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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent insight into the history and culture of China
This is a gripping and excellently written introduction to the history of imperial China. It gives a very good insight into each of the dynasties without being at all dry. As a student of Chinese I particularly appreciated Gascoigne's thoughts on the language. He is really insightful and it was he obviously has a very good understanding of the development of the...
Published on 5 Feb 2006 by G. Taylor

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much on social history
I find this book disappointing as it concentrates too much on social history and next to nothing on the political and military upheaval normally associate with the changing of each dynsaty.
Published 23 months ago by Wars


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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent insight into the history and culture of China, 5 Feb 2006
By 
G. Taylor - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Brief History of the Dynasties of China (Brief History) (Paperback)
This is a gripping and excellently written introduction to the history of imperial China. It gives a very good insight into each of the dynasties without being at all dry. As a student of Chinese I particularly appreciated Gascoigne's thoughts on the language. He is really insightful and it was he obviously has a very good understanding of the development of the language and its richness. The book quoted many interesting and varied sources, letters between officials, Tang dynasty poems etc. I'd say this book is one of the best introductions to Chinese history I've seen, and anyone with any interest at all in this fascinating country would really enjoy it.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!, 26 May 2006
By 
J. Dewar - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Brief History of the Dynasties of China (Brief History) (Paperback)
Wonderful read... full of interesting facts & observations, yet leaves you feeling like you've just relaxed to a novel rather than waded through a history textbook. Highly recommended!
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Now all the movies make sense!, 1 Oct 2007
This review is from: A Brief History of the Dynasties of China (Brief History) (Paperback)
Shang, Zhou, Qin, Han, Yuan, Ming, Qing - they are all names that crop up in Chinese movies. Of course these are really the names of the great Chinese dynasties so the choice of names is no accident.

This remarkably accessible work takes you through the Chinese dynasties. At the end of it you have a much broader view of the world and an understanding of how Chinese history sits alongside that of the West.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended, 3 Mar 2011
This review is from: A Brief History of the Dynasties of China (Brief History) (Paperback)
Having spent many years trawling through European history I found myself turning to the Far East. Where better to start on a totally new topic than this excellently accessible introduction to the Chinese Dynasties by Bamber Gascoigne (probably better known for his tenure at the head of the flagship programme `University Challenge'). Originally printed in 1973 and recently reprinted the comfortable conversational style of Gascoigne takes us through the eight dynasties of China giving the reader who is (as he so aptly puts it in his introduction) not "able to name a single Chinese emperor", nor "hit on any of the three centuries covered by the Tang dynasty" a very good basic grounding in Chinese history with key dates, people, and events over a three thousand year period.
Starting with the Shang dynasty (c1600-c1100) he touches on the archaeological discoveries and amount we have learnt through the locating of the city of Anyang. He outlines a brief informative discourse on the evolution of the Chinese language and the renowned skill of the bronze casters. Following with the second dynasty, that of the Zhou (c1100 - 256BC) Gascoigne discusses some of the earliest literature such as the Shijing before moving onto the main topic of this section and the latter years of the dynasty by detailing the life and teachings of Confucius. After discussing some examples from his Analects, he discusses other philosophies focusing on Daoism and concludes with a look at the Legalists.
With the Han dynasty (206BC - 220AD) Gascoigne focuses on Sima Qian whose surviving historical works have proved invaluable. Gascoigne touches on the lives of noble women and of Han scholarship, of funeral rites and the travels of Zhang Qian who went as far as Bactria, of yin and yang and the cyclical nature of life before ending the dynasty and noting the state of flux that came after.
Four hundred years are skipped to the Tang dynasty (618-907) opens with a discussion on the arrival of Buddhism and then spends the greater part on the well documented friendship of Bai Juyi and Yuan Zhen before reverting to the experience of Buddhism with the life of Ennin, a Japanese monk
With the Song (960-1279) Gascoigne deals with this new dynasty with its capital at Kaifeng discussing how its society of classless bureaucracy reached its most advanced form based on advancement by talent alone. In effect, a meritocracy based up examinations. He looks specifically at Su Dongpo before outlining the huge intellectual advances made and concludes with the dynasty falling to rebellions by the Jin and ultimately the first foreign conqueror of China in 1279 - Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis, ruler of the Mongol Empire.
From 1279 - 1368 we get the establishment of the Yuan dynasty, effectively the rule of the Mongols. Gascoigne talks at length about the sojourn of Marco Polo, whose dictation to a fellow prisoner in a Genovese jail years later, opened the eyes of Europe to China in a way never before experienced. Polo's lengthy stay at the imperial city of Hangzhou was swiftly followed by rebellion led by Zu Yuanzhang whose capture of Beijing in 1368 announced the start of the Ming dynasty.
Gascoigne focuses on the period of the Jesuit, Matteo Ricci whose tribute of a clock won him a permanent place in China before ending the dynasty with the Manchus take over in 1644, establishing the Qing dynasty with its boy emperor Shunzhi succeeded by Kangxi of whom Gascoigne says was "arguably the most perceptive, civilised and well meaning of all China's rulers." However, "Kangxi was also remarkably shrewd on the topic that was to be the plague and ultimately the downfall of his dynasty - foreigners." In this final section of the book Gascoigne explorers the increasing pressure from the West on China to permit trade and China's resistance. He finds an example in the person of Lord Macartney, whose failed attempt to establish trade links for George III is notable, and spends time dealing with the Opium War. He ends with the final empress dowager, Cixi and the changing of the China in 1912 to a constitutional Republic. Gascoigne concludes this 2003 reprint with a cursory post script on twentieth century China.
I found Bamber Gasciogne's introductory text immensely readable. The fact is it now over thirty years old does not detract at all and I would highly recommend as an excellently accessible starter for any student new to the history of China. It touches on all the major themes and is told in a manner that captivates the attention utterly. Most importantly of all, it makes the reader want to go and read more and gives a wealth of areas and history to choose from.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good place to start, 6 April 2009
This review is from: A Brief History of the Dynasties of China (Brief History) (Paperback)
This brief book is just over 200 pages and it is sufficiently detailed for a general reader who may have difficulty differentiating their Shang from their Song. It overviews each Chinese dynasty in historical order in an entertaining, accessible and informative style. To avoid confusion any interregnums between dynasties are mentioned but not detailed. A short postscript discusses the Chinese situation since 1912, when the last dynasty finished.

