26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2010
Once in a long time, comes a history that departs from the unpalatable choice of over-specialized/detailed research topic versus unoriginal/padded general overview. William Rowe's survey volume on the Qing Dynasty is happily one such volume. Rowe has not only thoroughly digested the ever-accumulating [and now fairly massive] specialized research on the period, but also fashioned a new conception of the dynasty that deserves the attention both general readers and specialists. As a past history major, I am usually quite cynical about those who talk of history as a "building block process" in which the specialists lay the bricks and the generalists make the buildings. But in this case, Rowe has built a fine structure that also does honor to those whose contributions he utilizes. This is now the finest general volume on the Qing and is not to be missed.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A well written and thoughtful overview of the last Chinese empire, the Qing. This is not a conventional narrative survey. Rowe's approach is to concentrate on major structural themes - the formation and organization of the Qing state, social structure, economy, interactions with the Western world, and then to trace changes in these features across the history of the Qing Empire. While not a conventional chronologic narrative, Rowe skillfully folds in the important political history, focusing on major transitions - the formation of the Empire, the 18th century zenith, the traumas of the 19th century, and the collapse of the Imperial state. Given the length of the period covered, the large secondary literature, and the complexity of the topics covered, this is an impressive performance.
Rowe emphasizes a number of particularly interesting points that have emerged over the past generation of Qing studies. One is the creative nature of Qing state formation. Far from blindly adopting Chinese governmental structures, Rowe shows the Qing as creatively combining Chinese-Confucian traditions with with other traditions to form a polyglot imperial state with the Imperial court at the center. The Qing expanded China to its present borders. While not discussed extensively, Rowe sets Qing state development in the context of "early modern" empires, Muscovy - Ottoman Turkey, the British empire - that emerge in approximately this period. Rowe also emphasizes the relatively modest nature of the Qing state. From the early 18th century on, the Qing limited taxation and the size of the imperial bureaucracy. Made possible by relatively limited international pressure, encouraged by neo-Confucian tradition and the Qing tradition of coopting local and regional movements into governments, the Qing minimal state was accompanied by vigorous population and commercial growth in the 18th century. Rowe also mentions how globalization of this period, for example, the increasing monetarization of the Qing economy made possible by silver imports from Japan and the western hemisphere, were important features of Qing history. Following the work of Kenneth Pomeranz and other economic historians, Rowe stresses the "Smithian" nature of Qing society - something much closer to the laissez faire ideal than any contemporary European state. The minimal Qing state, however, proved to be ill-suited to the challenges of the 19th century. Population growth and environmental degradation, the cost of suppressing internal rebellion, and the increasing challenges of western imperialist powers stressed the Qing state to an apparent breaking point. Even when the Qing appeared to weather the mid-19th century storm, the successful responses were driven more by emerging regional institutions and power rather than vigorous central reforms, a further erosion of the central state.
Rowe has a nice set of discussions of the response to western imperialism, stressing the erosion of Chinese sovereignty, the complex interactions between the western powers and the emerging Japanese state, and the heterogeneity of Chiinese responses. Rowe particularly stresses the emerging nationalism and ethnocentrism, developing into frank racism in some cases, of Han Chinese, a phenomenon that undermined the legitimacy of the Qing state. Its clear that the nature of the Imperial state also required vigorous leadership at the top. In the late 17th and 18th centuries, Qing society benefited from the leadership of 3 exceptionally capable emperors. Their successors were less impressive though they did inherit a relatively weak state in an unusually challenging environment. Rowe also points out the considerable degree of modernization that occured in the last years of the Qing. The collapse of the dynasty marked a real inflection point in Chinese history, the end of almost 2 millenia of Imperial history and the beginning of a distinctively different trajectory of Chinese history.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2013
Note that there are more reviews on the Hardcover version's page.
I came to this book having a decently thorough knowledge of Chinese history and having read the five "History of Imperial China" books leading up to it. I was not especially interested in the Qing, and this uniquely exciting treatment of the subject enabled me to understand why, and why I had been led to misunderstand this historical period. Rowe reviews the latest research, the research trends over decades since Wakeman changed things and Spence started his Qing journal in graduate school, while also showing how Western prejudices played their part in creating a hugely oversimplified stereotype: the stagnant Qing ruled by its inadequately modern rulers.
In some ways I can measure a Chinese history book now by how many pages I can read without getting overwhelmed and needing to stop for the day in order to absorb what I have read. By that standard, this book has REALLY taken me a lot longer than I expected. The whole series has an amazing topical approach that each volume pursues with various merits, but in this, Rowe's volume, there is an intellectual excitement and a sense of the greater underlying story that I encourage anyone to allow themselves to engage with, with an open mind.
