A Concise History of China

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Overview

The centuries-long complexity of China's political experience, the richness of its culture, and the drama of its economic unfolding are the hallmarks of this short but sweeping history. China's own history is entwined with its response to the West in a rich tapestry depicting its peoples, rulers, and society. More than a nuanced history of a vast continent, this study is sensitive to the multifaceted and changing interpretations of China that have been offered over the years.

In this overarching book, J. A. G. Roberts refers to recent archeological finds—the caches of bronze vessels found at Sanxingdui—and to new documentary reevaluations—the reassessment of Manchu documentation. The first half of the book provides an up-to-date interpretation of China's early and imperial history, while the second half concentrates on the modern period and provides an interpretive account of major developments—the impact of Western imperialism, the rise of Chinese Communism, and the record of the People's Republic of China since 1949.

Concise and direct, this book is a compelling narrative and handy companion for those interested in China.

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Editorial Reviews

Asian Studies Review
In seven chapters, this readable and highly interesting book covers the whole of Chinese history...The book is both descriptive and interpretive and, despite covering a long period already considered many times before, offers new insights based on some up-to-date findings and newly discovered evidence.
— Colin Mackerras
Booklist
Chinese history, given its length and diversity, can frequently puzzle the untrained Western reader. Roberts has written a concise, coherent, and unadorned survey of Chinese history. His sharp prose is readable without being condescending to the general reader, and he does an admirable job of explaining the importance and accomplishments of the various dynasties, philosophers, and political and military leaders who have left their mark on Chinese culture...Those laypeople who wish to gain a greater appreciation of this ancient, vital, and fascinating land will find this work enjoyable and immensely informative.
— Jay Freeman
ForeWord
Certainly the actual history of China can hardly be called concise...Yet Roberts has produced a historical reference that would fit in a suitcase and still leave room for clothes and cameras. Further, it does a nice job...Those who pick up this book need have no previous introduction to the topic. Here they will gain a satisfactory initial exposure to the major conflicts and highlights of each period of China's known history as well as the major players throughout.
— Patricia Voice
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Capturing the full sweep of China's tormented history, this succinct yet highly informative chronicle skillfully incorporates the latest research, whether the topic is China's vast, cosmopolitan eighth-century cities of the Tang empire, the widespread practice of female infanticide during the Ming period (especially the 15th century), China's failure to industrialize in the 18th century, or the rivalry between Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping following the disaster of the Great Leap Forward, when Mao found himself increasingly excluded from power. In the ancient battle of Confucianists, who called for ethical, benevolent rule, versus Legalists, who put the state's interests first, the lineaments of the power struggles that have convulsed modern China become visible. Along the way, British historian Roberts, the author of four other books on China, continually challenges received opinions and conventional interpretations. He rejects, for instance, the traditional verdict that Mongol rule over China was an unmitigated catastrophe; the Mongols were in some ways more humane and less ideologically restrictive than their Song dynasty predecessors, he opines. While much of the narrative centers on rebellions, politics and the rise and fall of dynasties and empires, Roberts keeps up the momentum with shrewd assessments of personalities and events, colorful incidents and interludes covering artistic as well as religious and intellectual developments. He provides a handy compass for understanding China's headlong economic modernization, its crushing of the democracy movement and the current deadlock between reformers and conservatives. Maps. (Dec.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This literate, well-balanced general history of China from the earliest times through the death of Deng Xiaoping in 1997 is a singular accomplishment. In the first three chapters, Roberts (history, Univ. of Huddersfield, England) covers China from pre-history through the Yuan dynasty; in the last four, he carries the story from the Ming through the post-Mao reforms. His focus is on political history, but social, economic, and intellectual trends are not neglected. The very few errors are concentrated in the last chapter on post-1949 China, perhaps a period the author knows less well. Throughout, Roberts cites different interpretations of key historical issues, including the most recent scholarship, thereby conveying a sense of Chinese history as a dynamic, evolving field. An excellent textbook for intelligent undergraduates, this is also accessible to general readers and belongs in all college and larger public libraries.--Steven I. Levine, Univ. of Montana, Missoula Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
High Voice
What does the average Westerner really know about China? Perhaps a name or two may ring a bell - Confucius, Mao Zedong. Perhaps a place or two is familiar - Shanghai, Beijing. Maybe most people have even heard of a few dynasties - like the Ming and the Qing. With China more and more in the daily news, with its borders more open to visitors, this would be the time to gain a deeper understanding of this vast, growing country and its history.
Certainly the actual history of China can hardly be considered concise. It's one of the oldest civilizations with physically supportive evidence of its existence. Remains of hominid species believed to have existed as far back as 400,000 BC have been discovered in the area China now encompasses. Yet Roberts has produced a historical reference that would fit in a suitcase and still leave room for clothes and cameras.
Further, it does a nice job. Starting with the prehistory and early history the work takes readers through a brief synopsis of the "after the 1949 revolution period." Readers will find information on both more popularly known figures such as Genghis Khan, Confuscious, as well as often less well-known people like the early emperors. Readers will learn about the different dynasties, about the evolving economic and social and political changes throughout this country's and people's lengthy existence.
Additionally, there is a helpful introductory briefing of Chinese phonetics for better pronunciation of pinyin (the Romanized spelling of the language), as well as ten maps for referencing significant periods and movements--such as the route for The Long March (the 1934-35 Communist movement northward through Nationalist territory). An index is also provided for easy reference of particular points.
This work, the author acknowledges, is a synthesis of others - weightier tomes for the most part. He wisely does not try to tackle an in-depth survey of present day China. That would change both the mission as well the book's handy, compact size. In keeping the size and contents constrained, Roberts opens his pages to a broader readership. Those who pick up this book need have no previous introduction to the topic. Here they will gain a satisfactory initial exposure to the major conflicts and highlights of each period of China's known history as well as the major players throughout.
Foreword (December)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674000742
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/1999
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 5.63 (w) x 8.73 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

J. A. G. Roberts specializes in the history of China and Japan and is Principal Lecturer in Humanities at the University of Huddersfield, England. He is the author of four other books on China.

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Table of Contents

List of Maps

Preface

Acknowledgements

Introduction

Maps

1. The Prehistory and Early History of China

2. From the Period of Division to the Tang Dynasty

3. The Song and Yuan Dynasties

4. The Early Modern Period: The Ming and the Early Qing

5. China in the Late Qing

6. Republican China, 1911-49

7. China since the 1949 Revolution

Epilogue

Notes

Further Reading

Index

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