Pandas: The Great Leap Forward, a documentary my wife taped off Sky Travel, is chock full of marvellous giant panda footage from a big Chinese nature sanctuary. The programme is Chinese-made, or so we guessed from the footage recorded in the 1980s and 1990s, when China was generally less keen to have documentary crews wandering round on the edge of Tibet, even inside a panda reserve.

It wasn’t just political assumptions that made me think that, though – the whole rhythm and emphasis of the show was completely different from a UK-made wildlife programme. For one thing the editing was much less naturalistic – no UK nature prog (for adults) would have so much jump-cutting and Green Wing style sped-up and slowed down panda sequences. The whole ethos of British-made shows is to make the viewers animal voyeurs – the cuteness or comic potential of the animals is sternly downplayed in favour of the candid details of their life in the wild. The pandas show allowed its stars to play up to the camera, and edited with that in mind.

Similarly, no UK wildlife show is complete without moments of peril, or even gore – nature has its brutal side and the animals invariably run into danger. There was very little of this in the panda show. Being set mostly in a sanctuary the dangers of the wild would naturally only feature in the commentary, but British zoo or sanctuary programmes have their fair share of death and distress even so. In this show not a single panda died, or was even in much danger, and the 100% survival rate of cubs born in the reserve was constantly stressed.

This all made for a pleasant and comforting programme, even a refreshing one. Most people know that pandas are endangered, so something presenting some of the good news wasn’t unwelcome. Similarly, the reason the giant panda is so popular is nothing to do with its repetitive lifestyle or bizarre lack of survival instinct, it’s simply down to how cuddly it looks. So filling up a show with shots of pandas rolling plumply about is very enjoyable. In fact the programme’s approach made British productions (like yesterday’s oceanic epic Deep Blue) seem rather aloof and pompous.

But to someone used to UK wildlife conventions, the endless positivity also made me think “what aren’t we being told?”. I’m not sure whether this was a reaction to the style or a political concern – the film opens in Summer 1989, the summer of Tiananmen Square after all. And whether you’re buying bras or panda footage, dealing with China can involve not asking particularly hard questions.