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314 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 Patricia Buckley Ebrey. The Cambridge Illustrated History ofChina. Cambridge , New York, and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 352 pp. Hardcover, isbn 0-521-43519-6. In The Cambridge Illustrated History ofChina, Patricia Buckley Ebrey masterfully synthesizes more than four thousand years of Chinese history in a single volume that renders China's past and present comprehensible to nonspecialist Western audiences, without oversimplifying complex issues and events. The book is targeted primarily at beginning students of Chinese history and makes China's civilization and culture less enigmatic by explaining, through a well-structured, clearly written combination of straightforward historical narrative and critical analysis, how it became the nation it is today. Of all the general histories of China written to date, this book is among the most comprehensive, objective, and well-balanced , and it will surely be a welcome addition to the bookshelves of teachers, students, and anyone else interested in understanding the broader evolution of Chinese civilization. Many general histories of China written in the past have subscribed to either a cyclical or a teleological model of Chinese history. The cyclical model presents Chinese history as a recurring pattern of similar conditions and events, in which the details vary from age to age, but the underlying forces shaping the civilization remain basically the same. The teleological model, on the other hand, constructs Chinese history as a linear progression through certain decisive stages leading to a crucial moment, such as conflict with the West, the abolition of the imperial system , or the rise of the Communist Party (exactly what the crucial moment is depends on the perspective of the historian). Professor Ebrey's view of China's past, however, is neither so formulaic nor so deterministic. According to her more evolutionary model of Chinese history, every age is defined by its own unique combination of circumstances, which were not pre-ordained by the past, and which do not have an inevitable effect on the future. Several times throughout the book, she notes instances where the course of Chinese history could easily have taken very different directions than it ultimately did (for example, during the period of division between the Han and Sui dynasties, or following the collapse of the Northern Song in the twelfth century). She emphasizes the fact that China's history up to the present has not been inevitable by concluding many of the chapters with references to both parallel and divergent developments in contemporaneous© 1997 by University Western history. The effect of such references, however, is not to sidetrack readers ofHawai ? Press¿nto cross-cultural comparisons, but rather to make Chinese history more understandable to Western audiences, and to make the historical narrative she is relating more dramatic, more engaging, and ultimately more memorable. Features 315 The Cambridge Illustrated History ofChina is both comprehensive and wellbalanced . The book is divided into eleven chapters, beginning with "The Origins of Chinese Civilization: Neolithic Period to the Western Zhou Dynasty (to 771 b.c.)" and concluding with "Radical Reunification: China Since 1949," within which no single historical period or topic predominates. Political, military, economic , social, intellectual, and cultural history are all well integrated into a unified narrative, allowing readers to comprehend the complex interrelationship of forces that shaped Chinese civilization at different moments in history. Perhaps because it aims to be so comprehensive, not every topic or event is explained as fully as might otherwise have been desirable. However, considering the intended audience and the limited space ofa single volume, Professor Ebrey's occasionally abbreviated explanations are perfecüy understandable, and any shortcomings in this respect are more than compensated for by the inclusion oftopics (such as women's history and the lives ofnon-elites) that are usually omitted from such general histories. Somewhat surprisingly for an introductory history, this book addresses a number ofcomplex and potentially controversial issues, particularly regarding matters of Chinese ethnicity, race, and national identity. To her credit and the reader's benefit, Professor Ebrey usually provides different perspectives on these and other difficult topics, and her honesty and candor encourage readers to ponder the issues she raises all the more carefully. The main text of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 314-316
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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