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No. 5, April 2000
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A History of China
 
With a surface area of almost 10 million sq. km (slightly larger than that of the USA), a population exceeding 1 billion and a history spanning over 4000 years, "China" is so vast a subject that 300 pages can only offer a brief introduction.  A History of China by J.A.G. Roberts concentrates on the national picture and makes only sporadic reference to developments at regional or provincial levels. The book's emphasis lies in historical interpretation rather than in historical narrative. Roberts is of course aware of the debate about the "differentness" of China. "In the eighteenth century some French philosophes regarded China as a model for Europe and suggested that features of Chinese society should be adopted in Western states. By the nineteenth century this admiration had been replaced with condescension." Communist China offered the interpretation of Oriental Despotism (the title of a book by Karl Wittfogel in 1957). Roberts comes to the conclusion that although the "richness of Chinese culture, the complexity of China's political experience, the drama of China's recent past, might seem to justify treating China as a special case. Nevertheless in these pages the history of China is presented as being in no fundamental way different from the history of any other nation or society." Roberts treats some of the subjects with too few pages. The Xia dynasty that may have existed between approximately 2200 and 1750 BC gets only one page. Even if one considers that the study of the Xia dynasty is still at the beginning, that is not enough. The final chapter on China since the 1949 Revolution ends with Deng Xiaoping's reforms in the year 1992 - the book was published in 1999. Interesting are Roberts' remarks on China's response to the West which traditionally has concentrated on Western economic imperialism, treaty ports, etc., "while ignoring the broader context of cultural and social changes already taking place in Chinese society." Based on a number of recent works, Roberts shows that the Chinese society was not unchanging and that Chinese intellectuals were "thinking". A History of China is an introduction offering basic information and interpretation as well as a commented bibliography on books available in English.
 
J.A.G. Roberts: A History of China. Macmillan Essential Histories Series. 1999, 341 p. Get it from Amazon.com. - Book your hotel in China online.
 

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 5, April 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  All Previous Articles
Links  For Advertisers  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.