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History and Humanity

Cultural Heritage - Ancient Capital


The ancient capital - the historical centre of politics where dynasties unified the kingdom, or the city which demonstrated superiority in every aspect. Throughout Chinese history, there have been several ancient capitals of considerable scale, all of which exhibited the highest calibre of architecture, arts and culture, as well as standard of living, in their respective times. By traditional historiography, Luoyang, Xi'an, Nanjing and Beijing are the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, as defined by the length of time it took for a city to be established.

1. Dream of The Ancient Capitals
2. The Tale of Shu
3. Song Dynasty in Inheritance
4. Journey to the West
5. Clouds in Dali
6. The Pyramids of the Western Xia Empire
7. Castle on the Prairie
8. The Manchu Legacy

8 DVDs / 2016 / 200 minutes

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Luoyang is the earliest ancient capital in the history of Chinese civilisation. The large quantities of ritual vessels that have been unearthed during archaeological excavations conducted at the Erlitou site located in Yanshi, which is under the administration of Luoyang City, confirmed that it was the ancient capital of the Xia Dynasty 3,800 years ago. More recent studies reveal that both the Xia and Shang Dynasties established their capitals in Luoyang, causing it to be dubbed "The First Capital of China".

Xi'an was the capital of 13 different dynasties. With a total building time of over 1,000 years, it is the ancient capital with the longest construction period in Chinese history, as well as the one which has experienced the most dynasties.

Nanjing, often known by the titles of "Ancient Capital for Six Dynasties" and "Capital City for Ten Dynasties", was made the centre of the Chinese empire after Zhu Yuanzhang overthrew the Ming Dynasty.

Beijing became China's political centre when the Mongol Empire established its capital there. It remained as the kingdom's administrative, economic and cultural hub throughout the Ming and Qing Dyansties.

In this programme, we will examine past cultures by exploring the Four Great Ancient Capitals. Have their legacies survived into this day and age where the facades of cities transform in the blink of an eye? And will their tales continue to be told? History is a mirror ¡V it not only reflects the truth, but also sheds light on references from which people can learn.

DVD / 2016 / 25 minutes

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The treasures of an undocumented legendary ancient empire hidden in the Sichuan Basin, comparable to the Terracotta Army, have been unearthed and restored to their former glory. Known as the State of Shu, it was already established on the Chengdu Plain over 4,000 years ago, before the Xia Dynasty came into existence in China. Chengdu became the centre of the kingdom, which was ruled by five dynasties before being conquered by the State of Qin.

Relics such as the paper-thin Golden Sun Bird, a mystical golden mask, over-the-top bronze masks, as well as the lofty and majestic bronze sacred tree, none of which have appeared in the Central Plain before, were crafted by the hands of the Shu people who lived more than 3,000 years ago. The artefacts not only give us a glimpse of their views on religion and the world, but also make us wonder how these people who dwelled in the Sichuan Basin conceived such notions to create the Shu culture, one which is distinct from Chinese civilisation.

The disappearance of the State of Shu did not bring the development of Chengdu to a halt. Using their wisdom, the Shu people built the Shu Roads which crossed mountains and connected the state with the Central Plain ¡V a feat "as difficult as climbing to the heavens" in the words of the great poet, Li Bai. These roads have facilitated the exchange between the two regions for over 2,000 years, enabling Shu Brocade to flourish. Despite the passing of time, many seasoned craftsmen remain devoted to the creation of these delicate silk fabrics to this very day.

The legacies left behind by the ancient Shu civilisation are treasures for future generations. How are the people of modern Chengdu continuing to learn about their heritage?

DVD / 2016 / 25 minutes

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The city of Kaifeng in Henan province is located at the centre of the cradle of Chinese civilisation and has more than 2,700 years of history. According to Chinese history, seven dynasties established their capitals here. In particular, during the Northern Song Dynasty, the capital of Kaifeng had a population of over one million and was the kingdom's economic, political and cultural hub of its time. With descendants calling it "a city whose affluence and beauty are unmatched by any other", it is currently one of the world's leading cities.

Historically, Kaifeng has been flooded numerous times by the Yellow River. Each time after the city was buried in loess, the following dynasty would build a new one on the original site, giving Kaifeng its unique wonder ¢w "The Stacked Cities". At present, a total of six cities are buried beneath Kaifeng, namely Daliang City founded by the State of Wei during the Warring States Period, Bianzhou City of the Tang Dynasty, Dongjing City of the Northern Song Dynasty, Bianjing City of the Jin Dynasty, and Kaifeng City of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Archaeologists have discovered that ever since the Tang Dynasty, the overall layout of each capital was roughly the same, resulting in the "gate stacked upon gate" and "road stacked upon road" phenomena.

