China: Triumph and Turmoil

China: Triumph and Turmoil

Series 1 - Episode 2



Niall Ferguson’s trick in this series is to take the story of modern China and keep reminding us how staggering it is. Even if you’re bored with Sino-surveys, Ferguson makes the history fresh and fascinating.

Tonight he tackles a paradox: Mao Tse-tung killed more of his own people than Hitler or Stalin, yet today he’s hugely popular — a political Elvis celebrated in vast statues and bizarre themed restaurants. His monstrous mistakes have been airbrushed away, though one man Ferguson meets recalls how half his village died in the famine that followed the Great Leap Forward of 1958 (upwards of 35 million people died across China). The historic irony for Ferguson to unravel is that it was Mao’s Communist machine that made today’s capitalist miracle possible.


Niall Ferguson examines how China is able to live under a communist system of government, while maintaining a thriving capitalist economy. He travels from Beijing to the birthplace of Chairman Mao at Shaoshan to discover why the former leader is revered, despite claims that he orchestrated a succession of revolutions that killed more people than Hitler and Stalin combined, and tracks down survivors of his leadership.