OK, let’s face it: podcasts aren’t exactly cool. There’s something inherently nerdy about them, and they’ll probably always be associated with single men in their forties sitting up late at night recording the latest episode of their World of Warcraft show.
But I’m going to say it loud and proud – I love podcasts, and you should too!
They’re perfect for filling those rush-hour metro journeys when the carriage is so jam-packed that even checking your phone is impossible, or those long waits at the bank, post office, or a hundred other places that are part and parcel of life in China.
They’re also brilliant for learning more about this fascinating country and its culture. The podcasts listed below are all really high-quality, entertaining pieces of content crafted by true China experts, and it’s no exaggeration to say that some of them have taught me more about China than any book has done.
And even better, you can download all this great content absolutely free!
So, if you’re looking to brush up your China knowledge, why not start by checking out these five podcasts?
5. In Our Time
If you’re looking to get a quick but incredibly detailed primer on a random piece of Chinese history or culture, In Our Time is perfect.
The show doesn’t focus solely on China, but the BBC has been putting out an episode a week for over ten years so they have covered a lot of the major topics you’d expect to find.
The tone can be a bit dry, but the host Melvyn Bragg keeps the conversation moving at an incredibly fast pace and each show covers an amazing amount of ground in just 30 minutes.
You can find out more here: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qykl
4. Two White Chicks in China
This is quite a new show whose focus is less Confucius, more coping with life as a laowai.
It’s hosted by transatlantic ex-pat duo Hollie and Nora, who are clearly battle-hardened China hands that have plenty of first-hand experience of the issues they’re talking about.
You could almost say that the show is a kind of audio agony aunt column – each episode focuses on a question sent in by a listener, which tend to be about day-to-day issues many foreigners face when moving to China.
Although it sometimes takes them a while to get around to actually answering the question, if you stick with it you’ll find that they usually have lots of useful information to share.
You can find out more at: www.writtenchinese.com/
ChinesePod is mainly a Chinese language learning podcast (a subject we’ll hopefully be covering in a later article), but Jenny Zhu’s creation also has a really useful back-catalog of episodes that focus on Chinese culture called Important Chinese Things.
These episodes are great for giving you an insight into the more everyday aspects of Chinese culture – from 11/11 to dating.
And as a born and bred Shanghai ren, Jenny is able to give you a level of insight you wouldn’t be able to get from even the most experienced China hand.
You can download all the episodes here: http://chinesepod.com/ict/
2. China History Podcast
Still having trouble telling your Qin from your Qing? Never fear, Laszlo Montgomery is ready to give you a breezy introduction to Chinese history in his trademark California drawl.
Rather than slogging through 5,000 years of history chronologically like many similar podcasts, Laszlo picks subjects at random for each episode, which helps to keep the show fresh.
Another nice touch is that he often mixes in a few esoteric, lesser-known characters along with the hit parade of emperors and CCP apparatchiks, and these are often the best episodes – the series on Sir Edmund Backhouse and Two-Gun Cohen especially are worth checking out.
But what makes this show really worth listening to is Laszlo himself. His relaxed style and enthusiasm is infectious, and each episode is clearly the product of extensive research. A must for anyone looking to learn about Chinese history.
You can find all the episodes here: http://chinahistorypodcast.com/
As good as the other shows are, there can only be one winner. Sinica is the godfather of China podcasts and has been going for over five years now.
The show started as a weekly discussion of current affairs in China and is still loosely based around that concept, but you can also find discussions of a whole range of other China-related stuff, from baijiu to ghost malls.
What puts Sinica head and shoulders above the rest are its hosts – Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn. Grizzled China veterans with over twenty years in Beijing under their belts and a huge Rolodex of high-powered contacts, they are able to put together fascinating shows week after week. They also have a real talent for potty-mouthed outbursts.
If you want to understand more about what’s going on in China today, there’s no better place to start than here.
You can find all Sinica’s previous episodes here: https://popupchinese.com/lessons/sinica/