Rana Mitter

Chinese Characters
  • Chinese Characters

    • Rana Mitter

    • Rana Mitter (Read by)

    Twenty audio portraits telling the story of China through key personalities - plus a bonus edition of In Our Time

    Award-winning author and historian Professor Rana Mitter introduces us to some of the remarkable individuals who have shaped the arc of Chinese history. Selecting men and women from ancient times to the modern era - some rich and powerful, others poor and unknown - he explores their sensational life stories, from Mongol emperors to 19th-century factory girls.

    Here is China's only female emperor, Wu Zetian, whose path to the top was littered with elite corpses; Mao Zedong, the man who revolutionised China, but at the cost of millions of lives; and Deng Xiaoping, who enabled China's economic miracle, but crushed protests with ferocity in 1989. Alongside them are numerous other extraordinary characters, including celebrated philosopher Confucius, Muslim sailor Zheng He, Jesuit mathematician Matteo Ricci, global film star Bruce Lee - and a pioneering TV documentary series, River Elegy, that started a national debate about regeneration and democracy.

    What can Ding Ling's lustful literary creation, Sophie, teach us about 1920s China? What role would kidnapped monk Kumarajiva play in the future of Chinese chanting? And how did Chiang Kai-shek and Soong Meiling become Asia's first power couple? Rana Mitter reveals the answers in this engrossing series, which ranges across time and geography to zoom in on the people and ideas that have made China what it is today. Insightful, stimulating and superbly researched, it shows the astonishing diversity and complexity of Chinese society, painting a multi-dimensional picture of the world's most populous nation.

    Also included is an episode of In Our Time, in which Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss China's Warring States period of 400 BC-200 AD, examining how this turbulent epoch sparked a Golden Age of intellectual and cultural productivity and laid the foundations for the first Chinese Empire.

    Production credits
    Presented by Rana Mitter
    Edited by Hugh Levinson
    Produced by Ben Crighton
    Researcher: Elizabeth Smith Rosser

    1. Wu Zetian: The Female Emperor
    2. Chiang Kai-Shek and Soong Meiling: Asian Power Couple
    3. Kumarajiva: Translator Monk
    4. Matteo Ricci: Jesuit and Geometrist
    5. Ding Ling: Sophie, Sensation and Sex
    6. Sima Qian: Grand Historian
    7. Kublai Khan: Cosmopolitan Conqueror
    8. Confucius: Becoming the Sage
    9. Li Qingzhao: Patriotic Poet
    10. River Elegy: River and Ocean
    11. Zheng He: The Admiral Goes to Africa
    12. Robert Hart: Chinese Customs
    13. Lu Xun: Compassionate Cynic
    14. Wang Jingwei: Revolutionary Renegade
    15. Hong Xiuquan v Zeng Guofan: The Duellists
    16. Cixi: Ambivalent Empress
    17. Factory Girls: Modern Girls, Modern Dreams
    18. Mao Zedong: The Man Who Made Modern China
    19. Bruce Lee: Screen Warrior
    20. Deng Xiaoping: Black Cat, Yellow Cat
    21. In Our Time: China's Warring States Period

    © 2022 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd
    (p) 2022 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd

Rana Mitter is Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of St Cross College. He is the author of A Bitter Revolution: China's Struggle with the Modern World. He is a regular presenter of Night Waves on Radio 3.

We use cookies on this site to enable certain parts of the site to function and to collect information about your use of the site so that we can improve our visitors’ experience.

For more on our cookies and changing your settings click here

Strictly Necessary


Preferences & Features

Targeting / Advertising