The Imperial Capitals of China: A Dynastic History of the Celestial Empire

The Imperial Capitals of China: A Dynastic History of the Celestial Empire

by Arthur Cotterell
     
 

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From the foundations of the first capital to the politics of empire and cataclysmic civil wars, The Imperial Capitals of China offers a level of insight indispensable for a true understanding of China today.

From the third century B.C. Shang Emperor's obsessive—and fatal—attempts to engage the Immortals with cosmologically pleasing urban planning,

Overview

From the foundations of the first capital to the politics of empire and cataclysmic civil wars, The Imperial Capitals of China offers a level of insight indispensable for a true understanding of China today.

From the third century B.C. Shang Emperor's obsessive—and fatal—attempts to engage the Immortals with cosmologically pleasing urban planning, Chinese emperors have designed their imperial capitals in ways that reveal the heart of their dynasty. In a history peopled with countless races, nationalities, and faiths, capital city ley lines display religious preoccupations and building design shows cultural influences of the period. The Tang capital at Chang’an betrays the striking creativity and cultural receptiveness that earmark the era as a literary and artistic golden age, and the Forbidden City of fifteenth century Beijing still stands as testament to Ming dynasty architectural virtuosity. Arthur Cotterell provides an inside view of the rich array of characters, political and ideological tensions, and technological genius that defined the imperial cities of China, as each in turn is uncovered, explored, and celebrated. The oldest continuous civilization in existence today stands to become the most influential.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

China's cities, notes Cotterell (China: A Cultural History), played an important role in symbolizing the legitimacy of a new regime; upstart emperors spent untold treasure and lives on building magnificent capitals, carefully laid out on principles of cosmology and feng shui, to demonstrate their assumption of the Mandate of Heaven. These cities furnish the author with splendid panoramas of 2,300 years of Chinese civilization. Working with maps, photos, reproductions of Chinese art and literary accounts, he recreates the cosmopolitanism of medieval Chang'an, the commercial bustle of Song dynasty Hangzhou and the sublime architecture of Beijing's Forbidden City. These set pieces frame a sprightly history of China up to the founding of the republic. Cotterell elucidates large-scale themes-the long seesaw battle between China and its nomadic neighbors, the Confucian scholar-bureaucracy's struggle to control the state, and the cycle of imperial despotism and peasant revolt-while sketching a picaresque chronicle of dynastic succession and court intrigue, complete with overmighty eunuchs and scheming concubines. The result is a fine evocation of China as both a place and a story. 46 b&w photos and maps. (June)

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Kirkus Reviews
From British scholar Cotterell (Chariot: The Astounding Rise and Fall of the World's First War Machine, 2005, etc), a thoroughgoing history of China's ruling dynasties and their extraordinary achievements in architecture. The author's knowledge of Chinese dynasties is nearly encyclopedic, and readers are assumed to have a basic grounding in the chronology. Imperial capitals were laid out according to cosmic principles, and Cotterell jumps right in to explain the cosmology of northern China's ancient Shang kings, who established the capital in Anyang across the Yellow River on the advice of divination. The first emperor, in 256 BCE, was the energetic Qin Shi Huang Di, who was much influenced by Daoism and the Five Elements; he commissioned extensive building, from the Great Wall and the national road system to a grand palace called Er Fang and his famous terracotta army at Mount Li. The Qin dynasty, under the sway of Confucianism, moved between Xianyang and Chang'an. The subsequent Han dynasty moved to Luoyang, the second largest city in the world after Rome. After the invasion of the steppe people, the Jin abandoned Luoyang in favor of Nanjing, though it never attained the glory of the previous imperial capitals. During the Sui and Tang dynasties, Chang'an flourished without rival in the world. The war of succession among the Five Dynasties gave rise to Zhang Zeduan's legendary painting of the thriving city of Kaifeng, Spring Festival on the River, reproduced in part here. Hangzhou, capital of the seagoing Southern Song, in the 13th century fell to Mongol invaders; their capital at Dadu (later called Beijing) was admiringly portrayed by Marco Polo. The Ming dynasty that followed ruled atfirst from Nanjing, but in the early 15th century returned the capital to Beijing, enriched by the construction of the emperor Yongle's Purple Forbidden City. Cotterell's work takes the traveler deep into the fascinating recesses of each dynasty. A challenging but valuable companion for the traveler to China.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781468306057
Publisher:
The Overlook Press
Publication date:
05/29/2008
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
895,823
File size:
4 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Arthur Cotterell combines a career in education with an extensive background in ancient civilizations.  His previous books include The Minoan World and The Penguin Encyclopedia of Ancient Civilization.

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