Jump to content
Chinese-forums.com
Learn Chinese in China

Best Historical Books about China


woodcutter

Recommended Posts

Cambridge's huge series of China history is worth reading. It's so far the most comprehensive English books for Chinese history. pick up the dynasty you're interested.

And be aware of 1421. It's a book for satisfying the rising Chinese nationalism, but even Chinese scholars disputed the theory in the book.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 months later...
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

sjohnson2

i'm just planning my first trip to china and history is always a main focus when i travel. i've got quite a few good suggestions to look into from this thread. i don't have a real scheduled itinarary yet and i'd appreciate anyone offering me more insight ... cheers. sam :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

I've read it but it seemed a bit unbalanced. Try Rana Mitter's Modern China, A Very Short Introduction-to get another opinion of some of the history of that time. It's published by Oxford University Press.ISBN 978-0-19-9228027

Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm surprised no one has mentioned the Soong Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave. Its an excellent critical analysis of the Soong Dynasty and the rise of Chiang Kai-Shek.

That book was a very judgmental piece of biased writing against the Soong family. Of course they had their negatives and are associated with corruption, but a good scholarly book does not see things in black and white. Sterling Seagrave casts a negative judgment on the Soong family as well as Chiang Kaishek using today's standards. "They're corrupt, therefore they're bad". Instead of making a thoughtful analysis on why people acted the way they did, he imposes his own moralistic judgment on historical characters in a 1930s society using contemporary standards, on a society where personal loyalty, connections, and 人情 dominate over principle and meritocracy.

It's easy to blast everyone in the Soong family and see Song Qingling as a saint. Anyone can come to that conclusion. Seagrave takes that simplistic route.

We should not impose today's standards to make a judgment on historical characters to satisfy a black and white perspective. Although Song Meiling was not personally corrupt, she turned a blind eye to corruption in the Kung family as well as corruption stemming from her sister Song Ailing. Seagrave would see this in black and white, and come to the conclusion that this character is bad. In a 1930-1940s society that emphasized filial piety and emotive loyalty to one's leader, it's not surprising that a person in that era would place higher importance on their personal clan over the welfare of the public good.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 months later...
Olivia Shanks

I really enjoyed The Chan's Great Continent: China in Western Minds. by Jonathon Spence. It gives a history of Western interactions with China, from Marco Polo to the modern age. So it is good for social and historical study. I also like The Inner Quarters by Patricia Ebrey. It is basically a social history of the Song Dynasty. Interesting, even if you don't care much for Women's History.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Javer Chen

did any guys read <> written by Kenneth Pomeranz?

I think it's worth reading though I can't agree some of his points. but it offered many useful infomation and offered another angle to compare the development between China and Europe.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...
  • 3 months later...
Don_Horhe

I'm looking for a book on Chinese history (from antiquity to modern times) which doesn't go into too much detail (my interest lies in linguistics) but then again is comprehensive enough for one to have good general and slightly detailed knowledge of the topic. So far I've come up with China: A New History, Second Enlarged Edition by John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman, although there's mixed opinions of it.

Link to post
Share on other sites
So far I've come up with China: A New History, Second Enlarged Edition by John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman, although there's mixed opinions of it.

I've skimmed through the Fairbank book and found it to be concise yet incisive in its analysis. I think you'll be happy with it.

Link to post
Share on other sites
wushijiao
I've skimmed through the Fairbank book and found it to be concise yet incisive in its analysis. I think you'll be happy with it

I think that's a great place to start as well, especially for meeting Don Horne's criteria.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Don_Horhe

Thanks for the input, I'll probably get it soon.

Btw, it's Don Horhe, although that's not my real name and it doesn't really matter. It's just that Horne is only one typo away from being Don Horny, and THAT I wouldn't really like.:lol:

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

Jaques Gernet's History of Chinese Civilization is the best one-volume history I have read. It can be overwhelming because it doesn't "telescope" history like some of the other books do - meaning he tries to give as much attention to the far past as he does to the recent past.