China is vast and if you don't want to feel overwhelmed I cannot recommend reading any GOOD books about China. So much of the fun investigating China is the scope, the consistent framework, coming at familiar pieces of it all in unfamiliar ways, the regional and ethnic diversity and their endless implications, and of course the amazing efforts of Chinese civil servants who help Western readers like me NOT feel sorry for ourselves. Wow they had it hard.
There is a 3D aspect to the Qing. It is richly documented. It includes interactions with the West and people who played a part in the 20th century. I can advocate this book as a panorama to anyone willing to have fun reading history. For anyone who wants to dig deeper, its footnotes and bibliography provide extensive guidance, explaining what one could gain from reading various Spence or Wakeman titles as well as dozens of other specimens of the academic literature. Page for page, it's a bargain and a good read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2011
This is the sixth and final volume of Harvard University Press' History of Imperial China. On 289 pages (plus notes and bibliography) William T. Rowe outlines the complete history of the Qing dynasty, from its beginning at the end of the Ming dynasty until the Chinese republican revolution in 1911. In contrast to at least the first four volumes of this series, chapters on governance, society and commerce are embedded into the general history, which in my view makes the book even more readable. The author puts the same weight on the early periods of the Qing, during which China expanded drastically in its territory, population and economy, as on the latter periods of confrontation with the Western powers, which ususally dominate the discussion on the Qing. Thus, the prevailing impression of decline and decadence during this dynasty is put into the right perspective. This is also indicated in the introdcution, which gives a short but interesting outline of the way how the dominating perceptions of the Qing have changed in the last decades. The text is accompanied by b/w illustration and photographies, as well as some maps. In particular when it comes to territorial expansion and administration, a few more maps certainly would have been helpful. Also some more words on the consequences on the decades to follow the revolution would have been interesting, although this certainly would not fall into the actual scope of imperial China.
Nevertheless, the book is written very well, and together with the previous five volumes, it is highly recommended for everybody interested in Chinese history. I just hope that the series may be extended by a volume each on the pre- and post-imperial history of China.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2013
This book is both comprehensive and succinct. It explains clearly that the Qing was just another empire after all. It was expansionist itself but was outcompeted by its rivals. Plagued by corruption and technological inferiority, it went downhill rapidly from the beginning of the 19th century onwards. Foreign domination and internal turmoils were merely symptoms reflecting its abject weakness. The consequence of its demise was well explained and described by the author, viz. a phase of catching up with the rest of the world on modern statecraft and industry. The book does a particularly good job in explaining the circumstances under which republicanism fomented. It also described how the seeds of warlordism were sown. A truly well written introductory book to understand the backstory of modern China. Five stars.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2014
Interesting story about Chinese history never heard of
2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2011
I haven't finished reading this book which is every bit as admirable as the other reviewers have said. However, the author has made an absolutely unforgivable gaffe. In his chapter "The High Qing" he mentions the classical novel _ The Scholars _ and says that it's the finest novel written during the Qing. However, he completely omits any mention of the _ Hong Lou Meng _ / _ Dream of the Red Chamber _! _ Hong Lou Meng _ is not only considered the finest novel of pre-modern Chinese history, it's considered a world classic! What was this man thinking?!
3 of 11 people found the following review helpful
One of the things I used to hear from my students, when I taught history, was why is history so boring. Well it doesn't have to be and there are many writers like Doris Kearns Goodwin and Simon Winchester who can turn any history into an exciting story. The best history is written as if it were fiction. If you don't believe me, look at those histories that have lasted for thousands of years, the Bible, the Qoran, the Torah, the Iliad, etc. No one ever said that history had to be a chronological bore. I really wish some one had said this to Rowe.
Rowe spends time on the economy and the movement of the Han population into the 'outer' China but the only has three pages on the Opium Wars, the Taiping Rebellion (which lasted over twelve years) and the Boxer rebellion. If you had no background on China you would think that these were just passing problems and not major civil wars. As to the results of the Boxer rebellion, it almost led to the dismemberment of China had it not been for the US and a couple of major powers. European nations would have been happy to divide up China in the same way they did Africa.
Though there is a lot of good information here, I don't feel that it was presented well and that it could have been done in a much more enjoyable way. Next time I'll just read the Qing Dictionary.
2 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2013
This was required reading for a University class, and I've never had the misfortune of reading a poorer organized , more disjointed History text!!