Media: Diary of a culture shock

David Elstein, chief executive of C5, accompanied Chris Smith to Peking to promote British TV and culture

TUESDAY MORNING. Spring in Peking is delightful, but lasts little more than a fortnight. Our group of executives from the creative industries has luckily arrived just as it starts.

Vice-Premier Li Lanqing is dapper and shrewd. He and his staff form one half of a horseshoe formation; Culture Secretary Chris Smith, the ambassador and the delegation the other half. Tea is served in large mugs by white- gloved attendants.

Wednesday. Overnight faxes bear the news of Mark Booth's leaving BSkyB. Our first meeting, coincidentally, is with the head of China Satellite Broadcasting. Could he be a replacement? Perhaps not. His only concession to smartness is a Christian Dior glasses case. In a drab suburban office, up two flights of steps, the lights fuse after five minutes.

What will encourage Murdoch, however, is the speed at which China is installing satellite dishes. A trial project will within a year bring them to 50,000 villages beyond reach of terrestrial television signals.

After that, "real DTH", as they call it, is in prospect - not just for the 50 million households in those villages but for the 300 million existing television homes as they upgrade to multi-channel.

At Beijing Cable, we find another gap for Murdoch to exploit. Although joint ventures in China are not supposed to provide domestic TV services, his influential partners have managed to place Phoenix TV (of which Murdoch owns 45 per cent) on nearly half of China's 3,000 cable systems, which serve 18 million homes. Beijing Cable plans to double its 50 per cent penetration of the city within two years. How do they deal with evaders of the pounds 1 monthly charge? Puzzled looks. For the moment, they eventually reply, we are building out the system, not worrying how to manage it.

At Beijing TV, we are startled to discover that its operations are 99.8 per cent funded by commercial revenue. A version of Blind Date is its most popular series. Far from fearing the new technology, the Chinese are confidently embracing cable, satellite, digital, video-on-demand and the Internet. Content control is an issue they will finesse. They want Gates, but they want to be their own keepers.

Wednesday night. The visiting Royal Ballet perform Romeo and Juliet, brilliantly danced by Jonathan Cope and Sylvie Guillem. Sadly, the local orchestra seems unfamiliar with the score. The Russian-built auditorium has thankfully poor acoustics.

Thursday morning. Rupert Gavin of BBC Worldwide is being briefed over breakfast on the structure of the Chinese government. The giant, complex diagram - with its central committee, politburo and state department - looks remarkably like the BBC. I wonder, when we visit the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), whether they will be able to tell the difference between the licence-funded Worldwide and the Foreign Office- funded BBC World Service, represented by Elizabeth Wright.

Such fine distinctions register not at all. The minister launches into a two-fisted assault on the BBC, for lack of truth, facts and objectivity, particularly in regard to Tibet. We try to remonstrate: broadcasters and governments often disagree. The minister points dramatically in front of him. That is a cup. That is a fact. The BBC must learn. We refrain from citing Wittgenstein.

More meetings, more tea. The Minister for Industries makes clear his disapproval of his government's concessions in the WTO talks. The copyright division promises our music industry delegate new anti-piracy measures. The film censors tell us they never reject a production, only suggest improvements. The head of China Central Television (CCTV) claims the world's largest domestic television audience: yet 41 years ago China had just 12 TV sets. At a press briefing, Rupert Gavin is accused of risking the BBC's journalism for commercial ends - by the BBC's Peking correspondent!

Thursday night: dinner at the embassy. At our table, Chris Smith is regaled with a fluent rendition of his adult biography, meticulously memorised by CCTV's china-doll interpreter, He Ping. Mr An Li, from SARFT, reaches across me to tug her sleeve. He wants to tell Chris Smith how much he likes him. Am I witnessing the entrapment of a Cabinet minister? An Li ploughs on: it's your smile, you're always smiling, even when you're not smiling, you look as if you are. Chris Smith beams pinkly. He Ping predicts he will be a star when his pre-recorded CCTV interview is broadcast. She will personally select the nicest of the female callers for him after the screening.

The smile never flickers.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'