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 ;)
EDIT: I give up. I try to take what I can get, but I'm sure I can find something better down the road, or return to this when I'm better read.
Page 117: For some reason, this slim little volume is turning out to be a huge slog. It isn't the book, it's me. I think there's one main reason, really.
I need to find a way to better anticipate a book's content. I came to this expecting a narrative history of the Qin and Han dynasties. Instead, what this actually does is organize content into a number of themed topics, almost completely disregarding chronology. This means a lot of generalized analysis on information I haven't managed to familiarize myself with yet, with very few references to specific events or details, so I struggle to understand the import of passages like this:
Scholars of the late imperial and contemporary China have noted that the practice of dividing households generally acccompanies a focus on marriage ties. Dividing households when sons marry emphasizes the conjugal tie, strengthens links with the wife's relatives, and elevates the status of the wife, who is protected by distance from her mother-in-law. Such quarrels between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law were certainly an issue in Han China, as shown in poetry and by the fact that a book of medical and magical "recipes" discovered at Mawangdui contains a spell to prevent the problem.
Change of tactics: I'll try reading the chapters out of order, since chronology clearly doesn't matter in this book anyway. "The Outer World" and "Literature" look interesting, although judging off what I've seen of Lewis's writing style so far, it won't be much more than I've gotten already.
The sole chapter I've felt was helpful so far was "A State Organized for War." In it, Lewis describes how the Qin state's foundation of centralized military organization was the pivotal factor in its conquest of the other Warring States to form the first unified empire. However, a system made for conquest over rivals became obsolete when used to govern an entire state that had reached its farthest possible geographical borders. It helps that this section is actually grounded in historical detail, such as Shang Yang's reforms and the standardization of weights and measures, which really facilitates comprehension. I heartily wish Lewis had applied the same approach to the rest of what I managed to get through.
I've heard the volume on the Northern and Southern Dynasties is better, so I still might check that out.