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Chinese Roundabout: Essays in History and Culture
     

Chinese Roundabout: Essays in History and Culture

by Jonathan D. Spence
 

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“If one has the art, then a piece of celery or salted cabbage can be made into a marvelous delicacy; whereas if one has not the art, not all the greatest delicacies and rarities of land, sea, or sky are of any avail.” —a Beijing cook, nineteenth century from Chinese Roundabout
The spirit of adventure is at the heart of Jonathan Spence's widely

Overview

“If one has the art, then a piece of celery or salted cabbage can be made into a marvelous delicacy; whereas if one has not the art, not all the greatest delicacies and rarities of land, sea, or sky are of any avail.” —a Beijing cook, nineteenth century from Chinese Roundabout
The spirit of adventure is at the heart of Jonathan Spence's widely acclaimed scholarship on the modern history of China. This vitality, fleshed out with deep research and attired in elegant style, has drawn countless readers to subjects otherwise approachable only by experts. Through eight books, from the story of the early eighteenth century Manchu bondservant Ts'ao Yin to his magisterial history, The Search for Modern China, Spence has made the excitement of intellectual discovery palpable for us all. In the course of his fruitful career Spence has written many shorter pieces as well, and the best of these are collected for the first time in Chinese Roundabout. Here the reader will meet Arcadio Huang, the Chinese linguist and Christian convert who moves from south China to Enlightenment Paris, marries a French woman, and in conversations with Montesquieu becomes the likely source for the Persian Letters. The poignant story of Huang's hard-won success and final defeat by poverty and disease illustrates the perils of crossing cultures. Spence's delight in intellectual risk animates his Shakespearean approach to the life of the great Qing emperor in "The Seven Ages of K'ang-hsi." Spence's great learning informs an authoritative essay on China's tragic experience with opium. Following the social process of addiction from the cultivation of poppies and the processing of the drug through its introduction by the British into China, its widespread distribution and consumption by Chinese, and the public struggle to suppress opium use, Spence explores issues of historical and contemporary interest. In an equally substantial piece he focuses on the cultural dimensions of food in Qing China, illuminating the marginal diet of a peasantry constantly threatened by famine as well as the grand banquets of the literati and the imperial household. In the work of 25 years, Spence has established himself as a brilliant interpreter of modern Chinese history. His books—among them the recent national bestseller The Search for Modern China—exhibit uncommon imagination, unobtrusive learning, verve, and elegance. These same qualities animate the essays gathered here.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Spence's intellectually adventurous essays help us understand the dynamics of China's past and the dormant promise of its future. He reviews the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 with reference to the symbolism of public spaces. He boldly interprets the life of Qing emperor K'anghsi (1654-1722) in terms of Shakespeare's seven ages of man. The tragic odyssey of Arcadio Huang, a Chinese scholar in Paris who briefly befriended Montesquieu, serves as a parable of missed opportunities in contact between China and the West. Spence ( The Search for Modern China ) shows how opium smoking radically affected all levels of society and contrasts the diet of China's poor with that of gourmets. This miscellany of previously published essays and reviews includes profiles of John Fairbank and Arthur Waley as well as lively explorations of Chinese films and medicine, the fall of the Ming dynasty and the longevity of Confucianism. Photos not seen by PW. (June)
Library Journal
Spence may now be the most important Sinologist writing in the West. A master of both breadth and detail, he writes in a vivid, free-flowing style that produces critically acclaimed masterpieces ( The Search for Modern China , LJ 4/15/90, is the most recent) one after another. This welcome collection contains reprints from more than a score of Spence's earlier books and other writings. He likes the word roundabout , he tells us, because it suggests ``meandering that is yet somehow purposeful''--precisely the effect achieved here in a gathering of diverse perspectives on China's history and culture, from the Jesuit presence in the Middle Kingdom four centuries ago to the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, including such topics as opium smoking, poetry, movie criticism, and cuisine. A delight to read, ponder, and enjoy, Chinese Roundabout offers scholarship for the scholars and intellectual enjoyment for most general readers as well.-- John H. Boyle, California State Univ., Chico

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393309942
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
04/17/1993
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan D. Spence is Sterling Professor of History at Yale University, where he has taught for thirty years. He has been awarded MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award. The Search for Modern China won the Lionel Gelber Award and the Kiriyama Book Prize.

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