Customer Reviews: China's Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty (History of Imperial China)
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on January 7, 2010
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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on December 18, 2011
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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on 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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 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. The loss of Tang dominance of Central Asia and the extension of Islam across Central Asia severed China's ties to the Buddhist heartlands of India. This would contribute to the development of a more specifically Chinese form of Buddhism and with the expansion of Chinese commerce and culture in East Asia, was the beginning of what we think of how as an East Asian cultural sphere centered on China.

Other themes pursued by Lewis are the tension between the power of the court and regional powers and the power and decline of great Northern Chinese lineages that had played a disproportionate role in Chinese society prior to and in the early Tang. Lewis points out that the examination system and pursuit of power at the Imperial court, which these lineages pursued to their considerable advantage, would play a major and ironic role in their decline. Once they became linked powerfully to the Court, the demise of the Tang dynasty would also be the end of their legitimacy and power. The recurrent effects of environmental degradation are also covered as a major theme.

There are very good chapters on urban life, social history, changes in religion and Confucian philosophy, and literature.
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on November 29, 2014
A solid scholarly appraisal of the Tang dynasty, integrated with preceding and following eras of Chinese history. Inclusions of excerpted verse notwithstanding, an essentially dry text that is both summarily informative (thus enlightening for the non-specialist) and interpretive.
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on July 22, 2013
The writing is so vivid that one feels being transported back in time witnessing the cosmopolitanism of medieval China. At times it reads like a travel guide: the description of the capital, Chang'an, is so precise - it even includes the exact locations of Zoroastrian and Nestorian places of worship and its "red light district". The landscape and landscaping are portrayed in a way that the reader feels wandering in them. The music and poetry are also described so that one can palpate the ethos of the time.

The various very complicated foreign policies are skilfully delineated. The relationships between the Tang Dynasty, the Uighur, the Tibetans, the Koreans (Koguryo, Silla and Paekche), the Turks, the Vietnamese, among others, are just fascinating. The author has done a very good job in rendering these potentially confusing issues very clear and relevant.

On top of all these, there are illuminating descriptions of the technological advancement (chiefly in agriculture and logistics), social structure (the eclipse of aristocracy and the gradual development of meritocracy), and political milieu during the most captivating period of Chinese history.

Thoroughly fascinating and comprehensive. Five stars.
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on August 8, 2015
I enjoyed reading about the Tang Dynasty for a Chinese history elective class. The book was fairly easy to read and provided nice graphics with timelines.
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on March 6, 2016
The first page was torn and soaked into water once. The description does not mention them. In addition to that, everything is ok.
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