Al Jazeera’s Take on China

The China Complex: The Big Picture – Part 1

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This two-part documentary traces historical and cultural linkages to China’s current authoritarian style of government. It features commentary by a range of Chinese experts on whether China’s policy of “stability at all costs” is good or bad for the Chinese economy and people.

In my view the series’s key weakness of is its failure to examine the dilemma China faces in suppressing violent dissent (eg the Tibetan, Uygher and Hong Kong separatist movements) that is aided and abetted by foreign powers (mainly the CIA). There is a vague mention at the end of Part 2 about the foreign powers behind the Hong Kong protests putting China in a “lose-lose” situation (ie they potentially lose political control if they do nothing vs losing face internationally if they crack down on violent protestors).

The second major weakness is the documentary’s failure to explore the role of China’s unique monetary system in its unprecedented economic growth. At present it’s the only global power in which the government issues most of the nation’s money by spending it directly into the economy (aka sovereign money). In other countries, private banks create the vast majority of money in circulation when they issue loans.*

The most pro-China of the commentators attributes China’s economic miracle to their “stability at all cost” (ie repression of dissidents and “hooligans”). I don’t believe this is true. Freedom from the massive public and private debt that plague most industrialized nations has made for much more rapid (public and private) infrastructure development in China.

Aside from these weaknesses, the documentary provides valuable insight into Chinese history and culture, topics rarely taught in western schools. Part 1 covers the period from the inauguration of dynastic rule by Yu the Great in 2070 BC to the 1989 Tienanmen Square protest. Most westerners are unaware that China was a major international power from the 4th – 18th century AD, with a vast trading empire and cultural influence extending well beyond its borders. Its subjects enjoyed prosperity equal to that to that of Europe prior to their colonization by England and other European power.


*In the US, UK and New Zealand, for example, government only creates 2-3% of money in circulation. 97-98% is created out of thin air (as credit) when banks issue loans. Even governments borrow from banks to pay for spending that exceeds tax revenue (the main source of government debt). See The Battle for Public Control of Money