Ahh Michael Wood, a creator of calm, informative television and a fine exponent of Reithian values. Whether presenting a historical series about Alexander the Great or a documentary on Hitler’s search for the Holy Grail, he is a knowledgeable and engaging presenter, who guides his audience through his films with the inoffensive, confident charm of a Gentleman Gerbil leading his mother across a zebra crossing.
In his latest series, The Story of China, Mr Wood takes us on another epic journey through one of the world’s most interesting and indeed oldest cultures. And with an economy that promises (or threatens, depending on your world view) to soon take over the States as the planet’s dominant force, it is high time we had an intelligent peak into what makes this nation tick.
The first episode of this six parter takes us back 4000 years to the very birth of China, to a land divided amongst feuding Warlords and Kings before finally being united (sort of) under the mythical first dynasty of the Xia.
We learn how archaeologists discovered evidence of Xia’s actual existence and how they form a link to the first historically documented dynasty the Shang and then onto the Zhou and why this matters in light of what is known as ‘The Mandate of Heaven’.
Whether or not this evidence is real, matters little to you or me but to the people of China it is a matter of extreme significance. Following the liberalisation of the State and the new love affair with western culture, the last few years have been ones of huge change and excitement but this can sometimes be overwhelming to a society that is traditionally insular. So along with the attempts to modernise and welcome the outside world, there has also been an upsurge in how things were done in the past and the teachings of Confucius and any traceable link back to these so called-simpler times, acts as a salve to the relentless march forward into capitalism.
The subtext being that whether these discoveries prove to be true or not, the Government (a one party state, you must remember), will endorse them in order to keep a population of nearly 1.5 billion people, who after years of censorship are now being exposed to the knowledge of the internet; and thanks to the power of Virtual Private Networks there is nothing the Great Firewall can do about it. So inculcating a spirit of respect for your elders and the State is imperative to avoid the tinder box igniting.
It is going to be interesting to see how The Story of China will develop, Wood has been given some great access from the Chinese, who will have exerted some measure of control in exchange, but will he produce a complete party friendly hagiography or will he be able to slip in some subversive truths here and there? His closing line hints that maybe he will.
The Story of China airs at 21.00 on Wednesday nights on BBC Two.