Chinese Characters

Episodes

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Bruce Lee: Screen Warrior20180503

The fastest pair of fists in East Asia and the first global Chinese film star.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

He may still be the most famous non-western film star in the world. Yet he made only a handful of films in the early 1970s, none of which are artistic masterpieces. It wasn't his acting that made Bruce Lee the first Chinese to conquer global popular culture. Instead, his balletic, choreographed mastery of kung fu provided a new image of the Chinese, not as victims, but as avengers, ready to show their own techniques and customs to the world. Lee was a contradiction; part-European, he spent his twenties in the United States. Yet he came to embody the idea of Chinese skill and grace onscreen, and became an icon across continents. His early death has only added to his mystique.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

Cixi: Ambivalent Empress20180430

The empress dowager who tried - and failed - to reform.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

She rose to power behind the scenes in China's late 19th century imperial court, and became one of the most powerful women ever to exercise authority in the empire. Cixi was a dowager empress, and her influence shaped China through the tragedies of the late 19th century. She prevented her own nephew from launching reforms to modernise China, and endorsed one of the most xenophobic movements ever to convulse China: the Boxer uprising of 1900. Yet she ended up, ironically, as the woman who nearly turned China into a constitutional monarchy. Cixi's story embodies the wrong turns and empty hopes of one of China's most turbulent eras.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

Deng Xiaoping: Black Cat, Yellow Cat20180504

The paramount leader who enabled China's economic miracle.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

He was nicknamed "the steel mill" for his capacity to just keep going on and on. He was Mao's lieutenant who was purged twice and rose three times, the final time to the very top. He enabled China's economic miracle to happen after 1978 by allowing capitalism to reemerge in the world's biggest Communist country. "It doesn't matter if a cat is white or yellow if it catches mice," he observed. He put down protests with ferocity in 1989. And he negotiated the last piece of unfinished business between Britain and China - the return of Hong Kong in 1997. As China becomes ever more prominent today, we need to understand that we live in Deng Xiaoping's world - and why.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

Factory Girls: Modern Girls, Modern Dreams20180501

The hard-working, hard-living factory girls behind China's industrial revolution.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

They came out of the countryside and helped to build China's industrial revolution. In the late 19th century, textile factories started to appear in the Yangtze delta, and working in them, teenage girls and young women. It was a hard life with the ever-present prospect of lung disease or industrial injuries as they wove cotton and silk. Yet there were new horizons too: these young women had money in their own right, the chance to take holiday breaks, and even to venture to the big city, Shanghai, to press their noses against the windows of the ultra-modern department stores. At a time when Chinese companies are desperate to woo the female consumer, it's worth remembering that their counterparts were there a hundred years ago.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

Mao Zedong: The Man Who Made Modern China20180502

The Communist leader who changed his country forever.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

In the early 1920s, he was just a library assistant at Peking University. Yet by the end of his life, he would rule a fifth of all humanity, turn China into a major power, and destroy the lives of millions in a Cultural Revolution. Mao Zedong was the person, above all others, who made modern China. Yet what shaped him? The romantic novels he read in his youth, the years on the run, reading Marxist theory, or the desire to write the story of the Chinese people on a "blank sheet of paper"? Rana Mitter retraces his early years, including those days studying at the heart of China's "new culture" movement of the interwar era. Mao's embrace of modernity and renewal, but also of violence and anger, would create a new China, but also shape horrific tragedy, leaving a legacy that is still central to China today.
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

Omnibus 120180504

Portraits of remarkable individuals who have made China what it is today.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

An omnibus edition of Professor Rana Mitter's audio portraits of figures who have shaped the arc of Chinese history. He starts with Wu Zetian, the only woman in two thousand years of imperial history ever to sit on China's throne as ruler in her own right. His second subject is a couple: leader Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Soong Meiling who dominated Chinese politics and were two of the most prominent non-westerners on the world scene for much of the early twentieth century. Millions of Chinese speak the words of translator and Buddhist monk Kumarajiva every day. Far fewer have any idea that he is the man who translated key Buddhist texts from Sanskrit into Chinese. Even if his name has faded, Professor Mitter says his achievement is very much part of the contemporary Chinese religious scene. Matteo Ricci was an Italian Jesuit priest who used geometry to bring together the intellectual worlds of Renaissance Europe and Ming dynasty China. Professor Mitter ends this programme with a portrait of Ding Ling, arguably China's greatest woman writer. Purged as a right-wing deviator in Mao's China with her fiction and essays banned, she was rehabilitated in later life.

Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

Omnibus 220180511

Portraits of remarkable individuals who have made China what it is today.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

An omnibus edition of Professor Rana Mitter's audio portraits of figures who have shaped the arc of Chinese history. He begins with a Sima Qian, a historian whose objectivity got him into big trouble at court. When he confronted the emperor, he was subjected to a horrific and humiliating punishment. His second subject is a great Chinese leader who wasn't actually Chinese - Kublai Khan, the Mongol head of a dynasty that both occupied China and connected it to a wider world. If there were a competition for most famous Chinese in history, Confucius would surely come out on top. He was the philosopher and ethicist who has given China a significant part of its cultural DNA. Li Qingzhao is the woman remembered today as one of the great poets. A passionate writer who destroyed her reputation by divorcing her husband, she nevertheless established a reputation as a true patriot that has lasted to the present day in China. Professor Mitter ends this programme not with a character - but with a pioneering TV documentary series, one of the most watched in history. When it was shown in 1988 it started a national debate about modernisation and democracy, but was then was banned after Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

Omnibus 420180525

Portraits of remarkable individuals who have made China what it is today.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

An omnibus edition of Professor Rana Mitter's audio portraits of figures who have shaped the arc of Chinese history. He starts with the Empress dowager Cixi who rose to power behind the scenes in China's late 19th century imperial court, and became one of the most powerful women ever to exercise authority in the empire. His second subject is not one person, but millions of them - the hard-working, hard-living factory girls behind China's industrial revolution. Chairman Mao is arguably the most famous Chinese, after Confucius. In the 1920s, he was just a library assistant. Yet by the end of his life, he would rule a fifth of all humanity. Mao Zedong was the man, above all others, who made modern China. Bruce Lee was the first global Chinese film star with an influence which spread across the globe. Not through ideology or revolution: but thanks to the fastest fists in East Asia. His early death has only added to his mystique. Professor Mitter final character is Deng Xiaoping. He was Mao's lieutenant who was purged twice but ultimately rose to the very top. He enabled China's economic miracle to happen, but crushed pro-democracy protests with ferocity in 1989.

Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

01Omnibus 320180518

Portraits of remarkable individuals who have made China what it is today.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

An omnibus edition of Professor Rana Mitter's audio portraits of figures who have shaped the arc of Chinese history. He starts with Zheng He, the Muslim Admiral who commanded a fleet of vessels larger than anything that Europe could manage, and whose maritime voyages created new routes for trade and influence. Robert Hart is the second westerner in this series, a man who helped develop the relationship between China and the outside world, but who grew up in the windswept Irish town of Portadown. Lu Xun is a writer who is still read by every Chinese schoolchild and has the reputation of being the country's greatest modern author. Wang Jingwei saw himself as a patriot, but is remembered today as one of China's worst traitors. Understanding why he chose to collaborate with Japan, and how he was in turn betrayed, illuminates one of the great tragedies of China's twentieth century. Professor Mitter ends the programme with the story of two adversaries - a rebel leader and his nemesis. One defended the Qing dynasty against the other, a man who declared that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ.

Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

01Wu Zetian: The Female Emperor20180409

Rana Mitter tells the story of China's first and only female emperor.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

Rana Mitter tells the story of Wu Zetian, the only woman ever to rule as China's emperor in her own right, in two thousand years of dynastic history. Even more remarkably,, she did it during one of the finest moments of China's cultural history - the medieval Tang dynasty. Wu Zetian grew up as a humble lady of the court, but threw off her humility to plan her way to the top with strategic precision, leaving a trail of elite corpses along the way. Once on the throne, she secured China's borders and promoted Buddhism as a powerful new religious force. Later history has condemned her as a dreadful anomaly , as women were never supposed to rule in traditional China. But she's had the last laugh - now regarded as a feminist icon in China with a 74-part TV soap opera dedicated to her rise and rule.
Chinese Characters is a series of 20 essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

