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China's Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty (History of Imperial China) [Hardcover]

Mark Edward Lewis , Timothy Brook
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 30, 2009 067403306X 978-0674033061 0

The Tang dynasty is often called China’s “golden age,” a period of commercial, religious, and cultural connections from Korea and Japan to the Persian Gulf, and a time of unsurpassed literary creativity. Mark Lewis captures a dynamic era in which the empire reached its greatest geographical extent under Chinese rule, painting and ceramic arts flourished, women played a major role both as rulers and in the economy, and China produced its finest lyric poets in Wang Wei, Li Bo, and Du Fu.

The Chinese engaged in extensive trade on sea and land. Merchants from Inner Asia settled in the capital, while Chinese entrepreneurs set off for the wider world, the beginning of a global diaspora. The emergence of an economically and culturally dominant south that was controlled from a northern capital set a pattern for the rest of Chinese imperial history. Poems celebrated the glories of the capital, meditated on individual loneliness in its midst, and described heroic young men and beautiful women who filled city streets and bars.

Despite the romantic aura attached to the Tang, it was not a time of unending peace. In 756, General An Lushan led a revolt that shook the country to its core, weakening the government to such a degree that by the early tenth century, regional warlordism gripped many areas, heralding the decline of the Great Tang.

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China's Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty (History of Imperial China) + The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties (History of Imperial China) + The Age of Confucian Rule: The Song Transformation of China (History of Imperial China)
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Editorial Reviews


This is an impressive survey history of the Tang dynasty, concise and accessible. China's Cosmopolitan Empire is written so succinctly and clearly that it provides, to my knowledge, the best summary of the Tang period yet available in English. It will make an excellent source for the general student of Chinese or East Asian history. (David L. McMullen, University of Cambridge)

[A] readable introduction to the Tang Dynasty. (J. K. Skaff Choice 2010-05-01)

This series on China, brilliantly overseen by Timothy Brook, is a credit to Harvard University Press. Above all, it encourages us to think of China in different ways. (Jonathan Mirsky Literary Review 2010-11-01)

In China's Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty, Mark Edward Lewis has done a superb job of synthesizing the scholarship on the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and rendering it into a readable account. Professor Lewis's general narrative of Tang history, chapters two and three of the book, is the best overview of Tang history in any language, and would be a good starting point for anyone interested in the dynasty...There is a large corpus of scholarship in English on Tang dynasty history and culture. China's Cosmopolitan Empire is an admirable addition to that corpus. It will undoubtedly become the standard survey in English for the foreseeable future. (Peter Lorge Journal of Military History 2011-01-01)

With clarity and rich details, sustained by quotes, anecdotes, poems, and visual images, Lewis brings to life the vitality of a transforming China in geography, politics, urban life, rural society, the outer world, kinship, religion, and writing, all in comparison with previous times...Lewis's nuanced details of a changing Tang are direct challenges to the dated but still influential views of China as an unchanging Sinocentric empire, uninterested in commerce and foreign contact. (Yihong Pan China Review International 2009-05-01)

Lewis' book will be of great interest and utility to general readers as well as students who are looking for a lucid overview of Tang history and culture. (Michael R. Drompp Journal of Asian History 2010-10-01)

Mark Edward Lewis has produced an impressive volume on the history of the Tang dynasty...Its greatest contribution is its integration of the latest secondary scholarship into interesting arguments about the evolution of Chinese society between the seventh and tenth centuries...This book remains an excellent place to see the latest insights into Tang history. It is a thought-provoking effort to synthesize that work and reflect on the significance of the Tang for China's history. If it inspires the next generation of students to pursue Tang history seriously, Lewis will have made a real contribution to Tang studies. (Anthony DeBlasi Journal of Asian Studies 2010-05-01)

About the Author

Mark Edward Lewis is Kwoh-Ting Li Professor in Chinese Culture at Stanford University.

Timothy Brook is Professor of History and Republic of China Chair at the University of British Columbia.

Product Details

  • Series: History of Imperial China (Book 3)
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (July 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067403306X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674033061
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #769,797 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great General Resource on the Great Tang January 7, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was the first book in the History of Imperial China series that I've read, and if the other volumes live up to the informative and comprehensive quality of this one, I can see this series perhaps supplanting the unwieldy Cambridge series.

