The Story Of China s01e05 Episode Script

The Last Empire

1 In 1644, Ming Dynasty China, the greatest civilisation in the world, went through a devastating foreign conquest.
The Chinese people were left haunted by dreams of lost peace and visions of war.
The invaders were Manchus from the north, people the Chinese saw as barbarians.
The Ming Emperor committed suicide and the Manchu armies swept south.
When the city of Yangzhou resisted, it was plundered and burned in a ten-day reign of terror.
300,000 people died.
Afterwards, the writer Zhang Dai visited the West Lake in Hangzhou, once China's paradise on earth.
As he sailed along the shore, he was shocked by the aftermath of the fighting.
"I thought I was in a nightmare", he said.
The loss seemed irretrievable .
but China had been through such cataclysms before and would go through them again.
And being a great and ancient civilisation, the people had the inner resources to rebuild.
And that's what happened next.
The Manchus were foreigners, non-Chinese, but it was they who would institute the next rebuilding, and becoming Chinese in the process.
And they were the last imperial dynasty of China - the Qing.
So, China's last empire was forged in war.
The Manchu conquest took 30 years.
It climaxed in the 1670s, in a savage struggle in the south, when three great provinces rose against the Manchus and their teenage emperor, Kangxi.
The war lasted eight years and, by the end, the Qing government had half a million troops fighting in these wild mountains of the southwest.
At that moment, China could have fallen apart, but it didn't.
The war was the making of Kangxi and, when it ended in 1681, he was 27 and he would become the longest ruling, and some would say, the greatest of all the Chinese emperors.
For all its glories, the Ming had ended as a decadent, broken empire.
Now, the foreign Manchus set out to make sure that the mistakes they had made were not repeated.
That the new rulers of China should be men with a sober sense of public duty and Kangxi, the upright one, was such a man.
Kangxi was the first of three great Qing emperors - father, son and grandson, who ruled for 133 years.
They built China's largest empire and created the essential shape of China today.
You get an idea of the immense size of the Qing empire when you fly out from Beijing to Xinjiang in the far west.
It takes seven hours.
By road, it's 2,700 miles from the capital to Kashgar.
Under the Qing, China entered a new phase of its history, for they define China not as an exclusively Han civilisation, but as a great, multiethnic empire.
So, for the first time since the Tang dynasty, China ruled over the Central Asian peoples of Xinjiang.
Among them were the Uyghurs.
Hello! - This is my wife - Very nice to meet you.
- .
and this is my mother-in-law.
Very nice to meet you.
Thank you.
So, this is my family.
Oh, thank you so much.
Thank you.
Before the Qing dynasty, this area was controlled by the Yongle Mongols.
You know, the descendants of Genghis Khan.
The leader of the Yongle Mongols, he invaded the western territory of the Qing dynasty.
So, the emperor of the Qing dynasty, the Kangxi, he led a big army by himself and waged two big wars with the Yongle Mongols, and, finally, defeated them and kicked them out of this region and took this region.
Under the Qing Kangxi emperor, it almost doubles the size of China, doesn't it? Yes, yes, yes.
- It was a huge area.
- Yes, yes.
So, what happens here in Turfan, then? The government built new towns just next to the original town, so, in many cities in Xinjiang, even now, we have old town and new town.
The old town was also called Uyghur town or Hui town.
Hui, like Muslim Yes.
And new town was named "Man town" or "Han town", like "Hancheng" or "Mancheng", like Chinese name.
Many different races meet in this point in China, don't they? Yes, yes.
- Many different histories, I suppose.
- Yes.
So, the Silk Road became, again, an axis of world history, linking the great Asian land empires of Iran and Russia, Mogul India and Qing China.
And today, with China's new Silk Road, Central Asia is once more becoming a crossroads of commerce and peoples.
If you see the different hats, you can buy the pattern or colour, the flowers on the hat, you can tell where they are from - Turfan or Hotan or Kashgar or Ili.
So, each different place, they have a different pattern for the hat.
All the Silk Road places - Hotan, Turfan - have different hats.
The Qing initially adopted a light touch towards the ethnic minorities, leaving their local leaders in place.
