on 31 December 2015
A detailed description of the Qin and Han dynasties given in ten chapters, each dealing with a particular topic, such as language, law, religion, etc. Mark E. Lewis discusses crucial points in the development of the first Chinese empire and gives reasons why some things changed in the transition from the Qin to the Han and why others remained the same. Overall a very nice book, although it would benefit immensely from more and better (chronological) maps in order to give a graphic representation of provinces, geographical data, army movements and so on. Hence the 4 stars.
on 10 December 2010
The author, Mark Edward Lewis, Kwok-ting Li Professor of Chinese Culture at Stanford University. This book - The Early Chinese Empires Qin and Han - is the first volume of six, that comprise the collection entitled 'History of Imperial China', published by Harvard University Press. This series covers the rise, consolidation and decline of the Chinese imperial system from the second century BC, to the early twentieth century. Lewis has written the first three books in this series:
a) The Early Chinese Empires Qin and Han - Mark Edward Lewis.
b) China between Empires: The Northern and Southern Dynasties - Mark Edward Lewis.
c) China's Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty - Mark Edward Lewis.
The hardback (2007) edition contains 321 numbered pages and together with an Introduction and a Conclusion, there are ten chapters:
The Geography of Empire.
A State Organised for War.
The Paradoxes of Empire.
The Outer World.
This book covers the rise of the imperial era (221BC-220AD), specifically the Qin and Han Dynasties. Lewis traces how the imperial era emerged from that of the Warring States period (475-221BC), and how a transition from regional rule developed into the social, cultural and military philosophy that represents the rule of the early Chinese imperial system, a system that lasted over two thousand years. This includes the establishment of 'Legalism' (Fajia) of the Qin, and the philosophical 'Synthesism' of the Han. Lewis writes:
'Taken together, the Qin and Han empires constitute the "classical" era of Chinese civilisation, as did the Greeks and Romans in the West. Like the Greco-Roman Mediterranean, Chinese culture during this period is distinct from the societies that evolved out of it.'
Lewis sees his task as considering five distinct aspects of the classical period:
1) The distinct regional cultures whose divisions were transcended, but not eradicated, by the imperial order.
2) The consolidation of a political structure centered on the person of the emperor.
3) The cultivation of literacy based on a non-alphabetic script and of a state-sponsored literary canon that sanctioned the state's existence.
4) Demilitarization of the interior, with military activity assigned to marginal peoples at the frontier.
5) The flourishing of wealthy families in the countryside who maintained order and linked the villages to the centre of power.
The Qin Dynasty demolished internal walls that once separated one state from the next, and in the process did away with regional 'nationalism'. From 221BC, the Chinese people literally became the 'people of the Qin', the name - 'Qin-ese-Chinese' - that China is known by, in the West today. Inner barbarianism - that is, rebellion against the centralised government was always a danger. Indeed, it was just this inner barbarianism that led to the eventual collapse of the Qin in 206BC, and the subsequent founding of the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD). The Han intellectuals, for political expediency, presented the Qin as extreme and unworthy to rule. This attitude had the dual benefit of justifying the Han rebellion against the Qin, and automatically granted the victorious Han a sense of moral righteousness. The Han reformed the Legalism of the Qin, softening its more harsher aspects, and simultaneously allowed for the practice of Confucian spiritual development, a practice denied by the Qin. This is an excellent book by a fine academic.
on 3 November 2013
Good, informative, clear, well written. One star lost as the Kindle version's images are missing and have been replaced with something along the lines of 'If you want to see the images, go and buy the paper version of this book'. So paying for the Kindle version of the book gets you only part of it. Not good enough!!!