title

Chinese Characters

BBC Radio 4

33
Followers
152
Plays
Chinese Characters
Chinese Characters

Chinese Characters

BBC Radio 4

33
Followers
152
Plays
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About Us

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

Latest Episodes

Deng Xiaoping: Black Cat, Yellow Cat

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.

13 MIN2018 MAY 4
Comments
Deng Xiaoping: Black Cat, Yellow Cat

Bruce Lee: Screen Warrior

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.

13 MIN2018 MAY 3
Comments
Bruce Lee: Screen Warrior

Mao Zedong: The Man Who Made Modern China

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.

13 MIN2018 MAY 2
Comments
Mao Zedong: The Man Who Made Modern China

Factory Girls: Modern Girls, Modern Dreams

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.

13 MIN2018 MAY 1
Comments
Factory Girls: Modern Girls, Modern Dreams

Cixi: Ambivalent Empress

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.

13 MIN2018 APR 30
Comments
Cixi: Ambivalent Empress

Hong Xiuquan v Zeng Guofan: The Duellists

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.

13 MIN2018 APR 27
Comments
Hong Xiuquan v Zeng Guofan: The Duellists

Wang Jingwei: Revolutionary Renegade

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.

13 MIN2018 APR 26
Comments
Wang Jingwei: Revolutionary Renegade

Lu Xun: Compassionate Cynic

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.

13 MIN2018 APR 25
Comments
Lu Xun: Compassionate Cynic

Robert Hart: Chinese Customs

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.

12 MIN2018 APR 24
Comments
Robert Hart: Chinese Customs

Zheng He: The Admiral Goes to Africa

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.

13 MIN2018 APR 23
Comments
Zheng He: The Admiral Goes to Africa

Latest Episodes

Deng Xiaoping: Black Cat, Yellow Cat

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.

13 MIN2018 MAY 4
Comments
Deng Xiaoping: Black Cat, Yellow Cat

Bruce Lee: Screen Warrior

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.

13 MIN2018 MAY 3
Comments
Bruce Lee: Screen Warrior

Mao Zedong: The Man Who Made Modern China

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.

13 MIN2018 MAY 2
Comments
Mao Zedong: The Man Who Made Modern China

Factory Girls: Modern Girls, Modern Dreams

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.

13 MIN2018 MAY 1
Comments
Factory Girls: Modern Girls, Modern Dreams

Cixi: Ambivalent Empress

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.

13 MIN2018 APR 30
Comments
Cixi: Ambivalent Empress

Hong Xiuquan v Zeng Guofan: The Duellists

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.

13 MIN2018 APR 27
Comments
Hong Xiuquan v Zeng Guofan: The Duellists

Wang Jingwei: Revolutionary Renegade

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.

13 MIN2018 APR 26
Comments
Wang Jingwei: Revolutionary Renegade

Lu Xun: Compassionate Cynic

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.

13 MIN2018 APR 25
Comments
Lu Xun: Compassionate Cynic

Robert Hart: Chinese Customs

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.

12 MIN2018 APR 24
Comments
Robert Hart: Chinese Customs

Zheng He: The Admiral Goes to Africa

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.

13 MIN2018 APR 23
Comments
Zheng He: The Admiral Goes to Africa