They also allowed religious autonomy and Muslim culture soon gained a new vitality in Chinese civilisation.
In the old Muslim communities of China, founded back in the Tang, Chinese Muslim scholars wrote books showing how loyalty to Islam and to the Mandate of Heaven went hand in hand.
Walking through the mosque, you see all these inscriptions, not only in Chinese, but in Arabic and in Farsi, Persian! They welcomed outsiders for their food and their luxuries, their money, their ideas, and their expertise.
You may think of China in its history as being an inward-looking civilisation, but most of the time it wasn't like that at all.
This was a rich age for Chinese Muslim philosophy, with debates about the role of women and one fascinating and surprising by-product of the age is women's mosques with women imams.
There are ten small women's mosques here in Kaifeng, part of the changing scene of Chinese Islam from the late 1600s.
I have travelled many places in the world and filmed with Muslim communities in many different countries, but I have never seen women's mosques like this.
Is this a special Chinese tradition or special Kaifeng tradition? Special Chinese tradition.
So, here, even today, you can see the results of the religious policies of the Manchus.
Shukran! Shukran! Tibet too, long an independent kingdom, was freed from the rule of the Yongle Mongols.
Kangxi restored the Dalai Lama and brought Tibet into the Qing Empire as a Chinese protectorate.
The Qing rulers built a huge replica of the Potala in Lhasa back home.
Fascinated by Tibetan Buddhism, they had private chapels in their own palaces.
For Tibet, it was a time when Chinese rule promoted Tibetan culture.
So, China's new, expanded frontiers were secured.
And at home, the Manchus were keen to be seen to rule in the Chinese tradition.
Before they even come in, they learn a Chinese way of governing.
Once they come in, they put up a face to represent that they are authentic Chinese rulers.
The Confucius rulers.
You know, classical Confucian education, civil service examinations - these are all the things they pay a lot of attention to.
To reinforce their right to rule, the Manchus returned to the roots, giving new life to the old rituals of the Chinese state.
In one ceremony, the Manchu emperor joined hands with a poor Chinese peasant.
We're on a platform here and the platform looked out onto a field .
and the field was where the sports ground is, there.
Every year on the auspicious day, in the second month of spring, the Emperor ploughed eight furrows of this field with a great, yellow plough.
The Minister of Finance had the goad, prodding the oxen, and the Chief Prefect sowed the seed.
It was to show solidarity with the workers, to show that agriculture was the very basis of the Chinese state, and to revere the very first ancestor who invented agriculture.
To get his message across, Kangxi issued 16 maxims - guidelines for the people - which were posted in every town and village.
They were read out twice a month - a custom which lasted until the 20th century.
On his great tours of the South, Kangxi talked to the people and listened to their grievances.
He was an autocrat, but stories about his common touch, and that of his grandson, Qianlong, became legend among the Chinese people.
"And as for the daily business of ruling", wrote Kangxi, "That takes a lot of energy.
"I once handled 500 documents in a single day.
"Sometimes I don't go to bed till after midnight.
" Labelled in Chinese and Manchu in the Imperial Archive, their dispatch boxes are empty now, but still scented with the camphor that kept insects from the paper.
Isn't that great? You can still smell it after all these centuries.
The smell of history.
The other great task Kangxi set himself was cultural.
Well, I think Kangxi, as a Manchu emperor, knew very well that he couldn't actually cope with the whole of the China that he had conquered, and which he was going to rule, without the Chinese help.
So he mounted a charm offensive to a lot of the intellectuals who were loyal to the previous dynasty.
He worked hard by getting these people to get involved in the editing of so much of Chinese works.
Like this one, which is the Quan Tangshi - The Complete Tang Poems.
And, my goodness me, you can see there is quite a lot.
How many poems? Do we know? 48,000 plus.
48,000 plus.
So, it's quite a project.
A hundred wood block carvers were employed, all under the supervision of a servant, Cao Yin, who was Han Chinese, not Manchu.
Cao Yin was, in theory, a bond servant or a slave, of the Manchus.
