Local Chinese television channels have been offering their audiences a heavy dose of history since Hong Kong began its one-year countdown to Chinese rule on July 1. But in order to make sense of the programmes' messages, it appears viewers will need to have an open mind on what history is about. People make history by what they do, or even by what they don't do. But history, as known by posterity, is written by those who care to pick up a pen to record what, in their view, should be recorded. Audio-visual accounts of history are no different. There is a lot of sifting and judging involved and the end-products are interpretations of what has happened. As such, there is no such thing as a definitive account of history. There can only be different accounts of the past, which may or may not be objective to different people with different ideological inclinations. Take, for example, The Vicissitudes of Hong Kong, a documentary series produced by Beijing's China Central Television (CCTV) to prepare mainlanders for Hong Kong's imminent return to the embrace of the motherland. Launched with much fanfare on July 1, the programme can be seen here on Wharf Cable's CCTV channel. It details how Hong Kong became a British colony as a result of an unequal treaty signed after the Qing court was defeated in the Opium War in 1841 and how Hong Kong compatriots defied British rule over the years. Despite colonial rule, says the documentary, Hong Kong Chinese harbour strong nationalistic feelings and adhere to Chinese traditions, which are reflected by their celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival and the consumption of traditional food by indigenous New Territories villagers at festive times. Hong Kong's success is inseparable from the motherland's support in providing a steady supply of water and foodstuffs and its continuation as an international financial centre is beneficial to China's development. However, to media critic Ho Leung-mou, a journalism teacher at the Chinese University, the programme exhibits an unnecessarily strong anti-British and anti-colonial sentiment, and has totally disregarded the local identity of Hong Kong Chinese. Even TVB, not usually known for having an interest in programmes about history, has produced Hong Kong's Epic Heritage, which seeks to document the territory's success story. According to the programme's maiden episode shown last week, Hong Kong people have an incredible ability to recover from blow after blow to their prosperity and stability. Those included the Japanese occupation between 1941 and 1945 and riots in 1956, 1966 and 1967, incidents which caused a massive loss of confidence at the time and which led many people to leave. But the territory has always bounced back. For proof, the programme interviews a couple brave enough to spend more than $10,000, a princely sum in those days, to buy a 600-square-foot flat in a falling market after the 1966 riots. Almost three decades later, their faith in Hong Kong has been rewarded by a more-than-150-times rise in the value of their property. The implicit message is clear - stay put to weather the uncertainties and Hong Kong will not let you down. That is all very well. But viewers who see footage of the 1967 riots and related protests may be excused for having a number of doubts in their minds. What was that little book which the protesters held in their hands and waved frantically outside Government House? And who were those people who mercilessly planted bombs everywhere? Although the film is in black and white, those old enough to have experienced the riots can readily remember the little book had a red cover and contained the quotations of Mao Zedong , then hailed as China's great helmsman and who launched the Cultural Revolution. As the programme notes, the 1967 riots, and the Star Ferry riots in 1966, had their social origins in the frustrations of the population over an inactive and corrupt colonial administration. Yet, it is still incredible that the programme has managed to recount such an important chapter of Hong Kong's history without mentioning the Cultural Revolution, even though leftists who took part in the protests have since admitted their radical acts could be attributed to its excesses. Worse, the programme comments that while the riots had their social causes, they were unfortunately branded by the authorities as 'politically inspired'. Even though the main theme of this episode is about the blows which Hong Kong has sustained over the years, the heavy blow inflicted by the crackdown on the democracy movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989 is conspicuously missing from the account. Maybe the producer has heeded the Education Department's much-criticised rule, issued two years ago following a row over how June 4 was dealt with in a history textbook, that history lessons should not include events which have taken place within the past 20 years. Radio Television Hong Kong, a government department which takes pains to project itself as a public broadcaster not taking any cue from the administration, is also providing history lessons. On the day CCTV launched The Vicissitudes of Hong Kong, its Pentaprism programme, a five-minute production broadcast on TVB Jade and ATV Home every afternoon, Monday to Friday, began showing a series on what makes Hong Kong tick. Hosting the series are 10 prominent academics, political commentators and journalists who try to explain the reasons behind the territory's success and the spirit of its people. To commentator Hung Ching-tin, freedom and pluralism are what make Hong Kong prosper at the fringe of a closed society, China. To the secretary-general of the pro-Beijing political party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, the territory's success is founded on the rule of law, the latitude which China has allowed it to operate and Hong Kong people's strong spirit. On August 10, RTHK also started screening an eight-part docu-drama every Saturday on TVB Jade which recounts Hong Kong's historic moments between 1983 and 1990 through a story about the lives of a journalist, a trade unionist and a businessman. Historic events featured included the dollar crisis in 1983, the taxi strike and three-day fire at the Tai Sang Industrial Building in Aberdeen in 1984, the collapse of the Overseas Trust Bank in 1985, the campaign against the construction of the Daya Bay nuclear power plant in 1986, the smuggling of child illegal immigrants, the stock market crash in 1987 and the huge parade by a million people in support of Chinese students demonstrating in Tiananmen Square in 1989. A storyline which runs through the drama is the protagonists' emotional struggle to come to a decision over whether to emigrate to escape the jittery mood that has pervaded Hong Kong. So far, these two RTHK productions have not generated much comment. But the left-wing press has been critical of another RTHK's productions, Countdown to 97, a six-part series that dwells on the process of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule. The first episode, shown in July, portrays the different paths taken by three of the territory's most prominent politicians: Martin Lee Chu-ming, leader of the Democratic Party who has been a stern critic of Beijing; Allen Lee Peng-fei, leader of the Liberal Party who has established a dialogue with Beijing; and Maria Tam Wai-chu, a former member of the Executive and Legislative councils who has become one of Beijing's most trusted advisers. The second episode depicts the predicament of senior government officials trapped between the conflicting demands of their current and future masters, while the third contrasts the active role taken by some in celebrating the resumption of Chinese rule with the passive silence of the majority towards the impending change of sovereignty. To the writer of a lengthy commentary published in the left-wing Wen Wei Po, Countdown to 97 is a 'requiem of colonial rule' which has twisted history to mislead the public. It says the programme is yet another attempt by RTHK to execute the Hong Kong British Government's plan for withdrawal from the territory. RTHK has written to the paper to rebut the allegations, but its letters have not been published. Hihumi Arai, a popular Japanese writer who is a columnist for a number of local papers, believes 'Hong Kong's history is in the process of being rewritten as a result of a power reorganisation'. 'Even the neutral term 'transfer of sovereignty' has become politically incorrect. Even the Democratic Party, which China regards as reactionary, uses the term 'democratic return' as its slogan.' What is heartening is that everyone in the territory is free to write his or her preferred account of history. It's a right provided by the Basic Law. So, why not pick up your pen or camera now?