Although these ancient capitals are buried underground, the wisdom and traditional culture of their inhabitants seeped into modern life long ago. Wang Suhua is the inheritor of Bian embroidery, an intangible cultural heritage of China. The craft became renowned throughout China as early as the Song Dynasty and is amongst one of the five famous styles of Chinese embroidery. Wang has dedicated a lifetime of effort to embroidery, collecting needlework items in different places, studying their craftsmanship, and passing on what she has learned to her apprentices, so that the legacy can be continued. Yin Guoquan is the fifth-generation owner of an old New Year Paintings (Nian Hua) shop in Kaifeng's Zhuxian Town who has devoted his life to the creation of festive images on woodblocks. His grandson, Yin Engan, has already mastered the craft's techniques passed down from his grandfather and become the seventh-generation successor despite being only 21 years old. Apart from New Year Paintings, the most important thing to Engan is his two daughters. He has one silent wish ¡V that his daughters will take up his mantle in the future and enable the craft to flourish.

The Yellow River gave birth to the Chinese people, yet its own relentless waters obliterated Kaifeng on more than one occasion. The archaeological wonder of "The Stacked Cities" stands as testament to the civilisation's undying tenacity. Today, even though the affluent Dongjing City of the Northern Song Dynasty is no longer in sight, the wisdom and traditional culture it has left behind continue to live on quietly through the residents of Kaifeng.

DVD / 2016 / 25 minutes

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The annual rainfall in the Turpan region of Xinjiang is significantly below its evaporation rate, and the area near the Flaming Mountains are especially well-known for its aridness. Water from the Tian Shan mountain range flows gently between the sandy dunes and barren ridges, turning the desert into an oasis which drew people in and gave birth to civilisation. In the "Traditions of the Western Regions" chronicle of the Book of Han, it is recorded that more than 30 states had already established themselves throughout the Western Regions as early as the 2nd century BC, hence the saying "the 36 states of the Western Regions". Located at the heart of Eurasia, the Western Regions were an integral part of the Silk Road. Serving as a transit point for trade and cultural exchange between the East and the West, it was an exotic place full of danger and opportunity. Traces of two of the 36 states, namely the Nearer Jushi Kingdom and the State of Gaochang, can still be found in the Turpan region today.

The Nearer Jushi Kingdom was one of the major states in the Turpan region. Its captial, now known as the Jiaohe Ruins, is the largest, oldest, as well as best-preserved adobe city in the world. In 89 BC, the state was destroyed by the Han Dynasty, which placed Wu and Ji Colonels in the Western Regions and later developed the expanses of wasteland there for agricultural use. The capital was moved to the Gaochang Wall, a part of the Protectorate of the Western Regions, to watch over trade along the Silk Road, thereby gradually shifting the political and economic centre of the Turpan region from the city of Jiaohe to Gaochang.

Having stood as junctions where the exchange of ethnic history and culture took place for more than 2,000 years, the Jiaohe Ruins and Gaochang Ruins finally became UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites in 2014. They are important locations for studying ancient China, as well as histories related to aspects such as transportation, war & religion. Buddhist temples, monastaries and pagodas occupy the most prominent positions of the cities. It is especially delightful to learn that the monastery at which the great monk of the Tang Dynasty, Xuanzang, spoke during his stay in Gaochang while on his "Jorney to the West" is still perfectly preserved to this very day.

Since ancient times, the culture of the Western Regions has emanated grandeur, excitement, fascination and charm. Upon setting foot in the old capital, can you imagine the freedom, diversity, openness, allure and grace of this historic state back in its day?

DVD / 2016 / 25 minutes

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The historical Dali Kingdom (937 ¡V 1254 AD) was located in the peripheral area of what is now known as Yunnan Province of China. Its territory spanned outwards from Erhai Lake, roughly covering the current province of Yunnan, southwestern Sichuan and northern Myanmar. According to history, Duan Siping conquered the Nanzhao Dynasty in 937 AD and established the Dali Kingdom. Due to its worship of Buddha, Dali was also known as "The Kingdom of Incense", with many of its 22 emperors giving up the throne to become monks, illustrating the religion's profound influence on the empire.

In 1253 AD, the Kingdom of Dali succumbed to the forces of the Mongol Empire led by Kublai Khan. The present Dali Old Town was restored according to early Ming architecture, and is surrounded by a moat with a radius of 6km which is square in appearance, as well as by city walls which are 8m high and 7m thick. Erhai Gate, located on the east city wall, faces Erhai Lake, while Cheng'en Tower to the south watches over Dali City's busiest route and Cangshan Gate to the west sits at the foot of the mountain it is named after.

Although the Dali Kingdom is now long gone, Duan Liansu, a descendant of the Duan bloodline in his 70s, continues to watch over Duan Siping's former residence silently. He relives his ancestors' days of glory through compiling his family tree. Meanwhile, the fisherfolk living alongside Erhai Lake have carried on the thousand-year-old tradition of cormorant fishing.

Furthermore, a village named Nuo Deng, which sustained the kingdom's economy with its abundance of salt, was discovered to the west of Dali Old Town. Its ancient salt wells, passageways for salt transportation by horse, traditional salt production methods, and even residences from the Ming and Qing periods, have been preserved. The village is one of very few in western Yunnan which has been kept in its original state, and is steeped in the charm of the Dali legacy.