His family had been captured by the Manchus, before they actually took over the rule of the whole of the Chinese Empire.
And as a slave person, he remained very close to the Emperor in his household.
And, not only that.
Actually, Cao Yin's mother was made one of the nurses for the Kangxi Emperor.
And they also say, though it's not proven, that Cao Yin may have been one of the people who was a sort of reader-companion to the Emperor when he was a small boy.
This sort of very close bond between them went on and, apart from making him the titular head of this project, because he was Chinese, he also made him a kind of spy, to make private reports to the Imperial Palace alone on what he saw in the course of his duties.
So, the bondsman Cao Yin oversaw the huge printing job.
The collating, cutting, binding and sewing.
He published The Complete Tang poems in 1708 and on the frontispiece was a kind gesture by the Emperor to the boy he'd grown up with - his name on the front page.
Cao Yin wrote back, "Who am I that I should be on this list of names? "I do not know what happiness can ever compare with this" The great enterprise was done in the very city destroyed by the Manchus in the horrors of 1645.
Yangzhou was rising again with Manchu patronage.
They, I think, have learned the art or the craft of ruling China in the Confucius way very well So, what you see in Yangzhou is a bit of a snapshot of some of some of the prosperity that's coming out of a relatively peaceful and stable period.
If Suzhou was the place to be in the Ming, in the Qing, it was Yangzhou.
So what you see is relatively secure property rights on land, in the relatively free market, and commerce was, I wouldn't say protected, but at least, in many cases, undisturbed.
'Visitors here in the 18th century describe it 'as a fusion of southern elegance and northern vigour.
'In its streets, you saw wealth and culture all around you.
'Like Georgian London, it was a trend-setter, a capital of culture.
'And as one of China's four ancient cuisines, 'its cooking was famous, too, 'as it is today.
'Even the fast food.
' Just the day for this.
It's so cold, isn't it? That's fantastic.
Mmm! Yeah, really good.
Situated on the Grand Canal, Yangzhou was a centre of commerce where millions were made through the lucrative salt monopoly.
At the time of the early Industrial Revolution in Europe, China itself was developing the first shoots of capitalism, but the Chinese way.
And salt always very important in the story of Yangzhou.
So, Yangzhou's 200 salt merchants became major players in the economy.
One of them came from a village we've already met in this story - Tangyue, home of the Bao family.
Bao Zhidao became one of the richest men in China.
Because they make business in Yangzhou and they're getting richer, so they have ability to build this kind of building.
So this is like grand bankers today in London, building their mansions with their swimming pools and everything else, but this is much more ritually centred and historically centred.
It's a corporation here.
Filial piety is good for big business, and they don't need to lend, they don't need money - they collect money together andexactly, the wording is share.
So if we want to know who is the shareholder, just open the genealogy and see the activity of who is joining in the activity, the ritual activity, so you know the membership of this corporation.
So, in China, the lineage, the family, is the corporation and the shareholders, where, at this time in London or in the West, private companies start to be the shareholders.
Back here in his home village, Bao Zhidao is still remembered by his family for his Confucian values.
"The Confucian way was against excess.
"Be thrifty, but don't hoard.
Spend wisely.
" So China thrived again under Manchu rule.
In the 18th century, it had the biggest GDP in the world.
And the Yangzhou merchants made the most of it.
In their gardens, they held cultural gatherings.
Their guests were poets, painters, and book collectors.
Looking at it with Western eyes, you might say this looks very much like an enlightenment society.
These guys were the equivalent of billionaires today and they made their wealth on the backs of the poor .
but they were also public-spirited men.
Bao Zhidao had the streets of his part of town repaved, he established an insurance system for the boatmen who ran the salt barges, he built charitable schools for children at the gates of the city, and he ploughed money back into his native village.
He may look very different to us, in his great silk blue gowns and his long moustaches and pigtails, but he's the very model of what would later be the Victorian philanthropist.
In the 18th century, China was already developing a civil society.
And in the rich cities of the south, the merchants were also great patrons of opera and drama.
Well, it's a very cold and rainy, snowy day at the end of a New Year festival.
