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Andrew R. Wilson


Subtitle: Dynasties, Life, and Culture, The Great Courses, Chantilly, VA., 2017, 520 pgs, bibliography, illustrations, paperback


Reviewer comments:
This is an excellent lecture course with 24 lectures and accompanying 24 chapter transcript. China is much more than a country, it is a civilization, and its people remember their ancestors and what they accomplished. One now could consider if Europe still spoke Latin and had its capital in Rome and included the Mediterranian basin it might be comparable to China. But China is even centuries older than Rome. At the same time contemporary China includes many ethnic nationalities who do not speak Chinese (or speak different versions of Chinese) and territories not always included in its current domain; but it is much more centralized in political-cultural control than was Imperial Rome. It is very important today to understand China in terms of the continuing influence of centuries of development and the lessons of history that the people well understand. They certainly know more about their past than do most Americans know about theirs.
Human actions are based on decisions and decisions are based on beliefs. Therefor to understand the source of the actions found in the historical record one must understand the beliefs that they stem from. Dr. Wilson devotes this course to describing and explaining the origins of the central beliefs upon which Chinese civilisation as been based.
The historical record shown in the huge Chinese Military History Museum in Beijing has displays beginning in Neolithic era and tracing continuous development through the many dynasties to today. The reality of the the continuous nature of this development may be questioned. But the Chinese do not question it. The central theme is that whenever centralized political control weakened China was attacked by external enemies or subject to devastating internal civil wars. Another continuing theme is the vital importance to China and its rules of the control of water. Water is essential to life, but in China it also has been the repeated destroyer due to floods and shifting of the rivers. (See a reference below.)

Obviously in 24 lectures and chapters it is impossible to include a full history of over 3000 years of China. The author has selected many significant and representative subjects but much more is needed for full understanding. Consider the series of chapters as detailed and representative anecdotes in which the author has skipped through the millennia to capture some varied aspects of Chinese life. Please note that the spelling of proper names in this book and the various references differ.
Below, I have listed a few additional references. And I have a link to the few photos taken during a visit to China which can serve, perhaps, as illustrations for some of the topics in these chapters.


Chapter 1 - Opium, Trade, and War in Imperial China

Dr. Wilson begins with a discussion of 19th century China, toward the close of the Imperial eras. He is describing the impact not only, or so much, on the use of opium, which had long antecedents, but the role of foreign, European military power in overwhelming a China which had by then deteriorated internally and was ripe for foreign exploitation. With this final outcome in mind the reader is returned to the first development of a centralized Chinese empire. This is by centuries not the origin of Chinese civilization but the first time in which the many waring Chinese regions (at least of northern China) had been conquered and ruled by a self-proclaimed Emperor.


Chapter 2 - The First Emperor's Terra-cotta Warriors

And this is the story of the discovery of a remarkable result of that Emperor's megalomania and brutality in unifying the part of China he conquered not only geographically but as a polity with imposed standards in all aspects of culture. And his demands included destruction of previous records and literature. He also had constructed a massive underground tomb with a nearby underground army of Terra-cotta warriors. This was only discovered by accident in very recent years, and been turned into an extensive tourist location. For photos of these warriors {short description of image}


Chapter 3 - China's Early Golden Age, The Han Dynasty

The dynasty of the first emperor did not last long. His tyranny generated rebellion and it was the Han Dynasty that took over and utilized the centralization achieved by Shih Huang Ti to complete the China that has survived through many difficulties (internal and external) to this day.


