The 31 Best Documentaries About China

Jul 12, 2023 | Asia, Best Of, History

The Chinese civilization is a source of immense fascination and mystery, having endured for thousands of years. Its written language dates back to the Oracle Bone inscriptions which were carved on tortoise shells and mammalian bones. For those interested in learning more about this ancient culture, documentaries are an excellent way to gain insight into its past and present. From classic films featuring iconic landmarks to contemporary works that explore modern-day life in China, these documentaries provide a unique window into one of the world’s most influential civilizations.


1. One Child Nation (2019)

The film One Child Nation, directed by Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang, delves into the harrowing reality of China’s One-Child Policy. Through personal accounts and interviews with those affected, the documentary examines the deep-rooted impact of this controversial policy on Chinese families and society as a whole.






2. How China Got Rich (2019)

China has undergone an incredible transformation over the past four decades. In just a few short years, it has gone from being a struggling communist nation to becoming a driving force of the global economy. Through this unprecedented growth, China has also lifted more people out of poverty than any other country in history. But how did this dramatic change come about?





3. The Story of China with Michael Wood (2017)

The history of China is a rich, complex and fascinating story that spans thousands of years and continues to shape the world today. Through the lens of historian Michael Wood, we embark on a journey through time, uncovering the origins, triumphs and struggles of the world’s oldest continuous state.




4. The Silk Road (2016)

Join us on a transformative journey across six countries and their unique cultures. Led by esteemed war correspondent from AP news agency and a seasoned journalist from Paris Match, we will delve deep into the rich histories and diverse identities of these nations. Along the way, we will meet with experts, historians, and ordinary citizens whose abiding love for their country will bring its stories to life.



5. China’s New Silk Road (2019)

China’s ambitious project, known as ‘The New Silk Road’, has made it possible to transport goods from China to France in record time. With the establishment of a military port and construction of a high-speed railway in Ethiopia, the Chinese government is expanding its reach on the Horn of Africa. These developments, which began in 2013, have attracted billions of dollars in investment and are paving the way for China’s growing global influence.





6. The Battle of China (2005)

Japan’s desire for expansion and dominance in Asia during the early 20th century led to its aggressive campaign to conquer China. This unquenchable thirst for power and control was fueled by a combination of factors, including Japan’s rapid industrialization, imperialistic ambitions, and perceived racial superiority.






7. China Undercover (2020)

A covert investigation conducted in the depths of China’s enigmatic Xinjiang region.






8. China’s Ballooning Cities (2015)

In the vast and bustling continent of Asia, a new phenomenon is taking shape – megacities unlike any we have seen before. These urban behemoths are rising from the ground at an unprecedented pace, dwarfing even the grandest structures of the Western world. With their unique designs and purposes, these metropolises are paving the way for a future that was once unimaginable.






The Best Free Documentaries About China

1. China: The Risen Superpower

China has experienced a tumultuous history, marked by periods of both war and peace. From the Japanese occupation in the 1930s and 1940s to civil wars that brought The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) into power in 1949, China has undergone numerous changes over the last century. This period saw an isolation of China from outside influences as it strove to rejuvenate itself, culminating in the emergence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In this article we will explore how these events have shaped Chinese culture and strategic thought while also examining what makes China such a powerful superpower today.


2. China’s Falling Birth Rate

China’s economic transformation over the past four decades has been truly remarkable. Since initiating trade liberalization and economic reforms in 1979, China has experienced an unprecedented period of growth that has seen its gross domestic product quadruple on average every eight years. This incredible surge in prosperity has lifted an estimated 800 million people out of poverty and made China one of the world’s fastest-growing economies according to the World Bank. The country’s success story is a testament to their commitment to free-market reform, but it also raises questions about how sustainable this trajectory will be in future with a falling birth rate.


3. Nanman: the Lost Tribe of South China

The Nanman, a lost tribe of South China, have a fascinating history and culture that has largely been forgotten. In this documentary we explore the mysterious origin of the tribe as told in ancient texts like The Book of Rites. We also look at how they were able to survive during times when other tribes were being conquered by powerful rulers such as King Wu of Chu and Qin dynasty. Finally, we examine how their unique customs and traditions continue to survive today in some parts of Hubei, Hunan and Guizhou provinces. Join us for an eye-opening journey into the past with this remarkable documentary about one of China’s lost tribes!


4. How China is Strengthening its Army

China is a country with a rich and powerful military history. From the Red Army’s fight against Chiang Kai-Shek to their involvement in the Second Sino-Japanese War, there have been many key moments that shaped China’s current standing as one of the world’s most influential nations. In this documentary, we explore how China has strengthened its army over time and uncover the secrets behind some of its most iconic victories. Join us as we dive into this fascinating topic and discover what it takes for an army to become a superpower!


