BBC drama One Child filmed in Hong Kong to avoid censorship from Chinese authorities

New drama starring Harry Potter actress Katie Leung could not be filmed in the country in which it was set because of vetting laws, producer and writer reveal

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A BBC drama about a Chinese miscarriage of justice was filmed in Hong Kong to avoid scrutiny from Government authorities, its producers have disclosed.

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One Child sees Harry Potter actress Katie Leung play an adopted Chinese woman who returns to the country of her birth to help her brother who is due to be executed for a murder he did not commit.

Under the current Chinese laws, all scripts filmed in China need to be vetted in advance – but this rule does not apply to the former colony of Hong Kong which was eventually chosen as One Child’s main filming location.

“In order to film in China the whole project needs to approved and we didn’t attempt that. We didn’t imagine that the scripts would be approved,” said executive producer Hilary Salmon.

The censorship rules do not apply in the former British colony of Hong Kong even though it is run by the Chinese, added Salmon:

“[Hong Kong] is run under a slightly different administration,” she explained, which meant that it could stand for the Chinese city of Guangzhou where the drama is mainly set.

“So we didn’t break any laws at any point but the decision to go to Hong Kong was quite a big decision and we decided it was the only way we were going to get the feeling of a big Chinese city.”

Writer Guy Hibbert said that, while the drama depicts a clear case of police corruption, the Chinese Government are making strides in tackling similar problems and that they have “nothing to fear” from the drama. 

“The Chinese Government really are trying to deal with this corruption in a serious manner,” added Hibbert.

“China is dealing with a huge huge problem of institutional corruption and they recognise that. And really this story is personalising that story in those terms. Will they object to it? Probably. But they have got nothing to fear in it because there are not loads of baddies across the screen. They are just good Chinese people trying to deal with a serious problem. China has got nothing to fear from this programme because it’s truthful, it’s very well researched, it’s honest and it’s kind to the personalities of Chinese people.”

In the three-part drama Leung plays Mei, a young Chinese-born woman adopted by Anglo-American parents in the west. She is approached by an intermediary acting on behalf of her birth mother who gave her up because of China’s one child policy – a law which has since been abolished.

Her birth mother wants her to help clear her son who has been framed for the murder of a Nigerian man in a nightclub.

The killing was actually committed by the wealthy playboy son of a powerful businessman who has used his money and influence to get his son off the charge.

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One Child will air on BBC2 later this month