Tag Archives: Confucianism

Book: Quick Access to Chinese History: From Ancient Times to the 21st Century

Beautifully-produced. The cover feels like ancient paper: it even has imperfections. Made by Chinese authors and Chinese publishers in perfect English. That's rare!

No. 1 Chinese history overview. Basically China’s National Museum in print. A Syllabus.
357 pages, ★★★★★

I’ve been looking for a Chinese history overview for many months now. I tried ancient history authors like Jonathan Spence (too detailed) and Gavin Menzies (wildly outlandish); and also modern historians such as Martin Jaques (increasingly confused). Nothing has come close to Quick Access to Chinese History‘s in terms of a clear overview.

Surprisingly, this full-color book was only $8.50 (¥54) on Amazon China with free delivery. It’s entirely made in China. Since mistakes in language and production usually jump right out at me, I’m proud to say that this book is almost completely error-free! As a proofreader, high-quality editing and production makes me very happy. 🙂

History in this book is exactly the same as that in China’s National Museum: even the pictures are the same. This is important because China, unlike Britain, seems to be very sure of its ancient history. Unlike British authors, Chinese authors seldom present conflicting views or alternative versions of the last few thousand years. Quick Access to Chinese History is therefore the only version of Chinese history you’ll ever need.

Rather than waking up at 6am to get museum tickets, then skipping lunch in order to see everything, this book can be read at home with tea, chocolate and breaks for meals. It’s more relaxing.

Each of the 1000 or so events in this book warrants reading a whole other book. Quick Access to Chinese History gives you more of a reading list, or a syllabus, than an in-depth understanding. It describes the Neolithic Era to the year 2010.

Rather than brainstorm this book (as I do with all books), I made a list of topics I want to research further. My further reading list starts like this:

  • Did Yuanmou Man of 1,700,000 years B.C. really use fire?
  • What was the Ganzhi dating system?
  • Yi Ching (易经)
  • “Upamichad” (Indian philosophy)
  • Spring and Autumn Period (春秋). Mohism, Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism, Naturalism and Yinyang schools of thought all emerged during this turbulent period.
  • Zhuangzi (庄子) and his furthering of Daoism (道教)
  • Taichu calendar
  • Huangdi Neijing (黄帝内经)
  • Communist-style land reform first occurred in 485 A.D.
  • Eight-legged essay…
  • … and many more

This is the best-value book I’ve ever bought on Amazon China. And it would make an excellent starting point for a Chinese history syllabus in a school: not just as an ancient history syllabus, but since the 20th century occupies the last 25% of the book, as a complete modern history syllabus too. I recommend this book as a history starting point for all Sinophiles. A gem. ★★★★★

Book: The Analects of Confucius (Roger Ames & Henry Rosemont, Jr.)

A sweet book… Co-author Roger Ames gave me this pirated copy in person back in 2010

Orderly politick padded with multiple layers of excellent endnotes.
A concise introduction to traditional Chinese thought.

326 pages, ★★★★★

Uncovering and decoding The Analects is like decoding the woolly mammoth genome. Just like a genome, this text evolved as it was re-recorded over time. Current copies of The Analects have probabilities assigned to each character—rather like a genome map! (See page 301.)

The notes explain everything, and more. Subtle puns—and a thousand other details—that I would have had never have picked up are explained beautifully in the notes section (see Analects 3.21). Other notes discuss the rationale behind the historical substitution of one character for another that is so common in different versions of The Analects (due to puns, changes in meaning, simplifications, or copying error).

Read this book from cover to cover: the notes are separated from the text for good reason. First, everyone, even China-novices, will love the introduction. In many respects, the introduction distills all the parts of The Geography of Thought (another book discussing East/West cultural differences) that made any sense, into just a few tens of pages. The philosophical text that follows is difficult even for Sinologists to understand, but refrain from looking at the notes and find your own meanings first time. Then proceed to read the lengthy notes section; referring back to the text when necessary.

Some of my favourite quotes are listed below:

On education… Analects 6.20: 子曰:知之者不如好之者,好之者不如樂之者。

(From the notes) This use of “love (hao 好)” evokes the expression, “to love learning (haoxue 好学)” that pervades the text. The worth of knowledge is a direct consequence of its efficacy: to what degree does it conduce to human happiness and enjoyment?

On politics… Analects 8.14: 子曰:不在其位不在其位,不谋其政。

The Master said, “Do not plan the policies of an office you do not hold”.

On class… Analects 13.25: 君子易事而難說也。說之不以道,不說也;及其使人也,器之。小人難事而易說也。說之雖不以道,說也;及其使人也,求備焉。

Exemplary persons (junzi 君子) are easy to serve but difficult to please… in employing others, they use them according to their abilities. Petty persons (xiaoren 小人) are difficult to serve but easy to please… but in employing others, they expect them to be good at everything.

The Analects were written on various materials over 2000 years ago, and the ancient text is now found damaged, scattered and buried several meters deep across central China. The last major discovery of The Analects was in Dingxian 定縣, Hebei Province 河北省, in 1973. Buried in a tomb were fragmented bamboo strips, most of which had already been broken and burned by grave robbers long ago. The legible parts of these bamboo strips were incorporated into existing versions of The Analects by aligning intact character sequences with existing copies. New text, and new versions of the text, were discovered.

Co-author Roger Ames is an excellent lecturer; I’ve attended his lecture course at PKU (Beijing University). You can watch a concise introduction to Chinese philosophy on YouTube here. For an introduction to ancient China, Roger Ames is a great place to start. ★★★★★