Series by historians on Chinese television focuses on the rise of great powers

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... In the past several weeks China Central Television has broadcast a 12-part series describing the reasons nine nations rose to become great powers. The series was based on research by a team of elite Chinese historians, who also briefed the ruling Politburo about their findings....

The documentary, on China’s main national network, uses the word rise constantly, including its title, “Rise of the Great Powers.” It endorses the idea that China should study the experiences of nations and empires it once condemned as aggressors bent on exploitation.

“Our China, the Chinese people, the Chinese race has become revitalized and is again stepping onto the world stage,” Qian Chengdan, a professor at Beijing University and the intellectual father of the television series, said in an online dialogue about the documentary on Sina.com, a leading Web site.

“It is extremely important for today’s China to be able to draw some lessons from the experiences of others,” he said.

The series, which took three years to make, emanated from a Politburo study session in 2003. It is not a jingoistic call to arms. It mentions China only in passing, and it never explicitly addresses the reality that China has already become a big power.

Yet its version of history, which partly tracks the work done by Paul Kennedy in his 1980s bestseller, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers,” differs markedly from that of the textbooks still in use in many schools.

Its stentorian narrator and epic soundtrack present the emergence of the nine countries, from Portugal in the 15th century to the United States in the 20th, and cites numerous achievements worthy of emulation: Spain had a risk-taking queen; Britain’s nimble navy secured vital commodities overseas; the United States regulated markets and fought for national unity.

The documentary also emphasizes historical themes that coincide with policies Chinese leaders promote at home. Social stability, industrial investment, peaceful foreign relations and national unity are presented as more vital than, say, military strength, political liberalization or the rule of law.

In the 90 minutes devoted to examining the rise of the United States, Lincoln is accorded a prominent part for his efforts to “preserve national unity” during the Civil War. China has made reunification with Taiwan a top national priority. Franklin D. Roosevelt wins praise for creating a bigger role for the government in managing the market economy but gets less attention for his wartime leadership.

Government officials minimize the importance of the series. He Yafei, an assistant foreign minister, said in an interview that he had watched only “one or two episodes.” He said the documentary should not signal changes in China’s thinking about projecting power, saying that colonialism and exploitation “would go nowhere in today’s world.”...

Read entire article at NYT

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