The Story of China, a six-part series, is being presented on PBS in the U.S. over three Tuesdays, June 20, 2017; June 27, 2017; and July 4, 2017. The programs can be streamed from and the entire series is available for purchase on DVD.

The Story of China (BBC) is a robust, thought-provoking, and inimitable six-part television series sure to expand your knowledge and understanding of China. This gigantic country (now with over a billion people) is the newest superpower on the global scene and the oldest centralized state in the world. That is why Michael Wood, narrator and host, begins his exploration of China with a family reunion where 300 relatives gather to honor those who have gone before them on "Tomb Sweeping Day." During the "Day of the Ancestors," elders report to the ancestors on how the family is doing.

As we see in this poignant sequence, the Chinese feel a deep sense of continuity with the
past. And what a past they have! With great energy and enthusiasm Wood plunges us into the origin stories of China, exploring myths, the impact of its rivers, and the discoveries in archaeological sites. He then examines the earliest evidence of Chinese writing on the "dragon bones" and the rise of the barbaric First Emperor. As the oldest centralized state in the world, the presence of an all-powerful and all-wise leader is another constant motif in this series.

The Chinese have an expression about a typical tourist's view of their country—it is like "gazing at flowers from horseback." These six programs enable us to see China face-to-face in exquisite detail. The programs are being presented on PBS over three nights.

Night 1: Episode 1: Ancestors
The beginnings of Chinese history. Ancient myths and archaeological sites. China's first writing. The importance of Confucius. The rise of Taoism. Armies and conflicts. The Han Dynasty. The First Emperor.

Night 1: Episode 2: Silk Roads and China Ships
China's first international age. The bazaars of the Silk Road in Central Asia. The monk who brought Buddhism to China from India. The coming of Christianity. The building of the Grand Canal.

Night 2: Episode 3: Golden Age
The Chinese renaissance. The legends, cuisine, and printing presses in Kaifeng. The age of science in the Song dynasty. The invention of soccer.

Night 2: Episode 4: The Ming
The Great Wall and the Forbidden City. Ocean-going junks seeking treasures in Africa and the Persian Gulf. The silk industry, ceramics, lacquer-making, and gardens. The arrival of the Jesuits and exchanges with the West.

Night 3: Episode 5: The Last Empire
China as the biggest economy in the world with a rich culture. Novels, operas, storytelling houses. The fateful clash with the British in the First Opium War.

Night 3: Episode 6: The Age of Revolution
The Taiping Rebellion and the fall of the Empire. Hong Kong and the Jazz Age. Mao's Long March. The cultural revolution. The Japanese massacre of Nanjing. Communism. Mao's death. The boom time of the last 30 years.

There are so many interesting stories and facts in these episodes that you will want to have a notepad handy to write them down. The PBS official site has a timeline, map, interactive features, and classroom activities. Here are just a few things that caught our attention.

  • Family is matrix of Chinese culture and lifestyle. The family story mirrors the nation's story.
  • Ancestors and elders deserve great respect.
  • Human sacrifices were common in the early dynasties.
  • Bones used for divination provided the first evidence of writing in China.
  • The sage Confucius is said to have had a greater influence on China than any other human being.
  • Few people are more obsessive about food than the Chinese.
  • Looking at the terracotta army in the tomb of the First Emperor reminded us of how many people throughout history have been involved in war-making.
  • The Chinese have a capacity for multiple religious affiliation: Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity.
  • The reign of various dynasties wrought turmoil, death, and destruction, along with intermittent benevolent rulers who put the people first.
  • Cross-cultural fertilization was present in the long trek of the Chinese monk Xuanzang who brought Buddhist texts to China; he and the teachings fascinated the emperor, and he is still revered for his contribution to Chinese philosophy.

  • Watching the intensity of children listening to storytellers in public places offers proof of how universal this means of communication can be.
  • The coming of the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci signals the start of China's complex and often contradictory exchanges with the West.
  • The Cultural Revolution spawned a nightmare of death and destruction.
  • Dragons, astrology, and fireworks are all examples of Chinese culture.
  • There were all-women mosques for Muslims in China
  • Tea started out as a favorite of the wealthy but quickly became available to commoners and became a great export from China.
  • Du Fu, China's most famous poet, lived and wrote during the Tang dynasty; he celebrated the beauty of the natural world and bemoaned the passage of time.
  • Pundits from around the world are still trying to discover the reasons for China's great boom times over the past thirty years.