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From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History

Take a 5,000-year voyage across one of the most amazing civilizations the world has ever known with this comprehensive and interesting 36-lecture course by an award-winning China scholar.

From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 186.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Hard to listen As a longtime listener, I felt compelled to write a review simply to warn others. This is one of those rare duds from the Great Courses. I can take a dry lecturer, and I can take a somewhat messy approach to the impossible task of covering all of Chinese history succinctly. But borderline amateur public speaking skills and a style of oration that comes off as "winging it" was just too much for me. The number of "uhs" and long pauses searching for words was distracting. I truly could not finish some parts because it felt like I was listening to a student struggling to get through a presentation. Being an excellent or at least good lecturer is the expectation here, and this presenter just does not cut it.
Date published: 2023-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive History of China This is probably one of the best courses I have bought, Professor Hammond is obviously a great teacher and master of the material. He manages to hold our interest through 36 lectures intertwining history, culture and philosophy. We are taught so little about asian history in school.
Date published: 2023-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from better than newer course Very well organized and easy to follow. Superior to the recent course on similar material, Understanding Imperial China (I just watched both back to back). But I hope Dr. Hammond has learned how to suppress his distracting habit of fist-to-mouth blow-out-cheeks. I don’t believe he was burping through 36 lectures but it looks like it.
Date published: 2022-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from From Yao to Mao I am really enjoying this course. I have been aware of bits and pieces of Chinese history for a long time. This course puts all the pieces (and more) together in a clear and concise way. In addition to getting a timeline of Chinese history I am learning new and interesting details about historical figures and events such as Confucius and the introduction of Buddhism in China. For anyone interested in a good overview of Chinese history, I would highly recommend this course. I just wish there were an updated version.
Date published: 2022-05-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Interesting Knowledge is great but more visuals would make it even better
Date published: 2022-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Overview of Chinese History When it comes to explaining the history of development of Chinese society from its beginnings to the present day in concrete, clear, and comprehensive terms, Professor Hammond can't be beat!
Date published: 2021-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from True scholarship I would recommend this for anyone who appreciates true historical scholarship. The professor ranges through five thousand years of history and takes many interesting side trips into culture, philosophy, art, religion, economics, speaking comfortably and expertly on each topic. The professor spoke conversationally and extemporaneously without a teleprompter or without continuously reading from notes, a style I prefer and indicating a real depth of knowledge and scholarship. The delivery style is relaxed and conversational. The graphics are minimal, but gimmicks and distractions are not necessary for this level of scholarship, in my opinion. Bottom line, this is a great course for anyone who appreciates true scholarship.
Date published: 2021-10-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was an excellent course in every respect . The great courses has three courses on china and I have done them all. I found they were all good but covered different aspects of China and that doing them all gave a better view than doing just one of the courses. I have a question to ask. Do you have a version in the Chinese language as I have a friend who would be interested in this.
Date published: 2021-08-07
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In a world grown increasingly smaller, China seems somehow to remain as most of us have always seen it: a land far away and exotic, its history and thoughts veiled from most Westerners. Yet behind that veil lies one of the most amazing civilizations the world has ever known. Join award-winning Professor Kenneth J. Hammond for an in-depth exploration into China's fascinating history. Every lecture of this course may seem like a journey across a virgin landscape, for the ground it covers has been largely unexplored in the history courses most of us in the West have taken.


Kenneth J. Hammond

In their traditional historiography, the Xia dynasty is where Chinese history really begins.


New Mexico State University

Dr. Kenneth J. Hammond is Professor of History and Director of The Confucius Institute at New Mexico State University. He earned his B.A. from Kent State University and his graduate degrees from Harvard University-an A.M. in East Asian Regional Studies and a Ph.D. in History and East Asian Languages. Professor Hammond's research focuses on the cultural and intellectual history of China in the late imperial era from the 10th through the 18th centuries, and especially the history of the Ming dynasty. He has published articles and translations on a wide range of subjects, including Chinese gardens, and is the editor of The Human Tradition in Premodern China, a biographical reader for undergraduate students. Professor Hammond received numerous grants and fellowships, including a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies to work with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, and an Affiliated Fellowship at the International Institute for Asian Studies at Leiden, the Netherlands. Professor Hammond is past president of the Society for Ming Studies and served on the board of directors of the Southwest Association for Asian Studies.

From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History


Geography and Archaeology

01: Geography and Archaeology

The course begins with a look at the physical environment of East Asia, the specific sites from which China emerged, and the prehistoric background of Chinese culture.

