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History of China - General Books - pls give me suggestions


Celso Pin

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Celso Pin

I am searching for some (basic) chinese history books.

Right now I am reading " Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial China (Chronical Series) by Ann Paludan". The book is beatufil and good as an intriduction (in spite of some mistakes).

I intend to have an (good) overview of History of China.

Could you please recommend me some other books (english/spanish/portuguese)?

p.s. The Cambridge History of China series seems very very good... but 12 volumes with 1k pages @ 130 bucks it seems to much for now!:mrgreen:

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That Spence book is good but only as far as modern China goes, it starts midway through the Qing dynasty. Good book though. For a more complete history Jaques Gernet has a good "History of Chinese Civilization". Warning though, it uses wade-giles which annoys the hell out of me, but otherwise good. Also Fairbank's "A New History of China" is good.

Also if you just want a real quick overview of the the dynasties and the course of chinese history then "A Concise History of China" by J.A.G. Roberts is great. It's only 300 pages but if you read it you will be aware of all the major (and lots of minor) issues and events in the history of Chinese civilization. Despite it's small size it's actually quite complete.

It's tricky to do 5,000 or so years of history in one volume...

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For the history of modern China, my favourite books are Jonathan D. Spence's book, which kudra mentioned, and The Rise of Modern China by Immanuel C. Y. Hsü.

Spence provides loads of information, but I prefer Hsü's book because of his thought-provoking and in-depth analysis of the reasons behind historical events. A superb book, in my opinion.

For the history of China up to the Ming dynasty, a book I enjoyed last year was The Open Empire by Valerie Hansen. I think it is an excellent book, but not everyone seems to like it as much as I do. It gets mixed reviews in Amazon.

For the whole of China's history since antiquity, a classic is Le monde chinois by Jacques Gernet. It has been translated into several languages, including English. As Liu Bang said, the English edition uses Wade-Giles romanisation. This is because it is a translation of an older edition. The latest French edition was published in Spanish last year. There is a Portuguese translation ("O mundo chinês"), but I think it is the older edition. I would recommend you get the latest edition in French or in Spanish, especially if you prefer to read Chinese names in pinyin romanisation.

A book I am reading right now, which I am finding very entertaining indeed, is The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Li Zhisui, who was Mao's personal doctor. This book is amazing, as it provides a rare glimpse into Mao Zedong's life and how he conducted his daily routine as China's paramount leader. The book has been widely criticised, especially by some Chinese scholars from mainland China, who have even questioned Dr. Li's status as Mao's personal physician, and cast doubt on many of his assertions. However, such criticisms seem a bit shallow and ideologically-motivated to me, and the events described in the book appear completely credible, so I would recommend that book too, if you are interested in that period of China's recent history.

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F.W. Mote's Imperial China (900-1800) provides a very detailed, in-depth analysis of the historical events that occurred from the start of the Northern Song Dynasty until the end of Qianlong's reign. The book also provides detailed, biographical information on figures like Su Dongpo (his impact on Song cultural and literary life); Yuan Chonghuan (the reasons for the general's rise and fall); and Ming philosophers like Wang Yangming and Wang Fuzhi (analyzes their line of thinking and the events that influenced their thinking) .

The book would be more comprehensive and interesting if it expanded beyond the start of the 19th century.

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wushijiao
For the history of China up to the Ming dynasty, a book I enjoyed last year was The Open Empire by Valerie Hansen. I think it is an excellent book, but not everyone seems to like it as much as I do. It gets mixed reviews in Amazon.

I am reading through this as well, and find it to be excellent. The strength of this book is that it draws upon non-traditional sources (poem, plays, paintings, unearthed ceramics, oracle bones...etc) to try to piece together what life in China was like in ancient times. Other books often over-rely on top-down official histories written by the court. Secondly, it looks back at the losers of history, mainly women and non-Hans. Often non-Han Chinese occupied a large amount of PRC territory, and yet their history is less well known. Lastly, the book attacks the paradigm of the “dynastic cycle” because this is a fairly convenient, but misleading way to categorize Chinese history.

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