02Chiang Kai-shek And Soong Meiling: Asian Power Couple20180410

The power couple who reunited China and nearly lost it to Japan.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

Rana Mitter argues that we can think about Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Soong Meiling (Madame Chiang) as Asia's first power couple. They dominated politics in China and were two of the most prominent non-westerners on the world scene for much of the early twentieth century. Their greatest test would come in the years 1937 to 1945, when Chiang Kai-shek led China's phase of World War II, in which over ten million Chinese were killed. During these years, Chiang sat alongside FDR and Winston Churchill. But by Chiang's side was Soong Meiling, her husband's interpreter to the outside world, who spoke to both houses of Congress in Washington DC, only the second woman ever to do so. Chiang's army was defeated by Mao's Communists in 1949. But during the war years, Chiang and Soong Meiling were more visible than any other Asian politicians on the globe.
Chinese Characters is a series of 20 essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

03Kumarajiva: Translator Monk20180411

The translator and Buddhist monk whose words are chanted daily by millions of Chinese.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

Millions of Chinese speak the words of Kumarajiva (334-413) every day. Far fewer have any idea of who he is. He was perhaps China's most influential translator: in medieval China, he translated some of the most important Buddhist texts from Sanskrit into Chinese. Kumarajiva settled down for a life of contemplation as a Buddhist priest, but a series of invasions and occupations from the east saw him kidnapped, finally ending up at the great Chinese city of Chang'an (modern Xi'an). There he was given the task of rendering some of the key Buddhist teachings, such as the Diamond Sutra, into a form that Chinese worshippers could understand and use. In today's China, there are immense numbers of Buddhists who use Kumarajiva's texts. Even if his name has faded, Professor Rana Mitter says his achievement is very much part of the contemporary Chinese religious scene.
Chinese Characters is a series of 20 essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

04Matteo Ricci: Jesuit And Geometrist20180412

The Jesuit who brought together Renaissance Europe and Ming China through geometry.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

Better living through geometry. That was one of the lessons shared with the Chinese emperor by the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci. He was part of an enterprising group of Jesuits priests who brought their faith to China, along with new ideas drawn from the scientific revolution changing early modern Europe. A collaboration rather than a conquest, Ricci worked with Chinese colleagues to develop ideas in astronomy, mathematics and even music - giving a favourable impression of the west to the elites of the Chinese court. And he even made a few Catholic converts, his life a demonstration that western religion in China didn't have to be about invasion, gunboats and opium trading.
Chinese Characters is a series of 20 essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

05Ding Ling: Sophie, Sensation And Sex20180413

Rana Mitter on the life of one of China's most important feminist authors.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

In 1927, China's literary scene was struck by a sensational new character. Her name was Sophie, and she was tormented by sexual longing, unashamedly self-centred about her desires and dreams, and determined to carry out mental torture on her nice, reliable and rather dull boyfriend while lusting after a tall, handsome man she couldn't have. Sophie was the creation of Jiang Bingzhi, who became known under her pen name of Ding Ling (1904-1986). She became popular during a brief flowering of liberalism in China's cities, known as the New Culture movement, when ideas of political nationalism combined with daring new thought about feminism and social change. After Mao's victory in 1949, Ding Ling found herself in internal exile, forced to live in the remote countryside for decades because her views were considered "bourgeois" and "rightist." Yet in her last years, she was finally rehabilitated, and is remembered today as one of China's most important feminist authors.
Chinese Characters is a series exploring Chinese history through the life stories of 20 personalities.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

06Sima Qian: Grand Historian20180416

The historian who spoke the truth to the emperor and suffered for it.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

He wasn't quite the man who invented history in China, but he certainly shaped it for thousands of years. Author of the Shi Ji (Records of the Grand Historian), Sima Qian told the history of China in the 2nd century BC in way nobody had done before; interviewing participants, influencing views on who was good and bad. History has always been political in China, and Sima Qian was one of the first writers to show how that politics worked, whether the powerful liked it or not. His objectivity got him into big trouble at court - when he confronted the emperor, he was subjected to a horrific and humiliating punishment. For Sima Qian, writing history came at a price.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

