Matteo Ricci was a Jesuit priest who went to China in the 16th Century with the aim of converting the Chinese to Christianity. He wasn't particularly successful in that goal, but he was influential on European attitudes to China & vice versa. Discussing him and his mission on In Our Time were Mary Laven (University of Cambridge), Craig Clunas (University of Oxford) and Anne Gerritsen (University of Warwick).
Modern Western culture is unusual in having no role for eunuchs in the machinery of bureaucracy - throughout history in a variety of different cultures castrated men have played an important part in governance (and in some cases in the arts). The In Our Time episode about eunuchs took a compare and contrast approach to three cultures in which eunuchs were particularly important.
Andrew Graham-Dixon has done several series for the BBC about the art of various places - one of the more recent was about China and we watched it earlier this year. He covered the art of this vast and long-lived culture in chronological order, so the series also provided an overview of the history of China.
In 751AD Arabian and Chinese forces met in battle at a river called Talas in Central Asia. This was to mark the end of the eastward expansion of the Islamic Empire, and the westward expansion of the Chinese Empire. Discussing it on In Our Time were Hilde de Weerdt (Leiden University), Michael Höckelmann (King's College London) and Hugh Kennedy (SOAS, University of London).
Ming: 50 Years that Changed China is the new British Museum exhibition which is open till 5 January 2015. It covers 1400-1450 AD which is close to the beginning of the Ming Dynasty period, and is regarded as one of the Golden Ages of Chinese history. The exhibition opens with a short film which gives a brief overview of the historical events during (and immediately before this period) and puts it into context in terms of how it lines up with British history.
Over the last century or so several caches of documents from early Chinese history have been found (often during the building of roads or modern buildings). These have provided scholars with a lot more information to reinterpret the tradition historical sources for early Chinese history.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a Chinese novel written around 1400 AD which is one of the great works of Chinese literature. It is a part historical, part fantastical story of the events of the Three Kingdoms period in Chinese history, which was in the 3rd Century AD. It's still very popular and an important part of general culture in China today, and many films and video games are based on the book.
Last Thursday we went to the British Museum to go to a talk about Chinese figurines (and we'd hoped to go to another talk later the same day but it was sold out). In this talk Sascha Priewe (a curator at the British Museum) was talking about traditions of figurine making in ancient China and how this did (or didn't) lead to the First Emperor's terracotta army.
These three sections are the final quarter of the catalogue for the Royal Academy's exhibition about the art of the early Qing Dynasty era. The first essay is the last of a set of three about the various emperors - in this case the Qianlong Emperor. The next is about the painting & calligraphy of the Chinese elite, which was often subversive in nature. And finally the meaning behind the floral & natural themes of the art of this period.
These are the next four sections of the catalogue - the first two cover international relations (with those they conquered and those they didn't). If I had planned it out a little better I would've split this up differently because the next three essays are about each Emperor in turn - and better planning would've kept them together in a post, however I didn't think of that till too late! :)