review

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The Independent Culture
You would not, were you sitting down to watch television in Hong Kong last night, have enjoyed what you saw. In one item on the news you would have seen the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, settling down for an official banquet in Peking to talk about the safe hand-over of your colony to the Chinese. Then, in the next item, you would have seen details from a documentary which charged Mr Rifkind's hosts with human rights abuses of such enormity that they can only be described as genocide. And, like me, you would have concluded that the British government will ignore the horror show, allowing nothing to deflect its intention, at the beginning of next year, to give you over to the people who authorised this abuse.

When Brian Woods and Kate Blewett's film The Dying Rooms was broadcast last year, its footage of life and death in Chinese orphanages was as disturbing as any ever screened. Toddlers, four in a row, were filmed tied to bamboo potty benches, rocking constantly like zoo-crazy polar bears; a girl lay in a cot with her foot eaten away by gangrene; an emaciated child, left to die in an orphanage side room, was filmed hours from death, though the look in her eyes suggested all life had departed long before.

The children were victims of a Chinese government policy which, in an attempt to check a population explosion running at 21 million babies born a year, limited families to one each. Given ancient Chinese prejudice towards boys, the practical outcome is that millions of girls are abandoned, most of whom end up in state orphanages. Once there, up to 90 per cent of the unwanted are dead within a year, left to starve.

When the film was first screened last year, the Chinese government squealed about "contemptible lies and vicious fabrications". Return to the Dying Rooms (C4) rightly reprised some of the footage from the original film, but added new material from a variety of sources which only corroborated what had been shown before. Some came from human rights organisations offering up their own films, and more from doctors who escaped from China, armed with portfolios of gruesome pictures (presumably they didn't come to England, otherwise they would be quickly flown off to Dominica as economically embarrassing asylum seekers). But the most telling evidence came from the Chinese records themselves. As with the Nazis, the bureaucrats in the People's Republic are meticulous in recording the details of how many of the children in their care have died, and how long it took them. They even have their own pseudo-scientific euphemism for this Oriental final solution: "Summary Resolution". Something for Mr Rifkind to ponder over the sweet-and-sour soup.

Scully and Mulder, FBI agents of the odd, were back in The X Files (BBC1). Now available to viewers apparently incapable of switching to a minority channel, the new series of BBC2's former ratings leader, the programme with the most precise date-lines in television drama ("Gibsonton Museum of Curiosities, 4.14pm" read one scene-setting caption), got off to an appropriately ludicrous, and very funny, start. Here is a brief plot synopsis: a serial killer is on the loose in a town inhabited exclusively by carnival side-show acts. He's already taken dozens of victims over the years, but has now gone into overdrive, murdering the Alligator Man, the bloke who operates the ghost train, and a grumpy dwarf in the space of a few hours.

After a few red herrings, our two heroes discover the murderer is the psychotic Siamese twin of the town drunk, capable of detaching himself for a few hours, while his brother sleeps off a binge, to create havoc. Before they can arrest him, however, the murderer is eaten by a "geek", a showman with every inch of his body covered in a jigsaw-patterned tattoo, who specialises in consuming living things. If only the real world were as simple and straightforward as that.

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