07Kublai Khan: Cosmopolitan Conqueror20180417

The Mongol head of a dynasty that both occupied China and connected it to a wider world.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

He was the man with the pleasure dome, according to Coleridge, but in reality Kublai Khan didn't have so much time for pleasure. He was too busy running one of the most complex and cosmopolitan empires on earth. Kublai was ruler of the medieval Mongol empire, which became an example of how Chinese culture could be absorbed by a very different people. Kublai was a conqueror, who destroyed the previous Chinese dynasty, the Song. Yet he also ran China on highly ecumenical lines, appointing Muslims as provincial governors, while his subjects continued to practice Buddhism and Daoism. Not everyone loved him; an alienated elite excluded from government turned their hand to drama, producing a great era of Chinese playwriting - much of it aimed at the Mongol rulers. Kublai was a paradox: a great Chinese leader who wasn't actually Chinese.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

08Confucius: Becoming The Sage20180418

The smiling philosopher who is perhaps the most famous Chinese person in history.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

If there were a competition for most famous Chinese in history, Confucius (551-479 BCE) would surely come out on top. He was the philosopher and ethicist who has given China a significant part of its cultural DNA. Confucius lived during a period of immense political turmoil, and turned his mind to thinking about how the country could be made calmer and more prosperous. Instead of advocating force, Confucius stressed the importance of rituals and ethical behaviour. It was important to behave in an ordered way; subjects should obey rulers, wives their husbands, children their parents. In his own time, Confucius didn't have much luck in propagating his thought in his lifetime. But over the next few centuries, respect for his work grew. For two thousand years, Confucian thought would dominate Chinese statecraft. Even today, with the Communist Party in charge, there are frequent references in contemporary China to Confucian ideas such as harmony.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

09Li Qingzhao: Patriotic Poet20180419

The woman remembered today as one of the great poets of Chinese history.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

Li Qingzhao, who lived (1084-1151) during the late Song dynasty, is recognised as one of China's greatest poets. She grew up within China's culture of highly regulated court bureaucracy. While her husband was a senior official, she became a brilliant and renowned poet But the Song dynasty was also a time of great political turmoil. In 1127, the dynasty fled its capital in the city of Kaifeng after an invasion. Li was forced to wander for years, trying to preserve as much as possible of her family's collection of books and precious artefacts. Eventually she settled down in the new capital of Hangzho and wrote a series of broadsides condemning the Song rulers for succumbing to the invaders. She established a reputation as a true patriot that has lasted to the present day in China.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

10River Elegy: River And Ocean20180420

River Elegy was a pioneering TV documentary series, one of the most watched in history.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

In 1988, one of the most important television programmes in history was shown. Titled River Elegy, it was watched by perhaps 100 million Chinese viewers. Despite its stirring music and dramatic imagery, it wasn't a drama, or documentary - but an argument onscreen that China had been inward-looking and backward for too long, and had to turn to the west for renewal. It rejected the legacy of Mao's Cultural Revolution and daringly embraced the idea of learning from the empire across the "blue ocean" - the US. After Tiananmen Square in 1989, the show was banned and its makers went into exile. Yet it remains one of the rare examples of a broadcast that started a national conversation about modernisation and democracy - a dialogue abruptly cut off but perhaps not yet ended.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

11Zheng He: The Admiral Goes To Africa20180423

The Muslim sailor whose epic maritime voyages created new routes for trade and influence.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

China rarely had an image as a great maritime power. But for a brief time in the mid-15th century, that all changed under the Ming dynasty and its admiral, Zheng He. He was sent out on seven voyages to points as far apart as Southeast Asia, Ceylon, and even the coast of Africa. His fleet consisted of numerous mighty vessels, larger than anything that Europe could manage. And his voyages created new routes for trade and influence; he even brought back a giraffe. Zheng He's voyages mark the greatest extent of China's explorations of the world until the modern era. No wonder he has become an icon again today as China seeks a global role.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

12Robert Hart: Chinese Customs20180424

The influential Ulsterman who became a servant of the Chinese emperors.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

