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The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 BC [Hardcover]

Michael Loewe , Edward L. Shaughnessy
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 13, 1999 0521470307 978-0521470308
The Cambridge History of Ancient China provides a survey of the cultural, intellectual, political, and institutional developments of the pre-imperial period. The four subperiods of Shang, Western Zhou, Spring and Autumn and Warring States, are described on the basis of literary and material sources and the evidence of recently found manuscripts. Chapters on the prehistoric background, the growth of language, and relations with the peoples of Central Asia provide the major context of China's achievements in the 1,500 years under review. The teachings of China's early masters are set alongside what is known of the methods of astonomers, physicians and diviners. A final chapter leads the reader forward to imperial times, as described in the volumes of The Cambridge History of China.

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Editorial Reviews


"This volume presents informative summaries of major periods and topics with meticulous attention to the evidence. The discussions of sources, sites, and artifacts will be invaluable to present and future students, who will also be grateful for the illustrations and Chinese characters included in the text." Choice

"It is indeed a daunting task to review this hefty volume consisting of fourteen chapters by specialists in their respective fields and no summary can do justice to its contents. Read it." Susan Bush, Early Medieval China

"...everyone who studies early China will want access to this book." Religious Studies Review

" a necessary reference work for students of Chinese history, if they read only those well-researched and carefully written chapters." Historian

"...almost everyone interested in ancient China will find something to reward them within its cover." American Historical Review

"...a necessary reference work for students of chinese history." The Historian

"This is an informative book full of important insights...The successful combination in this volume of these two approaches deserves to be emulated in studies on later periods. This volume is truly an impressive monument--a monument consisting almost exclusively of texts." China Review International

Book Description

The Cambridge History of Ancient China provides a survey of the cultural history of pre-imperial China. Fourteen of the leading Western specialists, both historians and archeologists, cover the Shang, Western Zhou, Spring and Autumn, Warring States, Neolithic background, language, intellectual history, relations with Central Asia, and debts of both the Qin and Han empires to these earlier time-periods. There are chapters on institutional history, based on both traditional and palaeographic literature, and on material culture, based on the archaeological record.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1182 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (March 13, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521470307
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521470308
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 2.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,189,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the best history of ancient China! November 13, 2000
Verified Purchase
For too long there has been no up-to-date, general historical introduction to ancient China. This book remedies that deficiency, and does so in a wonderful way!

The book is topically organized, with each chapter written by a leading scholar on that topic. The list of contributors reads like a "Who's Who" of contemporary Sinology: K.C. Chang on Chinese "pre-history"; David Keightley on the Shang Dynasty; Hsu Cho-yun on the Spring and Autumn Period; Mark Lewis on the Warring States Period; David S. Nivison (see his _The Ways of Confucianism_) on ancient Chinese philosophy, etc.

The general reader should be warned that the scholarship here is sometimes a little intimidating. However, careful reading will be well repaid. As you can see, the price is a real problem. Perhaps it will come out in paperback some day, but I wouldn't count on it happening any time soon.

If you are seriously interested in ancient China, hock your wedding ring and buy this book!
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable July 2, 2004
By Ulrich
I waited a long time to buy this book, being somewhat daunted by its enormous price. When I finally ran across a copy on the used market for a reasonable sum, I picked it up. I could not be more pleased. The quality of the scholarship is sensational, the illustrations are superb. I was especially surprised at the extraordinary volume and quality of the illustrations (albeit all black and white), since I was expecting straight text. There is nothing out there in English that approximates the sophistication, charm, or scholarly depth of this volume. Don't be dissuaded by assertions that it is a difficult read; to the contrary, this is a very accessible and addictive text, even for those with little familiarity in the area of ancient Chinese history.
In summary, both the scholarship and the sheer reading pleasure of this book exceed all expectations. One of the best volumes of ancient history I have had the privilege of reading. If you are interested in the subject, you cannot live without this (though I recommend attempting to purchase it used!)
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Now I finally had a chance to read this June 22, 2001
Cambridge History of China is usually of very high standard, both in terms of historiography and integration of latest scholarly research.
However, as I read this pre-volume covering the long period from the 'beginning' till 221BC, I find several noteworthy defects:
1) Clearly the editors' choice of making it a single volume is a mistake. As it stands, the book is already really thick, while for each of the topics it covered, there is really not sufficient depth.
2) In my personal opinion, the most critical happenings in the period is the technology improvement during the Eastern Zhou period (e.g. spread of use of iron) which drove the development of new political organization and the flowering of political philosophers from Confucius to Xun Zi. Unfortunately technology development in Eastern Zhou is not at all covered in this volume.
I think the editors under-utilize many research works recently published in Chinese, while focusing too much on renewing the 'story' with archaeological findings. (As such, the chapter on Shang archaeology actually seems to be very up-to-date.)
Overall, I rate this as 3-star, because of the above-mentioned defects...
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good metal. December 12, 2010
The Cult of the Dead in ancient China involved burying vast wealth (and some dogs, horses, elephants, and people) in one's tomb. If you prefer to sink your wealth in good books, here's a pricey but elegant piece of bronze you can show your relatives while they're still alive. I don't know if that way of putting things makes the price any less scary or not!

This history consists of fourteen full chapters, plus explanatory introductions on chronology, methods, sources, and environment. Chapters tend to alternate between history and archeology early on, then full chapters on philosophy and art for the Warring States, when richer material is available. Each chapter is, as has been mentioned by other reviewers, written by a scholar who knows his stuff: there is not a dull or useless one in the book.

One reviewer objected that the authors failed to sufficiently stress the role of iron in the Zhou renaissance. I don't think the book loses much by that; one can't expect a general narrative to rest on any one hobby horse. (Mine was also sometimes left in the corale.)

I probably enjoyed the chapter on language more than some readers might, having taken classical Chinese from William Boltz at the University of Washington. His method was systematic and careful, with an understated wit that seemed appropriate to what was, essentially, a primary school language class for grad students. Students mostly had a background in Chinese or Japanese, or were Chinese, so it seemed strange to be told what each, often familiar, character meant. This approach reminded us how "foreign" classical Chinese is, and that we could not take anything for granted.
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