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Michael Wood sitting at a table by a lake with a young stylishly-dressed Chinese man

Episode 5: The Last Empire (full length)

Michael Wood tells the dramatic tale of China's last empire, the Qing.

Michael Wood standing in a crowd of people

Episode 6: The Age of Revolution (full length)

The great Taiping Rebellion, the fall of the Empire and the rise of Mao.

aerial view of Chinese city

The Story of China Preview

Travelling from the Silk Road to the Yellow Sea, Michael Wood explores the history of the world’s newest superpower. A thrilling and moving epic of the world’s oldest continuous state with the landscapes, peoples, and stories that made today’s China.

soldier standing at attention in Tiananmen Square

Preview: Ancestors (Episode 1)

Searching for the roots of today’s China, Michael Wood joins a family reunion on ‘Tomb Sweeping Day’; sees the first Chinese writing and the first city; meets the bloodthirsty First Emperor and travels with a million pilgrims to a country festival.  

Tourists in front of large Buddhist statues carved into a clif

Preview: Silk Roads and China Ships (Episode 2)

Exploring China’s first international age under the Tang Dynasty, Michael Wood travels Silk Road deserts; sails the Grand Canal; describes the coming of Christianity in the streets of old Xi’an -and goes back to school in a dusty Chinese town!

people walking across a red bridge

Preview: Golden Age (Episode 3)

Learn about China’s Renaissance under the Song Dynasty. In Kaifeng, Michael Wood hears the story of the boys who became emperors; tries a 1,000-year-old recipe; works a giant astronomical clock; and dances with the locals by Hangzhou’s West Lake.

Great Wall of China

Preview: The Ming (Episode 4)

Hear the story of China’s most famous dynasty. Michael Wood visits the Great Wall and the Forbidden City; sails the South China Sea on a junk; visits a fabulous Chinese garden; and travels to Macao with the first Jesuit missionary to China.

Chinese actor

Preview: The Last Empire (Episode 5)

Discover the splendors of China’s last empire, the Qing. From China’s favorite novel to story-telling houses and all-female mosques, it’s an age full of surprises. Then came the fateful clash with the British in the First Opium War.

Chinese soldier standing at attention

Preview: The Age of Revolution (Episode 6)

Survey the three great revolutions that gave birth to today’s China. Wood visits wild mountain villages; describes the fall of the empire; visits Jazz Age Shanghai; and stays in the last communist commune—before a celebration on Chinese New Year.

crowd of people gathered in front of a temple

The Myth of the Origins of the Chinese People

Michael Wood joins a million pilgrims at a temple festival in the Chinese countryside to celebrate the myth of the mother-goddess Nüwa and her brother Fuxi, which has been handed down from prehistory. The people tell how the ancestors of the Chinese people Nüwa and Fuxi created humanity- by mixing their own blood with the yellow mud of the Yellow River!

group of men wearing red scarves, holding yellow chrysanthemums

The Family: The Basis of Chinese Civilization

At the town of Wuxi in the lower Yangtze valley, Michael Wood joins the Qin family as they celebrate the annual festival for the ancestors, a ritual that goes back thousands of years. Banned under the communists such rituals are coming back everywhere in today’s China, as once more the family regains its central place in Chinese culture.

people wearing traditional hats

Confucius: China's Guide to a Moral Life

Michael Wood visits the tomb of Confucius in Qufu. There he meets a visiting group of Korean scholars who perform rituals at the grave and tell us why Confucius is still one of the most important figures in the history of civilization. Then a party of school children say goodbye to Michael with a famous line from Confucius’ book of sayings, one of the best selling books in history.

man holding a piece of bone with Chinese characters etched into it

The Discovery of the First Chinese Writing

Michael Wood tells how China’s greatest archaeological discovery started with a packet of over the counter medicine in a traditional Chinese drug store! In 1899, a Chinese scholar called Wang fell ill with malaria but he got more than he bargained for with his prescription! On the ‘dragon bones’, which he had to grind up and drink for his fever, he recognised the earliest Chinese writing!

group of Chinese teenagers

Du Fu – China's Most Loved Poet

A group of enthusiastic high school kids give Michael a guided tour around their school grounds where incredibly they show him the grave of China's greatest poet, Du Fu. The Chinese have loved Du Fu since he died in 770 - they call him their Shakespeare. Then, in the classroom, the kids take Michael through one of  one of Du's most famous poems - and even manage to teach him a line or two!

man on bicycle riding along the walls of Xi’an

Tang Xi'an: The Greatest City in the World

Tang Dynasty Xi'an was an incredible 25 square miles in size, roughly the size of Manhattan! Michael Wood sets off on foot, along the giant medieval walls to explore one of the old districts of the city with its fast food joints, fortune tellers and funeral parlors; ending deep in the alleys at a temple dedicated to 'The Eight Immortals.'


noodle vendor standing in front of cart of noodles and soup bowls

The Magic of the Silk Road

Michael takes a stroll through the fabulous markets of Kashgar in Chinese Central Asia, still today full of different people, religions, cultures and cuisines.  More than 1300 years ago, during China’s brilliant Tang dynasty, this was a crossroads of the world: "East and West first start to get to know each other then," Michael says: "You might say it's the beginning of universal history."

night scene in public square in Kaifeng

The World's First Great Cuisine

Think Chinese take out is a modern idea?  A thousand years ago in Kaifeng, the world's biggest city, China produced the world's first great cuisine with fancy diners and fast food joints. In a restaurant in today’s Kaifeng, Michael orders lunch from a 1000 year old cookbook, and the chef brings a special dish for Michael and the team to try: Oranges stuffed with mushrooms and lotus seeds.

