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The Sextants of Beijing: Global Currents in Chinese History Hardcover – March 1, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 322 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (March 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393046931
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393046939
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,547,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The West has long regarded China as monolithic and self-isolated, hopelessly mired in its traditions. By presenting examples of China's open-mindedness, pragmatism, and willingness to experiment with foreign ideas, The Sextants of Beijing explodes this myth. Qianlong's famous rejection of the Macartney mission of 1792, which attempted to establish trade relations between Britain and China--"We have never valued ingenious articles, nor do we have the slightest need of your country's manufactures"--has usually been taken at face value and interpreted as backward-looking arrogance. In fact, when Qianlong issued that statement, he was nevertheless attempting to acquire European-style artillery, following a history of aggressive pursuit of foreign trade going back to the Han dynasty (about 2,000 years ago, that is).

For much of its dynastic history, China has been ruled by its aggressive northern neighbors. This has made China extremely wary of foreign influences and hypersensitive to anything externally imposed, a sensitivity still evident in China today. Joanna Waley-Cohen, professor of history at New York University, analyzes the historical experience that has led to China's raw nerves. She describes China's relations with the West over the last four centuries, beginning with the Jesuit missions, through the Opium Wars and China's near dismemberment by the colonizing European powers, to its rejection of heavy-handed Soviet aid. While clarifying China's ambivalent attitudes toward the West, she shows conclusively that the nation's restraint and reserve should not be defined as isolationism. --John Stevenson

From Library Journal

Waley-Cohen, an eminent scholar and professor of Chinese history at New York University, seeks to debunk the stereotype of China as isolationist by providing a pithy analysis of Chinese history from the Tang dynasty (618-907) to the present day. Writing for the general reader, Waley-Cohen discusses numerous ways China has been interested in and open to foreign ideas including military developments, science and technology, trade, and religion. One interesting distinction is that the Chinese leadership has generally been distrustful of Catholic missionaries because they adhere to an authority outside of China (i.e., the Pope) but have appreciated Protestant efforts to teach and provide social services. The author emphasizes that the official rhetoric is much different from the reality: Chinese leaders realize the need to "transcend both the modern West and traditional China." Though this book has no illustrations or maps (in contrast to J.A.G. Roberts's Modern China: An Illustrated History, LJ 8/98, also written for a general readership), it is nonetheless suitable for libraries with large history collections.?Peggy Spitzer Christoff, Oak Park, IL
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Michael Le Houllier on July 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Many Westerners have traditionally considered China to be an isolationist culture. They cite the Great Wall being designed to keep out foreigners and resistance to Christianity and the refusal of the McCartney mission in the 1790s to prove this. However, all through history, the Chinese have indeed engaged the world and have been influenced by it. Waley-Cohen does an excellent job of narrating this in her book.
She reveals all through Chinese history how the Chinese adopted religious ideas from overseas (notably India), science (initially from Islamic regions and later Westerners), to the 1960s, when many Westerners assumed that China was closed to the world because it was closed to them. In fact, China was open to other Asians and to Africans.
Waley-Cohen's writing is easily readible and is of value both to the China watcher like myself, as well as the layperson wishing to understand the "Middle Kingdom" a bit better.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Crossfit Len on January 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
There was a time we simply taught that China was isolated from the rest of the world by mountains, seas, deserts, and its own ethnocentrism. More and more we are finding out that this "white lie" of history is an over simplification. The Silk Road, Zheng He, are just two examples of ways China was not as isolated as we used to think.

The Sextants of Beijing is a wonderful look (especially in the opening chapters) on just how China was connected to the rest of the world in ways we have overlooked or just did not understand. Personally I felt the later chapters got boring and less interesting, but the first 1/3 of the book is great.

For a new look at China read this book and combine it with 1421 and the new biography of Ghengis Khan.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Eddie V on March 20, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was a required text for a class. Since I didn't know the first thing about China, I didn't really know what to expect from the book. As it turns out, compared with others, this book really gives you a good amount of information. Thanks to Amazon, I got it right on time.
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1 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
Wonderfully written assessment of the Western Influence in China.
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1 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Wild wild wave on June 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
I will believe that the Chinese would have to borrow from the Jewish counter part, for fixing the core or anchoring of their quests, any more in the future.

I have been researching for literary works done by believed Chinese Jewry during their endless day staying in China straying fro the rest of the world dur to Greek and perhaps more Roman persecution.

It is where we find the Jewish core and from there, we will locate the Chinese.
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