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Bo Yang's 史纲


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I bought a mainland edition of Bo Yang's 《中国人史纲》 (History of the Chinese people). The layout of the books (two volumes) is quite nice, chapters are arranged by century as opposed to by dynasty, so that you are always aware of when something happens and what is going on in the rest of the world at that time. At the end of each chapter there is a list of major world events (under the heading 东西方世界, one cannot help wondering if Parthia or India fall under 东 or 西). The author writes in a whimsical tabloid-like style and includes many maps and tables, which are of course very helpful. All in all, I was expecting a readable, alternative retelling of Chinese history from a Taiwanese author that you could give to a 15-year-old.

After reading the first chapter though, I'm not sure I will ever finish it. For example, Bo Yang writes that the 'Chinese are a branch of the yellow race' (中华人是黄种人的一支). I'm not worried about PC as much as about accuracy, assuming you can define what that means, it's hard to see how this applies to Uighurs or Tatars (for this reason I think, even mainland school textbooks steer away from this issue). He goes on to say that 'a Chinese, if born with blue or grey eyes, is most certainly blind' (do people really believe this rubbish?). He says that the Chinese are one of the most good-natured nations on Earth (世界上最善良的民族之一) and that despite many violent events in the country's past (as in every other country, of course), these have only happened either because of foreign invasion, or official corruption (as if corrupt officials were foreigners and 三国演义 had never been written). Alas, I was expecting something *slightly* more thought out.

Has anybody read this? Should I pinch my nose and read on?

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Bo Yang's a journalist. It's a little biased like "How the Irish Saved Civilization" perhaps, but I would let that deter you from continuing. I think his prose style is wonderful, and he's much more balanced than Li Ao. Skip ahead a few chapters if the introductory stuff bothers you. I actually skipped all the way ahead to the Yuan dynasty.

By the way, did you just buy this recently? How come you didn't get the 3-volume version published last year by 同心出版社 with new illustrations added?


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The thing I dislike most about it is that the author deliberately (obviously) calls some of the very famous historical figures by names different from what everyone uses. For example, instead of using 秦始皇、唐太宗、康熙皇帝 or 慈禧太后, he calls them 嬴政大帝、李世民大帝、玄燁大帝 and 那拉蘭兒 instead.

I can understand why you dislike 柏杨 describes the historical figurers in that way. I think maybe you can understand more on his intention after checking the link below.




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I must have bought an earlier edition, never thought of checking if there were better ones. I actually also kind of like that style, which is one of the reasons I bought the book on impulse after browsing a page or two. Fair enough, I'll try chapter two then.

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His book is an exciting reading for all beginners on Chinese History. It's so amazing to read so many details about Chinese and a general history in his relatively short texts, although it's widely known that the book is sometimes exaggrating, sometimes too much in fictional style.

But even if you're advanced on history, I also suggest his book. He's an influential and prolific amateur historian and his books has given a lot of cultural explanations which are widely accepted by many Chinese. For example, many chinese tells you that Chinese characters are what unites China. Although it's obviously an exaggration and neglects geographical and political factors, the point of views has been recited by many mouths of Chinese. This view comes from (or spread by ) Bo Yang.

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