And we're heading out into the countryside from Yangzhou to see a performance of the traditional Yangzhou drama by the main acting troupe.
Tradition which has been passed down across all the wars and revolutions of the last couple of hundred years.
So what show are you doing this afternoon? And it's a sad story or a? In the Qing, travelling companies like this crisscrossed the south, playing in the new market towns, which were springing all over the countryside, providing entertainment to the expanding bourgeoisie, and to ordinary folk, too.
Their shows adapted famous novels, but Qing drama also dealt with history - the fall of the Ming, the sack of Yangzhou.
Contemporary themes with many lessons for Chinese audiences still coming to terms with the Manchu conquest.
Today is my grandma's 90th birthday celebrations, so it is a tradition for us to invite every family member and their friends and neighbours to watch an opera.
During the ancient time, if you were rich, you'd have a opera stage in your home, and if you have any kind of a celebration you would invite this kind of opera team to your home to share your happiness with everyone.
But such a flourishing culture did not mean freedom.
The Qing state was an autocracy - criticism of the system was dangerous.
As in England, dramatists were censored.
Books could be banned and burned.
So, as so often in Chinese history, writers and artists learned to speak in code.
"Some people only see the surface of things", wrote a Qing philosopher.
"They focus on appearances and miss the essence.
"But in the human world, and in nature, "there are things that cannot be transmitted through words.
" Over a century before the European expressionists, one group of Yangzhou painters broke with tradition to try to get beyond the world of appearances.
What's so special about the Yangzhou painters, does your father think? So far away from the conservative culture of the capital, Chinese artists and thinkers were beginning to explore different pathways to modernity.
Always aware of the watchful eye of the state, they were developing new modes of expression .
challenging the old meanings of history and ethics, and looking for new ways to represent the inner life, what one Qing writer called, "The domain of the demonic and mysterious.
" 'But the 18th century also saw a huge explosion of popular culture, 'which reached down even to the illiterate.
' Hello.
Ni hao.
Thank you.
There used to be three teachings, it was said - Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism.
But now there's a fourth - Popular Fiction - and everybody loves it.
This is The Water Margin.
It's really the Chinese equivalent of Robin Hood - the bunch of good outlaws who live out on Mount Liang - the Chinese equivalent of Sherwood forest.
There's even a Buddhist monk, a kind of Chinese Friar Tuck.
Drinks just as much, but a little more violent! But under the Qing, the Water Margin and other tales were periodically banned as subversive.
The outlaws' exploits, it was thought, might encourage seditious anti-Manchu sympathies.
By now, Kangxi himself was getting old.
His boyhood friend, the bond-servant, Cao Yin, was dead now.
The Emperor had cared about him to the end.
"You're not well", Kangxi wrote.
"Take this, it's Western medicine, but it really works.
"But take care of yourself, take care.
" Now in his late 60s, the Emperor was conscious of his own mortality, too.
"When I was young", he wrote, "I didn't know what was.
"Now I'm getting thinner and weaker.
I have dizzy spells.
" "Officials can retire, but I can't.
"I'm old, but I can't rest for a minute.
"If I die without trouble breaking out for China, I will die happy.
" Kangxi died in 1722 after a reign of 61 years, longest in Chinese history.
And he left his sons this advice.
"The great rulers of the past", he said, "Followed two guiding principles in governing China.
"Number one - have reverence for the laws of heaven.
"And number two - have reverence for the ancestors.
" "Work hard", he said.
"Take care.
"Mix strictness with leniency "and expedience with principle, "and, that way, you'll find a long-term vision for the nation.
" And Kangxi did have a vision for the nation.
He was a benevolent dictator.
But the Qing was still and autocratic state and Imperial favour could vanish overnight.
The new emperor was Kangxi's 43-year-old son, Yongzheng.
"Don't think I'm a novice", he said.
"I've spent my life in the real world.
" Straightforward but formidable, Yongzheng began a war against corruption and incompetence.
There were purges and show trials, and among those caught in the net were the family of the late bondsman Cao Yin, their intimacy with Kangxi now forgotten.
