Copyright 2000 www.cosmopolis.ch Louis Gerber All rights
Imperial China 900 - 1800 by F.W. Mote
Imperial China 900 - 1800 is as a major contribution
to Chinese history by F.W. Mote, professor of Chinese history and civilization,
emeritus, at Princeton University. It is often at the end of their lifes that
history scholars write their best books based on a life-long experience with
their subject of interest. This is clearly the case with F.W. Mote.
His synthesis of the Chinese, Mongol and Manchu dynasties
from the Song to the early Qing covers history and culture, events and
personalities, political order and institutions, economy and military. It is a
monumental and complete history of civilization. As basic as it may sound, the
detailed table of contents is helpful in finding a specific period or subject
- and not all scholars' books are so userfriendly. His style is clear and easy
to understand and therefore even accessable for the average reader - which
does not diminuish its scientific value. The only disappointing aspect of the
book: the absence of color plates illustrating art and history of the five
Mote is a specialist of Yuan and Ming history as well as of
early Chinese intellectual history. He thinks that "knowledge about
earlier China is essential even to those who focus on the more recent past"
and that "ignorance of China's cultural tradition and historical
experience is an absolute barrier to comprehending China today."
Mote redresses the relative neglect of those peoples of the
"conquest dynasties" such as the Khitans, the Tanguts, the Jurchens
and the Mongols, but, as he confesses, was not able "to do as much with
regard to the even more commonly ignored non-Chinese peoples and polities of
South and Southwest China."
He has concentrated on the political narrative, believing
that he can best make the civilization's development throughout history by
informing the reader about that central element. Within that political
narrative he selected "those actors and events that appear to me to
posses intrinsic interest for a modern reader, and that simultaneously reveal
the larger course of history." He also introduced "the structure of
government, the nature of the social system, economic and military factors,
the forms of artistic and literary expression, and major patterns in thought
Mote explains his choice of delimiting dates, 900 to 1800:
"Later imperial China can be said to begin in the half-century of deep
changes that occured between the fall of the Tang dynasty and the subsequent
founding of the Song." Aind in 1800, China "was becoming embroiled
in a changing world in which the West was coming into a dominant position."
Mote's book gives the reader a deeper understanding of China's millenary
civilization as well as of present-day