In reviewing and posting radio pieces from my time as BBC Correspondent in Beijing, I am realising/being reminded just how much of my feature reporting was about ordinary Chinese life – not the heavy politics and economics and social issues of my straight despatches, but more personal, perhaps a touch naive too.
For these were the days of China’s opening up, where British audiences wanted to hear about pandas and culture and how the Chinese man in the street was adapting to the ways of the rest of the world.
Dancing, playing guitars, pursuing hobbies, and, increasingly, praying to the various gods of old as religions were gradually allowed again.
The features on this page, the constituent parts of a four-part series that went out on Radio 4’s Today Programme (an enlightened commission by the programme’s Editor at the time Jenny Abramsky), reflect some of that, culled during an extraordinary and hugely enjoyable land trip in spring 1986 across the Chinese Far West and out across the Karakoram Highway into Pakistan.
Click on the links at the top of this piece to hear the individual features – though note that these are the unmixed versions, as mailed to London on cassette in those pre-internet days.
(And note that I’m posting these in this raw form with particular regard to the lovely journalism students at Cardiff University, who said it would be a great idea…)
Our travelling team consisted, besides myself, of Graham Earnshaw then of The Daily Telegraph, James and Milly Pringle of, I think, Newsweek at the time, and John Burns of the New York Times.
The photos are of most of us in the amazing Kashgar market, of the building of new tombs in Kashgar’s main mosque, and of the extraordinary street scenes which, I’m told by people who’ve been there since, are largely unchanged in the old town, despite extensive and soulless new development around its edge.