The book has a single map showing China's main historic sites. The inclusion of a map for each dynasty would have been an improvement; it is too easy to assume that China has always been the same size and to forget about the ebb and flow of the Mandate of Heaven. There are also two sections of photographs. However, readers of a nervous disposition should avoid the photo of the eunuch, full frontal and bare in every sense.

China's isolation has ended and its global importance continues to grow. To understand China today an understanding of China yesterday is required, and this is the place to start.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great primer for Chinese history, 26 Jun 2009
By 
Matthew Culley (England, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Brief History of the Dynasties of China (Brief History) (Paperback)
The history of China is vast, complex and fascinating. It is necessary to have some sort of "road map" before delving deeply into the subject. Bamber Gascoigne's book provides just that. The dynasty by dynasty approach is a logical and satisfying one. One gains a good outline of Chinese history that lays a strong foundation for further reading if so desired. Even if this is your sole book on China, reading it is certainly worthwhile.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and easy to read, but littered with basic factual inaccuracies., 5 Aug 2009
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This review is from: A Brief History of the Dynasties of China (Brief History) (Paperback)
Provides a broad but superficial overview of Chinese history which will appeal to the casual reader with a general interest. Engaging and easy to read, but littered with basic factual inaccuracies.

As a novice student of Mandarin Chinese, i found particularly astonishing Bamber Gascoigne's apparent ignorance of the Chinese language's historical context, viz his failure to distinguish between the classical (written) language, the language as spoken in the middle period, and the emergence of numerous disparate, mutually unintelligible, spoken standards, which he conflates.

