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Comprehensive but a hard read
on 9 March 2010
John Keay has compressed China's history into some 500 pages. The result is an excellent overview, comprehensive and complete up to the establishment of the Peoples Republic. Keay highlights each dynasty's quest for legitimacy through historical precedent, lineage and philosophical righteousness and analyses its successes and failures, both military and social.
For me, however, Keay's style is at times difficult and renders a complex history difficult to grasp. The reader is helped by the admirably clear dynastic charts but I feel there is a need for more maps and perhaps more sub-titles. Overall the book is easy to put down and difficult to pick up again.
On a minor issue, I believe Keay's criticism of Pinyin is unjustified. Pinyin is an excellent system for students of the Chinese language and is far simpler than the often complicated and cumbersome Wade-Giles system. Incidentally, his Tang dynasty poets Li Bo and Dou Fu should be rendered Li Bai and Du Fu in Pinyin.