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Ancient China and its Enemies: The Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521543828
ISBN-10: 0521543827
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Throughout the second century B.C., the world of East Asia was divided between two great superpowers, the Han Chinese and the Hsiung-nu, facing off against each other sometimes peaceably and sometimes antagonistically. In Ancient China and Its Enemies, Nicola Di Cosmo provides a magisterial survey of the rise of the lesser known of these two powers, the nomadic Hsiung-nu. This book is invaluable not only for understanding the relations between ancient China and its major enemy, but also for understanding either of the powers individually." Edward Shaughnessy, University of Chicago

"...the author deserves praise and gratitude for producing and invaluable piece of work. This book is a masterpiece of scholarship. It will rank as an indispensable tool for anyone studying foreign relationships in ancient China and beyond for years to come." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies

"...I am certain that anthropologists, political scientists, and others will find much here of interest. Di Cosmo writes well and offers fascinating anecdotes at just the right times." History

"...a carefully researched and superbly presented history of the northern frontier of China from 900 to 100 B.C...a fascinating, detailed, scholarly, and very strongly recommended historical survery and analysis." Library Bookwatch

"This outstanding work of scholarship demonstrates a magisterial command of the sources, asks important questions, and provides measured, finely nuanced answers."
Peter B. Golden, The International History Review

Book Description

This is a comprehensive history of the northern frontier of China through the first millennium B.C. It details the formation of two increasingly distinct cultural areas: the sedentary Chinese and the northern nomads. The book explores the tensions existing between these two worlds as they became progressively more polarized, with the eventual creation of the nomadic Hsiung-nu empire in the north, and of the Chinese empire in the south. It is the first study that investigates the origins of the antagonism between early China and its "barbarian" neighbors combining both textual and archaeological data.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (May 24, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521543827
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521543828
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,192,262 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is not a book for the casual reader nor somebody seeking a shallow introduction into the field. However, if this is your area of interest then this tome should satisfy you. It is very well researched and the hypotheses are very well argued.

The book is divided into four parts that are roughly chronological. The first part is primarily based on archeology. It was a bit of a chore to read as the author listed items to explain how the different designs showed different cultural aspects. Unfortunately, it was like walking blind through a museum with a very knowledgeable guide telling you what you saw. This approach was essential as it set up the evidence for the early part of the book. Di Cosmo posits that the nomadic tribes might not have been behind settled tribes along the developmental spectrum, indeed nomadic tribes may have been capable of evolving into nomadic peoples becausee they had undergone a sedentary period in their development.

One of di Cosmo's most interesting theories is his view that the original walls of 'The Great Wall' were not marks of a defensive posture against aggressive nomads but rather the bases for the Chinese to exercise hegemonic authority over the tribes along the frontier. The wall was not borne of fear but of a desire for conquest. This is not necessarily controversial as the Romans appreciated that walls could designate a border and also allow Roman influence to cross into barbarian lands from a firm base.

If you are looking for arguments connecting the Huns to the Hsiung-Nu, you will be disappointed because di Cosmo understandably avoids that debate as not being connected with his central hypotheses. He does, however, devote many pages to discussing the Hsiung-Nu's emergence and their rocky relationship with China.
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Format: Paperback
This thoughtful book is an interesting combination of historical analysis and historiography. Di Cosmo's primary objective is to reveal the complexities of the relationships between the early Chinese states and the their northern nomadic neighbors. In particular, Di Cosmo wants to debunk the traditional dualistic opposition between Chinese civilization and predatory Central Asian nomads. Di Cosmo points out that the traditional approach was largely formulated by Confucian oriented Chinese historians, especially the great Han historian Ssu-ma Chi'en (Sima Qian), and adopted more or less uncritically by westerners working in early Chinese history.

Di Cosmo begins with a survey of the archaeology of East Asian steppe regions and the surrounding regions to the north and south. By the middle of the first millenium BC, pastoral nomadic cultures were established leading wholly nomadic lives, with sophisticated metallurgy, powerful bows, and practicing effective cavalry warfare. Di Cosmo points out as well that these cultures interacted with a variety of other cultures, some agro-pastoral, some agricultural, and some hunting based. Northern China, the steppe regions, and surrounding regions are reconstructed as a complex patchwork of interacting societies with different features with pastoral nomads on the steppes and the emerging Chinese states to the south.

In Di Cosmo's historical reconstruction, the growth of the central Chinese states led not only to the Imperial unification of the Chin period but also to considerable expansion of the Chinese states into what is now Northern China, resulting in direct conflict with steppe nomads.
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Format: Hardcover
Ancient China And Its Enemies: The Rise Of Nomadic Power In East Asian History by Nicola Di Cosmo (Senior Lecturer in Chinese History at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand) is a carefully researched and superbly presented history of the northern frontier of China from 900 to 1000 B.C., combining both Chinese historical texts and archaeological evidence. From the rise of pastoral nomadism in Eurasia, to the first contacts between horse-riding nomads and Chinese states, to a large-scale political shift in China from appeasement to military engagement, Ancient China And Its Enemies is a fascinating, detailed, scholarly, and very strongly recommended historical survey and analysis.
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