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Jocelyn (The Reading World)

I love to read and can get very attached to my opinions, but recently I've been learning not to completely lose my head when people disagree with me, so feel safe to argue with me whenever you wish ;) 


China: Land of Dragons and Emperors by Adeline Yen Mah

China: Land of Dragons and Emperors - Adeline Yen Mah
My knowledge of Chinese history is haphazardly sketched, a combination of what I learned in school, some frantic Google searches, and books. When I was in 10th grade, I was forced to memorize all major Chinese dynasties in order. As I'd grown up somehow thinking that they numbered in the thirties and forties, I was surprised to find that it only took a few minutes, and it turned out to be super helpful later on when trying to mentally categorize information. This little volume will probably be useless to those who have already developed a deep and serious interest in Chinese history, but for me, its clear chronological layout and descriptions of major shifts of power, culture, technology etc. was an excellent refresher.

Following the Warring States Period, China established an imperial dynastic system that would endure for the next two millennia until the rise of the Republic of China in 1912. The major ones:

Qin, 221 BC-206 BC
Han, 206BC-220 AD
Sui, 589 AD-618 AD
Tang, 618-907 AD
Song, 960-1279 AD
Yuan, 1279-1368 AD
Ming, 1368-1644 AD
Qing, 1644-1912 AD

As you read Mah's book, you start to grasp the story of a civilization's progress from thousands of years ago to the country it is today. The establishment of a stable and legitimate government during the Qin and Han, the construction of the Grand Canal during the Sui, flourishing of culture and foreign trade during the Tang, Song, and Yuan, the development of isolationism in the Ming and Qing. The last bit would end up as one of the causes of the humiliation endured by the Chinese at the hands of Westerners during the 19th and 20th centuries, as the world grew more connected and the prestige of Chinese culture became slowly outdated over the years.

The extreme simplicity of language reflects that this is targeted at young adults, which sat well with me. Lots of pictures make it fun and easy to read. The first chapter, describing the meaning of lucky colors and numbers in Chinese culture, is clearly tilted toward appeasing the potential boredom of kids, but after that--by the standards of a general introduction--it gets fairly meaty. (Although at one point, Mah says something like "don't read the next two paragraphs if you're afraid of gruesome violence!"--indicating, again, who this is directed towards.)

There are two periods I wish the book had spent more time on: the period of division between Han and Sui (220-589 AD) and the Five Dynasties Ten Kingdoms period (907-960 AD) between Tang and Song. Both are skimmed over in a matter of sentences. This is understandable considering the way she tries to sketch a coherent narrative over the years, of which extended chaotic periods would be considered interruptions rather than noteworthy times of history in their own right. This is not a criticism, just an indication of small personal curiosity than can easily be fulfilled elsewhere.

Otherwise, I can imagine loving this when I was younger and it makes a very accessible as well as colorful timeline for such a huge subject matter.