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No. 5, April 2000
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Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.

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 dynasties.
 
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 and religion."
 
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 China.       
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F.W. Mote: Imperial China 900-1800. Harvard, 1999, 1107 p. Get it from Amazon.com.
 

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.