5. Business Creativity in China

This documentary explores how despite market demand and entrepreneurial spirit, China struggles to realize its potential due to government policies and educational institutions not keeping up with the times. We explore further if cultural barriers will prevent this economic superpower from reaching its full technological capability.


6. The Origins of Civilization

Travel back in time and explore the origin of civilization. In this documentary, we will travel to China to trace the history of Homo erectus. We’ll visit archaeological sites such as Xiaochangliang and Xihoudu which date back over a million years ago, along with Fuyan Cave in Dao County where Homo sapiens fossils were discovered. You’ll also see evidence of Levallois technology at Guanyindong Cave that dates back 170,000–80,000 years ago. Join us on an incredible journey through Chinese history!


7. China’s Ballooning Cities

China has seen a rapid rise of cities over the last decade, from Shenzhen’s transformation from fishing village to city of skyscrapers in just 20 years, to the mini-cities that have sprung up across Asia. In this documentary we explore these vertical villages and their unique features such as kindergartens, shopping malls and administrative centres extending 200-300 meters into the sky. We also visit projects in Chongqing, Beijing, Shanghai and more! Join us on an exploration of China’s ballooning cities to see how they’ve been constructed and how they are transforming life for millions!


8. China A Century of Revolution

Have you ever wondered what it was like to live through one of the most tumultuous periods in China’s history? This award-winning six-hour documentary series takes a candid look at this once-secret nation, featuring rare archive videos and intelligent historical analysis. Get an eyewitness experience from residents who lived through the country’s most decisive century. From civil strife and foreign invasions, to Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek’s power struggle, this series delves into Mao’s attempts to forge a “new China” out of war and poverty. Don’t miss your chance to watch A CENTURY OF REVOLUTION IN CHINA!


9. China: A Century of Humiliation

For over a century, China suffered under the rule of foreign powers. From 1839 to 1949, Western countries and Japan imposed their will on the Qing dynasty and Republic of China. This period has come to be known as the Century of Humiliation – a time when Chinese nationalism was at its peak in defiance against oppressive policies. In this documentary, we explore this tumultuous era from both an Asian and Western perspective. We examine how this period shaped modern-day China by looking into the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) and Chinese Communist Party’s response to it. With interviews from experts across multiple disciplines, discover how these events have left an indelible mark on today’s society.


10. China’s Only Empress: Wu Zetian

The Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) was a time of great power in China, and no one embodied that strength more than Wu Zetian. She is the only female ruler in Chinese history, starting her life as concubine to Emperor Taizong and marrying his son Gaozong after his death. When he passed away in 683 CE, she became empress dowager and took control of the government by placing two of her sons on the throne before eventually removing them. This video explores Empress Wu Zetian’s remarkable story – from her rise to power to her legacy today – providing an insightful look into Imperial China’s most powerful woman!


11. Shenzhen The Silicon Valley of Hardware

Shenzhen is one of China’s most successful cities, thanks to its amazing history as a fishing village-turned-megacity. It is home to some of the country’s leading tech companies such as Huawei and ZTE, while also being an innovation hub for developers of intelligent consumer products. The government even provides financial incentives such as subsidies and maker spaces for entrepreneurs and hobbyists to develop hardware products. In this video we explore Shenzhen in depth – from its inception to becoming known as the Silicon Valley of Hardware – by visiting various incubators, accelerators and other start-up areas that have contributed greatly towards making it into what it is today!


12. Ancient Of China

Discover the ancient culture of China, a civilization that has been around for thousands of years and still influences our world today! This documentary takes you through the history of this remarkable country, from its origins in the Qin Dynasty to its present-day influence. Learn about how it has impacted trade along the Silk Road, and why it remains such an important part of our global culture. Be inspired by this incredible nation’s past and discover what makes it so special even today.


13. The Legendary First Emperor Of China

The legendary First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, was born 2,277 years ago and is remembered for his army of terracotta warriors that were meant to guard him for eternity. On the anniversary of his birth, we take a closer look at this iconic figure’s extraordinary life: from his ascent to the throne as a 13-year-old prince to becoming one of history’s most divisive personalities. Learn all about how he conquered and shaped China into becoming an empire – and why some people viewed him as a visionary while others saw him as a tyrant. Join us in our landmark exhibition celebrating the remarkable legacy left by this incredible man!


