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The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia: A History of the Struggle for Great Power Among Tibetans, Turks, Arabs, and Chinese During the Early Middle Ages [Paperback]

Christopher I. Beckwith
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
RRP: 37.95
Price: 33.33 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

1 April 1993
This richly detailed narrative history of the Tibetan Empire in Central Asia from about A.D. 600 to 866 depicts the struggles of the great Tibetan, Turkic, Arab, and Chinese powers for dominance over the Silk Road lands that connected Europe and East Asia. Challenging the commonly held belief that East and West were largely isolated from each other until the discovery of sea routes to India and China, the book emphasizes the importance of overland contacts in the Early Middle Ages and elucidates Tibet's role in the conflict over Central Asia.


Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; New Ed edition (1 April 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691024693
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691024691
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 13.7 x 21.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,191,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"[The] author has succeeded in his task, thanks to his sound method of analysis and to his command of the languages of the relevant texts: Tibetan, Chinese, Arab, Turkic. Particularly the thorough and felicitous utilization of the Arab sources is one of the most pleasant features of the book."--Luciano Petech, Central Asiatic Journal

"A most impressive work by an excellent scholar."--Richard N. Frye, International Journal of Middle East Studies

"An absorbing and highly original narrative of imperial rivalries that is of particular interest to comparative historians."--Choice

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The origin of the Yarlung dynasty, the family which was to end up ruling the vast dominions of the Tibetan Empire, is still quite unknown. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Beckwith covers the early history of Tibet for
those of us who do not read Chinese, Khotanese
Saka, and other fun languages. Places the
Tibetans in the constellation of national
empire-builders. Well-written and exhaustively
footnoted, this is not a coffee-table book, yet
is accessible to the non-specialist. Should be
of interest to political and military historians
of the milieu, as well as to Arabists, Central
Asianists, and Sinologists.

However, suitably rewritten and with many color
photos this would make a fine coffee-table book
indeed.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensible to students of Tibetan history 18 Aug 1999
By Thomas Cole (thomascole@earthlink.net) - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I found this book to be indispensible to serious students of Central Asian history as well as readily accessible to the casual novice interested in the history of Tibet. It formed the basis of my own studies on the origins of the Tibetan people as well as assisting me in placing their weavings in a Central Asian context, rather than the more popular Buddhist/Chinese perspective. Well written and easily understood with essentially interesting footnotes, anyone truly interested in further understanding the origins of the Tibetan people, their current religion and myths needs have this relatively brief tome in their library. An excellent piece of research and an easy read.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine resource on politics, military of medieval Tibet. 12 May 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Beckwith covers the early history of Tibet for
those of us who do not read Chinese, Khotanese
Saka, and other fun languages. Places the
Tibetans in the constellation of national
empire-builders. Well-written and exhaustively
footnoted, this is not a coffee-table book, yet
is accessible to the non-specialist. Should be
of interest to political and military historians
of the milieu, as well as to Arabists, Central
Asianists, and Sinologists.

However, suitably rewritten and with many color
photos this would make a fine coffee-table book
indeed.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tibet is NOT China +++ 6 Dec 2009
By Kevin Kiersky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia" goes well-and-good into military and alliance history of Central Asia with central concern to Tibet. So, the text is true to its title. Remarked upon are interactions with a number of more local Central Asian tribal groups, but the main players covered are Arabic, Turkish, Chinese and Tibetan. I find this detailed presentation especially interesting due to lack of the usual central focus on Bonpo and Vajrayana cultural and religious topics. Those topics are, of course, major ones for general Tibetan study. But, even if one is more interested in such cultural and religious topics, this work may help ground and round-out such interests. It greatly helps that the author, Christopher Beckwith, is literate in all four of the above language types -- so one is getting precise, reliable and original translilation and interpetation of the relevant historical source texts -- in the most direct way possible nowadays.

By the way, the author is able to show that the origins of Bodish [Tibetan-like] dialects are somewhat complex -- with early Indoeuropean and even possible Germanic inputs -- as this reader already suspected due to some central Tibetan terms that look Indoeuropean or Germanic. The author does remark upon strong Bodish relations to Burmese-type languages -- as one would expect. But, most importantly, it seems Bodish dialects are NOT as close to Chinese-type languages as commonly reckoned. Due to ongoing interaction and later expansion of Chinese-folks with Bodish-folks, including Tibetans, the Bodish dialects eventually have an outer layer of Chinese-type input.

So, despite the seemingly specialized topics of this work -- it is directly relevant to the controversy about whether originally "Tibet" is actually a part of "China" or not. Therefore, it is possibly quite relevant to whether "modern Tibet" somehow "belongs" to "modern China" or not. It would rather seem that both of those peoples have their OWN old, rich and honorable ancestral origins. Furthermore, this singular work shows the central position of the Tibetan Empire, as well as the Arabic, Turkic and Chinese powers -- in the influences on the Silk Road and other Early Medieval overland contact between East and West. Spot-on +++
17 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Is This Really the Best There Is? 18 Jun 2008
By Suchos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A serious student with a certain background in Tibetan and Chinese history may find this book useful -- perhaps even indispensible. For everyone else, it may prove impenetrable. The two maps are almost totally worthless, and the text assumes a basic familiarity with place names and non-Tibetan figures that is inconsistent with a general survey. My background is in the Near East and Central Asia; where Beckwith referred to place names in those areas, I understood him well, but when discussing Tibet or China, I did not.

The same is true of facts concerning contemporary empires. The Abassid revolution, for example, is mentioned only in passing, without any kind of discussion on its effect on Tibet and Central Asia. Obviously an in-depth discussion of the Abbassids is not necessarily appropriate for a monograph on Tibet, but Beckwith's greatest strength (his focus on Tibet's neighbors to explain events in Tibet) makes it a virtual necessity for this book.

This book is a political and military history. If you want details on Tibetan religion, culture, or literature, you will not find them here. Rather, we have a catalogue of battles, a desciption of waxing and waning influence in the Central Asian power struggles. I concede I may be asking the impossible -- not being a specialist, I don't know if such information even exists. Of course, Beckwith could have so stated.

The book starts and ends abruptly. The formation of the empire is disposed of with a few paragraphs. The disintigration of the empire is noted simply, with no discussion whatsoever of the decline that led to it, or the reasons that the once-mighty empire was irrevocably broken.

The book contains what should have been a helpful table of contemporary rulers. But the Tibetan names used in the text are not always the same as those used in the table, making it confusing and practically worthless for the non-specialist. And the Tibetan succession cannot easily be pieced together from the text alone because of the huge gaps in the narrative where the author focuses on other nations, such as Turgis campaigns against the T'ang.

In a sense, this is not a history of Tibet itself, so much as a history of all the major powers in Central Asia and their relationships with one another during the time period in which Tibet constituted an imperial power. That is useful as far as it goes, of course, but leaves Tibet itself almost as unknown at the end of the book as at the beginning.

I would recommend this book to specialists, except that specialists probably do not need it. I cannot recommend it to non-specialists, because of the many problems with it.
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