The Age of Revolution
Michael Wood explores the history of the world's newest superpower. Michael investigates three cataclysmic revolutions which shaped modern-day China.
'Revolution', Michael Wood observes, 'has been a fact of life in Chinese history'. Between 1850 and 1950, three cataclysmic revolutions shook China to the core, but out of them, today's China emerged.
The film begins in Canton with the meeting of a US missionary and a Chinese student. Inspired by the Christian story and calling himself God's second son, Hong unleashed the bloodiest war of the 19th century, the Taiping Rebellion. Wood heads into wild mountain villages in the south, where the revolution began.
As imperial China weakened, foreign influence grew. Treaty ports expanded, bringing growth and wealth, trams, railways and western sensibilities. But this provoked another surge of violence, the Boxer Rebellion, an attack against the foreigners, which was crushed by those same foreigners, who extorted a huge indemnity - $60 billion in today's money.
Then in 1912, the empire fell, and many groups contested China's future. In World War I, China sent 100,000 men to the western front, only to be humiliated at Versailles when German colonies in China were handed to Japan.
Between the two world wars, the disparity between rich and poor, city and countryside increased. We visit Hong Kong's Peninsular Hotel in the jazz age and then follow Mao on the Long March to Yan'an, the heartland of revolution.
World War II came to China two years earlier than it did in the west. Wood talks to a survivor of the Japanese massacre of Nanjing in 1937 and then charts the triumph of the communists, before ending the story with Mao's death and the boom time of the last 30 years. The series ends with the warmth of the Chinese family and, at Beijing's Altar of Heaven, a final haunting glimpse of eternal China.
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