By Will Barber Taylor
China has over the past century changed to such an extent that it seems no longer recognisable. From a country that was riddled with poverty and famine to an economic powerhouse, China has changed both itself and the world. Yet as the new BBC Two series China: A New World Order demonstrates it isn’t necessarily for the best. Charting the rise to power of Xi Jinping, the current President of China, the series documents how Jinping’s regime has become more and more oppressive and the horror that is now suffered by the people of China under his rule.
Yet one of the things that is fascinating about the documentary series is that it does not attempt to make Xi Jinping out to be a caricature. Certainly, he is shown to be an authoritarian who puts his people into camps, but it also demonstrates how he was able to appear as a reasonable political figure to the Chinese public.
Jinping’s successful running of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and his promise to reform the corrupt governing Communist Party of China by ending the widespread practise of bribery helped to boost his popularity. So, when he was elected President in 2013, it seemed as if China was continuing along a path to greater democracy and accountability.
Yet, as the documentary makers excellently portray, this was all a front and Xi Jinping was soon amassing greater power and wealth to ensure he could not be toppled. It also nicely contrasts how Xi Jinping is received in China as compared to the rest of the world with interviews with those who have suffered on Jinping’s rule alongside conversations with former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and President Obama’s Secretary of State for Defence Leon Panetta.
Both Osborne and Panetta speak in the documentary of how they had to work with Jinping, not simply for economic necessity but also in an attempt to curb Jinping’s authoritarian streak. Whilst this is understandable the documentary makers make clear what cost this had on the people of China and how many of them live in a constant state of fear of how Jinping will react.
What is truly compelling about China: A New World Order is how it demonstrates the extent to which China has changed and how that change has and will continue to impact on the world we live in. It is as engaging as it is frustrating, and the frustration certainly isn’t aimed at the series that the team behind it have made.
Rather it is at seeing people being put into camps and treated in the most terrible way possible and feeling a sense of powerlessness. Yet, as the documentary also makes clear, it is not as if we can do nothing. The slide away from democracy is one which we can all notice and ensure that we do not allow to happen in our own countries. China: A New World Order is a fascinating insight into how a country that is progressing can go backwards and its message of vigilance is one we should all adhere to.
You can watch China: A New World Order on the BBC iPlayer here.