A question about the future of China's one-child policy led off the discussion, which went on to cover more heated topics like China's newly promulgated anti-secession law, universal suffrage in Hong Kong, and China's human rights record. Program host David Dimbleby called the show's staging in China "a breakthrough." "To have a program from China with known critics of the Chinese government on the panel is something I never thought would happen," he said on the BBC's website, which is often blocked in China.
To some pointed questions from Dimbleby, Patten expressed the hope that democracy would develop faster in Hong Kong but conceded Britain might have been better on that score when it was in charge. Long got the most laughs when he was asked whether he thought China's economy would eventually overtake America's. "I think the important question to ask people in both China and the US in 20 to 30 years' time is 'Are you happy?'"
More than half the audience of 180 or so were Chinese, the balance either foreign visitors or residents. Each had to submit two questions, leaving the BBC to decide who participated. But at a press conference prior to the show's taping, producers maintained the BBC had made no compromises as to who would participate as either panelists or guests. Indeed, state-controlled media posted notices inviting anyone interested to submit their audience application online at the BBC website.
But a Chinese journalist requesting anonymity reportedly told AFP, "We received an official notice half a month ago that we are not allowed to report on this." Reports spoke of a news blackout blocking coverage of the broadcast, but then a day later, at least one state-owned publication published a virtual blow-by-blow account of the night's proceedings, which was then published by the state-owned Xinhua news agency. No state TV outlet carried the show, although it was available to anyone with access to BBC World.