At that time I asked her if she had recommendations for a book on early Chinese indigenous religion, pre-Buddhist and Toaist, and she said that Lewis was the best writer on the subject but he'd only written articles not books. So I was fascinated to read the chapter he'd written about religion in this book.
It did not disappoint. It covered both the state cults, cults of the ancestors and local religion. It looked at how religion differed from the Zhou and later dynasties. The book starts with the geography of the area and the political and military history. But for me the most interesting aspects was the social history, there were great descriptions of city life, the position of women, relationship with foreigners as well as interesting intellectual history looking at the development of orthodoxy within the Han dynasty.
Even the chapter on law was very interesting, with a large quote about the forensic steps that should be taken when investigating a possible suspicious death, what to observe about a body that was hanging, noting the position of the noose, the victims tongue, how far he was from the ground etc. There was also a translation on how to interrogate your suspect. It was all very cool. While the rubbings were not in perfect condition I thought they really added to the book and are not something that I've come across a lot in other books. I'd highly recommend this to anyone interested in the period.
He's also just released a book on the three kingdoms and period of disunion following the Han, which I also checked out from the library and am really looking forward to. Sep 07, Adam A rated it did not like it. One thing I almost never like to do is give a bad review and I thought it only fair to say a few words on why this book only receives a single star from me. Really, the problem seems to be with the entire series of books and the method used to discuss Imperial China in segments.
Having recently completed my read of a later book in the series, "The Troubled Empire" which covers Yuan and Ming dynasties, I can conclude that there was a consistent method applied to their writing, in that each chapter One thing I almost never like to do is give a bad review and I thought it only fair to say a few words on why this book only receives a single star from me.
Having recently completed my read of a later book in the series, "The Troubled Empire" which covers Yuan and Ming dynasties, I can conclude that there was a consistent method applied to their writing, in that each chapter is an essay on the specifics of both empires. So, for example, you could read a chapter on infrastructural growth that would cover the entirety of the Qin and Han empires, another chapter would do the same for political landscapes and then agriculture and so forth.
And herein lies the problem: And what is history but the retelling of people, places and events? This all seems to get lost in the muddle of relating the individual topics. It was only possible to remember specific names and details by each book's end, and by that point, the memory of earlier details become lost or chronologically confused. Perhaps if I'd picked up this book specifically for reference on the details of these dynasties, I'd have been more satisfied with it as a read, but even so, because so much is to be covered in each topic, there's no assurance to the reliability of receiving those details in full.
And, again, I have to cite that because each chapter covers two dynasties with a lot of run on between them, it's difficult to parse out what is specific to each dynasty. If anything, these books have encouraged me to dig deeper into the subject of Imperial, Dynastic China Aug 09, Matthew rated it liked it. It took a while, but I finally finished this book. I thought some of it was incredibly interesting, informative and insightful and other parts incredibly boring. I really don't think this is an indication of the quality of the book.
I think this is an indication of my own personal interests in history since the book is written thematically instead of as a narrative. For example, I found the chapters on the development of the Qin and Han state, the policies they pursued, and the consequences of t It took a while, but I finally finished this book. For example, I found the chapters on the development of the Qin and Han state, the policies they pursued, and the consequences of those policies on society, the economy, and the state's actual power and future prospects to be fascinating.
The rise of landlordism is a very good example, during the Qin and Early Han the state based its state around individual peasant plots and crushed landlordism and other bases of power in order to strengthen the power of state by being able to collect taxes more easily, and then use these peasants in their massive standing armies to conquer and crush their enemies.
That all started to change during the mid Han when the Empire needed more money to finance expensive campaigns and other things so he started demanding taxes in cash and taxed merchants at twice the rate. Well, this hurt the peasants quite a bit and basically further and further put them into debt.
Merchants started buying up land to avoid taxes, and bam, landlordism. Another huge factor was technology. The iron plow, leather harness, and irrigation and well works increased crop yields significantly, but the initial investment was significant and poor farmers really couldnt compete.
Interestingly, the author makes the point that landlordism might have actually been a benefit to the peasants because the demands of landlords were not nearly as severe as what European serfs face and these Chinese serfs got access to the new technology that signficantly increased crop yields. Still, landlordism was bad for the Han state because eventually these landlords were able to create huge lineage structures that basically took control over areas in the Eastern Han, and they were the ones able to pay and field armies along with other groups like the actual army who was now not beholden to the Han state either , and bam, we get regional struggles, fighting, and the break up of the Han state.
It was already super weak at this point, but the fighting seems to have been kicked off by peasant revolts since they were just getting squeezed thanks to a weak state, competing powers and some lineages and landlords nad local power bases that actually squeezed them hard obviously some were greedy fucks and bam, war and chaos.