Mr. Lewis provides a surprisingly detailed survey of one of the most interesting Chinese dynasties in about 300 pages (plus appendices, notes and index). No small feat, considering the vast wealth of in-depth scholarly work available regarding the Tang. That is not to say, of course, that this is a merely a brief skimming of the highlights; to the contrary, Mr. Lewis gives us a wonderful grounding in the geographic and political climate before taking us deep into the streets of Chang'an and Luoyang, to the countryside of the Central Plain, or to the mountain retreats of the eremitic Tang poets. Ample citations of Tang prose and poetry, as well as cultural anecdotes, are present to give the reader a learned picture of what it meant to be a student of the 'jinshi' examinations, a singer in the pleasure quarter, or a court poet.

This is, however, a scholarly work through and through. Well cited and referenced, the information given is well-chosen and aimed squarely at those seeking to learn about the Great Tang, as opposed to being simply entertained by its many colorful nuances. Mr. Lewis is a strong writer for this kind of book, and his prose is easy to follow and to the point. This may not be the best choice for bedtime reading, but it is accessible to all readers, especially those new to the subject.

I highly recommend this book to any beginning student of Chinese imperial history, and to any reader interested in learned writing on one of the most important eras in one of the most important civilizations in the world.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't bother with the Kindle edition December 18, 2011
By Puzzler
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is comprehensive, providing English language material that is difficult or impossible to find anywhere else. However, the Kindle (digital) edition is a sham. No illustrations are included; instead, readers are referred to the print edition. Great, so we should have to buy the print edition as well? Kind of defeats the purpose of buying a digital edition doesn't it?

The publishers did not take care when producing the digital edition. It is filled with awkwardly hyphenated words that don't go away regardless of which orientation you use.

Note that all these comments are for the iPad Kindle version; I don't know whether the normal Kindle edition is complete. I'm very disappointed with the digital version.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars heyday of Chinese history August 17, 2010
In this third volume of the Havard University Press "History of Imperial China" the author M.E. Lewis gives an account of the period of the Tang dynasty, from its origins in the early seventh to its end in the early tenth century. As in his previous books, Lewis gives a relativily short chronological history, and then dwells on foreign policy, social developments and the development of buddhism, daoism and confucianism. He puts a particular focus on the cultural live during this period, which is seen by many as an apogee of Chinese history, generating some of China's most famous poets.
While for my taste the chronological history could have had a bigger space in this book, due to the (relative) political stability during this period, the brevity of this chapter is not so much of a drawback as it was in his previous book (China between Empires: The Northern and Southern Dynasties (History of Imperial China)), which was dealing in a much more turbulent period.
Lewis writes eloquently on his subject, and so the book is relatively nice to read. Together with the other books of this series, it gives a rather detailed insight into the long lasting history of the Chinese Empire, at this at a price which is also affordable for the general public, and not just for libraries.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Introduction November 7, 2010
Yet another nice volume in the Belknap Press series on Imperial China. As with the other books in this series, the goal is to provide a solid introduction to the period covered, in this case the Tang dynasty. The general approach of these books, 3 of them written by Prof. Lewis, is the same. There is usually a chapter devoted to basic narrative and then several chapters covering major themes and developments during the period under review. Including footnotes and what are generally very nice bibliographies, each of these books is about 300-325 well written pages.

For this volume, Lewis's focus is on the cosmopolitanism of the Tang period. By this Lewis means the relatively high degree of engagement of Chinese society with outside cultures and traditions. In particular, Lewis sresses the diverse nature of Tang society with multiple religious traditions - Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism (to the extent that it can be called a religion) and other religions that come over the Silk Roads. As the same time, Tang was a period of relative economic dynamism with the Tang state producing a huge internal market and expanding trade and Chinese influence in is East and Southeast Asia. The relative importance of Chinese interactions with the non-Han societies and traditions of Inner Asia is also a theme. But Lewis shows also that the Tang period proceded towards a less cosmopolitan, more "Chinese" society. The great expansion into the southern regions of what is now China plus environmental degradation and political complications in northern China moved the center of gravity of Chinese life away from the North and the influences of Central Asia and more eastern cultures.
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