14. China Food Journey

Take a journey through the flavors and textures of Chinese cuisine. From the hearty and savory dishes found in Anhui to the spicy Sichuan fare, explore eight unique cuisines from around China. Learn how they evolved over centuries into something more practical and tasty, with rice, noodles, veggies, herbs and sauces cooked in wok pots. Discover why Chinese food has grown so popular around the world – this documentary will take you on an unforgettable culinary adventure!


15. China: Rise of an Asian Giant

Take a journey through the flavors and textures of Chinese cuisine. From the hearty and savory dishes found in Anhui to the spicy Sichuan fare, explore eight unique cuisines from around China. Learn how they evolved over centuries into something more practical and tasty, with rice, noodles, veggies, herbs and sauces cooked in wok pots. Discover why Chinese food has grown so popular around the world – this documentary will take you on an unforgettable culinary adventure!


16. 100 Years Of Chinese Communist Party

At the beginning of July, China will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. This party was founded by a group of revolutionaries in 1921 who were inspired by Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution. When CCP Chairman Mao Zedong declared the People’s Republic of China in 1949, he implemented ambitious programs such as The Great Leap Forward to accelerate industrial development and agricultural collectivization. However, this resulted in an estimated 30 million people dying from starvation. Join us on July 1st to learn more about one hundred years of Chinese Communism and its impact on modern-day China!


17. 94% of China Lives East of This Line

China is a vast country, and many people may not be aware that 94% of its population lives east of the line. This documentary explores the culture, history, and geography of western China – an area with glaciers, five rivers supplying water to Asian nations, oil reserves and beautiful scenery. It also delves into why this region has long served as a natural defense against invaders and what makes it home to mostly Chinese minorities. Get a deeper understanding of why Tibet or East Turkistan are part of China’s territory when most Chinese have resided in what was originally China all along.


18. China’s Beginning

China is a fascinating country with an incredibly rich history. This documentary shows the evolution of Chinese civilization over its 2,000-year span and visits some of the most famous sites in China like Qin Shi Huang Di’s mausoleum. Get to know one of the world’s oldest countries better by watching this show! We explore how China has maintained dominance over its entire nation as well as uncovering clues about its past. Learn more about ancient Chinese history and discover why it is still relevant today!


19. China Power and Prosperity

Explore the power and prosperity of China in this week-long series. Get a comprehensive look at the most critical bilateral relationship between the People’s Republic of China and the United States, established exactly 40 years ago. With collaboration from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, our documentary takes you to six Chinese cities and six nations to uncover themes such as The Belt and Road Initiative, trade and technology battles between US & China, Xi Jinping’s influence as leader of China, electric car revolution happening in China, etc. Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity!


20. China’s competition for living space

Do you know what it takes to live in a modern Chinese city? This documentary explores the competition for living space in China and how it affects the country’s middle and working classes. We look at who has access to urban homes, while also examining the plight of those who are unable to afford exorbitant rents. We discuss why certain standards have been put into place and their effects on everyday life, as well as those who oppose official plans or stand in the way of construction projects. Join us on this journey as we explore how members of China’s political classes and financially successful individuals have a hope of qualifying for an urban home, while migrant workers merely serve their purpose with no proper rights or recognition.


21. Inside China’s People’s Liberation Army

The People’s Liberation Army of China is celebrating its centenary in 2027, and the Chinese government has tasked them with “preparing for Dangerous Storms”. With a defense budget that continues to climb amidst growing geopolitical tensions, this army is already the largest in the world with over 2 million soldiers and an impressive number of warships. But what are their goals? In this video, we will explore how exactly PLA plans on achieving these objectives as it approaches its 100th anniversary.


22. The world of China’s President Xi Jinping

Learn about the mysterious and ambitious Chinese President Xi Jinping in this documentary. Through interviews with regime critics, biographers, a Beijing historian, and more – we trace his rise to power and uncover what motivates him on both domestic and international levels. The Chinese leader is determined to establish the People’s Republic of China as the leading world superpower by 2049 – which has been marked by purges, an electronic monitoring system for citizens, public apologies from those who don’t toe the line — all under Xi’s rallying cry for a nationalist ideology known as “the Chinese Dream.”


23. 10 Best Beautiful Places to Visit in China

Are you looking for the perfect vacation spot? Then China is the place to visit! From stunning mountain views and ancient architecture to vibrant cityscapes, there are so many beautiful places in this country that will take your breath away. In this video, we’ll show you 10 of the best destinations in China, from historical sites like The Great Wall to modern marvels like Shanghai’s skyline. So come with us as we explore some of the most breathtaking spots on Earth – all located in glorious China!

Read On – Our Latest Top Documentaries Lists

David B