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Understanding Imperial China: Dynasties, Life, and Culture

Take an inside look at life in China's splendorous empire, through the eyes of poets, courtiers, emperors, scholars, travelers, and courtesans.
Understanding Imperial China: Dynasties, Life, and Culture is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 70.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Chinese History thru a Western Lens I was disappointed by this lecture series. The lecturer continually minimizes morally despicable European actions in the 1800s and 1900s. He rationalizes the treaties imposed by Europeans by saying the Chinese benefited from these treaties. Whether or not there were some benefits, he glosses over the fact that these were forced on the Chinese. It's the equivalent of saying that a Harvey Weinstein victim gained the benefit of a movie role. His observations and conclusions often are colored by his Western point of view. For example, when he talks about the British representative and the Qianlong Emperor, he implies that the Chinese were unreasonable to require the performative respect expected from everyone. Bowing to British monarchy is fine, but Chinese ketow is unreasonable? It's just a different cultural tradition. If you go to another country, you respect their traditions. The general tone of this lecture is condescending. Instead of pondering how Chinese traditions, inventions, culture etc...resulted in a nation that, despite having low points, has survived and thrived (often spectacularly) for thousands of of years. What can we learn from Chinese history? How can we better understand the China of today by understanding Chinese history, tradition, philosophy? There is very little in this series that shows anything beyond history learned from a book written by someone observing a foreign culture with little real understanding of that culture. As a side note, it is surprising that someone who majored in Chinese, has such terrible pronunciation.
Date published: 2024-02-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Split Grade of A+ and C The informational content and convincing analyses presented in Dr. Andrew R. Wilson’s course deserve to be rated as excellent. Accompanying features of the DVD product were of average quality, though, falling a bit short of their presumed purpose of enhancing the educational experience, which is why I consider four-out-of-five stars appropriate overall. I do recommend the course highly because it filled in more gaps for me and taught me more than other lecture series I’ve studied about China. Here are some of the most admirable qualities of the present course: * Dr. Wilson succeeded in his stated goal of sharing “human-scale stories”—how it likely felt during different eras of Chinese history to be a soldier, a farmer, a merchant, a student, a householder, a poet, a monk, an administrator, a ruler, a member of the elite or the literati, etc. Discussion of disparities due to gender was not neglected. * Since the professor’s education included study of Chinese languages, I felt I could trust that his pronunciations of Chinese words and phrases were legitimate—his were at least consistent, which is more than I could say for the teachers of a few other courses on China that I’ve experienced. My wife, who has a B.A. in Far Eastern Studies, confirmed for me that Dr. Wilson’s pronunciations are good. * Some of Dr. Wilson’s analogies seemed stirringly insightful, such as when he described how the provision of standardized, interchangeable crossbow parts for soldiers paralleled the centuries-old attitude that most Chinese soldiers themselves ought to be prepared and equipped to be interchangeable. Another choice example is Dr. Wilson’s comparison that “What the Grand Canal did for the integration of the empire, the examination system did for China’s cultural unity.” * The provided guidebook is extensive. These are a few aspects that were disappointing: * As in many of the Great Courses produced over the past half-dozen years or so, a Zoom-meeting-like virtual background makes for a presentation that is not as appealing as that wherein a lecturer is not just a “pasted-on” figure, but looks instead like a university teacher moving about naturally in a classroom or studio setting. I have purchased more than 150 Great Courses, beginning in 2005, and I much prefer the staging and production values of the older courses. * Too many of the maps and other visual accompaniments for the present course are oddly labelled, oddly coloured, and/or sadly lacking in enlargement of details being discussed. * Some dates and facts are repeated again and again, which seems unnecessary in a recorded product that I could “rewind” for myself, as necessary. The strengths of Dr. Wilson’s course outweigh the relative weaknesses. Interested students are advised not to miss it.
Date published: 2024-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent on Chinese cultural history I feel privileged to have the opportunity to take this course from Dr. Wilson.
Date published: 2023-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great in depth look at the Culture of China Professor Wilson digs deep into over 2000 years of China's history. He looks at the rulers, the common workers, the institutions, the agricultural and trade relationships that Cina had with the rest of the world.
Date published: 2023-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation The professor is one of the finest I have encountered. He is very clear and extremely knowledgable of the subject. The presentation materials could be further enhanced, but the materials chosen were clear and to the point. This course was the best of the many I have taken.
Date published: 2022-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best cultural history of China! A great captivating presentation blending Chinese history and culture.
Date published: 2022-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A+ Course! This is how history should be taught, including information about how all levels of society lived!
Date published: 2022-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inteersting Course The lecturer delivered a great set of lectures on Imperial China which I enjoyed. He not only covered the different emperors but also the people and how they lived during the different periods of Chinese history.
Date published: 2022-05-19
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A knowledge of China's majestic empire is essential for any understanding of its present. In this course, you'll discover what daily life was like for government bureaucrats, for scholars, for women of the court, for soldiers, merchants, craftspeople, emperors, concubines, poets, farmers, and many others-all set against the backdrop of the richness, the diversity, the genius, and the splendor of imperial China.


