Rise of the Dragon launches a four-part super-Nova about the history of Chinese technological innovations. Not only did I learn that the Chinese developed the modern versions of paper, the printing press, the clock, and gunpowder — I even learned that gunpowder was made from charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter. This gives me new respect for gunpowder.
Richard Kiley narrates in a tone of bemused lugubriousness, and someone has been coaching him a bit too hard on authentic pronunciations. He enunciates the first name of Emperor Kublai Khan as “Koo-BLEE,” which, if he’s right, really screws up the meter in Coleridge’s famous poem (all together, now: “In Xanadu did Koo-BLEE Khan/A stately pleasure dome decree…”).
Rise of the Dragon is rushed and crowded; it covers a huge span of time — roughly 6th century B.C. to 1000 A.D. — and also carries the burden of explaining the entire series’ unifying theme. Subsequent episodes — especially next week’s Empires in Collision, about China’s dealings with Europe — are at once more leisurely and more detailed. B