Michael Wood visits Hong Kong's Peninsula Hotel, jewel of the Jazz age, and follows Mao on the Long March to Yan'an, the base of the communist revolution. He meets a survivor of the Japanese massacre of Nanjing, describes the communist victory, and ends with Mao's death and the boom time of the last thirty years. The series ends as it began at home with the warmth of the Chinese family.
In the 18th century China was the biggest economy in the world, and with that prosperity came a fabulously rich culture. From China's favourite novel, to opera and storytelling houses, and all-women's mosques, it's an age full of surprises. But then came the fateful clash with the British in the First Opium War, the beginning of the end of the empire.
In Nanjing Michael Wood sees the building of a huge replica of a Ming ocean-going junk. In Suzhou the 'Venice of China', he explores the silk industry, ceramics and lacquer-making, and visits one of China's most beautiful gardens. Then in Macao, the arrival of Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci begins China's fateful modern exchanges with the West.
In the alleys of Kaifeng, the world's greatest city before the 19th century, Michael Wood hears legends, samples the cuisine and explores printing. We see a huge working replica of an astronomical clock made by 'China's Leonardo da Vinci', one of the inventions that made the Song a great era of science. And at a crunch Chinese Premier League match, we learn that the Chinese even invented soccer!
From picturesque old cities on the Yellow River he travels to the bazaars of the Silk Road in Central Asia, and on to India in the footsteps of the Chinese monk who brought Buddhist texts to China. He uncovers the coming of Christianity, sails the Grand Canal, and tracks the spread of Chinese culture across East Asia, an influence 'as profound as Rome on the Latin West'.
Starting with a family reunion, when 300 relatives gather to worship their ancestors on 'Tomb Sweeping Day,' Michael explores ancient myths and archaeological sites to uncover the origins of the Chinese state; he examines the first Chinese writing, and tells the dramatic tale of the bloodthirsty First Emperor, before an amazing climax with a million pilgrims at a festival on the Yellow River.