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China: A History

China: A History [Kindle Edition]

John Keay
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Product Description


"Library Journal"
"Without sacrificing substance for brevity, Keay manages to illustrate China's history very much as a narrative... Readers already interested in, or wishing newly to embark upon, Chinese history will adore this book. Highly recommended."

"Philadelphia Inquirer"
""China: A History" marks a welcome advance... [Keay's] touch is deft and faithful to the tenor of the debates, especially those between archaeologists and literary scholars."


'John Keay...has produced a valiant, fluently written attempt to condense a sprawling story into a few hundred pages.'

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2439 KB
  • Print Length: 611 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0007221789
  • Publisher: HarperPress (15 April 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003GUBIH0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #26,691 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent overview 19 Oct 2010
By reader 451 TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Keay's book is probably the one to chose if you are looking for a one-volume history of China from the origins of Chinese civilisation to today. The alternative is the Cambridge Illustrated History, but that's shorter and Keay, at 530 pages, already packs it in. The book is well written and absorbing, and it is not overtly Euro-centric in outlook (for example, Keay finds nice things to say about Maoism). It also has fascinating detail about the imperial annals and the rich tradition in Chinese history-writing. Keay successfully uses the same approach as in his history of India and gives equal length to all periods, so that this is not weighted towards modern history. His justification is that giving undue importance to the modern era is to focus on times of Western dominance, whereas their classical or Ming periods matter more or equally to the Chinese. If you would however like to read more about the last four centuries, then Spence's The Search for Modern China is highly recommended.
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Just what I wanted - an accessible and well written history of the middle kingdom covering the social, political and dynastic history right up to the ascent of Mao. It's got it all; territorial expansion, dynastic struggles, the interplay between Daoism, Buddhism and Confucian values, the Mongols, evolution of technology and literature, opium wars, the Generalisimo etc, What I found particularly interesting were the recurrent themes of the `mandate of heaven', the importance attributed to history in Chinese society and the repeated inability of `new' empires to consolidate gains. However, with so much to cover, no one area is dealt with in great depth and those seeking more detail, about recent history in particular, might wish to look elsewhere.

I've read a couple of other titles by Keay and found his writing style hard work. Happily I cannot say the same for this book, which I've enjoyed reading immensely and learned a great deal in the process. The maps and photos within are clear and informative too. I find it hard to imagine that there are any significantly better single-volume histories of China available.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eminently readable account of a long history 5 Jan 2010
This is an eminently readable account of China's history, from a thousand years BC up to modern day and provides a great introduction to a huge topic. John Keay's style is approachable and helpful - he uses humour and analogy to help the reader get a handle on successive dynasties with similar names, complex battles and regime changes that seem to happen overnight, name changes, philosphies and the myriad elements that make the history of China such a fascinating (and confusing) study. There are some colour plates, though not enough in my view: more useful to me were the timelines to keep track of names and dates, and the odd reference to what was happening in the Western world at the same time, which helped give a wider perspective on Chinese ideas and ingenuity compared to British or European events of the time, with which I have more familiarity.

Keay includes literature and painting in his chapters, discusses idealogies and does an excellent job of providing a balanced and informed view of Tartar invasions, the Opium Wars, the construction of the Great Wall, as well as an insight into daily life both at court and amongst the people. There is a lot of detail here and the footnotes and references to other works both show the levels of research undertaken as well as providing further sources of study. This is not a "popular" account and needs some concentration, but the effort is repaid: as a first step I cannot recommend this work highly enough.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Book 2 Aug 2009
This book is very comprehensive. If you're approaching chinese history from little or no knowledge, this is a good starting point. However, as with all subjects being approached for the first time, it needs to be read in context and alongside other books to give a detailed understanding of the country.
In my opinion, this is best read with a very basic overview of the Chinese language (get a book from the library) and of certain key figures of China's past. This needn't be more than a day's research, although the greater your language knowledge, the better.

Having read this I'm now interested in reading this The Rise of Modern China to provide more detail. After reading that, I intend to read Keay again to make the smaller but crucial details sink in - one reading will always be insufficient for a book of this breadth.

Definitely worthwhile; my only warning would be that its coverage of the modern period (20th cent esp) is inadequate, and needs to be supplemented.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History Meets Legend 17 July 2009
The ability to make history 'come to life' is something many authors of this genre aspire to and few attain. China: A History is written in a style pitched to both inform and entertain. The text is factual, but laced with anecdotes about legends that have grown up in folklore and which have been found to have, at least in part, some verifiable substance. A book designed to give factual details to those who are looking for them and to attract the attention of those with a passing interest in the subject.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars dense, informative, tough and rewarding 15 Nov 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Not an easy book - but it taught me a lot. Elegant writing, complicated (well, which history isn't?) with many recurrent names for different people... a bit like a whole series of kings called either Henry, Edward, Philip or Louis, I suppose. Also I kept on having to look up place names; but there is a whole series of maps provided for *that* purpose.

It is very dense, with print that other publishers would have spread it over a thousand pages. As it is, page 300 takes us to the year 1000 AD, page 400 to the year 1500, and by page 500 we are in the 1900's. On the other hand, you find such little gems as "Succesful exam candidates are said to have enjoyed the acclaim nowadays accorded to style gurus and raddled entertainers", or the "bespoke communists" of the late 20th century.

Enjoyable, in a slow and thoughtful way; all a history book should be, really! I will be buying his book on India next.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars great read, recommend it
Really enjoyed this book excellent coverage of history and society and really well written. A little brief on 21st century.
Published 3 hours ago by davidk
1.0 out of 5 stars Crap!
Too technical more for a serious student than someone just wanting to read about Chinese history. Very disappointed, the book is just sitting on bookshelf unread. Read more
Published 5 hours ago by Linda Lodge
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 9 days ago by R. Harris
2.0 out of 5 stars Small print.
This review is about the print for the book. The pages are small, like a standard novels, and due to this the print is very small too and the pages very thin. Read more
Published 1 month ago by R. Cashman
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read overall
the book contains depth and knowledge easily accessible for every reader, whether casual or enthusiasts. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Michael
3.0 out of 5 stars Glitch due to receiving 2 copies
No problem with the book. However, I ended up with 2 copies after a blip as my bank card detials had changed during the year. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Rachel Gillespie
4.0 out of 5 stars Very comprehensive
A huge tome that took me a long time to read. It is very detailed and I skipped parts that I didn't have a lot of interest in. It does not include the modern era.
Published 14 months ago by Mr. Ronald Anderson
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed History
Cannot fault the detail of this book which has hundreds of sources. Only finished the first paragraph and already better informed about the country.
Published 16 months ago by Max
1.0 out of 5 stars Too little to rate!
I bought this book at the same time as I bought Kissinger on China as an ebook. I decided on the paper version of Keay because the book appeared to have maps and sketches in it... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Davidiae
5.0 out of 5 stars Quick and fast
All good many thanks, book arrived really quick and I will need now to start to read and enjoy my reading.
Published 19 months ago by Nejat
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Popular Highlights

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MING, 1368–1644, coeval with the early Ottoman and Mughal empires QING (or Manchu), 1644–1912, coeval with Europe’s global expansion. &quote;
Highlighted by 33 Kindle users
Bei, dong, nan and xi are Romanised renderings of the Chinese words for ‘north’, ‘east’, ‘south’ and ‘west’, and shan is ‘mountain’. &quote;
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The long Zhou centuries, paralleling those of ancient Greece, combine both a heroic age and a classical age. In terms of China’s civilisation, they are seminal times. &quote;
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