Michael Wood at a soccer stadium

Did the Chinese Invent Soccer?

The rules of the "World's Game," modern soccer, were fixed in England in the 1860's; but 1000 years ago in Song dynasty China, there were soccer clubs, rules, fans and even music and fast food at half-time! In Beijing, Michael gets up close for a crunch match in today's Chinese Premier League and compares the modern game to Song dynasty "Kickball."

people walking down flag-lined steps to the waterfront

The Tale of the Chinese Leonardo

A thousand years ago, China was a world leader in science and civilization. Michael Wood explores a 45 ft-high working replica of an astronomical clock made by China's Leonardo da Vinci -- Su Song. It's a water clock driven by an endless chain drive, with small painted wooden figures marking the time – all steered with a ship's wheel!

finger pointing at pattern on silk fabric

Get a Taste of the Good Life under the Ming Dynasty

Michael Wood visits Suzhou, "the Venice of China." Five hundred years ago during the Ming dynasty Suzhou was the symbol of China’s "Embarrassment of Riches." Staying in the house of a Ming merchant family, Michael explores China's new world of private wealth and fashion, when porcelain, lacquer making and silk weaving reached new heights to meet consumer demand.

Michael Wood on a sail boat holding renderings of a Chinese boat

The Chinese Voyages of Exploration

We all know about Columbus, but what about the great Chinese ocean voyages that took place before his time? Michael Wood tells the story of the Chinese Admiral Zheng He and his voyages to the west. He asks too, why were they stopped?  "Some say it would be like stopping moon exploration after Apollo 8," says Michael. "But the Chinese had a different view."

church interior

Christian Missionary Matteo Ricci Journeys to China

Michael Wood arrives in the old Portuguese colony of Macao, the Europeans' first foothold in China.  The Italian Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci came here 1582, with the aim of converting the emperor and his people to Christianity. In today's cathedral in Beijing, Michael hears why Ricci is still so important to the 70 million Chinese Christians today.

Michael Wood seated at a table with a group of Chinese people

Power Politics in the Ming Dynasty

Harvard University's Dr. Lik Hang Tsui tells the tale of the third emperor of the Ming dynasty, the ruthless Yongle who kills his nephew to take power. In a purge of his enemies, a loyal minister speaks out and receives the cruelest punishment: Death by ten degrees.

Chinese actors putting on make-up

The Show Must Go On!

Michael joins a traditional acting troupe on their bus to a tiny village near Yangzhou. They are going there to perform a traditional drama for a local woman's 90th birthday - in the icy outdoors! We watch the actors and musicians prepare the set, put on their makeup, and get into costume as the whole village turns out despite the freezing cold and snow –with Granny in the front row!

Michael Wood standing with 3 Muslim Chinese women

China's Last Empire: A Rich Age for Muslim Culture

In the Great Mosque in Xi'an, Michael Wood shows us inscriptions in Chinese, Arabic and Farsi, which reveal the multi-cultural world of China 300 years ago under the Qing Dynasty. In Kaifeng, he is welcomed into a women-only  mosque with a female imam – a Chinese tradition that originated in the Qing dynasty. After the ceremony, it's time for laughter and  'selfies!'

Michael Wood standing in front of a bronze statue

The Opium Trade in China

Michael Wood talks to Prof. Zheng Yangwen about the crippling social effects on China of the opium trade run by the British. "Where is your conscience?" the emperor asked Queen Victoria. In the late 1830's, the Chinese decided to do something about it and ordered the destruction of all the opium held in British workhouses. There would be tragic consequences for China in the First Opium War.

Michael Wood seated a table with tea cups and teapot

The First Meeting of the Chinese Communist Party

Michael Wood visits the room in Shanghai where the first meeting of the Chinese Communist Party took place in 1921.  Among the twelve delegates (from only fifty-seven members!) was the young Mao Zedong, the future Chairman Mao. Meanwhile, outside in Shanghai. the Jazz Age was in full swing. Michael takes tea in the fabulous Peninsula Hotel, one of the centers of Westernization in 1920's China.

people on steps leading down to a monument

The Last Communist Collective in China

The age of communism is over now in today's free market China, even though the Communist Party still runs the country as a one party state.  Now there's just one place which is still communist in a sea of capitalism. Michael visits this strange throwback in rural Henan, where they still sing, "The East is Red" before work, and where pictures of Mao, Stalin, and Lenin still adorn the town square!

Michael Wood and a Chinese woman

"Why Can't Women Be Heroes too?"

Michael Wood visits the monument to Qiu Jin in Shaoxing. This feminist poet and political activist founded a radical journal for women's voices and campaigned for the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the founding of a republic. She was executed in the middle of her home town. Local women in the street enthusiastically and movingly explain to Michael why she is still a hero today.

Nanjing Sea Goddess Temple

Nanjing Sea Goddess Temple

Our Chinese crew have been fantastic but manipulating a 20ft crane into this temple was a challenge. As we’d come to expect, they managed it with skill and a smile.


Coffee Making

Any filmmaker will tell you that crews run on coffee. Sometimes it’s hard to find, so ingenious methods have to be employed to maintain blood caffeine levels!