The Story of China: Ancestors
Michael Wood explores the history of the world’s newest superpower, from its ancient past to the present day. Starting in Wuxi, Michael joins the Qin family reunion, when 300 relatives gather to worship their ancestors on Tomb Sweeping Day. ‘Like the nation, the family has been through so much,’ one says. ‘Now everyone wants to know – what are our roots?’
To answer that question, Michael journeys to the plain of the Yellow River, where he joins a million pilgrims at the shrine of ancient goddess Nuwa, who legend says made the first people from the yellow mud of the Yellow River.
Looking for the origins of the Chinese state, he visits the excavations at Erlitou and sees an exquisite turquoise dragon sceptre from 2000 BC. China’s first writing is found on ‘oracle bones’ dug up from the Shang royal tombs at Anyang in the 1920s. At the Beijing Planetarium, Michael travels back in time as astronomers plot the planetary conjunction that the ancients believed foretold the overthrow of the Shang Dynasty.
Next, the Age of Philosophers and Confucius, whose book Analects has had greater influence worldwide than even the Bible, according to some. In Xi’an, we hear how the First Emperor united China and created the authoritarian Qin state that gave us the word China.
Finally, Michael returns to the temple fair in Henan for a dramatic night ceremony to give thanks to the ancestors. China, Michael concludes, is rising again, not just because of its economic strength, but because of the incredible solidarity of the Han Chinese view of their own civilisation, their sense of family and, of course, the presence of the ancestors.
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