Just imagine it, the Emperor's troops crashing into the house, the servants taken away for questioning, the inventory made of your possessions, and then the show trial and the inevitable verdict.
And all that was watched, wide-eyed, one imagines, by Cao Yin's 13-year-old grandson, who at that moment remembered Grandad's favourite old saying - "When the tree falls, the monkeys will be scattered.
" The Cao family moved to these alleys in Beijing and, here, Cao Yin's young grandson, Cao Xueqin, grew up.
A watchful, clever child, wary of all power, having seen the family crushed by the state, and he grew up in the life of the imagination.
He wanted to be a writer, but in Emperor Qianlong's day that was fraught with jeopardy.
There were book burnings, over 50 writers were executed for criticising the government.
So these lanes around the lake were his haunts.
He didn't have a good degree, so he never got a good job.
He worked for a while in a wine bar, slept in the stable.
He got jobs as a tutor for the children of rich families in the great mansions the other side of the lake.
Final warning, he got sacked for having an affair with the maid.
Never got employed again.
Ended up down and out in north Beijing.
But that bohemian life in these streets gave the young man his own perspective on the tensions underneath Chinese society.
In the teeming alleys of the capital, there were many kinds of stories.
For a while, he rented a cottage in the hills outside Beijing, at a peppercorn rent, through a family friend.
And there, an idea began to take shape.
"The reminders of my poverty were all around me", he said.
"The old stove, the hard bed, the thatched roof, the latticed window.
"But such things are not necessarily obstacles "to the creative imagination.
"In fact, the view from my front door - "the landscape, the trees and the autumn leaves, the wind - "were positive encouragements to write.
"What was to stop me turning the whole thing into a story?" And what a story.
It's nothing less than the great Chinese novel.
A window into the Chinese imagination.
Surreal, poignant, romantic.
This book is written about 250 years ago, right? But as a person from modern times, I still can really relate with it because the love and freedom - the eternal topic.
I feel like the main character, Jia Baoyu, he's a rebel.
- He's the hero.
- He is not hero.
- Kind of hero.
- Well, yeah.
But he's the rebel, and I think that's more important than being a hero.
The book tells the tale of a family over four generations, until, as grandad Cao Yin had feared, the tree falls and the monkeys are scattered.
Best part of this novel is actually the humanity, caring and universal volume inside of this book.
The people inside of this book, they are not afraid to express themselves.
They are brave enough to stand up for love.
They are having this hope and Cao Xueqin has this hope - for women, for the servant, for everyone who has a dream, who has the chance to love.
He doesn't discriminate them.
He doesn't think the royalty is better than the servant.
He thinks everybody is the same, everybody has the right to love, and everybody deserves respect.
'Cao Xeuqin, the bondsman's grandson, died in 1763, 'his heart broken by the death of his only son.
'His novel was finally printed in 1791, 'censored, it was rumoured, but brilliantly capturing the glory 'that was Qing China and the knife edge on which that glory balanced.
'When he wrote, in the mid 1700s, 'China was still the greatest civilisation in the world, and, 'in time, no doubt, would've found its own form of modernity.
' Many people think that was the height of the Qing Dynasty.
The population has nearly tripled and the territory doubled.
So, I guess, it was, at that time, this was maybe the peace before the storm.
Land ahoy! It's China! It's China! But, now, China came into contact with a rising maritime power from a small island 7,000 miles away, off the shore of Europe.
The British.
'In the story of civilisation, the British couldn't compare with 'China and its 4,000-year-old tradition '.
but they would change the course of Chinese history.
' This is the Pearl River and this is the great city of Guangzhou, what the Europeans call Canton.
And it was here, in the mid 1700s, that the destinies of China and the British began to intertwine.
The British were becoming a great power in India and opening up a global trading network for the first time in history.
They wanted to get in on the Chinese market.
They wanted luxuries, and silk.
and textiles, but, above all, they wanted tea.
'They'd started to drink tea back in the 17th century, 'paying for it with hard currency - silver - 'but that soon became a problem for their balance of payments.
' During the course of the 18th century, tea became a British obsession, their national drink.
And, by then, they were importing millions of pounds weight of tea every year.
