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Chinas Imperial Past: An Introduction to Chinese History and Culture Hardcover – June, 1975
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From the Inside Flap
is different. Not only does it treat the three major periods of Chinese history at roughly equal length, weaving all their complexity into a balanced, integrated whole, but it gives ample space to China’s magnificent literary and artistic achievements.
The author’s approach is primarily interpretive, emphasizing patterns of change and development rather than factual details, but he never loses sight of the particularities that made traditional Chinese civilization one of the richest in human history. Especially notable are the many translations of Chinese poetry, among them more than twenty exquisite poems from the great poets of the T’ang.
The author divides Chinese history into three major epochs: a formative age, from high antiquity to the unification of China under the Ch’in in the third century B.C.; an early imperial age, from the Han dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D. 220) through the T’ang (618-907) and its breakdown; and a later imperial age, from the Sung dynasty (960-1279) to the mid-nineteenth century. Each major epoch is considered in topical chapters—on general history, political institutions, socioeconomic organization, religion and thought, and literature and the arts. A brief Epilogue comments on aspects of Chinese history since 1850.
The book includes 47 plates, eight maps, and various charts, and as appendixes and unusually detailed chronological table, notes on the Chines language, and suggestions for supplementary reading.
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Temple University Japan
BA East Asian Studies, UM Asia
This is how you write a Chinese history book. The only thing this text suffers from nowadays is age. Save for that, you can expect a solid and palatable breakdown of Chinese history from it's beginnings up until roughly 1850. The book is well organized, starting with an overview of the general history of each specific time period, followed with additional information such as art, culture, and politics broken down into their own sections, making it easy to go back and read again, or reference a point from a specific topic.
As mentioned above, the text is outdated however, so any new findings post 1975 are obviously not going to be included. But this really isn't a weak point. The other significant issue is that the Chinese names are written in the old fashioned Wade-Giles system (as opposed to modern pinyin), so you may find yourself having to do a bit of "translation" if you're looking for additional information on names you come across in the text.
Overall though, an invaluable text for understanding Chinese history.
The book is rather unusually split in to three parts. The first part covers prehistory through the Warring States period, the second the Xin, Han, and Tang dynasties, and the third the Sung, Yuan, Ming, and Xing dynasties. I say unusual because Chinese history is usually spit up dynastically yet he groups several of them together because he sees a common style running through them. I can't say whether he's overstating the case or not, but his explanations seemed logical enough. Each of the three parts is divided up as well. There are chapters on narrative, government, society, thought, and literature. Each of these goes into about as much depth as is possible in an introductory text. There is a lot of information in here.
I have very little to say about this book since I haven't read much that it can be compared with. Having read histories from Communist states before I can be fairly certain that his book is a lot more reliable than a lot of works coming out of that era. I will say that I never really felt I understood how the Chinese government worked in practice despite several diagrams outlining the chain of command. Also, kept shoehorning western contacts in there whenever they popped up. I guess he thinks that this will attract the interest of western readers but at times these references seem irrelevant. But apart from that this book has a great deal to commend it. His early chapters make clear how much he attention he pays to archaeological data and there are several excellent pictures of stone age burial pits. I find that a lot of authors dealing with historical matters have trouble with archaeology and vice versa. Overall this book made me want to learn more about the Chinese and that's exactly the response you want to get from an introductory text. There may well be a better book out there by now but you could certainly do a lot worse than starting at this one.