He was a servant of the Chinese empire, respected in Beijing and London alike. Yet he was no son of Shanghai, but of Ulster. Robert Hart grew up in Portadown, but his real life started when he shipped out to China. He rose to the top of the Maritime Customs Service, the remarkable body that kept tax revenue flowing into China. Hart was one of the people who brought real modernisation to China while managing to create a real bond with the imperial court. He agonised over how the British in China should conduct themselves, and did his best to bind the two nations together in his near half-century of work in Beijing. Little wonder that a London newspaper portrayed him in a cartoon wearing a silk robe and captioned "Chinese Customs."
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

13Lu Xun: Compassionate Cynic20180425

A writer still read by every Chinese pupil and considered China's greatest modern author.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

To create one character who says something profound about the society you live in might be a stroke of luck. To create three suggests you really do have your hand on the nation's pulse. That creator was Lu Xun, widely regarded as modern China's greatest writer. His pithy, astringent short stories showcased figures who held a merciless mirror to China's people: Ah Q, the vainglorious everyman who treats every disaster as a triumph, Kong Yiji, the pathetic Confucian scholar reduced to begging for pennies, and the Madman, a character whose insanity allows him to spot cannibalism where his fellow-citizens see only Chinese tradition. Lu Xun is read by every schoolchild in China today - and his puncturing of pomposity still has continuing relevance.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

14Wang Jingwei: Revolutionary Renegade20180426

The man who saw himself as a patriot, but is remembered as one of China's worst traitors.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

He is condemned as China's worst traitor. What made him do it? In 1938, as China was plunged into war, Wang Jingwei defected to the enemy, Japan. Yet in his early life, he had been one of the great figures of the Chinese revolution, second only to the legendary Sun Yat-sen. Wang's story is one of hope for a different Asia, liberated from imperialism, and the betrayal of those possibilities. Wang's decision to defect came at China's "darkest hour" when victory against a mighty enemy seemed impossible, and previously unthinkable political choices would tear China into many parts. Understanding why he chose to collaborate with Japan, and how he was in turn betrayed, illuminates one of the great tragedies of China's twentieth century.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

15Hong Xiuquan V Zeng Guofan: The Duellists20180427

The rebel leader of the Taiping and his nemesis.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

This was the duel that shaped China. Hong Xiuquan was a poor boy who went into a trance and became convinced he was Jesus's younger brother, with a mission to conquer China. Zeng Guofan was a loyal Confucian bureaucrat who rose up the imperial hierarchy. In the mid-19th century, Hong's visions led him to launch a war under the name "Taiping" - heavenly kingdom of great peace. He created a quasi-state in some of China's richest heartlands, run on Christian principles, imposed on pain of death. The ruling house sent in Zeng to beat the rebels. The result was one of the bloodiest, most savage civil wars in Chinese history, shaped by the rivalry between two men, one set to conquer China, and one to save the old regime.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

16Cixi: Ambivalent Empress20180430

The empress dowager who tried - and failed - to reform.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

She rose to power behind the scenes in China's late 19th century imperial court, and became one of the most powerful women ever to exercise authority in the empire. Cixi was a dowager empress, and her influence shaped China through the tragedies of the late 19th century. She prevented her own nephew from launching reforms to modernise China, and endorsed one of the most xenophobic movements ever to convulse China: the Boxer uprising of 1900. Yet she ended up, ironically, as the woman who nearly turned China into a constitutional monarchy. Cixi's story embodies the wrong turns and empty hopes of one of China's most turbulent eras.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

17Factory Girls: Modern Girls, Modern Dreams20180501

The hard-working, hard-living factory girls behind China's industrial revolution.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

They came out of the countryside and helped to build China's industrial revolution. In the late 19th century, textile factories started to appear in the Yangtze delta, and working in them, teenage girls and young women. It was a hard life with the ever-present prospect of lung disease or industrial injuries as they wove cotton and silk. Yet there were new horizons too: these young women had money in their own right, the chance to take holiday breaks, and even to venture to the big city, Shanghai, to press their noses against the windows of the ultra-modern department stores. At a time when Chinese companies are desperate to woo the female consumer, it's worth remembering that their counterparts were there a hundred years ago.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

18Mao Zedong: The Man Who Made Modern China20180502

The Communist leader who changed his country forever.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