Andrew R. Wilson

Who are our masters of war? Paradoxically some of the great works of theory come not from the victors, but from the vanquished. The lessons of failure are often far more powerful, more enduring.


U.S. Naval War College

Dr. Andrew R. Wilson is Professor of Strategy and Policy at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI. He received a B.A. in East Asian Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and earned his Ph.D. in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard University. An award-winning professor and an expert in both military history and strategic theory, Professor Wilson has lectured on Asian military history, the classics of strategic theory, Chinese military modernization, and Sun Tzu's The Art of War, among other topics. Prior to joining the Naval War College, he taught Chinese history at Wellesley College and at Harvard University. Additionally, he has been invited to speak at numerous military colleges and universities in the United States. Professor Wilson is the author of numerous articles on Chinese military history, Chinese sea power, and Sun Tzu's The Art of War. His books include Ambition and Identity: Chinese Merchant-Elites in Colonial Manila, 1885-1916; The Chinese in the Caribbean; China's Future Nuclear Submarine Force; and War, Virtual War and Society. He has lectured on strategic theory and international security in nearly two dozen countries and six continents, and he has contributed to the curriculum of military colleges all over the world. The views expressed in this course are those of the professor and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

By This Professor

Understanding Imperial China: Dynasties, Life, and Culture
Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers
Understanding Imperial China: Dynasties, Life, and Culture


Opium, Trade, and War in Imperial China

01: Opium, Trade, and War in Imperial China

Begin by examining a pervasive symbol of late imperial China: opium. Learn about the history of opium use, the ritual of opium smoking, and the luxurious opium culture of the Chinese elite. Note how opium became inextricably linked with imperial culture, society, and economics. Chart the role of the British opium trade, the Opium Wars, and Chinese measures to eradicate the drug....

31 min
The First Emperor's Terra-cotta Warriors

02: The First Emperor's Terra-cotta Warriors

Uncover the story behind the famous terra-cotta warriors, one of China's most celebrated archaeological treasures. Travel into daily life in the Qin Dynasty, China's first empire; encounter the emperor Qinshi Huangdi, builder of the warriors, and observe his highly bureaucratic and technocratic regime. Explore the site of the terra-cotta army, and how the extraordinary clay figures were made....

31 min
China's Early Golden Age: The Han Dynasty

03: China's Early Golden Age: The Han Dynasty

Enter the lives of the Han nobility-China's second imperial dynasty-through their tombs, whose fabulous artifacts bear witness to their lavish lifestyle, diet, and concern for learning. Take account of the Han golden age, during which essential imperial institutions were established and Han territories were expanded. Also take note of the rise of a new and powerful scholarly elite....

30 min
Amazing Ban Clan: Historian, Soldier, Woman

04: Amazing Ban Clan: Historian, Soldier, Woman

Three extraordinary siblings stand out in China's imperial history. Follow the lives of Han-era twin brothers Ban Gu and Ban Chao, and their remarkable sister Ban Zhao. Investigate Ban Gu's life of learning and his important writing on history and governmental policy. Note Ban Chao's illustrious military career and achievements, and Ban Zhao's significant impact as a scholar, teacher, and poet....