Chapter 4 - Amazing Ban Clan, Historian, Soldier, Woman


Chapter 5 - China's Buddhist Monks and Daoist Recluses


Chapter 6 - Cosmopolitan Chang'an, Tang Dynasty Capital


Chapter 7 - China's Grand Canal, Lifeline of an Empire


Chapter 8 - Triumph and Tragedy in Tang Poetry


Chapter 9 - Life and Times of Song Dynasty Literati


Chapter 10 - A Day's Journey along the Qingming Scroll


Chapter 11 - Peasant Life on the Yellow River


Chapter 12 - Rice, Silk, and Tea: South China's Peasants


Chapter 13 - Genghis Khan and the Rise of the Mongols


Chapter 14 - The Mongols and Marco Polo in Zanadu


Chapter 15 - Admiral Zheng He's Treasure Fleet


Chapter 16 - China's Bound Feet, Brides, and Widows


Chapter 17 - Ming Dynasty Trade and Spanish Silver


Chapter 18 - The Great Wall and Military Life in China


Chapter 19 - Qing Dynasty: Soul Stealers and Sedition


Chapter 20 - Emperor Qianlong Hosts a British Ambassador


Chapter 21 - The Taiping Rebellion and Its Cult Leader


Chapter 22 - China's Treaty Ports


Chapter 23 - Experiencing China's Civil Service Exams


Chapter 24 - China's Last Dynasty: Fall of the Manchus


Blunden, Caroline & Mark Elvin - China: The Cultural Atlas of the World series, Stonehenge press, Va., 1991, 237 pgs., index, gazetteer, large format, maps, illustrations - This is a fine supplement in both text content and especially extensive illustrations -


Paludan, Ann - Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial China, Thames & Hudson, 1998, 224 pgs. , index, bibliography, large format, many illustrations. This excellent book fills in the chronology of Imperial China and shows the context for the various examples included in Wilson's book. But as the title indicates it begins with the first emperor so skips over several millennia of early China.

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Sawyer, Ralph D. Ancient Chinese Warfare. Basic Books, NY., 554 pgs. index, huge bibliography including original Chinese sources, notes, illustrations. This excellent book, as the title indicates, is about warfare, but since massive warfare was a central pastime during the pre-imperial era in China we can learn about economic and political history of the long era proceeding the Imperial times described in other texts.

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Frankopan, Peter - The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, Alfred A. Knopp, NY., 2016, index, notes, maps - The author describes Chinese history in the context of world history and China's interconnections.

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Andrade, Tonio - The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History,. Princeton Univ. Press, 2016, 432 pgs., index, bibliography - The author dispels myths about the use of gunpowder and firearms in medieval and early modern China.

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Ball, Philip - The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China, Univ. of Chicago Press, 2017, 341 pgs., index, bibliography, illustrations. A very interesting book focused on the history of control of or devastation from water in China since ancient times. The great rivers, especially the Yangtze and Yellow provide crucial benefits but also cause massive destruction through floods. Chinese government has always been required to devote massive resources and attention to their control. Also the canals have been very important economic factors.


Hsu, Robert - China Fireworks: How to Make Dramatic Wealth from the Fastest-Growing Economy in the World, John Wiley & Sons, N.Y., 208, 275 pgs., index, bibliography - Advice on investments in modern China


Jacques, Martin - When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, Penguin Press, NY., 2009, 550 pgs., index, notes, bibliography, illustrations - The author is ideologically anti-western and especially anti US and UK. In this book he describes what he hopes will happen.


Allison, Graham - Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap?, Scribe, London, 2017, 364 pgs. , index, notes, paperback- The author relates the current confrontation between China and the United States to that between Sparta and Athens as described by Thucydides.


Wittfogel, Karl A. - Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power, Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, 1957, 556 pgs., index, bibliography, notes. The author is basically a Marxist but in this book he challenges Marx's categorization of historical societies and draws attention to an entirely different social/political organization, the hydraulic societies of the ancient Near East and China.


Peers. C. J. - Soldiers of the Dragon: Chinese Armies 1500 BC - 1848 AD, Osprey Publishing, London, 2006, 248 pgs., index, bibliography, many illustrations. A comprehensive study of the development of Chinese armies, warfare, from the Shang era to the last dynasty. The material with extensive illustrations is also published by Osprey as separate paperbacks: all by Peers as, Imperial Chinese Armies 1200 BC - AD 589, Imperial Chinese Armies 2, 590 - 1260 AD, Medieval Chinese Armies 1260-1520, Late Imperial Chinese Armies 1520 - 1840.




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