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I also found the chapters on the city and the countryside absolutely fascinating as well since it dealt with social groups, their daily lives and how the state and society saw and interacted with them. I think that is one of the hardest things to continue to remember about history. It is easy to just get wrapped up in the political narrative and the major themes and just kinda assume that society is basically ruler, peasant, craftsman, and merchant. Ruler rules, peasant works on farm, craftsman makes shit, and merchants trade food and crafts throughout the nation and world. Society is a lot more complex than that though and I think it is interesting to read about their daily lives.
The Market's violence and criminality were generally associated with butchers and 'wicked youths' but most importantly with 'wandering swordsmen' or gangsters--men who devoted themselves to an ethic of vengeance, faithfulness to oaths, and devotion to death. The Poems on Han capitals place these men ad ntheir gangs of sworn followers in the markets. The histories situate them in the alleys and wards of the major cities. Gangsters formed associations of professional killers who intimidated or bribed officials.
Memorials written in the Easten Han described them as the creators of a private law based on vengeance that threatened to supplant the states legal codes In peacetime, 'wicked youths' were portrayed as wastrels with no proper occupations, who passed their time in the market gambling, cock fighting, and coursing hounds These activities were so common that they were depicted on tomb tiles. In times of disorder, however, these urban gangs formed a reservoir of recruits for those engaged in large-scale vendettas or rebellion.
The biographies of many leaders in the Uprising against the QIn show that their first followers were recruited from among the youths. The final social element that gathered in the market and challeneged the authority of the state comprised the masters of esoteric techniques, particularly divines and shaman doctors. This group was accused of claiming supernational powers in order to swindle peasants.
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And because divination, medicine, and related religouis practices were a source of wealth, the group was denounced for luring idle young people away from proper occupations and into their own disreputable pursuits. I think that sort of gives a vitality and a sense of it actually being a real and complex society that often is lacking in many history that doesnt really deal with social history.
The part on rural society was also fascinating since it discussed, as mentioned before, technological changes like improved irrigation and well-building, the iron plow, fertilizes, better agricultural practices, oxen nose ring, combined plow and seeder. This increased agricultural production, increased trade, fostered urbanization, which further increased trade, crafts, and new ideas due to a culture of urbanization. I really think that agricultural production is definitely one of the most important themes throughout history. As for a peasant working under a landlord being better off: If, as often happened, he was removed from the local registers by his master and therby escaped tax and corvee labor, his life probvabl improved.
With his rent set as a fixed percentage of his harvest, he could escape misery in all but the worst years, while avoiding the need to convert crops into cash to pay poll tax to the state. He also had access to oxen and tools that he could never have afforded on his own. Of all textiles , silk was the most precious. While large-scale production of cloth in workshops owned by the state of great families used some male labor, many woprkers in such enterprises were women.
Han records refer to great families that employed as many as women to weave silk cloth both for use by the mistress or the house and for sale. I think that is really interesting since we really don't associate that sort of large scale production like that in the west until industrialization. Obviously it happened before that since in Renaissance Italy there was a huge wool industry that employed like half the town, but you really don't hear about that in the middle ages likely to due to no urbanization.
Did that sort of stuff happen in Rome as well? A major difference between Rome and Han was how rural society developed. Rome had huge tracts of land that used slave labor.
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In the Han, they divided and subdivided their holdings: The ambition of the great families was not simply to amass land and wealth, but rather to use this land and wealth to build up extensive networks of kin, clients, and neighbors whose loyalties they could command I remember reading that Rome also had a client-patronage relationship thing, so I don't think the dichotomy is totally true, but it seems certain that Han China practiced a whole hell of a lot more of it since they instituted that sort of thinking into their property, inheritance and society, and not just personal relationships.
Most locally powerful lineages divded themeslves into many- in some cases hundreds-of nuclear households. They then dominated their districts, commanderies, or regions through alliances of these households and marrage ties with other great surnames This is also one of the major reasons why China developed the legal practice of wiping out lineages for major crimes.
Lineages were stupidly powerful and loyal and had a code of vendetta as well, that a lineage should take revenge on whoever wronged them.
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Officials who sentenced a member of the lineage was sometimes killed by other members of the lineage in revenge. So, the state wasn't being totally oppressive and cruel, but actually situating itself into the society and culture of the nation and also ensuring its power. Obviously, the Han saw these massive lineages as a huge threat to their power and obviously they were not really able to do anything about it.
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The Eastern Han was basically established by powerful lineages so they didnt even really try. It wasnt all bad for the peasants because: Village society was constituted in reciprocal obligations created by the regular exchange of figts or services. Richer members were under moral pressure to distribute their weath among their pooer neighbors, in exchange for which they received status and certain customery forms of service. This pattern of reduceing inequalities, as well as establishing moral and emotional links, was still visiale in late imperal and republican China, where wealthier families sponsored feasts, operas and relgious festivals that secured their own status and gained the support of their neighbors.
