Documentaries and Films

The page provides links to a number of relevant documentaries and films that may be of interest.

100 Years of the CPC: In My Eyes

This a series of short videos featuring Michael Crook on his parents, Isabel and David Crook. Both were and are communists who have lived in China for decades. Indeed, Isabel was 6 years old when the CPC was established in 1921 and she has seen the CPC transform China from one of the poorest countries in the world to what it is now. Michael himself was born in China in 1951 and has lived in China for his whole life. I have have met Isabel and Michael on a number of occasions in Beijing.

Episode 1

Edpisode 2

Episode 3

I also recommend this video with Michael Crook. People say his Beijing accent is second to none and even his body language is Chinese. But then you would expect that since he has lived his whole life in China.

Episode 4

To complete this collection, a documentary focusing on the life of Isabel Crook.

The Reform and Opening Up

This is a recent five-part documentary series on the Reform and Opening-Up, presented by Michael Wood in a tone that is accessible to ‘Westerners’. Needless to say, it is also extremely popular in China.

  1. The Will of the Chinese People

2. China Goes Global

3. Designed in China

4. Green Chinese Dream

5. The Road Ahead

Takeuchi Ryo: Long Time No See, Wuhan

This documentary has become quite a hit. The Japanese documentary maker, Takeuchi Ryo (who now lives in Nanjing), returned to Wuhan after the lockdown was lifted earlier in 2020. This docuemtary follows a number of shorter ones on life in his adopted home, Nanjing, during the lockdown there.

Chinese History

A long series due to a long history of China and its spirit. The first documentary offers an overview of a history very different from anywhere else.

There are 100 episodes in the series – too long to list all of them here. If you want to know more and practice your Chinese (they have subtitles), please go to this link (here).

Targetted Poverty Alleviation

For those interested in a useful overview of China’s extraordinary poverty alleviation project the following documentary series is worth viewing.

Ecological Civilisation

Shengtai wenming (生态文明) is the Chinese term, which is rather inadequately translated as ‘ecological civilisation’. Shengtai means an organism’s habits, modes of life and interconnection with its environment, a much more comprehesive and integrated sense than ‘ecological’. And while the English term ‘civilisation’ is derived from Latin and means ‘citification’ – since cities are in the Western tradition seen as the source of more advanced human life – in Chinese wenming has a much wider sense. The character wen (文) is full of meaning, all the way from a written character to culture itself, ming (明) has the senses of bright, understanding and wisdom.

As you can see, shengtai wenming is almost impossible to translate except as a longish phrase. Perhaps I can suggest it means a culture’s wisdom in developing its modes of life in a fully integrated way with its environment. This is now a key development goal of China, and is an inescapable part of achieving a xiaokang society, or a moderately well-off, healthy and peaceful society.

The following videos begin with a longer documentary that explains the overall approach. It is followed by more specific and shorter documentaries that explain some aspects, from re-afforestion (in which China leads the world), to the connection with poverty alleviation.

Some Recommended Films

All of movies listed here have subtitles, although some have only Chinese subtitles. The latter are useful if you are in the process of learning Chinese, apart from the obvious benefit of learning more about the history of the New China and the CPC.

The first film is one of my favourites, an understated film concerning Deng Xiaoping’s climb of Huangshan (Mount Huang) in Anhui Province. Most of the scenes expliciate in one way or another key themes of the Reform and Opening-Up.

The next two are epic-length movies concerning the founding of the CPC and of the People’s Republic. One version has English subtitles (you will need to select from a list of five languages) and the other with Chinese subtitles.

The Beginning of the Great Revival (建党伟业):

The Founding of a Republic (建国大业):

The following film is called ‘On the Mountain of Tai Hang [太行山上]’, which depicts the efforts of the newly formed 8th Route Army, led by the legendary Zhu De, against the Japanese in 1937. The film focuses on the quietly spoken Zhu De, concerning whom Agnes Smedley – who was with the 8th Route Army – wrote a biography. The film has Chinese and English subtitles.

Terrorism in Xinjiang

A number of recently released videos on terrorism in Xinjiang, with much material not seen until now. The first concerns the ‘East Turkistan Islamic Movement’ (ETIM), with close connections to the Washington-funded ‘World Uyghur Congress’ (WUC).

The second concerns the complex and long-term counter-terrorism work in Xinjiang, which is made even more complex by some ‘Western’ countries supporting such terrorism.

The third, called ‘Tianshan: Still Standing’, tells of memories of fighting terrorism in Xinjiang.

Two points worth noting:

First, the Chinese analysis of the root cause of terrorism concludes that is not primarily due to religion or ethnicity, but to foundational socio-economic matters. Thus, poverty, connected with lack of education and  employment, all come first – as aspects of the economic base – and they provide fertile ground for extremist religious views. Obviously, a distinctly Marxist analysis of terrorism, and it also shapes short and long-term policies in Xinjiang.

Second, when the security bodies of Russia, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and East Asia meet, one of the common items on the agenda is dealing with the way some ‘Western’ countries complicate the problems by fostering terrorism in some parts of the world.