DVD / 2016 / 25 minutes

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It is a customary practice for each Chinese dynasty to compile historical records of its predecessor, but nothing about the State of Western Xia is mentioned in the "Twenty-Four Histories" of China. There are claims that this is because Genghis Khan died during the invasion of the mighty empire, causing the Mongols to exact revenge by deliberately omitting its existence and only compiling the "History of Song", "History of Jin" and "History of Liao" after the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty. In any case, the lack of official historical records has led this feudal separatist regime, founded by the Dangxiang tribe (also known as the Tangut people), and which once stood alongside the Song, Liao, and Jin Dynasties for 200 years, to become a blur. At the same time, however, it has also given future generations infinite space to imagine its former beauty, as demonstrated in the creation of the fictional princess of Western Xia, Meng Gu, in Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils by novelist Jin Yong.

Today, upon seeing the magnificent Western Xia Imperial Tombs on the Yinchuan Plain, one cannot help but marvel at the fact that such sophisticated architectural aesthetics existed in this border country established by nomads. Meanwhile, the mysterious Tangut script seems to have foreshadowed the restoration of the empire's history ¡V Li Fanwen, a Tangutologist now in his seventies, has spent one-third of his life compiling a a Tangut-Chinese dictionary, the golden key to unlocking the literary treasure trove left behind by this ancient state.

DVD / 2016 / 25 minutes

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In 1798, after British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge read Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas his Pilgrimes by English author Samuel Purchas, he had a dream of one of the scenes from the book, prompting him to wake up and write Kubla Khan: Or, A Vision in a Dream. A Fragment. The poem depicts the heavenly city constructed during Kublai Khan's rule of China called Xanadu, a word which has since become synonymous with paradise on Earth. This utopia was Shangdu, the Yuan Dynasty capital built on a prairie.

The city is located in the present Plain Blue Banner administrative subdivision of Xilingol League in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. During the Yuan Dynasty, Khan established two capitals in order to reinforce his rule. His headquarters in Beijing became known as Dadu, while Kaiping, the city on a prairie which he built from scratch and where he began his reign, was renamed Shangdu. Every spring and autumn equinox, each emperor of the Yuan Dynasty would travel to Shangdu and manage political affairs from there. Sadly, this heart which pumped lifeblood into Eurasia only beat for a brief century. After the completion of its construction in 1256, Shangdu was destroyed by the Red Turban Army in 1358, bringing an end to the glorious Yuan Dynasty rule of the Mongol Empire.

In 2012, Shangdu was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site, being deemed as the capital on a prairie which "witnessed the unique fusion of agrarian Han Chinese and nomadic Mongolian civilisations in northern Asia." The local Mongolian herders have preserved the characteristics of this cultural intersection to this very day, serving as the guardians of Xanadu, a city which has been passed down through the generations.

DVD / 2016 / 25 minutes

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Cultural Heritage - Ancient Capital, with 8 episodes of documentary to explore different important capitals throughout the thousands of years in the Chinese history. These capitals, though all facing modernization nowadays, the marks of civilization glories can be traced, and the precious value of traditional spirit can still be found.

Nurhaci (also known as Kundulun Khan), who united various Jurchen tribes, moved his empire's capital from Dongjing in Liaoyang to Shengjing in Shenyang to advance his plans of conquering the Ming Dynasty. His grandson, the Shunzhi Emperor, succeeded in doing so in 1644 and became the foreign ruler of China. At the time, the total population of different Manchu tribes barely exceeded 400,000. So what gave them power over more than a billion Han Chinese?

The name "Manju" (Manzhou) was invented by Nurhaci's son, Hong Taiji. In order to give the nomads scattered throughout the empire a sense of belonging, he imparted this name to their ethnic group and installed the newly-created Manchu language as the official tongue. The emperor realised that he could only dominate the realm by combining the strengths of each tribe. Included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004, the Shenyang Imperial Palace (also known as Mukden Palace) combines the architectural characteristics of the Han, Manchu, Mongolian and Tibetan people, and is dubbed "The Exemplar of Chinese Palatial Architecture".

While the Manchu people embraced Han culture during its rule of China, their own customs were gradually being assimilated. Although they comprise China's third largest ethnic minority group with a population of over 10 million, Manchu culture is at the brink of extinction and waiting to be rescued.

At present, many devoted individuals are dedicating themselves to the preservation and passing down of Manchu culture. At Nurhaci's birthplace, Hetu'ala City (the current Xinbin Manchu Autonomous County of Liaoning Province), Manchurian primary schools have designed classes on Manchu language and culture for their students. Meanwhile, Mr. Guan Changsheng, the inheritor of the art of Manchurian paper-cutting, is recording the ethnic group's traditions using his craft. Despite ulabun, a storytelling entertainment which is performed in the Manchu language, being a lost art, Mr. Cha Shuyuan, who has been involved in its performance for almost 60 years, continues to hope that Manchu legends and folktales can be passed down through a mixture of singing and recital.

愛新覺羅·恆紹, the seventh-generation grandson of the Qianlong Emperor, is the current head of the Aisin Gioro clan. In July each year, he leads his family, tribe, and other Manchu descendants in paying respects to their ancestors at the Yongling Tombs, an ancestral burial ground, as a sign of ethnic unity and to uphold the traditional virtue of ancestor reverence.

DVD / 2016 / 25 minutes

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