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“China was on the brink of entering a new chapter”: VP of Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific

By Zhang Niansheng and Hu Zexi  (People's Daily)    14:18, October 19, 2017

Vikram Channa, vice president of Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific (Picture source: Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific) 

China: Time of Xi, a documentary produced by the Discovery Channel about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ideas on national governance finished its debut on Monday. This three-episode documentary started airing on last Saturday in more than 37 countries and regions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Vikram Channa, executive producer of the documentary and vice president of Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, shared with People’s Daily the stories behind the documentary on Monday.

Q: Where did the idea of this documentary come from? 

A: Discovery has been making documentaries on China since 1997. Working closely with local partners and the creative community, Discovery has been in a privileged position to have not only witnessed but also archived China’s unique transformation through more than 100 documentaries over the course of 20 years. In this context, we felt China was on the brink of entering a new chapter in its rapidly evolving journey that would be of interest to the world. The policy impact in the first five years of President Xi Jinping’s vision seemed like an acutely relevant topic to consider and showcase both the continuity and departure from previous policies as well as an important milestone in China’s history.

Q: What is the key information of China that you want to share with your audience? What extra efforts have been made to make China’s story easier to understand for international audience?

A: We are excited to provide audiences around the world with an insight into China’s evolution in Discovery’s signature story-telling style that makes complex subjects accessible and easy to understand. We’re proud of our rich history in telling amazing stories originating out of China and this series is yet another opportunity to share the impact China’s key policies have had over the last five years – which have been truly transformational. For example, China’s experiences in poverty alleviation, innovation, and more recently in the belt and road initiative have tremendous relevance globally. As you know, the intricate nature of policy makes it a highly academic topic. Out attempt was to bring to life these core themes as emotively and visually as possible.

We were privileged and honored to have been given the access we were to tell China’s unique transformation story. Without giving too much away to those that haven’t seen the series yet, the objective for us was to really articulate the importance placed on some of China’s key policies from a Chinese perspective to an international audience with a particular eye on younger viewers across Asia. From the approach to poverty alleviation in Episode 1, the use of innovation in moving the economy up the value chain beyond just GDP growth in Episode 2, to the origins and motivation behind President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative in Episode 3, these were three major topics that we felt were important to be understood.

By using Discovery Channel’s signature approach to story-telling that bring together a unique visual narrative with views from top experts and insiders, knitted together with case-studies featuring locals from all over China we tried to give complex policy initiatives a unique big-screen touch with the objective to share these important aspects of China’s transformation journey to wider audiences in China and around the world.

Q: For this documentary, your team has travelled to the underdeveloped regions of China. How’s your impression of the on-going poverty relief effort there? 

A: The research we did for this entire series was comprehensive. What stood out particularly was the innovative approach of targeted poverty alleviation as it humanized the task by focusing on specific individuals instead of being driven by political slogans or abstract notions of “removing poverty”. We made sure that all the stories we encountered during filming are part of the final end product of this series.

Q: Anti-corruption is among the key topics of the documentary. In what ways do you think this effort of the past five years has changed China?

A: One of the experts we interviewed for our series was Robert Kuhn. I, personally, found his perspective on corruption very insightful. He argued that President Xi’s policies were about challenging the status quo in order to push China in a new direction in an effort to achieve the goal of a middle-income country by 2021 and a fully developed nation by 2049. Kuhn says over time it is not surprising for any system to develop entrenched interests, but those who refuse to move to the next stage are perhaps too deeply wedded to the status quo. That was an interesting manner of framing corruption and the drive to address it.

Q: Does experience of producing this documentary change your understanding of China?

A: I would say it does not change but deepens it. The series presented us an opportunity to make high-level policy matters more accessible and easier to understand for a wider global audience in a way that only Discovery’s signature visual story-telling approach can.

Q: The past five years of China marks a significant transformation for both her own national history and world history. You hold a master in history, could you share your opinions regarding the interaction between China’s practice and world history?

A: I now speak only as a student of history, and this is just my personal view. The world is definitely at a crossroad. In a way, the rules for the 21st century are being debated and rewritten just as they were once at the end of the World War Ⅱ. In some sense, this 20th century order that emerged shaped much of the world we have lived and succeeded in. Some may argue that China’s economic success came out of the model of globalization from this era. But it’s an order that is slowly and inevitably coming to an end. In the dialogue for a new vision for the world, China’s perspective is more important than ever because of its unique journey, transformation and impact over the last 40 years. To me, it seems that President Xi understands this deeply and is willing to express it through innovative and bold initiatives – the belt and road initiative and shared common destiny. Taken together, they represent Chinese articulation of renewing the mission of globalization and trade. But this is a perspective that comes from a developing country that has achieved its goals. This matters a great deal for many third world countries on a similar evolutionary path to China.

Q: How’s the feedback to the documentary so far? To recommend your documentary to our readers, what will you say?

A: We have only just begun the broadcast of the series across the APAC. The China airing dates will be confirmed soon. But anecdotally there is a lot of interest and curiosity about the series as we believe it’s the very first one that carries President Xi’s name – China: Time of Xi. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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