31 min
China's Buddhist Monks and Daoist Recluses

05: China's Buddhist Monks and Daoist Recluses

Buddhism and Daoism played integral roles in the culture of imperial China. Learn about the origins of Chinese Buddhism, the monastic life in China, and the historic travels of the Buddhist monk Faxian. Then study the emergence of Daoism and its traditions of metaphysical exploration and the rustic, natural life, as seen in the works of Tao Yuanming, imperial China's first great poet....

32 min
Cosmopolitan Chang'an: Tang Dynasty Capital

06: Cosmopolitan Chang'an: Tang Dynasty Capital

Travel to the golden age of Chang'an, the medieval world's most resplendent city. Uncover its structure, its grand boulevards, and its stunning palatial, official, and religious architecture. Investigate the city's diverse population and its districts, parks, and pleasure quarters. Visit Chang'an's iconic Eastern and Western markets, and take account of the factors in the city's ultimate undoing....

30 min
China's Grand Canal: Lifeline of an Empire

07: China's Grand Canal: Lifeline of an Empire

Track the historical significance and changing fortunes of the Grand Canal. Beginning in the Sui Dynasty, explore the evolution and engineering of the canal system and its vital role in imperial economics, politics, and culture. Learn about its maintenance and management, its varied personnel, and how the health of the canal directly mirrored the political health of the empire....

31 min
Triumph and Tragedy in Tang Poetry

08: Triumph and Tragedy in Tang Poetry

Delve into the aristocratic society of the Tang Dynasty and the particular social and political meaning given to poetry within this world. See how poetry of various genres was used within specific social contexts, in the example of court poet Wang Wei. Follow the fortunes of beloved Tang poets Li Bai and Du Fu, as they embodied the vogue and singular significance of poetry in Chinese culture....

30 min
Life and Times of Song Dynasty Literati

09: Life and Times of Song Dynasty Literati

In the Song Dynasty, classical literacy and the civil service examinations were the path to official position. Here, trace the lives of two celebrated literati who emerged from this system. First meet Su Shi, passionate public servant, fun-loving style setter, and man of letters. Contrast Su's life with that of Zhu Xi, probing moral philosopher and architect of Neo-Confucianism....

31 min
A Day's Journey Along the Qingming Scroll

10: A Day's Journey Along the Qingming Scroll

This lecture reveals life in the Song Dynasty by means of the Qingming Shanghetu, a renowned painted scroll of the early 12th century. Reading the 17-foot scroll sequentially, travel through its vivid imagery of people, animals, buildings, vehicles, and landscapes, as it depicts scenes of daily life and conveys the remarkable technological, cultural, and economic sophistication of the Song....

30 min
Peasant Life on the Yellow River

11: Peasant Life on the Yellow River

Discover the vital farming communities of the Yellow River watershed. Study the culture of farming and rural society, and delve into how peasants lived-their dwellings, clothing, diet, work and gender roles, and family structures. Take account of the hardships faced by peasants through taxation and corrupt local officialdom and of the natural and manmade disasters that plagued rural populations....

31 min
Rice, Silk, and Tea: South China's Peasants

12: Rice, Silk, and Tea: South China's Peasants

Learn about the process of wet-rice cultivation, as it shaped the daily lives of Southern peasants, from paddy preparation and irrigation to planting, weeding, and final harvesting. Then investigate tea growing and how peasants processed the leaves into different tea varieties. Finally, study Chinese silk production, taking note of the role of women in both the silk and tea industries....

30 min
Genghis Khan and the Rise of the Mongols

13: Genghis Khan and the Rise of the Mongols

Look deeply into the life of Temujin, who became the fearsome Genghis Khan. Investigate the steppe culture of the Northern tribal warriors who would conquer China and their nomadic lifestyle of herding and raiding. Trace Temujin's phenomenal rise to power as he gathered massive legions of tribal followers, founding the Mongol Empire. Explore social and political life among the Mongols....

32 min
The Mongols and Marco Polo in Xanadu

14: The Mongols and Marco Polo in Xanadu

The century-long era known as the Pax Mongolica was a time of extraordinary East-West trade and cross-cultural communication. Learn about this epoch through the remarkable journeys of Marco Polo and his family, the missionary Giovanni de Montecorvino, the Nestorian priest and diplomat Rabban Bar Sauma, and others, as they reveal the astonishing multiculturalism of the Mongol world....

