The Chinese journalist and activist Xinran tells the story of China since the start of the 20th century through four generations of one family. She tells Andrew Marr how the family lived through enormous social upheaval, and reveals how traditional values started to unravel with the tide of modernity.
The academic Roel Sterckx looks back beyond the last century to ancient Chinese philosophers and thinkers. He argues that in order to understand modern China we need to understand its past. The practice of power, government and social harmony has a long tradition.
It is seventy years since Mao founded the People’s Republic of China and Julia Lovell re-evaluates Mao's philosophy both at home and abroad. For decades Maoism has been dismissed in the West as an outdated historical and political phenomenon, and yet his ideas remain central to China’s Communist government - and continue to influence people around the world.
Not only Chinese ideas have spread throughout the globe: the latest play from director David K S Tse is based on the lives of Chinese people who moved to the UK. From Shore to Shore is staged in Chinese takeaways around the country and blends English, Mandarin and Cantonese, to tell the story of three journeys to find a home.
Producer: Katy Hickman
The battle against so-called Islamic State
David Nott's holiday plans are not like most. For 25 years the surgeon has used unpaid leave to volunteer as a war doctor. His work has taken him from Sarajevo under siege to rebel-held Aleppo, and to the aftermath of natural disasters in Haiti and Nepal. He tells Kirsty Wark how a combination of bravery, compassion and the thrill of danger inspired him to risk his life helping others.
Azad Cudi had war forced upon him as a conscript in the Iranian army. A decade later he volunteered in the fight for an independent Kurdistan: as a sniper fighting against so-called Islamic State. His memoir, Long Shot, describes the fighters, activists and intellectuals he worked alongside. He asks what will happen to the Kurdish cause as Western powers look to pull out of Syria and Iraq.
Men are not the only volunteers in the Middle East - and the causes that influence people are not always positive. Joana Cook from the International Centre for Radicalisation Studies has examined the large number of women and teenagers who have become "affiliates" of the so-called Islamic State. Some women were inspired by the healthcare, education and job opportunities offered to volunteers. Others became powerful agents of radicalisation. Cook urges politicians to consider these nuances when they decide what to do with volunteers who now wish to return home.
The morality of public duty and public service is the topic of an upcoming lecture by Claire Foster-Gilbert, director of the Westminster Abbey Institute. She argues that public servants in politics and beyond make moral choices every day; but that if we fail to scrutinise these properly, we could fail prey to anger, vengeance and injustice.
Producer: Hannah Sander
Language and Culture
Andrew Marr discusses the complex interplay between language and culture. The prize-winning American author Jhumpa Lahiri has spent many years living in Italy immersing herself in the language. She has brought together 40 short story writers – many translated into English for the first time – in a collection that reflects the regional landscapes, private passions and political events of her adopted country over the past century.
April De Angelis is a writer steeped in translation and adaptation: she brought Elena Ferrante’s novels of Neapolitan life to the stage. And she is now involved in the English National Opera’s production of The Merry Widow – a French comic play re-imagined by an Austro-Hungarian composer.
The power of translation is explored in a new exhibition at the Bodleian Library curated by the academic Katrin Kohl. At the centre is the story of the Tower of Babel, an origin myth in the Bible which explains why people speak different languages. Kohl argues that studying how a story is translated from one language to another allows us to glimpse the rich diversity of life and culture around the world.
Many people now rely on computers to translate from one language to another. The mathematician Marcus du Sautoy looks at how AI is being programmed to be creative in language and the arts, and what that means for the human touch.
Producer: Katy Hickman
Populations and contested lands
Amol Rajan explores how geology and demography have shaped the modern world. Paul Morland argues that we have underestimated the crucial impact of population changes on global events. He looks at how demography has had a major influence, from world wars to China’s rise; and from the Arab Spring to Brexit.
In the distant past people could walk all the way from continental Europe to England through the ancient region of Doggerland. Julia Blackburn scours the Suffolk coastline for this lost land which was submerged by rising sea levels around 5000 BC.
As the debate around the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland continues to dominate discussions on Brexit, the historian Diarmaid Ferriter explains how this line became a political battleground. The meandering boundary which cuts through fields and crosses rivers was once dotted with watchtowers and military checkpoints to stop movements of people and goods.
Producer: Katy Hickman
The Eye of the Beholder
We have been obsessed with the ideal body since Renaissance artists rediscovered nudity, says art historian Jill Burke. She tells Andrew Marr how artists including Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian established rigid beauty standards and an obsession with the body that we still live with today.
Our image of power was hugely influenced by the Elizabethan miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard. To mark his 400th anniversary, historian Elizabeth Goldring reexamines the artist who painted all the principal rulers of his day, including Queen Elizabeth and James I. Hilliard's tiny images encapsulated political power in a portrait.
Elizabethan ideas of power and beauty are unpicked in Christopher Marlowe's play Edward II, the story of a king whose homosexuality brings his downfall. Tom Stuart plays the titular role at The Globe and has written a new sequel, After Edward, exploring the persecution and politicisation of homosexuals today.
Playwright Martin Sherman wrote the iconic play about gay persecution, Bent, and has returned to themes of desire and persecution in his new work. Gently Down the Stream addresses the challenges of love between the generations, and asks what we should do with the history and ideals we have inherited from the past.
Producer: Hannah Sander