PBS in the Classroom

9 Auspicious Dates that Shaped China’s History

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PBS takes your family on a Summer of Adventure with eight new programs that explore topics as diverse as Yellowstone’s wildlife emerging from deep winter to the awakenings of spring to a walking tour of Havana. Throughout the summer, meet rare animals, travel to the wild coasts of Ireland and see Alaska’s amazing natural spectacle close-up in PBS’ second live natural history event — Wild Alaska, Live!

The adventure begins with The Story of China. Historian and host Michael Wood suggests that to truly understand China today, we must look back at its 4,000-year history. Wood focuses on some of the earliest rulers of China and takes us through to the last Chinese empire, the birth of the People’s Republic, to today’s China a global economic powerhouse.

Nine is an auspicious number for the Chinese, representing long life and power. Here, Wood chooses nine key dates from Chinese history.

1046 BC: The Mandate of Heaven. Among the earliest rulers of China, the Zhou established the idea of the Mandate of Heaven, in which a just ruler must maintain harmony between heaven and Earth.

221 BC: The First Emperor. A Qin emperor, whose tomb is guarded today by the Terracotta Army near Xi’an, created China’s first centralized, unified state.

635 AD: The Glory of the Tang. The Tang dynasty (618-907) introduced an age of expansiveness, welcoming Christianity to Xi’an. The same year, a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim arrived in India, initiating one of the great cultural exchanges in history.

1088: The Age of Invention. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the Chinese invented printing, paper money, soccer, gunpowder and the magnetic compass; the “Leonardo da Vinci of China” invented the astronomical clock.

1405: The Great Ming Voyages. The Ming dynasty (1368-1644) is known for cobalt-blue porcelain, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and, under emperor Yongle, voyages to India, Africa and the Persian Gulf.

1705: The Greatest Emperor. The declining Ming fell to the Manchus, who became China’s last dynasty, the Qing (1644-1911), and doubled the size of China.

1841: The British & the Opium War. The British dominated in the First Opium War and China entered its “century of humiliation.”

1911: The End of the Empire. New world philosophers, socialists, feminists and constitutional monarchists all argued over China’s future. Terminally rocked by the Boxer Rebellion, the Qing empire fell in 1911 and China became a republic.

1949: The Communist Revolution. In 1949, the People’s Republic began with optimism and held power for decades. After Mao’s death, steps toward political reform were put on hold after the Tiananmen Square crisis in 1989. Today, China flexes its muscles as a global economic powerhouse.

Tune in to The Story of China Tuesdays through July 11. Check your local listings for show times.


Michael Wood is well known to television viewers as the writer and presenter of many critically acclaimed series. Born and educated in Manchester, Michael did postgraduate research at Oxford in Anglo-Saxon history. He had ambitions for a career as a medieval historian but says he was `drawn away by television’ and by the possibilities of popularizing history, which has always been his great passion. 

Michael Wood

Michael Wood Historian and Television Host

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