31 min
The First Dynasties

02: The First Dynasties

The bronze industry developed by the Xia dynasty is raised to even greater heights by the Shang, becoming—along with military forces and the royal ritual cult—one of the defining features of early Chinese society.

30 min
The Zhou Conquest

03: The Zhou Conquest

The Zhou people lead a coalition that overthrows the Shang and found a new dynasty justified by the "Mandate of Heaven," elaborating critical concepts for China's political culture over the next 3,000 years.

30 min
Fragmentation and Social Change

04: Fragmentation and Social Change

The crises of what came to be known as the "Warring States" period lead many Chinese to question the basic foundations of their society, and to search for answers to the problems facing them.

30 min
Confucianism and Daoism

05: Confucianism and Daoism

The lecture introduces the basic concepts of Confucian and Daoist thought, comparing the essentially positivist approach of Confucianism to the radically skeptical system put forth by the Daoists.

30 min
The Hundred Schools

06: The Hundred Schools

Though Confucianism and Daoism are the most enduring schools of thought to emerge from the Warring States period, other ideas also emerge, none as important as those of the Legalists, whose approach to social and political order is fundamentally at odds with both Confucian and Daoist ideas.

30 min
The Early Han Dynasty

07: The Early Han Dynasty

A low-ranking official named Liu Bang rises to power and founds a dynasty that will last 400 years and see the solidifying of the imperial state and the blending of Confucian, Daoist, and Legalist elements to construct an ideological framework for official Confucianism.

30 min
Later Han and the Three Kingdoms

08: Later Han and the Three Kingdoms

Internal weaknesses eventually shatter the Han government. The subsequent division of the empire into three large states ushers in one of the most romantic periods in Chinese history, drawn on to this day by Chinese literature for its stories of great heroes, clever strategists, and military leaders.

30 min

09: Buddhism

While the Han dynasty slides toward collapse, a new religion with its origins in India begins to make its presence felt. This lecture examines both Buddhism's basic concepts and the origins of its path into China.

30 min
Northern and Southern Dynasties

10: Northern and Southern Dynasties

As a result of 4th-century migrations in Central Asia, Proto-Turkic invaders sweep into northern China. Over time, their assimilation leads to a China distinguished by two dramatically different cultures north and south of the Yangzi River.

30 min
Sui Reunification and the Rise of the Tang

11: Sui Reunification and the Rise of the Tang

In the 6th century, a general of mixed ancestry reunifies China's two cultures under the Sui dynasty; its succession by the Tang ushers in one of China's greatest dynasties, which will last until the beginning of the 10th century.

30 min
The Early Tang Dynasty

12: The Early Tang Dynasty

This lecture includes a look at a controversial figure in a national history largely authored by men: Wu Zetian, who deposes her nephew to become the only woman to occupy China's imperial throne in her own name.

30 min
Han Yu and the Late Tang

13: Han Yu and the Late Tang

The Tang survives a rebellion to endure for another century and a half, a period that includes the rise of a new intellectual movement of Confucian thinkers whose ideas set the stage for enormous cultural and intellectual changes in the 11th century.

30 min
Five Dynasties and the Song Founding

14: Five Dynasties and the Song Founding

A corrupt Tang dynasty eventually falls, and the Song dynasty that emerges responds to its political challenges through institutional and social innovations that fundamentally reshape the later imperial state.

30 min
Intellectual Ferment in the 11th Century

15: Intellectual Ferment in the 11th Century

The expansion of the imperial civil service examination system by the early Song dynasty makes that system the most significant mechanism for identifying men of talent for the imperial bureaucracy and launches a great age of respect for intellect and ideas.

30 min
Art and the Way

16: Art and the Way

Landscape painting emerges to lead the rise of historical art discourse, reflecting new ideas about the place of man in the universe and, ultimately, the new philosophical trend of Daoxue, which becomes the imperial state's official version of Confucianism.

30 min
Conquest States in the North

17: Conquest States in the North

The collapse of the Tang at the beginning of the 10th century leads to a period of division and conflict and creates opportunities for the rise of non-Chinese powers along the northern frontier.

30 min
Economy and Society in Southern Song

18: Economy and Society in Southern Song

After the loss of north China in 1127, the Song court moves to the city of Hangzhou, surviving for another 150 years and presiding over a period of tremendous expansion of technological growth, and domestic and international trade.

