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The Death of Woman Wang Paperback – March 29, 1979

ISBN-13: 978-0140051216 ISBN-10: 014005121X Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 29, 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014005121X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140051216
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for The Death of Woman Wang:
 
“Whether judged as fiction or as historical reconstruction, [this] is a masterpiece of style and narration.”
—Harold Bloom
 
“An unforgettable book of historical re-creation.”
The New Republic

About the Author

Jonathan Spence's eleven books on Chinese history include The Gate of Heavenly Peace, Treason by the Book, and The Death of Woman Wang. His awards include a Guggenheim and a MacArthur Fellowship. He teaches at Yale University.

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Brad Hoevel on December 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
Jonathan D. Spence is the Sterling Professor of History at Yale University and is an expert on modern Chinese History (~1600-present). In _The Death of Woman Wang_ Spence explores many facets of Chinese society during the later part of the 17th century.

The book examines three sources that focus on what in all honesty are historically insignificant events that took place in the obscure T'an-ch'eng county (Shandong province) over a span of four years (1668-1672). Each of the three sources allow Spence to illuminate certain different aspects of Chinese society. The sources and what they each reveal are as follows:
(1) A Gazetteer compiled by an elite neo-Confucian scholar-bureaucrat (Jinshi) that recieved the highest possible...think of the gazetteer as state propaganda. Spence draws from a section of the gazetteer entitled "Biographies of Virtuous Women." The biographies contain accounts of chaste women, some of whom committ suicide in order to preserve their virtue--the government praised them for doing so.

(2) A diary of the county's magistrate. The gazetteer, because it is propaganda, is highly skewed. The writings of the magistrate allow us to see how the laws and expectations of elite society translate to a rural reality.

(3) Third, are various works of fiction by the well known author P'u Sung-ling. The most unorthodox of Spence's sources, P'u Sung-ling's stories allow insights into Chinese society that are not found in the more traditional sources.

Unlike most histories, this book focuses on people, events, and places that are unremarkable. This approach ultimately allows the author to present a relatively complete view of Chinese society, including many of its problems.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Marcus Ferdeth on October 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
The vast majority of historical books about the common man are surveys of great swaths of humanity, general histories of the masses. Reader's settle into the comfort of their reading chair with a history book, and as they read they rarely feel the strong emotions that we associate with narratives. They read a tome about WWII and the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, and although they feel horror at the murders of so many, the horror is mitigated because six million is a gigantic number, a statistic, and we can comprehend it only as a number. Would we feel much worse if it had been seven million murdered or much better if it was 4 million? We naturally depersonalize numbers. The diary of Anne Frank, however, stirs our emotions and we react with strong pathos to the narrative of this one young girl. The lesson here is that we only feel for things that are intimate, close by. We fall in love with a co-worker, dislike our next door neighbor, and we feel sad when we find out about the death of someone we knew.
In much the same way, Jonathan Spence's "The Death of Woman Wang" engages us, makes us feel for these 17th century Chinese commoners. It helps that the book has a penetrating style and uses forceful imagery. Spence notes in his introduction that he has set out to make the book more personal by focusing on the stories of individuals. Rather than limiting our scope, this choice brings the lives of rural Chinese more into focus. When history does individualize, it tends to focus on the lives of the great and wealthy, yet the stories of the masses go untold, lost to the annals of time. Here we have the raw lives of commoners, sometimes more desperate, always more difficult.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 15, 1998
Format: Paperback
The book is a little slow and rather boring at times, yet it is quite inforamtive. As a reader, you see into T'an ch'eng county in the 1700's. The book revolves around woamn's roles. I liked it. It's not a classic but it is worth some time and effort.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
Spence has an impeccable way of juxtaposing fantasy and reality using sources from 17th century local history, personal memoirs, and fiction written by a famous 17th century novelist, Pu Song-ling. He effectively teases the readers' imagination with captivating stories from Pu's novels,just to strike them with the sharp contrast of the harsh reality faced by the nameless, forgotten people in rural China. The result is a touching book rich in humanity and thought provoking insight. The first two chapters may be slow, but they provide pertinent background information for a deeper appreciation of the rest of the book. The dream scene was a powerful literary device, although I have some reservation about its apperance in a book of history.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By "possecomitatus" on April 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
Although some may consider historical texts dull or dry, the ideas and situations DEATH OF WOMAN WANG confronts are timeless and universal. The thought-provoking stories of the Chinese county of T'an-Ch'eng in the 17th Century bring the reader directly into the course of history. The tales of woe, romance, and murder bring this distant setting boldly alive while secretly educating the reader about the details of Chinese governements. This is one book that will change your opinion of history and historical novels.
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