local people who could speak English.
China: A Country Where You Will be Deeply Moved
It takes two years for the camera crew to finish the documentary series with a whole length of six hours. In the two years, they have been deeply moved again and again when traveling around China and meeting lots of Chinese people in the localities .
Their cameras are focused on the common Chinese people, for it is them who play a leading role in Chinese history and make history in this country, in spite of the fact that the governing officials have merits and achievements, too.
Wood made a lot of Chinese friends in shooting this documentary and they left a strong impression on him. “Wherever we go, the Chinese people will share their stories with us. It’s really nice. What I remember most is to meet and chat with them,” said Wood.
“In China, history is quite important. Many Chinese people are fascinated about history. In all the cities we’ve been to, such as Shaoxing, Hangzhou, Xi’an, and Kaifeng, thousands of people get there to learn more about history. In Shaoxing, I asked some visitors about the reason to come here, and they told me that they just want to see what Lu Xun’s home town looks like.”
In Guiping of Guangxi province, the camera crew went to local villages to find out the people who know the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. They just felt incredible that “the locals interviewed were like witnesses to history”. “In an interview in 2014, people talked about what happened over one and half a century ago as if it were just yesterday. We feel the same way in many other places.”
Dobbs was left with a deep impression as he got much help when working in China. “In fact, we feel much easier to shooting in China. We are warmly welcomed. Many people are ready to help us. Many want to tell about their history. Many feel truly proud of local landscape and scenery. We are also welcome at the museum. So shooting in China is a really nice experience. It is much easier than we expected.”
What Wood sees and hears in China confirms his belief that now China is more open than ever before. “Last time, I left China in 1991. China has undergone tremendous changes since then. In culture, for instance, Chinese culture is quite modern. But the biggest change is about the Chinese people. They have changed a lot over the past 30 years. Now each person is an individual, different from each other and marked by perfect composure,” said Wood.