China On Four Wheels

Date: 03.08.2012     Last updated: 25.03.2014 at 13.21
Category: BBC Two
Anita Rani and Justin Rowlatt embark on two epic car journeys through China, navigating congested cities and winding mountain roads to explore how the country’s economic growth, exemplified by its booming car industry, is impacting on people’s day-to-day lives.

In China On Four Wheels, which will be broadcast on BBC Two in early autumn, the pair travel from Beijing to Shanghai, taking two very different routes.

Anita takes the high road, through the rich industrialised cities of eastern China. This is the land of self-made billionaires who own fleets of super cars; of booming manufacturing plants; luxury holiday destinations and high tech solar-powered hotels.

Justin’s route heads inland to a more rural China, where he discovers that several million people still live in caves and the donkey is often a more common means of transport than a car.

Although China is a growing economic superpower and living standards for many have drastically improved over the past 30 years, it still has a lower GDP per capita than Bulgaria or Jamaica. This is a country where more than a hundred million people live in abject poverty.

Justin said: “What struck me most on my travels through some of China’s poorest regions was the real sense of contrast between the modern and the traditional lifestyles. The programme really highlights the growing inequality in the country and how rapid China’s development has been in the space of a generation.”

The rapid changes in China over the past few decades are epitomised by the car. China now makes more cars than America and Japan combined, as well as making parts for many of the cars built around the world.

More than a million new cars a month hit Chinese roads. The potential impact on global oil consumption and greenhouse gases is phenomenal. In order to accommodate the surge in car ownership, China is building roads and bridges at a faster rate than any other country. They have invested in over 50,000 miles of motorways over the past decade.

The rapid increase in both the number of cars on the roads and the number of new drivers means that China has more road deaths than anywhere else in the world – something which Anita and Justin will have to negotiate with caution as they set out to explore the vast contrasts of this country.

On her way through affluent China, Anita joins a typical ‘tiger mum’ on her school run, and a young couple marrying with a fleet of expensive wedding cars. In Nanjing she sees the darker side of economic expansion, meeting the man who makes it his mission to stop people who can’t handle the stresses of modern life from jumping off the city’s famous bridge.

Anita said: “Travelling around China was an incredible, if sometimes hair-raising experience! I was fortunate enough to have the more comfortable journey but touring the more affluent side of China raised some really interesting questions about a variety of issues including greenhouse gas emissions, luxury consumption and the high rate of suicides in the country.”

Justin said: "My journey took me on an incredible adventure into some really remote parts of China. I travelled from Beijing out into the desert of Inner Mongolia and all the way down to the rice paddies and misty mountains of Southern China. I met peasants whose lives have barely changed in the 60 years since the revolution, I experienced China’s coal boom first hand, explored a billion dollar ghost city and ventured into the hidden world of China’s Miao ethnic minority. I even got to test out my $4,000 dollar van on one of China’s top international car racing tracks. But what struck me most was just how poor so many Chinese people still are despite the country’s extraordinary record of economic growth."

As Justin and Anita reconvene in Shanghai, they reflect on their journeys and the stark contrasts between China’s richest and poorest.