It’s unusual and welcome to see not one, but three, well-produced narrative podcasts made in the West about China. Hosted by female journalists with a Chinese background, all provide strong context on Chinese history and politics but focus essentially on an individual: The King of Kowloon (produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) memorialises an eccentric graffiti artist called Tsang Tsou-choi, his art seen in the context of Hong Kong’s shrinking democracy. Both The Prince (by The Economist) and How To Become A Dictator (by The Telegraph) zero in on Xi JinPing, President of the People’s Republic of China, their release coinciding with the fifth annual Communist Party Congress in October 2022.

There are many ways to ruin a narrative podcast. Unlike chatcasts, technical quality matters: intimacy, that cherished currency of podcasting, starts with a close mic. The deployment of voice, actuality, music and archival sound in the service of story makes a big difference to how engaged listeners will be. Underpinning all of this are the script and narrative structure. The host should be relatable, as a human being and in connection to the podcast theme. The script also has to link, foreshadow and clarify the various story elements, while the narrative arc works at both a micro level, providing a satisfying journey within each episode, and a macro, whereby thorny details and bum steers are explored, eliminated or developed, and by the end of the series, finally resolved—or at least exhausted.

This article is an in-depth critique of these three narrative podcasts, analysing aspects from production/structure and craft/sound design to editorial/research, hosting, script and storytelling.