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Great Books of China: From Ancient Times to…

Great Books of China: From Ancient Times to the Present

by Frances Wood

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Great Books of China: From Ancient Times to the Present by Frances Wood is a non-fiction book about Chinese literature. Frances Wood is an English librarian, sinologue and historian known for her writings on Chinese history.

This book allows reader to discover classic books and texts from China. The author writes a small section about each book which is considered a treasure of Chinese culture.

I have never heard of many of these books myself and I’m glad I took the time to read this introductory book to various genres including history, science, travel and poetry. These books were written by scholars throughout history and the author did an excellent job presenting them in context to the time they were written in and to the society they were written for.

The author touches on Confucian and Daoist writings, famous novels, poetry, historic manuals, gardening and manual labor. The sections are concise, easy to read and understandable.

For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: http://www.ManOfLaBook.com ( )
  ZoharLaor | Jul 14, 2017 |
For “Great Books” is not an anthology of extracts but rather an introduction to their contents—a starting point rather than an end in itself. Ms. Wood does quote from chosen works, and in particular from the poetry, but she also explains why each selection is important. She gives its cultural and historical context, and also describes the life and times of its author.

Some of her choices will feel familiar at least as ideas, such as the sayings of Confucius, the divination manual known as the “Book of Changes” (“I Ching”) and the texts that inspired the popular television series “Monkey” and “The Water Margin” and Ang Lee’s film “Lust, Caution.” There is also the inevitable mention of Mao Zedong’s “Little Red Book,” which is little read now. Sometimes “great” means “influential” and nothing more.

The list includes much that’s far from abstruse, such as erotic novels, travel writing and manuals not only on military strategy but also on gardening and construction.


There’s much else that’s charming, entertaining or simply quirky. The Chinese “Almanac,” still sold in vast numbers, includes information on how to tell if a cat is any use. Other works contain advice against painting pictures of trees with fewer than four branches, and a recommendation to treat meat with respect in case the souls of animals should lodge a complaint with the god of the underworld.

One volume I shall seek out is “Tracks of a Wild Goose in the Snow,” an account by Linqing, a Manchu of the mid-19th century, of his extensive travels throughout China, punctuated with scenes from his life as a high-level official. When he was governor of Guizhou Province, a cow entered his office complex and lay down in the main hall as if it had come to present a petition. “I ordered it to be brought in,” he recounts, “and it shook its tail as if in supplication. I learned that it belonged to a local man named Cai, a butcher, who had planned to slaughter it that day but it had escaped. I paid Cai the price for the cow, telling him not to kill it. It was set free on Jiuping Hill.”

There’s much here that presages modern Chinese politics as clearly as anything by Sunzi. During the first century B.C.E., Sima Qian, historian to the court of the Han dynasty, was compelled by the emperor to vilify the preceding Qin dynasty in order to justify its overthrow, just as the Communist Party maintains control of historical narrative today. The 14th-century novel “The Story of the Three Kingdoms” has much to say on the problems of ruling a country as vast as China without strong leadership.
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"Great Books of China invites readers to discover--or rediscover--some of the major achievements of Chinese culture and civilization. The literature of China remains largely unknown in the West, yet it offers much insight into Chinese life. The long continuity of Chinese culture means that texts created more than two thousand years ago are still part of the education and background of today's China. Great Books of China introduces outstanding works of various genres, from fiction, drama, and poetry to history, science, and travel; they were written by philosophers and artists, government officials and scholars, by men and women across many centuries and from every part of China. These great books are presented in their historic, cultural, and social context, with a focused summary of content and author."--Back cover.… (more)

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