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A History of Chinese Civilization by Jacques…

A History of Chinese Civilization

by Jacques Gernet

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Though I do not doubt Gernet's scholarship, which in this book is wide-ranging and often in depth, the book suffers firstly from a sometimes over-specialisation on certain matters (such as devoting several pages to the intricacies of Tang dynasty horse-breeding) and a startling lack of work on post-1949 China. Obviously, there is the problem of age, but even so, to devote less than a page to post-Cultural Revolution events is poor writing. As for the English translation, to render all the original pinyin spellings into Wade-Giles is baffling. ( )
  xuebi | May 30, 2014 |
A useful book. Limited by book-burning by First Emperor, a couple of thousand years ago. The usual story of continual movements of peoples and leaders, power shifts with frequent incursions by outsiders, and wars. Against the background of historical empires in Manchuria or Mongolia, or Tibet, or Central Asia (eg Xinjiang), one can question some of the claims of Communist China about who owns what and how pure their people are. ( )
  rajaratnam | Jun 19, 2010 |
Gernet's coverage is very interesting and encompasses the full range of Chinese history. He is very much an appreciator of Chinese culture, but he has his own perspective which colors the disquisition. In particular, his Marxist sympathies are always in the background. Perhaps not surprisingly, he is highly dismissive of Taoist and Buddhist culture and feels that they diminished Chinese society. He also dismissed Confucius, although he seems to think that the later Confucian tradition (to which he gives scant credit to the original teachings of Confucius) was pretty good. In general he champions the Legalist tradition and its contributions to the later Confucian current. As a consequence, he is rather sympathetic towards the first Qin Emperor.

His collectivist, Marxist prejudices also render his explanation for China's economic and technological stagnation in the late 19th Century completely unconvincing. Although the second edition was published in 1996, he was still in the thrall of Maoist economic development. Thus he says,

"in turning in our day towards a collectivist, state economy nearer to its ancient traditions the Chinese world has remained faithful to its own genius. Similarly the adoption of parliamentary institutions modelled on those of the Western nations was to turn out later to be a nonsense, not because China was not 'ripe' for liberal democracy, but because such borrowed institutions were profoundly alien to Chinese traditions."

To say thus is overly simplistic, and in fact it disrespects the genius and adaptability of the Chinese people (or any other people, for that matter). His description of China's decline at the end of the 19th century focuses considerably on "humiliation" and face. He seems to suggest that their humiliation at the hands of arrogant Westerners prevented the Chinese from being capable of any energetic action. This I don't believe -- the abuse that they suffered at the hands of the Mongols was far greater, and even the Ching takeover included devastating massacres that must have been dispiriting to many elements of society.

Also, his scornful dismissal of Chiang Kai-shek appears to be emotion-laden, just as is his celebration of the Maoist "peasant" army. This description of what happened is completely contradicted by Chang and Halliday's account in "Mao, the Unknown Story". In particular, he offers a complete whitewash of the "100 Flowers Movement" and the "Great Leap Forward".

This lack of objectivity has its advantages and disadvantages. On the negative side, of course, you are getting a slanted presentation of history. On the positive, side, though, you are getting a point of view that rises above the all-too-common dry accounting of events without analysis.

The book uses the Wade-Giles system of transliteration into Roman characters. The translation from the French is amazingly fluent and makes the book a good read. However, the index is so atrocious as to be absolutely worthless. It is a waste of time to look anything up in this index. ( )
  mkp | Nov 18, 2009 |
I love this book. A great one-stop source for the panorama of Chinese history.
  kurvanas | Aug 18, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jacques Gernetprimary authorall editionscalculated
Foster, J. R.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hartman, CharlesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spence, Jonathan D.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0521497817, Paperback)

When published in 1982, this translation of Professor Jacques Gernet's masterly survey of the history and culture of China was immediately welcomed by critics and readers. This revised and updated edition includes a detailed chronology that has been updated through 1993, a new bibliography, and an expanded index that includes Chinese characters.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:05 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

When published in 1982, this translation of Professor Jacques Gernet's masterly survey of the history and culture of China was immediately welcomed by critics and readers. This revised and updated edition makes it more useful for students and for the general reader concerned with the broad sweep of China's past. Written with an elegant and flowing narrative, the essential virtue of Jacques Gernet's book is to see the history of Chinese civilization as a whole. Yet within the synthesis of the trends - social, political, religious, scientific, artistic - that make up China's past and present, the author never loses sight of the telling detail that brings history to life. A History of Chinese Civilization is illustrated by a wide range of photographs, many maps, line drawings and tables. A detailed and updated chronological table and full bibliography complement the text and the expanded index now includes Chinese characters.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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