Episodes run about 25-40 minutes, with each episode looking in depth at a particular topic in Chinese history. The topics vary widely; historical events or periods, famous and/or interesting people, religion and philosophy; and are not necessarily presented in any particular order. There is a three part series on Daoism, a nine part series on the History of Chinese Philosophy, and ten episodes on The History of Tea in China! It’s an excellent way into Chinese history for history buffs who want to go considerably deeper than, say, a History Channel documentary.
Montgomery is a US American whose native language is English, who studied Chinese language and culture in college and spent much of his life working in China. He’s aware that he’s coming at Chinese culture as an outsider, and seems fascinated and appreciative. There’s none of the condescending attitude that too often goes with westerners discussing non-western cultures.
He pronounces Chinese names the (Mandarin) Chinese way, complete with the different tones. To an English speaker the Chinese names can be hard to make out and hard to keep track of, especially since the pronunciation is often different from the (latin) spelling: Zhou sounds to my ears like ‘cho’ or ‘jo’, Tang sounds like ‘tongue’, Qin sounds like ‘sheen’ and Xia sounds like ‘sha’. That being said, I found that I gradually got better at hearing and remembering Chinese names.
Topics in Chinese history are often introduced by comparison to what was happening elsewhere in the world at the time, which helps with fitting new ideas from the podcast in with existing history knowledge.
The back catalogue is over 200 episodes and growing. If you don’t know where to start, I’d suggest just pick a topic that interests you. If you’re looking for a structured and detailed overview of Chinese History, you could start at Episode 14: The Xia Dynasty, and work your way through to Episode 41: The Qing Dynasty Part 7 and Episode 42: Review of the Overviews.
The official website is Teacup Media, which has a short blog-style entry for each episode, with an image and some additional info, and the episode as an embedded audio file which you can either stream or (sometimes, depending on the episode) download in mp3 format.
Unfortunately these sites – iTunes, Youtube, Soundcloud – often seem to provide a ‘play’ button but not a download link. If you want to save/download episodes and you’re comfortable using the command line I recommend using youtube-dl.
It was surprisingly tricky to find an at-a-glance list of all the episodes; the official site only lists a few episodes per page, and the iTunes website truncates the episode titles, with the result that many are listed as The History of Chin… or something equally unhelpful. There is a useful list at podbay.fm/show/489369498, but the episodes hosted on this site have ads for another podcast inserted into them, which gets annoying. Use this site to pick out the episode you want, then search for an ad-free version of it elsewhere.
Episodes occasionally get removed when Montgomery decides to redo a particular topic, leaving some gaps in the back catalogue.
This post was updated 19/09/2018 to be more clear about how to download (as opposed to stream) episodes.