In the early 1920s, he was just a library assistant at Peking University. Yet by the end of his life, he would rule a fifth of all humanity, turn China into a major power, and destroy the lives of millions in a Cultural Revolution. Mao Zedong was the person, above all others, who made modern China. Yet what shaped him? The romantic novels he read in his youth, the years on the run, reading Marxist theory, or the desire to write the story of the Chinese people on a "blank sheet of paper"? Rana Mitter retraces his early years, including those days studying at the heart of China's "new culture" movement of the interwar era. Mao's embrace of modernity and renewal, but also of violence and anger, would create a new China, but also shape horrific tragedy, leaving a legacy that is still central to China today.
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

19Bruce Lee: Screen Warrior20180503

The fastest pair of fists in East Asia and the first global Chinese film star.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

He may still be the most famous non-western film star in the world. Yet he made only a handful of films in the early 1970s, none of which are artistic masterpieces. It wasn't his acting that made Bruce Lee the first Chinese to conquer global popular culture. Instead, his balletic, choreographed mastery of kung fu provided a new image of the Chinese, not as victims, but as avengers, ready to show their own techniques and customs to the world. Lee was a contradiction; part-European, he spent his twenties in the United States. Yet he came to embody the idea of Chinese skill and grace onscreen, and became an icon across continents. His early death has only added to his mystique.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

20Deng Xiaoping: Black Cat, Yellow Cat20180504

The paramount leader who enabled China's economic miracle.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

He was nicknamed "the steel mill" for his capacity to just keep going on and on. He was Mao's lieutenant who was purged twice and rose three times, the final time to the very top. He enabled China's economic miracle to happen after 1978 by allowing capitalism to reemerge in the world's biggest Communist country. "It doesn't matter if a cat is white or yellow if it catches mice," he observed. He put down protests with ferocity in 1989. And he negotiated the last piece of unfinished business between Britain and China - the return of Hong Kong in 1997. As China becomes ever more prominent today, we need to understand that we live in Deng Xiaoping's world - and why.
Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

OMNI0120180504

Portraits of remarkable individuals who have made China what it is today.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

An omnibus edition of Professor Rana Mitter's audio portraits of figures who have shaped the arc of Chinese history. He starts with Wu Zetian, the only woman in two thousand years of imperial history ever to sit on China's throne as ruler in her own right. His second subject is a couple: leader Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Soong Meiling who dominated Chinese politics and were two of the most prominent non-westerners on the world scene for much of the early twentieth century. Millions of Chinese speak the words of translator and Buddhist monk Kumarajiva every day. Far fewer have any idea that he is the man who translated key Buddhist texts from Sanskrit into Chinese. Even if his name has faded, Professor Mitter says his achievement is very much part of the contemporary Chinese religious scene. Matteo Ricci was an Italian Jesuit priest who used geometry to bring together the intellectual worlds of Renaissance Europe and Ming dynasty China. Professor Mitter ends this programme with a portrait of Ding Ling, arguably China's greatest woman writer. Purged as a right-wing deviator in Mao's China with her fiction and essays banned, she was rehabilitated in later life.

Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

OMNI0220180511

Portraits of remarkable individuals who have made China what it is today.

Series of essays exploring Chinese history through the life stories of key personalities.

An omnibus edition of Professor Rana Mitter's audio portraits of figures who have shaped the arc of Chinese history. He begins with a Sima Qian, a historian whose objectivity got him into big trouble at court. When he confronted the emperor, he was subjected to a horrific and humiliating punishment. His second subject is a great Chinese leader who wasn't actually Chinese - Kublai Khan, the Mongol head of a dynasty that both occupied China and connected it to a wider world. If there were a competition for most famous Chinese in history, Confucius would surely come out on top. He was the philosopher and ethicist who has given China a significant part of its cultural DNA. Li Qingzhao is the woman remembered today as one of the great poets. A passionate writer who destroyed her reputation by divorcing her husband, she nevertheless established a reputation as a true patriot that has lasted to the present day in China. Professor Mitter ends this programme not with a character - but with a pioneering TV documentary series, one of the most watched in history. When it was shown in 1988 it started a national debate about modernisation and democracy, but was then was banned after Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Presenter: Rana Mitter
Producer: Ben Crighton
Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser.

OMNI0320180518