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The Age of Confucian Rule: The Song Transformation of China (History of Imperial China) Paperback – October 15, 2011
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One of the leading historians of the Song period offers an empirically rich and well-informed book that is especially good on material culture and the history of technology. Kuhn offers strong overviews of the transformation of the capital cities, education and examination, commerce, and the Song fiscal system, as well as lively discussions of religious beliefs, the study of natural phenomena, and private life in the public sphere. For readers who want an in-depth look at mid-imperial Chinese history and culture, Dieter Kuhn's Age of Confucian Rule promises to become the book of choice. (Paul Jakov Smith, Haverford College)
The first four chapters of this well-researched, clearly written book present a balanced synopsis of the political, institutional, and military history of Song and its neighbors during some three centuries, when this was 'the most advanced civilization on earth.' The remaining eight chapters deal with thought, life cycle rituals, poetry and painting, education and the examination system, dynastic capitals, the world of production, money and taxation, private lives, and the public sphere. The author's enthusiasm is matched by his erudition and outstanding expertise in Song material culture as he ranges widely from the plethora of goods for sale in bustling shops and markets to the origins of foot binding, and finds space for dental hygiene as well as tomb construction...Scholars already versed in the period can learn much from this book, while those just beginning to delve into Chinese history are very well served. (C. Schirokauer Choice 2010-02-01)
[An] admirable account of the Song dynasty...This series on China, brilliantly overseen by Timothy Brook, is a credit to Harvard University Press. Above all, it encourages us to think of China in different ways. (Jonathan Mirsky Literary Review 2010-11-01)
One hopes [Kuhn's] work will find a larger audience, for he has much to teach to general readers, world historians, and China specialists alike. (Mark Halperin American Historical Review 2010-06-01)
The Age of Confucian Rule is a book that everyone who teaches Chinese history should have on his or her shelf and consult frequently...The attention [Kuhn] gives material culture is refreshing and helps him to make his case for the importance of China in Song times. (Patricia Ebrey International Journal of Asian Studies 2010-08-01)
About the Author
Dieter Kuhn is Professor and Chair of Chinese Studies, University of Würzburg.
Timothy Brook is Professor of History and Republic of China Chair at the University of British Columbia.
Top customer reviews
I do have one problem with this book and that is the writing style of the author. I am an ESL writing teacher and I teach students to write in the American rhetorical style with the main idea at the beginning of the paragraph followed by supporting details. However, the paragraphs rarely follow this structure and it makes it really frustrating to read at times. Most paragraphs start out with one idea and end with a completely different idea. It is instead written using European paragraph structure in which the topic statement is "cleverly" hidden, non-existent or comes toward the end of the paragraph. In contrast, the previous books in this series are written by an American who writes in the American rhetorical style, and they are very clear and easy to read. I actually have thought about bringing in some of these two writers' paragraphs as examples of how to write and how not to write a paragraph. I wish this book had been better edited to suit an English speaking audience.
The book outlines the many technological and commercial developments in China during this period, as money paper (including inflation) was introduced, trade was boosted and the infrastructure was improved. On the other hand, the Song Dynasty was constantly fighting against its Northern neighbours, the Khitan Liao and the Jurchen Jin dynasties, while the latter even pushed the Song out of their Chinese heartland and established a border along the Huai River in 1126. Nevertheless, until the Mongol invasion in 1279 the Southern Song recovered and established a different China, focussing much more on the South and its traditions.
In his set up of the book, the author Dieter Kuhn follows the example of the previous three volumes, written by Mark E. Lewis, starting with a rather short summary (90 pages) of the political history, followed by chapters on religion and philosophy, the system of recruiting officials, arts and science, the capitals, and economy and government finances.
The main text of roughly 280 pages is accompanied by maps (there could be more) and explanatory images, and followed by dynastic tables of the Song and their counter-dynasties in the North, as well as a 30 pages bibiography.
Again this volume is written well and gives an interesting overview of the period. Recommendable for all interested in Chinese history.
In my opinion it is not a bad read, but it really didn't match my expectations either.
My main criticism is about what the author chooses to focus on. I found the chapters addressing religions, culture, urban and rural life really satisfying. And yet some other aspects of Song history are dealt with in just a few pages when they would have deserved much more. For instance, the Song dynasty is famous for its technological advances, but very little is said about that. Also, nothing at all is said about the Song military, and the reasons why, in 300 years, they never managed to be a match for their Northern neighbours. These are just examples of major themes that are absent or underdeveloped in the book.
This is all the more irritating since the author frequently deals with certain details with unnecessary precision. Several pages are for instance dedicated to the printing policies of the early empire or the tombs of the Liao dynasty. On other occasions the reader has to go through lengthy sections about late Tang history that are just shortened versions of what can be found in the previous book. There are five pages about Chang'An, but on the other hand the question of why Kaifeng became the imperial capital is never addressed. Lastly, the author often quotes extensive pieces of statistics but fails to interpret them. An example is the figures about how many "banknotes" were printed year after year, and the lack of explanation about how the resulting inflation affected the economy and society in general.
That being said, most of the book is still quite interesting. It is probably the best choice (the only choice?) for anyone who wishes to learn more about the Song dynasty in about 300 pages. I would probably have given it 3 stars had I not liked the three previous books so much more. But since I guess most readers will start the series at its beginning and not just read one part of it, and above all because it disappointed me so much, I only give it 2 stars.