- Hardcover: 1182 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (13 Mar. 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521470307
- ISBN-13: 978-0521470308
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 6 x 22.8 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 659,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- See Complete Table of Contents
The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 BC Hardcover – 13 Mar 1999
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'The Cambridge History of Ancient China bridges the gap between the earliest material evidence that has come to light through archaeological discoveries and Chinese textual sources … the present volume dedicates two chapters to each of the periods covered; one on the institutional history and the other on material culture. The results affords a far more comprehensive view of ancient China than a 'primary sources' approach could have yielded … Whether consulted as a reference or read continuously; the wealth of material in the present volume will be relevant not only to scholars and students, but to the general reading public interested in that cultural melting-pot which is China.' History Today
'Read as a whole, this volume's advocacy of archaeological insights, combined with more traditional historical approaches, offers a truly stimulating invigoration of how we imagine the ancient world in China … A particularly fascinating chapter by Nicola Di Cosmo surveys the textual and archaeological knowledge of China's northern zone … The archaeological chapters surpass all previous accounts for their narrative cohesion and detailed references.' The Times Higher Education Supplement
The Cambridge History of Ancient China provides a survey of the cultural history of pre-imperial China. Fourteen leading specialists, both historians and archeologists, cover the Shang, Western Zhou, Spring and Autumn, and Warring States periods, the Neolithic background, language, intellectual history, relations with Central Asia, and the debts of both the Qin and Han empires to these earlier time-periods.
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The book is topically organized, with each chapter written by a leading scholar on that topic. The list of contributors reads like a "Who's Who" of contemporary Sinology: K.C. Chang on Chinese "pre-history"; David Keightley on the Shang Dynasty; Hsu Cho-yun on the Spring and Autumn Period; Mark Lewis on the Warring States Period; David S. Nivison (see his _The Ways of Confucianism_) on ancient Chinese philosophy, etc.
The general reader should be warned that the scholarship here is sometimes a little intimidating. However, careful reading will be well repaid. As you can see, the price is a real problem. Perhaps it will come out in paperback some day, but I wouldn't count on it happening any time soon.
If you are seriously interested in ancient China, hock your wedding ring and buy this book!
In summary, both the scholarship and the sheer reading pleasure of this book exceed all expectations. One of the best volumes of ancient history I have had the privilege of reading. If you are interested in the subject, you cannot live without this (though I recommend attempting to purchase it used!)
However, as I read this pre-volume covering the long period from the 'beginning' till 221BC, I find several noteworthy defects:
1) Clearly the editors' choice of making it a single volume is a mistake. As it stands, the book is already really thick, while for each of the topics it covered, there is really not sufficient depth.
2) In my personal opinion, the most critical happenings in the period is the technology improvement during the Eastern Zhou period (e.g. spread of use of iron) which drove the development of new political organization and the flowering of political philosophers from Confucius to Xun Zi. Unfortunately technology development in Eastern Zhou is not at all covered in this volume.
I think the editors under-utilize many research works recently published in Chinese, while focusing too much on renewing the 'story' with archaeological findings. (As such, the chapter on Shang archaeology actually seems to be very up-to-date.)
Overall, I rate this as 3-star, because of the above-mentioned defects...
This history consists of fourteen full chapters, plus explanatory introductions on chronology, methods, sources, and environment. Chapters tend to alternate between history and archeology early on, then full chapters on philosophy and art for the Warring States, when richer material is available. Each chapter is, as has been mentioned by other reviewers, written by a scholar who knows his stuff: there is not a dull or useless one in the book.
One reviewer objected that the authors failed to sufficiently stress the role of iron in the Zhou renaissance. I don't think the book loses much by that; one can't expect a general narrative to rest on any one hobby horse. (Mine was also sometimes left in the corale.)
I probably enjoyed the chapter on language more than some readers might, having taken classical Chinese from William Boltz at the University of Washington. His method was systematic and careful, with an understated wit that seemed appropriate to what was, essentially, a primary school language class for grad students. Students mostly had a background in Chinese or Japanese, or were Chinese, so it seemed strange to be told what each, often familiar, character meant. This approach reminded us how "foreign" classical Chinese is, and that we could not take anything for granted. (Anachronism being especially tempting in a civilization like that of China, where everyone "knows" what things mean -- forgetting that they meant something a bit different in centuries past.) Yet if you take the change seriously, at the end of the day you end up amazed at the continuity.
The same, I think, applies to many of the ideas described in this volume: the Shang are long dead, but some of the issues and problems they introduce seem to be live and kicking in modern China.
Given the need to study early Chinese through archeology, the prominence the Cult of the Dead takes in this book is not surprising. I was again amazed, though, at the ancient bronzes and other artifacts displayed in this book. What a vast wealth these civilizations buried in the ground! (Fortunately there are lots of illustrations and maps.) I especially loved the "tree" with the monkeys in it. While the authors are obliged to write academically and somewhat objectively, one also naturally feels horror at the extent of human sacrifice. Reading Confucius, Mencius, Mozi, Lao Zi, or Zhuangzi, one can almost forget the cruelty of some of the "sages" to whom they ascribed such humanity -- yet they transformed more than they perhaps understood.
Bagley's chapter stood out for me, perhaps because he writes with what seemed like a bit of an "attitude."
The chapters on history, leaning on the Classics and other early historical accounts, were probably my favorites, though. I've been reading the Classics directly for the past couple years (with a bit of help from Legge), and improving my vocabulary, then read this as my first really major secondary source. The method seemed to meet my need well: if you haven't yet, read the Confucian and "Taoist" classics, including especially the Book of Poetry and Book of History, first or concurrently, to get the most out of these chapters.
If you're interested in ancient China, and can afford its steep price, this book is well worth having. Otherwise, check it out from the library.
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