The Story of China

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The Ming

Series 1 - Episode 4 The Ming



Michael Wood’s diffuse history lesson isn’t always easy going, but if you stick with it, you get your rewards. Tonight we reach the high watermark of Chinese culture (so far), the Ming dynasty. Wood points out that at a time when there were three million people living in Tudor England, the Ming emperor ruled over 200 million – a third of the people on the planet.

We get a sense of how the city of Suzhou was the Eastern equivalent of Renaissance Florence, and we see the exquisite vases and lacquerware that were its status symbols.

And yet it wasn’t the Ming who bestrode the globe, it was European maritime powers like Portugal. It was a Portuguese Jesuit whose map showed the Chinese the world was far bigger than they’d imagined – and round.


Michael Wood tells the story of the Ming dynasty, founded by peasant rebel Zhu Yuanzhang, who fought his way up to become the Hongwu emperor. The film explores the importance of architecture to the Ming, visiting the emperor's capital of Nanjing, with its 21 miles of massive walls. Following the trail, Michael goes to the Bao family village and sees the locals act a Ming murder story, before hearing about voyages to Africa and the Gulf decades before Columbus, and learning about the silk industry, ceramics and lacquer-making.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Michael Wood
Producer Rebecca Dobbs
Writer Michael Wood