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 ;)
A while ago I found out that China has a thing called the Twenty-Four Histories.
At first I was like, “Jesus, each dynasty had its own historian who wrote bazillion-page documentations of their period? Why don’t I ever know about this stuff?”
Anyway, I thought this would be super exciting to read, so I looked up translations.
Gosh is that super infuriating. *shakes middle finger*
I am very, very curious to know why this is though. I mean, from common sense, most of our knowledge of imperial Chinese history would come from these works. Wikipedia even throws a vague statement about how “It is considered one of the most important sources on Chinese and culture.” If so…why only two translations? And why is one of them on a relatively ignored period? Do English-speaking Chinese scholars just read it and write their scholarly stuff in English without translating it for the general public?
Dying of curiosity over here.
EDIT: Actually, I found a translation of the Book of Former Han for the “Annals” section by Homer H. Dubs in the UCI library. Wow! So awesome. Maybe someday in the far future the rest of the whole thing will be translated too, for which I cross my fingers hard.
Ok, so far, I’ve combed through three libraries in search of Chinese history books. The vast majority of them are on 1800 and 1900 onward, focusing on the century of embarrassment in the Qing dynasty and Mao Zedong’s reign. It took me two hours to find a single narrowly-focused book (by that I mean, not stuffing 2000+ years of history into 300 pages) in the UCI library on imperial Chinese history. I wonder why this is. Why is it that Western scholars’ primary area of interest involves China at its most embarrassing moments when it began to interact with the Western world and was viewed as backwards, stagnated, and primitive? Did I just answer my own question there? I guess so.
Anyway, the main problem atm for me is this: it’s hard to tailor the resources available to my immediate interests/preferred style (mostly
the actual fun stuff military history, major emperors, officials and generals.). I think what I’m unconsciously looking for is some direct and dirty analysis of specific events rather than an overview of general social and economic institutions. Or even comparisons with Western empires would be nice. Seriously, it’s not that hard to gather a bunch of common knowledge, sprinkle some occasional tidbits of high-school-level analysis, patchwork it together into a book, add some pictures and maps. Why don’t you just make the actual events the focus? I mean, I originally thought that the Chu-Han wars would get a lot of attention, being the big deciding conflict before the establishment of the first enduring Chinese dynasty that set the stage for the next two millennia, but nope…unless it’s Sima Qian. In general, I’ve found it difficult to figure out why certain details and time periods are not expounded on in proportion to their chronological importance. Which is very puzzling.
Still, the four scanty shelves of imperial history I found at the UCI library were so damn cool it was totally worth the two hours I spent searching for them. There was a full (I think) translation of Sima Qian, some volumes on women, and an individual chapter on Ming and Qing classical literature. Can’t check them out but I took some pictures of my favorite titles. And the resources for learning it might not be so narrow as I thought. Medieval Chinese Warfare 300-900 looks really interesting, so much so that I might actually buy it. Some potential exploration of previously barely-touched-upon people there!