Early Chinese Empires (History of Imperial China) Paperback – 1 Oct 2010
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Inaugurating a six-volume series on the history of imperial China, this volume holds that characteristics of the first Chinese empire broadly endured for the succeeding 2,000 years...[Those] planning to acquire the entire series mustn't omit Lewis' solid foundation. -- Gilbert Taylor Booklist 20070415 The standard multivolume history of China has long been the magisterial, exhaustive Cambridge History of China. Now Harvard University Press has announced a six-volume series that will cover the rise, development, and decline of dynastic China from the second century B.C.E. through the early 20th century in an up-to-date, compact, and approachable way. This opening volume by Lewis foretells that the series will become the new gold standard, as the author explains in clear and telling detail how the Qin dynasty ruthlessly defeated a succession of rivals to unify briefly what we now call China in 221 B.C.E. We then see how the succeeding Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.) combined social engineering and political savvy to institutionalize control and form a 'classical' era parallel to the Greeks and Romans in the West. Han imperial structures, including religion, literature, and law, were quite different from what evolved out of them, but Lewis convincingly argues that later societies cannot be understood without understanding this classical foundation. -- Charles W. Hayford Library Journal (starred review) 20070401 Mark Lewis's mind-opening and readable book reminds us of the enduring but changing realities of China. -- Jonathan Mirsky Times Literary Supplement 20080314 Early Chinese Empires is a brilliant example of nuanced, responsible popularization. As the first in a series of six volumes that will cover all of Imperial China, it sets a very high standard. --Grant Hardy The Historian 20090801
About the Author
Mark Edward Lewis is Kwoh-Ting Li Professor in Chinese Culture, Stanford University. Timothy Brook is Professor of History at the University of British Columbia.
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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.
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