Roads to Xanadu

Roads to Xanadu

1990, 4 x 56 Minutes. Classification: G.

'Price of Harmony, The' This episode dramatically re-creates the atmosphere of 13th century China, the richest and most powerful empire of those times. The feast of technologies developed in ancient China shows they were not only producing the world's finest silk and most delicate porcelain, but had invented the world's first mechanical clock, the compass, paper and printing, gunpowder and mechanical spinning, all centuries before Europe came to know them. This sets the stage for the film's central question: Why was it in Europe, and not in China, that the specific and industrial revolution took place, especially when the Chinese had the economic power and technical knowledge to follow such a path centuries before Europeans?

'Invention of Progress, The' This episode examines the interplay and conflict between Europe and the east, which began with the arrival of the Jesuit missionaries in Asia in the sixteenth century. At this time, the Chinese ceramics and textile industries led the world in quality and refinement. Yet, by the eighteenth century, craftsmen in Europe, using the tools of the new sciences, had not only matched these products, but surpassed them. Europe was in a state of extraordinary change - new scientific, industrial, social and economic ideas and institutions flourished, giving it a dynamism that conservative China lacked. The Chinese Empire's inflexibility and insularity ultimately led to its downfall, in the face of mercantile greed and military might of 19th century European Imperialism.

'Dreams of Wealth and Power ' This episode investigates the different responses of China and Japan to the threat posed by Europe. Both countries recognised the need to modernise in some form, but it was the Japanese who forged ahead at such a speed that within 40 years of opening their doors to the west, they were able to challenge the might of Imperial China, and even that of the European colonial powers within Asia. Merson's investigation deals with problems faced by all developing countries - how to come to terms with the impact of foreign technology and cultural values, while, at the same time, preserving the essential elements of their traditional cultures.

'Colour of the Cat, The' China and Japan, over the past four decades, have had to find their own unique paths of development, their roads to Xanadu. In this episode, China's recent history is examined and its future considered against the context of Asia's rapid economic development and the challenge this presents to the west.

Produced by Film Australia in conjunction with ABC Television, BBC Television and WGBH (Nova) Boston. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.


Human Face of China, The