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

4.3 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521470308
ISBN-10: 0521470307
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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: 6 x 2.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,057,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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This volume is everything the 15 volume series the Cambridge History of China ought to be, and is easily the best single-volume pre-Qin history currently available in English. While it is true that there is sufficient information available to have made at least three volumes of this size, and would have covered the territory with more detail, there is no question that this volume belongs in every serious student of China's library. For more specific coverage, there are now numerous other volumes available to fill in the gaps for the specialists. Thankfully, the authors used Pinyin in this volume, rather than the outmoded Wade-Giles used in the series. The writing in this volume is also entertaining, and the addition of occasional illustrations adds interest to the archeological side of the discourse. Highly recommended!
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