It was 10% of the national revenue.
No wonder, then, that people said, "If the China tea trade was "endangered, the British nation was in trouble.
" But the problem was that China was self-sufficient - it didn't need the outside world.
Europeans, and British in particular, were buying a lot from China and China wasn't buying a lot from Britain and Europe.
There was nothing, really, that they needed.
So, the British set out to create the demand.
And the British and other traders - the Portuguese, the Dutch - were all thinking, "What is it that the Chinese would buy "so that we can get that silver out and then we can get more tea?" Andby the1790s, I think, they figured it out, that the Chinese were buying a little bit of opium every time, and that number was increasing.
The key to the opium trade was British control of India, where the opium was grown.
The East India Company bought raw cotton from India and then sold it back to them as Finnish textiles.
They then bought up Indian opium and sold it to China, buying tea in return.
And, so, they created a trading triangle.
The profits were high, but so was the risk.
So, in 1793, the British sent an embassy to China to try to get favoured trading nation status.
Its leader was Sir George Macartney.
Born in Country Antrim, Macartney had served in the Caribbean and India.
He coined the phrase, "The empire on which the sun never sets.
" "China is picturesque beyond comparison", he wrote, "the rice paddies, the fields of sugar cane, the tea plantations.
" "The common people of China", he said, "are patient and industrious, cheerful under the severest labour.
"Hardy and loquacious, they are by no means the sedate, "tranquil people they've been represented.
" "But the poorest", he added, "detest the Mandarins, whose arbitrary powers they fear, "whose injustice they feel, whose rapacity they must feed.
" The emperor wouldn't meet them in Beijing because the British refused to prostrate themselves or "kowtow".
So they set up their gifts from Birmingham and Manchester manufacturers outside the capital, at the Summer Palace.
By now, the British were frazzled.
The nine-month sea journey, the weeks overland to Peking.
And the emperor took them by surprise, he came unannounced.
The British were very impressed by him as a man.
83 years old, but didn't look a day over 60.
His manner, dignified and affable.
He asked if anybody in the embassy spoke Chinese and a 12-year-old page boy called Staunton had learned a bit of Chinese on the journey.
The emperor was so delighted that he gave little Staunton his fine, yellow, silk purse that hung by his belt, containing his favourite Areca nuts.
Well, that was quite optimistic for the British, but what followed wasn't.
The emperor went round looking at the presents, the honourees, the celestial globes, the planetarium, the telescopes, without a flicker on his countenance.
And he picked up the air pump and then said, "These things are not good enough to amuse a child.
" Deflated by his failure, Macartney returned to Macau, dismissing the Qing state as a crazy old man of war, no longer seaworthy.
As he saw it, the Qing government was holding the Chinese people back from the benefits of modern civilisation.
"And a nation that does not advance", he said, "must retrograde and, finally, fall back into barbarism and misery.
" But the British simply couldn't take no for an answer.
Thank you.
'If any link in their global trading network was broken, 'their economy could face disaster.
"Our aim", said Macartney, "should be to mould the China trade to the "shape that best suits us.
Any stopping of that trade would have a "severe effect on our position in India, to which it is already "immeasurably valuable.
"It would have an immediate and heavy blow "on our own woollen industries "and manufacturers back home, the ancient staple of England, "and all our other growing imports "and manufactures would be instantly convulsed.
" So, the honourable East India Company continued to smuggle opium, despite public outrage back in Britain.
And, soon, the ravages of the drug became apparent in the streets of China, with millions of addicts.
By the 1820s, opium addiction became visible, socially, which means opium dens on the street, people dying off, dosing off on the street it's becoming a social problem.
Suddenly, there's a huge increase of court documents relating to this.
If you search "1790s", there's none.
Then if you go to 1810s, maybe a few, if you go to 1820s, it's a lot, go to 1830s, it's a huge amount.
So, I think, by mid-1830s, 1835, 1836, it's obvious they have to do something about this.
'Shocked by the social effects of the opium trade and by its drain 'on their silver supply, the emperor and his advisors 'debated what to do.
