China: History of China
China History Books
The Cambridge Illustrated History of China (2010; 2nd edition)
by Patricia Buckley Ebrey.
Beautifully illustrated, giving the sense of the lives of the non-military as well as the military.
Zhou Dynasty (770-240 BCE): warfare and power struggles.
Philosophers Confucius and Lao Tzu (creator of Daoism) born.
Qin [pronounced 'Chin' by English] Dynasty (221-206 BCE) and Han (202 BCE-220 CE): The start of imperial China.
Trade routes reach Turkey.
Population 58 M in 2 CE (exceeding Rome at that time).
Start of construction of Great Wall.
Tang Dynasty (581-907 CE) unifies China.
Northern and Southern China linked by canals, facilitating internal trade.
Chang'an becomes the world's largest city.
Culture and arts thrive.
Song Dynasty (907-1276 CE) weak in control of East Asia.
Shaky peace deals with neighboring states.
In 11th century, China outpacing European
"agricultural productivity, industrial technology, and sophistication of
Ghengis Khan (1162-1227): his armored and rapid-advance cavalry commandeers
two-thirds of Asia.
While the Mongol ruling class has powers and privileges over the Chinese,
the Mongols adopt much of the Chinese bureaucratic methods for control
and taxation of the population.
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644): founded by Taizu, the first commoner to
become emperor in 1,500 years.
While the population is mainly under control, Mongols attack from the North;
Japanese attack from the East.
Qing [pronounced 'Ching' by English] Dynasty (1644-1900): led by Manchus from Manchuria (east of Mongolia, north of Korea).
Requirement that males adopt the Manchu hairstyle (shaved heads with braided hair behind)
to show loyalty.
Trade with Europe increases: by 1800, Europe buys a seventh of all Chinese tea.
European colonial powers vie for control of portions of China.
Left-wing and right-wing:
Sun Yatsen, Chang Kaishek, Mao Zedong.
1919 and 1989 uprisings in Tiananmen Square.
Some of the more interesting areas regard how things are done,
such as how rice and silk are cultivated and how
hardwood furniture and ceramics are manufactured.
If it has a weakness
the book lacks a strong sense of historical narrative:
I was glad to have
Roberts' A Concise History of China
at hind, to clarify the sequence in which things happened, the scores being settled, and the debts being paid.
- The Origins of Chinese Civilization: Neolithic Period to the Western Zhou Dynasty.
- Philosphical Foundations: The Eastern Zhou Period.
- The Creation of the Bureaucractic Empire: The Qin and Han Dynasties.
- Buddhism, Aristocracy, and Alien Rulers: The Age of Division.
- A Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty.
- Shifting South: The Song Dynasty.
- Alien Rule: The Liao, Jin, and Yuan Dynasties.
- The Limits of Autocracy: The Ming Dynasty.
- Manchus and Imperialism: The Qing Dynasty.
- Taking Action: THe Early Twentieth Century.
- Radical Reunification: The People's Republic.
- Opening to the World: China Since 1976.
A Concise History of China by J. A. G. Roberts
A Concise History of China (1999)
is a more traditional (lots of names and dates; no color illustrations of art)
history in which the factions and causes and consequences are relatively clear;
hence it is a useful complement to Ebrey's book, where the facts are relatively sparse and motivations are often unclear.
- The Prehistory and Early History of China
- From the Period of Division to the Tang Dynasty
- The Song and Yuan Dynasties
- The Early Modern Period: The Ming and the Early Qing
- China in the late Qing
- Republican China, 1911-49
- China since the 1949 Revolution.
- 10 maps (from the Prehistoric era to the People's Republic of China).
- A preface with a pronunciation guide to the pinyin transliteration system (superseding Wade-Giles)
- c -> 'ts'
- q -> 'ch' as in 'cheap'
- x -> 'sh'
- z -> 'ds'
- zh -> 'j' as in jasmine
- An introduction that explores Han Nationalism, China's response to the west, and
the periodization of Chinese history.
On China by Henry Kissinger
Historical fiction set in China
19th century China:
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan : a novel (2005)
by Lisa See:
1823-1903 rural China; woemen's experience of patriarchy;
'old same' paired girls (laotong); women's phonetic Chinese writing (nu shu);
footbinding; civil war; loyalty and betrayal.
20th century China:
Shanghai Girls (2009)
by Lisa See: 1930s in Shanghai; 1930's to 1950's in California.
Dreams of Joy (2011)
by Lisa See: late 1950's Communist China.
Essentially it's the Persephone story, where the daughter descends into "hell" (in the
form of late 1950s Communist China and the start of their Difficult Years of famine)
and the mother searches for her, finds her, loses her, and ultimately rescues her.
Some of the most intense descriptions of what it's like to starve to death.
Fortunately, love conquers a great deal (though not all).