I don’t watch much television, but Game of Thrones is a firm favourite, perhaps because it is so familiar. The story of warring dynasts, vacillating alliances, palace intrigues and unusual sexual proclivities will not be unfamiliar to anyone with some knowledge of Chinese history.

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Having seen more years of division than unity in its three millennia of recorded history (China is still techni­cally divided), the nation has always been fertile ground for carryings-on similar to those transpiring in Westeros, but with seemingly greater frequency and intensity, even without the fire-breathing dragons.

One dynasty could be replaced by the next through usurpations, civil wars or foreign conquests, or the unitary state could disintegrate into multiple warring regions, a recurrent theme that found expression as recently as the early 20th century.

Even during peacetime, the facade of unity and prosperity belied the many pressures the empire and its rulers faced, including political intrigues at court, invol­ving princes and officials, as well as women and eunuchs of the palace, and the centrifugal tendencies of regional strongmen.

China’s past offers an endless fount of stories that thrill and fascinate, but while great men and a handful of great women embarked on heroic enterprises that made history, it has always been the little people who suffer in “interesting times”.