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Beijing Uses Film to Promote a Rising China

A 12-episode documentary series The Rise of Great Nations aired by China’s state-run CCTV has spurred lively discussion over Beijing’s intentions.

From November 13-24, 2006, the business channel of China’s state-run media Chinese Central Television (CCTV) broadcast a 12-episode documentary series called The Rise of Great Nations. The film analyzed the rise and fall of nine strong countries during the past 500 years, including Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, England, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, and the United States. To complement the program, the station concurrently published a series of eight books on the topic.

According to, a state-owned television crew (all television stations in China are owned by the government) produced the film. Guided by Qian Chengdan, a history professor at Beijing University, and Wang Jisi, chairman of the International Strategy Institute of the Chinese Communist Central Government’s Party School, the crew spent three years making the series.

Xinhuanewsnet, Beijing’s mouthpiece, used a quote from Mr. Qian to explain the reason to produce the film: It was based on Hu Jintao’s speech about learning from the advanced experience of others and probing our own path of development.

According to an article from CCTV’s website, the inspiration for making the film came when a few selected scholars gave a lecture series about investigating the development of major countries since the 15th century. The central government’s Political Bureau first organized this collective study session on November 24, 2003.

Beijing claims that the film emphasizes thinking about reality from a historic perspective. To promote the program, the authorities arranged a series of activities around the film. CCTV aired the series a second time, three days after the first showing. Special guests were invited to participate in live interactive discussion. On November 22-23, and, two of the biggest official websites in China, invited the author and the producer of the film as well as some specialists to conduct online interaction with the readers.

Not only was the film made available to the general public, but top-level officials were also strongly encouraged to watch it. According to the overseas pro-CCP media China Press, The nine members of the Politburo started to study The Rise of Great Nations while CCTV was airing the film, suggesting that China is facing the reality of the ‘rise,’ and is repositioning itself.

The film quickly became a hot topic on the Internet. According to Voice of America, a Google search revealed that more than 1.55 million websites were found to have contents related to The Rise of Great Nations.

On December 8, for example, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled The Rise of Great Nations by Hong Kong University researcher David Bandurski. The article criticized the film as a flashy series, ordered by Hu Jintao, whose purpose was to echo the ideology of China’s peaceful rise and to eulogize the Party.{mospagebreak}

It was pointed out that, during the 90-minute section about the United States’ rise, the word democracy was mentioned only once on the occasion of talking about the Democratic Party. During the total 9-hour program, democracy was mentioned a total of 12 times.

Many also criticized the film for avoiding the real reason for these countries’ rise—focusing instead on the economy, the military, and the government—thus giving a distorted picture of the reason for their rise.

For example, the film made no mention of the importance of the spirit of the U.S. Constitution, and the constitutional protection of freedom. Rather, it emphasized science and technology, including patents in the United States. One analyst commented that the film conveyed the message that the rise of the United States resulted from the protection of patents.

In the section on Russia’s rise, the film eulogized the communist revolution as an example of great success in leading the Soviet Union from an agricultural country to an industrial one. There was not a single word mentioned about Stalin’s repression in the late 1930s, as if the episode never occurred.

A BBC commentary expressed that the film proposed the following logic for China: The development of the world is based on fortune. Fortune can be achieved through power, technology, and war.

EastSouthWestNorth quoted a viewer as saying: The intent of this film ‘to learn from the West’ is obvious. But what does it suggest that we should learn? To make your nation strong, do you get it? Getting rich, universal suffrage, human rights, constitutional governance and all that are only means that serve to make the nation strong. There is one and only one true goal: to be a strong nation.

As Chinese journalist Li Datong points out: The true ingredients of national greatness are very far from those imagined by the official Chinese mind.