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The Golden Age

   2016    History
This episode tells the tale of what's broadly considered China's most creative dynasty - the Song (960-1279). Michael Wood heads to the city of Kaifeng, the greatest city in the world before the 19th century. Here in Twin Dragon Alley, locals tell him the legend of the baby boys who became emperors. He explores the ideas and inventions that made the Song one of greatest eras in world culture, helped by China's most famous work of art, the Kaifeng scroll, which shows the life of the city in around 1120. A chef makes Michael a recipe from a Song cookbook, while a guide to 'how to live happy, healthy lives for old people', published in 1085 and still in print, is discussed with local women doing their morning exercises. The Song was also a great era for scientific advance in China. Michael steers a huge working replica of an astronomical clock, made by China's Leonardo da Vinci. Then at a crunch Chinese Premier League match, Michael tells us the Chinese invented football! The golden age of the northern Song ended in 1127, when invaders sacked Kaifeng, but they survived in the south. At their new capital, Hangzhou, Wood joins locals dancing by the West Lake, while in the countryside he meets Mr Xie with his records of 40 generations of ancestors. The final defeat of the Song took place in a naval battle in the estuary of the Pearl River in 1279. When all was lost, rather than surrender to the Mongols, a loyal minister jumped into the sea with the young boy emperor in his arms. 'So ended the glory of the Song', Wood concludes, 'but a new age would arise... as in China, it always has!'.
Series: The Story of China

The Last Empire

   2016    History
China's last empire, the Qing, lasted from 1644 to 1912. It began in violence and war as the Manchus swept down from the north, but invaders became emperors, with three generations of one family ruling the country. Among them, Michael Wood argues, was China's greatest emperor - Kangxi. Under the Qing, China doubled in size to include Xinjiang in the far west, as well as Mongolia and Tibet, creating the essential shape of China today. The new dynasty tolerated a diversity of cultures and religions, including Islam. In Kaifeng, Michael visits a women's mosque with a female imam, a delightful scene that ends with laughter and selfies! The Qing also undertook huge cultural enterprises. At a traditional printing house where the wood blocks are hand-carved, we see how the Complete Tang Poems were reproduced - all 48,000 of them. We travel through the wintry countryside to a remote village where a hardy audience watch open-air opera in the snow and visit a painter's studio, and 'storytelling' houses in Yangzhou. In the 18th century, China was arguably the greatest economy in the world, and we get a fabulous sense of the rich culture that came with prosperity. But then came the clash with the British, in the first Opium War, when a British expedition destroyed the Qing navy and extracted territory and trading rights. We leave with a glimpse of the future. 'Every dynasty has risen and declined,' says Michael, 'and has needed new life to regenerate, and this time the catalyst was the British.' Among the ports China ceded was an almost uninhabited island, Hong Kong, one of today's greatest financial centres, and Shanghai, a small town then but now one of the greatest cities in world.
Series: The Story of China
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