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Imperial China 900 - 1800

by: F.W. Mote

Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press 1999, $39.99, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-674-44515-5

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Winter Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(4) page(s): 19

Mote, emeritus professor of Chinese history at Princeton University, authored a chapter in K.C. Chang’s Food in Chinese Culture. He was co-editor of several volumes of The Cambridge History of China. Thus, this book is by a scholar who knows China’s rulers, dynasties, events, and epochs. Of particular value is his ability to interest readers as he highlights views on Chinese adaptations to outside rule and how these intrusions shaped Imperial China.

The book, in five parts, opens during the Five Dynasties era (907 - 960 CE). It offers well-tuned geographic and historical perspectives. Through Dynasties Liao (916 - 1125 CE) and Song (960 - 1279 CE) and thereafter, one sees what occurred before the takeover by Genghis Khan and other Mongol-led campaigns. One gets a good picture of what China was really like when visited by Marco Polo and other outsiders. Some myths fade away as understandings are strengthened about China during the nine hundred years Mote tackled.

The Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 CE) follows and shows other differences. What fascination there is in learning its elite and prosaic cultural venues. The book ends in the days of the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911 CE) looking at Kanxi Emperors, Manchu migrations, and a changing China. Throughout Chinese history there are a plethora of losses and gains. One of the latter for the reader, at least, is a better understanding of China today based upon these Imperial times.

You do not have to be a history buff because this is an eminently readable story, and an easy read. Footnotes and extensive bibliography after the entire text help make it so. Nothing gets in the way of a captivating story, which it is, of a complex culture during very exciting times.

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