The history of China is as rich and strange as that of any country on earth. Yet for many, China’s history remains unknown, or known only through the stylized images that generations in the West have cherished or reviled as truth.
With his command of character and event - the product of 30 years of research and reflection in the field - Spence dispels those myths in a powerful narrative. Over four centuries of Chinese history, from the waning days of the once-glorious Ming Dynasty to Deng Xiaoping’s bloody suppression of the pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, Spence fashions the astonishing story of the effort to achieve a modern China. Through the ideas and emotions of its reformist Confucian scholars, its poets, novelists, artists, and visionary students, we see one of the world’s oldest cultures struggling to define itself as Chinese and modern.
©1990 Jonathan D. Spence (P)2000 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“To understand…China’s past there is no better place to start than Jonathan D. Spence’s excellent new book.” (New York Times Book Review)
“Monumental…History that is always lively, always concrete, always comprehensible.” (New York Times)
“Rich and dramatic…A pleasure to read, as well as being immensely informative.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
This is a classic textbook on early modern and modern Chinese history. I've very happy to see it finally appearing in audio form, and I hope there are more on the way.
I have one complaint: The pronunciation of most of the Chinese names is so wrong that the reader might as well be making up random noises. For example, "zhou" is pronounced "joe," not "zoo," and it matters because "zhou" appears in the names of most Chinese geographic locations outside Beijing and Shanghai. It would take 10 minutes for the reader to learn the absolute basics of how to pronounce Chinese names. By being too lazy to take those 10 minutes, the next 20? 30? hours of audio lose much of their value for any listener who hopes actually to learn something.
This book is epic, narrative history at its absolute best, as it traces the history of China from the time of the late Ming until the present day. In its best moments, it evokes the likes of Edward Gibbon, as we follow the rise and fall of the larger-than-life personalities, from the Chongzheng Emperor to Deng Xiaoping, that dot the historical landscape of the Middle Kingdom. This is one of those rare historical tomes that I would recommend to anyone, regardless of whether one's interest in Chinese history is professional or casual, and regardless of one's level of scholarship. In short, this is a classic of Chinese history, and even, dare I say, a classic of narrative history.
The performance is solid as well, but has some serious problems. Although the reader never lost my attention, his pronunciation of Chinese names is inconsistent and, more often than not, incorrect. The audible edition is nonetheless worth spending a credit on, and comes highly recommended.
I would certainly recommend this book as it is both comprehensive and concise. Spence does a great job at covering China's history in a easily digestible read.
Nothing out there really compares to Spence's tome, but to supplement this history, Arthur Smith's 19th and 20th century writings cover Chinese culture and society from a more humanistic perspective. Together, the reader will get a good feel for China.
Chinese pronunciation is difficult for a non-native speaker and the reader's attempts, while noble, fall short of the mark. For those who speak Mandarin, the Chinese pronunciation is annoyingly incorrect making it difficult to follow the narrative when it comes to places and names. It's a struggle, at best. However, for non Mandarin speakers, this may not be a problem.
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