For example, he states that the Chinese in the middle period were increasingly unable to understand each other in conversation and claims this to be due to the large number of identically-sounding words, when in actual fact caused by divergence of the original, single spoken standard into many separate 'daughter languages' analogous to the disintegration of Latin into French, Spanish, etc. Of the many identically-sounding words he states, correctly, that tones helped to distinguish between such words, but then incorrectly states that only 4 tones existed, while true of modern Mandarin Chinese, the language of that period would have had up to 9 tones (indeed the modern southern Chinese languages (or 'dialects') retain the full complement of tones).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent short introduction to the long history of China, 11 Feb 2013
By 
Hywel James "Hywel James" (Devon, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Brief History of the Dynasties of China (Brief History) (Paperback)
Bamber Gascoigne's book is an excellent short introduction to China's long history. As he says in his introduction, in the West we are possibly more familiar with the art of China than we are about the times in which this art was produced. We know even less about the people who produced the art and for whom it was made. This account provides a clear historical time line but it doesn't fall back on mere lists of names and dates. Far from it, instead many colourful anecdotes about people and events are attached to successive dynasties so that each one remains memorable. By this means the book offers a vivid yet concise account of three thousand years of frequently violent and tragic history up to more or less the present day. Highly recommended as an introduction to a complex subject.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rollercoaster spin through China's history, 5 Aug 2012
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This review is from: A Brief History of the Dynasties of China (Brief History) (Paperback)
Bamber compresses several millennia into a weekends reading, a brilliant introduction whose brevity makes the whole story hang together memorable. I decided to try and go one further and get all of China's history into a couple handful of tweets, one per dynasty:

Shang': human sacrifice, mystics, amazing bronzes.

Zhou': literature, Confucius and Daoism.

Qin': violence, terracotta warriors (and all the workmen) buried with the nutter. Lasted just a generation but created Qina and the wall.

Han': peasant Gaozu, whose jealous wife Empress Lu amputated Lady Qi and left her to die in a latrine, so said castrated historian Sima Qian. Cemented China until 3 kingdoms in-fighting.'

Tang': dark ages with awesome pottery,poetry,portraits, Bhuddism & building the grand canal. AnShi rebellion killed 36 million (15% of world pop, only WWII killed more).

Song': Scholar officials,and artist-emporer Huizong. Intellectually strong and militarily weak (but built navy) ''. The Water Margin' set in this time.

Yuan'. The Mongol Kublai Khan (Jengis' grandson) made easy meat of the arty farty Song. Beijing became capital (closer to Mongolia than Xian). Invaded Japan (2ce)150,000 men,4,500 ship armada. Zhu Qing & Zhuang xuan (grain merchants) executed for profiteering' capitalism gets a bad name.

Ming': Built forbidden city (labour of >1million of china's 60million)'Despotic (Zhu Di had his favourite concubines buried alive in his tomb), heirachical. Jesuit Ricci arrives (with clock). Eunuch admiral Zheng He's (grandpise and costly) Treasure Fleet reached Persia (some say America) then Mings banned shipping and turned inward. Qings fought the Mings and 25 million deaths later...

Qing': 2nd foreign dynasty: this one less so (Manchurian). Foreigners arrive guns ablaze. Brits twice trashed Beijing to sell drugs. Taiping rebellion (a christian nut) killed 20 million. CiXi built a palace instead of navy. China declined to its weakest point in recorded history, no wonder the 1912 Revolution kicked them out.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Introduction, 30 Jun 2012
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This review is from: A Brief History of the Dynasties of China (Brief History) (Paperback)
A Brief History of the Dynasties of China is a fantastic introduction to understand the culture and history of China from the beginning till the end of the monarchy in China, roughly 1912.
Gascoigne gives brief chapters based around each Dynasty about the situation of China at that period and what made that specific Dynasty different from the rest.
Not only do you learn about the Dynasties but also the history and understanding of Chinese culture and philosophy (Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, etc) .
Like I mentioned above, this is just a brief 'introduction ', there are definitely books out there that provide more detail about Chinese history.

You get exactly what the title of the book refers to.
I recommend this to anyone who is interested in Chinese History or culture/philosophy in general.
It's quite short and you should be able to finish it from about 4-7 days.
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A Brief History of the Dynasties of China (Brief History)
A Brief History of the Dynasties of China (Brief History) by Bamber Gascoigne (Paperback - 25 Sep 2003)
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