From Pod Save America
to How Stuff Works
, podcasts have firmly established themselves as a mainstream entertainment medium – but what of China? Its huge scope is a challenge to cover, resulting in a graveyard of defunct series that never took off or withered when their hosts left town.
But for all those that fell by the wayside, we've found a number of pods that have stood the test of time. And with Beijingers spending on average 52 minutes commuting to work each day, there’s plenty of time to try them all. Here’s a guide to some our favourites.
Established in 2010, Sinica is a veteran on the scene and the calibre of guests suggests that hosts and long-time Beijing residents Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn have built up some considerable guanxi over that time. The content is accessible, featuring the kind of conversations about modern business, culture and politics that you might expect to overhear at an informal dinner following a formal lecture. We're currently listening to an interview with Sidney Rittenberg, an American ex-communist who rubbed shoulders with Chairman Mao and spent 16 years in solitary confinement.
Harvard on China
Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies
From the China faculty of this prestigious university comes a podcast featuring new research and analysis on topics from censorship to same-sex marriage, President Xi to urban waste removal. The format varies between interviews, panel discussion and recorded live talks, with new releases each month.
China History Podcast
With an incredible rate of productivity that sees episodes turned out on a weekly basis, Lazlo Montgomery is like that jovial uncle who knows how to sprinkle on just the right amount of humour and storytelling finesse to his informative pods. From an eight-part series on the Cultural Revolution, tea and Deng Xiaoping, to an analysis of traditional Chinese idioms (成语 chengyu), it's a fun springboard into an understanding of some of China's most significant moments in history.
Qin Shuangdi, founder of the Qin Dynasty, whose life and legacy are examined in China History Podcast.
Intrigue: Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel
BBC Radio 4
If true crime is the vehicle for podcasting success this year, the story of the mysterious murder of British businessman Neil Heywood in Chongqing in 2011 provides the perfect material with its juicy combination of sex, death and elite politics. Journalist Carrie Gracie brings this story to life in a fast-paced, racy five-part series.
Left: Neil Heywood. Right: Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai.
Lost Voices of Tiananmen
BBC World Service
Ex-BBC correspondent James Miles was eyewitness to the events leading up to the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Using his own archive materials from the time, this two-part series is a fascinating insight into the key trigger points that led to the Beijing Spring.
China Tech Talk
Technode x China Channel
Those with an interest in China’s tech or startup ecosystem can’t fail to have heard of tech media giant Technode and we’re excited to discover their regular podcasts discussing emerging trends, business advice and general news. Keep an eye out for some notable names and faces from the Beijing scene.
Learning Chinese through Stories (听故事学中文)
We’re surprised this series hasn’t had more traction, as it’s a great way to practise listening skills with ‘chicken soup for the soul’-style tales. Each episode is broken down into a full read-through followed by a recap that uses simple Chinese to explain the more difficult vocabulary and grammar. The range of proficiency levels and accompanying transcript are also useful.
Blind monks examining an elephant, a traditional Chinese idiom discussed in Learning Chinese Through Stories.
Slow Chinese (慢速中文）
Articles on contemporary topics are read out by Chinese natives at a slow speed (2-3 characters a second). From pop culture to song lyrics, recent episodes discuss the sharing economy, hip-hop and popular folk artist Zhao Lei. Read by both men and women, there’s also a handy option to view a transcript with multiple language translations.