' The emperor spent time looking for an upright official because opium is something you could sell and make lots of money, so you need someone who is upright and very Confucian, very moral.
Such a man was the incorruptible Commissioner Lin.
Of his appointment, an old friend wrote, "Our great land needs thunder and lightning to revive it now.
" Lin gave the orders to destroy all the opium held in British warehouses.
Commissioner Lin began the destruction of the British opium in early June 1839.
There were 1,200 tonnes of it.
It took 500 workers more than three weeks to get rid of it all, burning it, mixing it with lime and dumping it in these ponds.
At the same time, the Commissioner wrote a letter to Queen Victoria, a letter that's touching in its almost naive belief in Confucian morality.
"We learn that your country is "60 or 70,000 lee away from China", he said.
"and yet, foreign vessels come here to make great profit "out of the wealth of our country.
"But by what right in return do they sell us "this poisonous drug which does so much harm to the Chinese people? "They may not necessarily intend to hurt us, "but, by putting profit above all things, "they are disregarding the harm they do to others.
"So, we ask you, where is your conscience?" But the British were in no mood to discuss Confucian ethics.
The fact that China had 50 times their population and lay the other side of the world was of no matter.
They were a maritime nation, the Chinese were not.
In fact, the Chinese didn't really have a navy at all.
Did they understand that the balance of power in the world was changing because of maritime power? I think, for us historians, we're always asking that, "Don't they realise that they were no match? "Don't they know what's going on in the world?" I think the answer, I can be quite definite in that, is no.
They still think we are the middle kingdom and all under heaven respects China, admires Chinese civilisation.
Bringing ships and men from India, the British gathered a task force and sailed to China.
In New Year 1841, they entered the Pearl River.
And there, the Chinese found themselves hopelessly out-gunned.
The Chinese had defended the estuarine depth, they had outer fortifications towards the sea and then, at the narrows, these big fortresses with heavy guns.
To the soldiers who were waiting here so anxiously, it must have seemed that they had a chance of defeating the British.
In fact, the Chinese guns were useless, with their fixed positions and fixed range, against a mobile enemy.
The British fleet had three 74-gun warships out in the estuary.
A flotilla of smaller vessels, they had 15 troop ships carrying native Indian regiments, who were going to fight alongside the British when they stormed these fortresses.
And their secret weapon was a nearly 200-foot-long boat made entirely of iron.
And, on it, swivel and pivot-mounted, heavy weaponry and a rocket launcher that could send incendiary projectiles.
And the name of the boat was the Nemesis.
At the climax of the battle, a British rocket hit the powder store of the flagship Chinese junk, which blew up in a tremendous explosion.
The British then rampaged up the coast and stormed the port city of Ningbo It was shock and awe, 19th century style.
'Rocked by their defeat, 'the Qing government sued for peace in the very place where, 400 years 'before, Admiral Zheng He had given thanks after his great voyages.
'Here, in this room in Nanjing, they negotiated 'the first of what the Chinese call, "The Unequal Treaties.
" ' 'So, power had come from the barrel of a gun.
'The British had got what they wanted - trading rights, 'silver and a foothold in China, 'five treaty ports on the Chinese coast.
' The treaty was signed out on the Yangtze River, in the admiral's cabin of HMS Cornwallis, and so began what has come to be seen as China's century of humiliation.
And, as Dr Tian Jian explained to me, that time has left its mark on China till today.
History, the Chinese say, is a mirror.
In Chinese history, every dynasty has reached a peak and then declined and needed outside influence to bring change.
This time, the catalyst was the British.
'Among the treaty ports was a small town that would become 'the greatest city on earth, Shanghai, 'and an uninhabited island, Hong Kong.
' And all this was the unintended consequence of the first opium war.
All there was here was a few wooded islands and promontories, a couple of native fishing villages, and a wonderful anchorage, which is why the British wanted it, and it would become one of the greatest trading cities in the world.
So, out of these traumatic events would come new forces and new ideas that would transform China in the modern age in ways no-one could have foreseen back in 1841.
Next time, the end of the empire, civil war, and revolution, and the amazing transformation of modern China.
ndalem Kamomonan, Jogja