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China: A History Paperback – December 6, 2011

4.0 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Library Journal
“Without sacrificing substance for brevity, Keay manages to illustrate China’s history very much as a narrative... Readers already interested in, or wishing newly to embark upon, Chinese history will adore this book. Highly recommended.”

Philadelphia Inquirer
China: A History marks a welcome advance… [Keay’s] touch is deft and faithful to the tenor of the debates, especially those between archaeologists and literary scholars.”
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

John Keay is a former special correspondent for the Economist and contributes regularly to the Sunday Telegraph, Times Higher Educational Supplement, and the Literary Review. His past books include the best-selling India: A History. He lives in Argyll, Scotland.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (December 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465025188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465025183
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #72,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Firstly, the author should be commended for even attempting to condense such a vast and complex subject as the history of China into a single volume. On the whole, it is an accessible account which will give an introductory understanding of many parts of China's history.

However, the book gives the impression that the supporting research was done in a great hurry, and contains errors, inconsistincies, and a number of sensational conclusions, some of which are not supported by sufficient evidence. It was therefore little wonder to me when I learned that the author is, in fact, a journalist and not a historian. It seems as though the author has attempted to make some attention-grabbing statements in a clumsy attempt to turn Chinese history on its head.

I will give just three examples of the kind of sloppiness that I have referred to. 1) One theory, which is entirely undeveloped apart from a small amount of hypothesising on the part of the author, is that the Great Wall did not prevent northern tribes from entering China and was never designed for this purpose. In stating this, the author appears unaware of the extraordinary career and accomplishments of Qi Jiguang, perhaps China's greatest military leader of the Ming (or any other) period. He built, and successfully defended the Great Wall against all comers.
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Format: Hardcover
John Keay is correct in observing that Chinese history is often impenetrable to all but the specialist. Yet it is an important and ancient history and one many people would like to know more about. So he has set out to do for China what he did for India in India: A History and make it accessible to an English speaking audience.

THis is a well written account of a fascinating country and its people. It does what few books do which is to ignore the present and instead give the past a fair shake in terms. There is no telescoping the narrative so that the last hundred years gets half the book, instead the las thundred years of Chinese history receives just a few dozen pages, giving the reader the correct impression that China's past is as important as her present.

In general the book also gives the reader a great deal of handy charts to keep track of dynasties and people. A very well written account,

Seth J. Frantzman
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Format: Hardcover
I bought and read this book because I am Chinese but know nothing about Chinese history (having grown up in Australia), so I was probably always going to enjoy this book.

After reading this book, I've learnt that China's history is very complicated, but Keay does a fantastic job to provide objectively a good picture of each era. He is very descriptive on the important moments in Chinese history (it's impossible to fit every moment of Chinese history in a book of this size), so after reading this book, the reader is likely to remember these important points in Chinese history.

The maps are also very helpful to get an idea of all the warfare that was going on. I thought more maps would have even been better, and more pictures/portraits/photos (e.g. of important emperors and other leaders) would have also been good as it puts a face to a name.

I am not a frequent reader, but I can still tell that Keay chooses his words carefully and skillfully. I had to reach for the dictionary plenty of times. Hopefully someone with a better vocabulary base can appreciate this aspect more than myself.
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Format: Paperback
D.K. Whitsell
Temple University Japan
B.A. East Asian Studies UM Asia

I've spent more than my fair share of time pouring over texts on China for both academic and professional purposes in the East Asian studies field. I understand that an attempt to condense the vast intricacies of Chinese history and culture into a comprehensive book is no easy task, and many of us are still waiting for the day a hallmark, standard text will come to light that leaves no questions to the reader. But from the moment I cracked open this book, which was bought more or less as one more supplementary text to add to my collection on history, I was completely lost.

An author cannot hold the hand of a reader, but when we're talking about thousands of years of history, there needs to be a standard breakdown of individual periods on a timeline. What I found just perusing the first chapter was nothing more than a few significant names and dates here and there, followed by offhand tangents on completely unrelated subject matter. The first chapter alone attempts to cram three dynasties, archaeological findings, writing systems, family structures, and more, all within only 25 pages. With as much jumping around as this book does, I would be impressed if a reader who had finished the first few chapters of the book would even be able to list the first five major dynasties in order, and maybe a few facts that actually distinguishes each dynasty from the next. The author likes to use catchy quip titles to chapters, such as "Rites to Writing," "Within and Beyond," and "Caving In," but these chapter headings mean nothing to a reader who is not familiar with a broken down timeline of Chinese history.
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