30 min
Zhu Xi and Neo-Confucianism

19: Zhu Xi and Neo-Confucianism

This lecture returns to the developments taking place in Chinese thought to deal with one of the greatest figures in Chinese intellectual history, Zhu Xi, and his forging of what is often called the Neo-Confucian Synthesis through his teaching of Daoxue, the "Learning of the Way."

30 min
The Rise of the Mongols

20: The Rise of the Mongols

This lecture recounts the story of Temujin, known to history as Genghis Khan, and his rise to power over the Mongols. His empire at his death would stretch from northern China to Persia and would be extended even further by his sons.

30 min
The Yuan Dynasty

21: The Yuan Dynasty

Ghengis's grandson, Khubilai, completes the conquest of China in 1279, establishing the Yuan dynasty. This lecture examines the nature of Chinese life under Mongol rule and draws special insights from the visit of Marco Polo during this dramatic era.

30 min
The Rise of the Ming

22: The Rise of the Ming

As various factors coalesce to end the Mongol reign, Zhu Yuanzhang rises to power as the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty, but nearly wrecks his creation through his paranoid mistrust of the bureaucratic official he most needs to administer his empire.

30 min
The Ming Golden Age

23: The Ming Golden Age

The 15th and 16th centuries become a new age of economic growth and achievement, far surpassing even those of the Song, and the consumer power of a revived merchant class enables art and literature to flourish as well.

30 min
Gridlock and Crisis

24: Gridlock and Crisis

The very success of the Ming dynasty creates new problems, with economic growth leading to social tensions and the setting of the stage for new philosophical movements that emphasize individual moral responsibility.

30 min
The Rise of the Manchus

25: The Rise of the Manchus

A descendant of the people who had ruled China hundreds of years earlier creates a multiethnic alliance he names the Manchus and leads them to dominance in what is now Manchuria, with the eventual goal of reclaiming all of China.

30 min
Kangxi to Qianlong

26: Kangxi to Qianlong

From 1661 to 1795, Manchu China is ruled by only three emperors, a 134-year period of nearly unparalleled stability, during which a Manchu-Chinese symbiosis creates a climate allowing major political and cultural advances.

30 min
The Coming of the West

27: The Coming of the West

This lecture looks at the history of the trading relationship between China and the West, culminating in the British search for a commodity other than silver with which to trade for China's superior goods.

30 min
Threats from Within and Without

28: Threats from Within and Without

In the first half of the 19th century, China begins to face new challenges from both inside and outside its borders—one of the most striking leads to the Opium War and forces China to open to the will of the West.

30 min
The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom

29: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom

One of the most intriguing episodes in Chinese history is the Taiping Rebellion, led by a failed examination candidate who thought he was the younger brother of Jesus. It nearly brings the Qing dynasty to an end.

30 min
Efforts at Reform

30: Efforts at Reform

The Opium War and the challenge of the Taiping Rebellion are only the beginning of the end. Failed reforms, a defeat at the hands of Japan, and the fact that the Boxer Rebellion was crushed by Western troops bring more humiliation to the tottering Manchu regime.

30 min
The Fall of the Empire

31: The Fall of the Empire

A revolutionary movement to create a Chinese republic is led by Sun Yatsen, but when a military mutiny finally topples the Qing dynasty, it is, instead, a decade of fragmentation under military strongmen that replaces the imperial court.

30 min
The New Culture Movement and May 4th

32: The New Culture Movement and May 4th

A ferment of ideas and political movements, combined with still another humiliation when the Versailles Peace Conference gives Japan control of Chinese territories once held by Germany, sets the stage for the emergence of the Chinese Communist Party.

30 min
The Chinese Communists, 1921–1937

33: The Chinese Communists, 1921–1937

This lecture examines the Chinese Revolution in the years before World War II, including the roles played by Sun Yatsen, Chiang Kaishek, and Mao Zedong.

30 min
War and Revolution

34: War and Revolution

With the defeat of Japan and victory over the Nationalists, who withdraw to Taiwan, the Chinese Communists, under Mao's leadership, set about implementing socialism and creating a "New China."

30 min
China Under Mao

35: China Under Mao

Even though Mao was the dominant figure in the People's Republic of China for more than 25 years, his was far from the only voice. This lecture examines the complex interactions of differing groups within the Communist leadership and the course of China's development under Mao.

30 min
China and the World in a New Century

36: China and the World in a New Century

This lecture looks at China since the death of Mao in 1976—when his revolutionary vision was quickly abandoned—and the events that have accompanied China's pursuit of economic and political development.

31 min