The Road to Peking

2020|5 Episodes

A documentary series called The Road to Peking, which including five episodes, mainly talking about five western figures' role played in the modernization of China: Robert Hart, Thomas F. Wade, William A.P. Martin, George E. Morrison and John L. Stuart. They changed China, and were changed by China in return.

Through their efforts and dilemmas, we also want to reveal the turning point of late imperial China and early 20 century. We hope this documentary film will give both the Chinese and western audience a new perspective when they look back that period of history.

Professor Hans van de Ven (University of Cambridge) and Professor MA Yong (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) are in charge of consultant for this documentary series.

The Vision of Wade



The British Minister to China Thomas Francis Wade crafted the first Romanization system for Mandarin Chinese (modern standard Chinese). This system is now more generally known as the “Wade-Giles System”.

Thomas Francis Wade, who served as a diplomat, experienced the 1858 negotiations with the Chinese and the destruction of Yuanmingyuan (the Old Summer Palace). When he was stationed in Beijing, he suggested the Qing government to make reforms and also helped to bring about the emperor’s decision to grant audience to the ministers of foreign countries for the first time. After the murder of A.R. Margary in 1875, he used all possible ways to put pressure on the Qing government to send an imperial envoy to have an audience with Queen Victoria. This “Margary Affair” prompted China to enter the international diplomatic community.

W. A. P. Martin in 1898



William Alexander Parsons Martin was born in 1827 into the family of a pioneer Presbyterian preacher on the American frontier. At a time when he arrived in Ningbo as a missionary, America, in the middle of reconstruction, was witnessing its advances of science and technology. During his stay in China, America began to emerge as a world power.

This episode focuses on the Hundred Days’ Reform of 1898. In that year, Martin had a close contact with reformers and was appointed the president of the newly-founded Imperial University of China. After the quick suppression of the 1898 reform movement, the Imperial University of China was its only existing achievement, marking the beginning of Chinese higher education.

Hart of Chinese



Coming from Northern Ireland during the Industrial Revolution, Robert Hart seized upon the opportunity to be appointed Inspector-General for the Imperial Maritime Customs Service of the Qing government. He was the best professional manager of the late Qing Dynasty. Under his management, the customs revenue contributed one half of the total national revenue, laying solid foundations for China’ modern industry and national defense.

This episode chronicles the life of Hart and also focuses on the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Hart, besieged in Beijing along with other foreigners, saw his career in ruins. He asked for help from Li Hongzhang to diffuse the situation. At the meantime, he wrote articles to warn Europeans that the Boxer Rebellion echoed the attack from the West, which had lasted for 50 years. In postwar negotiations, Hart lobbied the West to save China from being partitioned.

Morrison of Peking



George Ernest Morrison was the first resident correspondent of The Times newspaper in Beijing. He later became the political adviser to Yuan Shikai and made efforts to promote Yuan’s leadership in China. He was also an idealist pledging to devote his life to China’s progress.

This episode focuses on the Revolution of 1911 in China, during which Morrison took the lead in reporting the revolutionary events. In his judgement, Morrison deemed Yuan Shikai as the only hope to bring about a peaceful transformation of China into a republic of sustainable progress and openness. After Yuan Shikai became the president, Morrison was appointed his chief political adviser. When the “Twenty-One Demands” was schemed, he helped Yuan Shikai foil Japan’s conspiracy to encroach China.

The Principal



John Leighton Stuart was born in Hangzhou, China to American parents who were missionaries. He considered himself more Chinese than American. This episode traces the fluctuating fortunes of both John Leighton Stuart and Yenching University. Caught between two cultures as well as between religious and secular life, Stuart was called to establish Yenching University.

He raised funds from warlords, churches and consortia. He hired Henry Murphy to design the beautiful campus, also known as Yan Yuan, a blend of both Chinese and Western architectural styles. He established new departments, recruited prestigious teachers and promoted international cooperation. He was a witness to China’s enlightenment and salvation as well as a practitioner of the higher education development in China.