The rest of the chapters dealt with more cultural history, such as kinship, literature, religion and law obviously kinship and law arent really cultural history, but I still found them rather dull. And I was a lot less interested in these areas. I struggled to get through these chapters. Apr 05, Bart rated it it was ok.
Qin and Han
I really wanted to like this, but it feels like such a missed opportunity. You get no sense of how the Qin or Han empires were formed, who led them, what campaigns they undertook. But you certainly learn a lot about the legal scholarship of the day. The other major issue I had with this book is that it often assumes the reader already knows the history of the Qin and Han, and associated texts and works. It drops references I really wanted to like this, but it feels like such a missed opportunity.
It drops references to names, geography, texts, and other assorted things, without any additional context.
For example, during certain religious ceremonies, the author references "sacrifices" -- without ever specifying what exactly those sacrifices entailed. Are we talking human sacrifices here? Obviously not, but we may as well have been for the lack of context Another example occurs when the author talks about how, without landlords, whole villages would move to the hills and build walled settlements, then ends that section by writing, "Such migrations inspired Tao Yuanming's fourth-century AD story of the hidden, egalitarian utopia of the 'Peach Blossom Spring.
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The Peach Blossom Spring! By the legendary Tao Yuanming, obviously! No further explanation is given regarding either the author or the work. If I'm already familiar with the author and his work, and the context it's in, then why would I even bother with a book like this in the first place?
On the other hand, if I'm a newcomer to Chinese history, then this book isn't of any help, either. It occupies some weird space between being an introductory text and a more academic reference. But it's written for a general audience. In short, this is a book that doesn't know what it wants to be, and what audience is reading it.
And it's a shame, because this could be a heck of a book. Instead, it feels like a missed opportunity. Apr 15, Ashley rated it it was ok. Very dry, reads like a textbook, would not recommend for light reading. Aug 31, Wendell rated it really liked it. Lewis' work, and this series as a whole, are tremendously welcome for me. As a former student and former would-be practitioner of Asian history, I've long awaited a relatively accessible, concise, dedicated survey of imperial China, for centuries one of the world's most powerful and complex societies.
When in grad school a decade ago, the most obvious candidate for such a job was the multi-volume Cambridge history of the 60s and 70s, thorough-going and well-sourced but only available through l Lewis' work, and this series as a whole, are tremendously welcome for me. When in grad school a decade ago, the most obvious candidate for such a job was the multi-volume Cambridge history of the 60s and 70s, thorough-going and well-sourced but only available through libraries or prohibitively expensive sellers. Lewis' history of the Qin and Han Empires bodes well for future volumes I'm especially looking forward to the Tang, Song and Qing , though, as many reviewers have noted, it's a good idea to have a basic knowledge of Chinese history or culture to get the most out of it.
The book, understandably enough, is thematically organized, with separate chapters on law, religion, rural society, foreign relations as we would call them today , etc. At times, of course, the analysis is fairly general, but there are some interesting points made, among them that the Qin, commonly considered the founders of imperial China with Qin Shihuangdi, of the famous terracotta statues, the "first emperor" , were more the culmination of the previous eras of smaller kingdoms, i.
Much of Lewis' appraisal depends on primary sources, but there's a healthy bibliography of secondary works both old and new, which happily testifies to substantial vigor in the present-day field. Having embarked on the journey, I'm looking forward even more than before to subsequent volumes, however I can find them. A bit of a structural really spatial geographical bias, but that's okay. While it never has paragraphs that stretch out for a page-plus like an 18th century tome, there are sentences that require a couple of reads to sort out the structure.
And sentences often don't seem to flow within a paragraph, which requires the reader to supply their own force against textual inertia. And I spotted one copy-editing error omission of a key proper noun though the context allowed a reader's fix. Also there are moments of enthusiastic abstraction, abruptly terminated by a return to textbook dryness: Jul 04, Jonathan rated it it was amazing Shelves: Much of what we understand China and Chinese culture to be originated in her "classical" period 3rd cent.
BC to 3 cent. AD , when China was first united into a single empire by the Qin and then ruled for 4oo years by the Han dynasty. This short and readable work is not a narrative but rather contains a brief overview of the rise and fall of these dynasties before going on to describe how their government functioned, urban and rural life, family relations, their interactions with the outer "bar Much of what we understand China and Chinese culture to be originated in her "classical" period 3rd cent. History of Imperial China. The Geography of Empire 2. A State Organized for War 3.
The Paradoxes of Empire 4. The Imperial Capital 5.
The Outer World 7. He traces the drastic measures taken to transcend, without eliminating, these regional differences: The digital Loeb Classical Library loebclassics. Our recent titles are available via Edelweiss. Visit our multimedia page for video about recent projects and interviews with HUP authors. Join Our Mailing List: