China’s vast history – 5,000 years, in case you hadn’t heard – is intimidating to dive into. However, China History Podcast attempts to do so, one 40-minute podcast at a time.
“I’m hoping to spend the next 10 to 20 years exploring China and doing podcasts on anything interesting my listeners might groove to,” explains show creator and host Laszlo Montgomery.
Debuting in 2010 with an episode on China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang, China History Podcast is closing in on its 150th episode. While his work schedule means episodes comes out sporadically, recent highlights include a 10-part series on the history of tea and a look at the little known Wong Chin Foo – a major figure in fighting anti-Chinese immigration laws passed by the U.S. Congress in the late 19th century.
With no background in podcasting, Montgomery surveyed the scene and noticed “most historical podcasts were amateur efforts and no one had squatter’s rights yet on China history.” After a few YouTube tutorials and some playing around with software, he started the show. It found its stride with a 29-episode chronological look at all the dynasties of Imperial China.
“I greatly feared the rejection and potential mockery of the real China experts, especially those living and working in China,” he admits. “But those guys turned out to be the most complimentary of all.”
Now that he’s presented “the ‘backbone’ of Chinese history,” Montgomery prefers to “get off the beaten path and explain more about the lesser-known aspects of China’s history.”
Episodes have focused on China’s leaders (Song Emperor Huizong, Xi Jinping), outstanding citizens (Han Dynasty explorer Zhang Qian, film pioneer Sir Run Run Shaw), influential expats (the notorious Sir Edmund Backhouse, the beloved Dr. Northan Methune), underexplored pockets of people (Kaifeng Jews, the Khitan people of the steppes) and China’s relationship throughout time with other nations (India, America).
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Montgomery’s enthusiasm for all things China has been ongoing since Deng Xiaoping’s landmark 1979 visit to America. He made his first visit to the country in 1980 and continues to work for a Ningbo-based company from his California home, acting as an important cultural bridge for their Western customers.
“The biggest changes are with people’s attitudes and how they see themselves in the world,” Montgomery says. “The Chinese are less self-deprecating now than when I first went in 1980. The people have a much greater confidence in themselves and in China’s place in the world. A lot of this has to do with their cultural heritage and long continuous history.”
Referring to China History Podcast as a hobby, Montgomery is pleased that the show averages between 5,000-6,000 daily downloads, nearly double the totals from a year ago. While half of its listeners come from America, he estimates that 15 percent of the show’s audience is based in China buoyed by a growing number of Chinese listeners.
“I never expected this, but a lot of China locals like to listen to my American English and colloquial speaking style as a way to practice their listening comprehension,” he says. “They’re also interested to listen to what a foreigner has to say about China.”
Recent episodes include a list of explanations on key terms and recommendations for further reading on the subject. Next month, the China History Podcast mobile app will be available as a free download on Google Play and iTunes.
“The podcast is many things for many people,” he marvels. “I like that I have a worldwide listenership all united in their interest and appreciation of Chinese history.”
// Download episodes at www.chinahistorypodcast.com