Anything by Edward Hetzel Schafer is also really fascinating, but he doesn't deal with modern China.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Don_Horhe

I also considered getting Bai Shouyi's "An Outline of Chinese History", but this book being a perfect example of why scholarship and politics shouldn't be mixed, I have to think about it. Although, it would be interesting to see what the official CCP view is on certain matters.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Now I wasn't going to mention that particular book "Outline of Chinese History" because it is rather cheap and easy to get hold of in China, but is a very poor introduction to the subject. It's best to read other (more expensive) books first, and then have a look at this one.

"Outline" does have the merit of showing the intellectual boundaries of historical scholarship under CCP rule. It is the end result of squeezing Chinese history to fit into the Marxist model of progression from "primitive society" through "slave society" and "feudalism" on to "capitalism" and ultimately to "communism". Most writing on history within the PRC (especially work on minority history) is still unable to escape from this historical orthodoxy, so it is a good guide for what to expect in PRC scholarship if you start to read it in Chinese.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 4 months later...

I will take a look through my collection when I get back from work, but one book I would highly recommend is Origins of the Chinese Revolution, 1915-1949 (Les Origines de la révolution chinoise 1915-1949) by Lucien Bianco. Even though it was published back in 1971, it still provides one of the best accounts and analysis of the revolutionary period between the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the formation of the People's Republic.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Just an update on books which I've read:

The Complete History of China (J. A. G. Roberts) - Provides a great general history of China, with a summary of each dynasty, major events and important people in each. The fact that it tries to fit such a long and complex history into 500 pages, about one third of which is on the Republican period and later, does limit some of the analysis. However, for somebody just starting out its invaluable, and is still a good starting point for study beyond that.

Sources of Chinese Tradition (Theodore de Bary, editor) - I've only read the first volume of the series (up to the 1600's), but its already about twice the length of the book above. It provides a much more detailed history, including deeper analysis and selections from several important texts of the period. It is a much heavier read, and can even be daunting for someone studying East Asia at university. However, it is an excellent reference and is an extremely interesting read, albeit time consuming. Sources of ______ Tradition also exist for Japan and Korea, both of which are equally well written. They provide an excellent middle ground between a general introductory history and more detailed, multi-volume works like the Cambridge History of China series.

The Great Chinese Revolution (John King Fairbank) - I haven't read it yet, but as King is an authority on this period of Chinese history, its hard not to recommend it.

Cambridge Illustrated History of China (Patricia Buckley Ebrey) - Provides an nice summary of Chinese history up to the present and is useful for general reading or for introductory students. The extra value in this book is in the many images (hence, illustrated) provided from each period, from maps to photos to Art.

The Arts of China (Michael Sullivan) - Much the same review as that above. However, it just seems to be more detailed and complete, likely due to its focus being the Arts as opposed to simply a general history. A fifth version as recently been released, which is good since it has been updated and also since the fourth can be found online or used for quite cheap. I would definitely recommend this.

Orientalism (Edward Said) - Although it is NOT meant to be a book in Chinese history, and its analysis revolves around the Orient in its traditional sense, as a counter to the Occident (Europe), I would HIGHLY recommend reading it as it will put study of China, Asia and any cultural study/comparison into a new context.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 months later...

Well, personally for me the books that gave me my basic knowledge of Chinese history were Hucker's "China's Imperial Past" and Gernet's "History of Chinese Civilization".

And I'll join the general bandwagon and recommend 'anything by Spencer'. I really enjoyed "Emperor of China", a biography of the Kangxi Emperor.

I must say that I'm not a big fan of Wild Sawns. It seems to me that it's mostly about the backward, anti-feminist, oppressive, evil pre- (and un-) modern "feudalistic" society...

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 4 weeks later...

I read The Rise of Modern China by Immanuel C.Y. Hsü during Christmas vacation and enjoyed it a lot. I am too new to the Chinese history to judge if he presents the ultimate view of events, but based on Amazon's review's, his book (first published in 1970 and 1999 in its sixth edition) seems to be at par with Spencer's book (which I plan to read next). While his style is fantastic, it cleary showed my that my English vocabulary is sufficient to read "The Economist", but not a history book by a Chinese scholar. In the beginning I had to use leo.org at least three times a page, a daunting task considering that this is a 1100 page volume. But somehow it seemed that the vocabulary got less challenging later in the book.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...