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Beijing Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

 

Blimey! Did you know Jon's New Zealand book Squashed Possums is out now - find out more



My first day in Beijing and I was in no hurry to leave the warmth and comfort of my motel bedroom. Last night I'd arrived on a wing and a prayer via what might politely be called a Chinese tuk-tuk. Less charitably it looked like the illegitimate offspring between a motorised lawn-mower and a garden shed.
 
Anyhow, the city was minus twenty outside and up to its chop sticks in snow but thanks to some helter-skelter manoueveres and a minor altercation over the fare, I'd arrived shaken but in one piece.
 
So, I figured today was a good day for a slow morning. And besides there's nothing quite like starting with a steaming hot cup of instant coffee, milk, one sugar, accompanied by some frothy upbeat propaganda on the old telly box.
 
I tuned into CCTV9, China’s English language television station...
 
A sombre and suited news reporter proceeded to explain how the snow had been artifically created by the 'Weather Modification Office'. Chinese scientists had seeded the approaching clouds with silver iodide with the intention of bringing rain to the drought ridden crops of north China. Unfortunantly they'd neglected to check the weather forecast and hadn't realised a cold spell was due, turning the rain into snow. Still, it was a fantastic relevation. Aren't such things only possible in sci-fi novels? I had barely arrived and Beijing was already feeling like The Twilight Zone.
 
Meanwhile on the TV, one marvel of science followed another. Having opened the previous year, the 22-mile HangZhou suspension bridge was now successfuly driving commuters into Shanghai, embracing them into the new bustling economy. The Chinese economy was booming but overseas others weren't so lucky.
 
American companies were going bankrupt left, right and centre, but good news, the reporter explained, the US-based company Hummer would be saved by a corporation based in the Sichuan province. Hummer, best known for its lucrative US military contracts, are as American as cherry pie and Pepsi-Cola. It's sale to China was a massive publicity coup. The sale would only included the domestic, not the military side of the business, but the message was clear. The world is changing and in China, the news is good.
 
Talk of car sales were soon interrupted by a magnificent European chateau appearing on screen. Then switched to a vault of aged oak barrels. A soothing voice urged the viewer to “experience the finest bordeaux in the world, here in Beijing...” A Frenchman might have spat his bordeaux on the floor in incredulity. Except the chateau was a French company investing in the booming Chinese wine market.
 
We seemed to have switched to the adverts, but truth to tell, it was hard to distinguish the adverts from the news. And the documentary that followed only further blurred the boundaries...
 
The programme was about the treasures in Taipei’s Palace Museum. Historic nick nacks from the Qing dynasty appeared on screen alongside empty spaces in Beijing's Forbidden Palace (now rebranded ‘The Palace Museum’). The narrator explained how they had been ‘looted’ by

the Chinese nationalists when they fled to Taiwan during the Maoist revolution. The Imperial Forbidden Palace in Beijing was sadly now "like a dumpling with no filling".
 
The message was as subtle as a kick in the face from Jet Li. Taiwan and the rest of China were brothers who had had a terrible argument. But the time for dwelling on the past was over, it was now time to stop this foolishness and get back together as any good family should. It was time for reconciliation and for Taiwan and its treasures to return to China’s ‘soup bowl’.
 
Filled with Chinese style agit-prop, I switched the television off and prepared to see the country for myself, starting with the Temple of Heaven. This was where the Emperor himself once prayed for good weather for the coming year's crops. But as the news had explained, that era had long since passed. It was now science and technology, not prayers that summoned the weather. Obviously, it hadn't been an unqualified success but this was a minor setback and there was little room for complaint. As Confuscious put it, 2500 years before the invention of television and cloud seeding - “the person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.”

 

Blimey! Did you know Jon's New Zealand book Squashed Possums is out now - find out more


12/10/2010

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