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Research Case Study: China’s One Belt One Road Initiative

Alchemist Films is currently working on a two-part documentary TV series about China’s One Belt One Road initiative, focusing on the land Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road. Our team is conducting extensive research for this European market documentary, seeking out compelling Chinese stories that will captivate a Western audience.

Introduction to the Silk Road:

The Silk Road was a network of ancient trade routes that connected the East and West, spanning from China all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. It was named after the valuable trade in silk, which was highly sought-after in the West. However, the Silk Road also facilitated the exchange of goods, ideas, and technologies between various civilizations, including China, India, Persia, Arabia, Rome, and Byzantium.

Introduction to the Maritime Silk Road:

The Maritime Silk Road was a maritime network of trade routes that linked China with Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa. It served as an extension of the overland Silk Road and was established during the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE). The Maritime Silk Road was characterized by the transport of goods such as silk, tea, spices, and porcelain by sea. It also facilitated the exchange of ideas, cultures, and religions between different regions.

Since this documentary series is backed by China’s Central Television Channel, we have the support of the Chinese government, which makes our research journey a little different. Typically, we would gather information online, find the contact information of interested parties, and apply as a private company. However, this time we faxed a letter of collaboration to the local city news office and asked for their assistance. The news office of the local city government has the authority and influence to request interested parties to collaborate with our filming.

There are pros and cons to this method of obtaining film permits.

Pros:

  • You can obtain most of the permits you need and enter most government-run facilities, such as panda reserves, Tibet, Xinjiang, ports, airports, train stations, and more.
  • You can bring in a lot of film equipment through customs, so you don’t need to rent equipment inside China.
  • You can bring a large crew with the proper journalist visas, fully complying with Chinese laws on foreigners shooting in China.

Cons:

  • You need to have government backing, which means that your filming topics are limited to those approved by the Chinese government.
  • If you don’t have connections, you may need to pay for backing and apply for journalist visas, which can be expensive.
  • Everything during the filming trip must be documented and approved through the Chinese government bureaucratic process, which can be slow. You would need to reserve a lot of time for the pre-production period.

What we found out about the Silk Road:

Xi’an

Xi’an has been the starting point of the Silk Road on land since ancient times. As one of the most historically rich cities in China, Xi’an has witnessed the rise and fall of many dynasties, including the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE), which initiated the construction of the Silk Road. The first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, Qin Shi Huang, ordered the construction of roads and canals to improve transportation and communication between different regions of the empire. The Silk Road was part of this effort and facilitated the exchange of goods and ideas between China and the West.

During the Qin Dynasty, the Silk Road played a significant role in the economy, as the state controlled the trade of valuable commodities like silk, which were considered state secrets. The state also controlled the production and distribution of coins, which were used as currency along the Silk Road. The dynasty’s emphasis on standardization and centralization had a positive impact on the trade along the Silk Road, as it standardized weights and measures and created a common script, which facilitated trade and communication between different regions. The construction of the Great Wall of China during the Qin Dynasty was also intended to protect the empire from foreign invaders who might threaten the trade routes along the Silk Road.

Currently, the China-Europe Freight train group operates from multiple locations in China to various destinations in Europe and Russia. One of the most famous trains is named Changan after the old capital of the Tang Dynasty, which was one of the most powerful nations at that time. Xi’an, formerly known as Changan, was one of the largest cities in the world, a major trade center, and the starting point of the Silk Road on land.

In 2021, the Changan trains of the China-Europe Railway Express operated 3,841 trains, transporting a total of 2.873 million tons of goods. The exported goods mainly included machinery and equipment parts, electronic equipment, clothing and shoes, household appliances, daily necessities, and automobile parts. The imported goods mainly included automobile parts, motors, electrical equipment and parts, machinery and equipment parts, industrial raw materials, plastic products, and daily commodities. The cumulative number of trains operated has exceeded 11,415, and the international freight network has expanded to 16 routes, covering the entire Eurasian continent. The Changan trains of the China-Europe Railway Express have built an efficient, low-cost, and high-quality international trade channel in inland regions, accelerating the deep integration of Shaanxi into the overall development of the “Belt and Road” initiative.

Quanzhou

In the past, Quanzhou was a major port city located on the southeastern coast of China in Fujian Province. During the Tang and Song dynasties, Quanzhou played a crucial role in the development of the Maritime Silk Road and served as a key center for trade between China and foreign countries, especially Southeast Asia, India, and the Middle East. The city grew into a bustling port city and a hub for maritime trade, attracting foreign merchants who came to trade silk, porcelain, tea, and other Chinese goods for spices, textiles, and other exotic products from abroad.

Today, Quanzhou is still known for its historical significance as a center of the Maritime Silk Road, and many ancient buildings and artifacts related to the city’s maritime trade can still be found in the city. Quanzhou is also known for its production of ceramics, tea, and other traditional crafts.

In contrast, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the British East India Company established a trade relationship with China primarily for importing tea. However, the Chinese government heavily taxed and tightly regulated tea, making it a valuable commodity that was difficult to trade. To bypass these restrictions, the company began exploring the possibility of growing tea in other parts of the world and eventually discovered that tea could be successfully cultivated in the Darjeeling region of India, which led to the establishment of the tea industry in India.

Currently, Fujian tea, especially Tieguanying and Iron goddess, are not exported to Europe anymore as India tea is a cheaper and easier alternative. However, domestically in China, these teas are highly sought-after due to the higher level of education and sophistication of tea culture.

Dehua porcelain, a type of white porcelain known for its translucent white color, delicate texture, and smooth finish, was produced in the Dehua kilns in Fujian province from the Ming dynasty onwards and became a popular export item along the Maritime Silk Road.

During the Ming dynasty, Dehua kilns produced a large quantity of porcelain wares, including bowls, plates, vases, figurines, and religious items. The porcelain was highly valued for its quality and beauty, and was exported to many countries along the maritime Silk Road, including Japan, Southeast Asia, and Europe.

Dehua porcelain was particularly popular in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, and became known as “Blanc de Chine” or “White from China”. It was highly sought after by European collectors and aristocrats, and was used to create intricate sculptures, vases, and other decorative objects.

Today, Dehua porcelain is still produced in Fujian province, and is regarded as an important part of China’s cultural heritage. It is also valued by collectors and art enthusiasts around the world for its beauty and historical significance, and continues to be exported along the maritime Silk Road.

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