30 min
Admiral Zheng He's Treasure Fleet

15: Admiral Zheng He's Treasure Fleet

Take to the seas with Ming-era Admiral Zheng He, whose travels on behalf of the emperor Yongle were the stuff of legend. Witness life aboard Zheng's huge treasure ships, nine-masted behemoths laden with luxury goods. Follow the commander's seven voyages, as he plied the Indian Ocean and ventured to points beyond to proclaim the glories of the Ming court and to enlarge its cultural and economic pow...

31 min
China's Bound Feet, Brides, and Widows

16: China's Bound Feet, Brides, and Widows

In exploring the experience of women in imperial China, learn about the customs surrounding traditional married life, such as the painful practice of foot binding, the process of betrothal and marriage arrangements, the wedding festivities, and the duties and lifestyle of a wife. Also investigate the social ideal of the chaste widow and its shadow, the luxurious world of courtesans....

32 min
Ming Dynasty Trade and Spanish Silver

17: Ming Dynasty Trade and Spanish Silver

Visit the teeming port of Manila, where the 16th century influx of Spanish silver made the city a vibrant hub of East-West exchange. Observe how the import of New World silver and crops to China sparked a remarkable period of prosperous living. Note the proliferation of restaurants, travel guides, fashion, leisure activities, commercial sex, and popular religion that characterized the era....

34 min
The Great Wall and Military Life in China

18: The Great Wall and Military Life in China

Delve into the lives of soldiers under the Ming, often incorrectly viewed as an un-martial dynasty. Learn about military culture, weaponry, and lifestyle under 14th century warlord Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of the Ming Dynasty. Contrast this military era with that of the 16th century, when commercialization and technology gave rise to both the Great Wall and to remarkably modern Ming armies....

32 min
Qing Dynasty: Soul Stealers and Sedition

19: Qing Dynasty: Soul Stealers and Sedition

Witness the national hysteria that ensued from accusations that masons and other undesirables were stealing human souls. Investigate the public fear of sorcery, and the emperor's fear of sedition, which fueled the turmoil. Follow Emperor Qianlong's handling of the crisis, as it reveals the workings of the Qing justice system and the emperor's deep engagement with the empire's moral well-being....

31 min
Emperor Qianlong Hosts a British Ambassador

20: Emperor Qianlong Hosts a British Ambassador

At the emperor's palatial summer residence in 1793, visit the imperial kitchens, as chefs and culinary workers from around the empire prepare a banquet of epic proportions. Learn about the staggering scale of the operation of the Imperial Buttery, which fed the emperor's household, and how a dazzling imperial feast served as the backdrop for a key diplomatic engagement....

31 min
The Taiping Rebellion and Its Cult Leader

21: The Taiping Rebellion and Its Cult Leader

The mid 19th century saw both foreign invasion and a revolt that sought to remake Chinese society. Follow the underlying social unrest in South China, and the rise of the charismatic leader Hong Xiuquan, who fomented a rebellion based in religious fanaticism. Observe the military prowess of the rebels, the massive size of the conflict, and how it unfolded as the bloodiest civil war in history....

32 min
China's Treaty Ports

22: China's Treaty Ports

Following the Opium War of 1842, a range of Chinese seaports were opened to foreign trade and foreign residence. Learn about the colorful history of these ports, how they became enmeshed in a global labor trade, and how they functioned as Euro-Asian hybrid cities. Grasp how the treaty ports were emblematic of a period of economic and political domination by foreigners....

31 min
Experiencing China's Civil Service Exams

23: Experiencing China's Civil Service Exams

For centuries, the imperial civil service exams selected candidates for important government positions. Trace the dramatic history of the examinations, which involved years of intensive study, a grueling testing ordeal, and life-changing benefits for the successful. Take account of the profound social and cultural significance of the exams and their role in the administration of the empire....

31 min
China's Last Dynasty: Fall of the Manchus

24: China's Last Dynasty: Fall of the Manchus

Finally, examine the factors that led to the dissolution of China's empire. Contrast the powerful military machine of the early Manchu dynasty with its degradation by the 19th century. Grasp how the three pillars of Manchu power-its military, its cultural/economic influence, and its subjects' loyalty-were systematically undermined, culminating in the abdication of the last emperor in 1912....

37 min