China: A New Cultural History

Timothy D. Baker
Michael S. Duke
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 632
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    An internationally recognized authority on Chinese history and a leading innovator in its telling, Cho-yun Hsu constructs an original portrait of Chinese culture. Unlike most historians, Hsu resists centering his narrative on China's political evolution, focusing instead on the country's cultural sphere and its encounters with successive waves of globalization. Beginning long before China's written history and extending through the twentieth century, Hsu follows the content and expansion of Chinese culture, describing the daily lives of commoners, their spiritual beliefs and practices, the changing character of their social and popular thought, and their advances in material culture and technology. In addition to listing the achievements of emperors, generals, ministers, and sages, Hsu builds detailed accounts of these events and their everyday implications. Dynastic change, the rise and fall of national ambitions, and the growth and decline of institutional systems take on new significance through Hsu's careful research, which captures the multiple strands that gave rise to China's pluralistic society. Paying particular attention to influential relationships occurring outside of Chinese cultural boundaries, he demonstrates the impact of foreign influences on Chinese culture and identity and identifies similarities between China's cultural developments and those of other nations.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52818-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Chronology
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. List of Figures
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Notes on the Translation
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. Author’s Preface
    (pp. 1-7)
  7. Prologue
    (pp. 8-9)

    In this book, three terms appear as key words throughout the whole text: “China,” “Chinese,” and “world.” It is important to delimit their respective extents and contents, because all three terms change their constitutions from time to time.

    “Chinese,” in this book, refers to a nation that shares a common cultural heritage rather than to a racial entity or even a linguistic community. Such a cultural complex constantly absorbs influences from outside, blends various previously contending cultures, and revises as well as expands its own constituents into new patterns and emphases.

    Likewise, “China”—the land wherein this multiethnic nation dwells...

    (pp. 10-67)

    Long before the notion of what we now refer to as “China” took shape, mankind was already active in this region of the world. Under the primitive Paleolithic living conditions, the people here gradually developed an understanding of agriculture and of how to raise livestock and grow crops; they lived in groups and developed regional cultures. Through a lengthy process of division and recombination, their regional differences gradually coalesced into several broad streams of culture, providing a foundation for the subsequent development of Chinese civilization.

    In discussing China’s geography as part of its cultural history, we should note that in...

  9. 2 The Emergence of Chinese Civilization: THE SIXTEENTH THROUGH THIRD CENTURIES B.C.E.
    (pp. 68-120)

    Though Chinese civilization had begun to take form even earlier, from the Shang to the Zhou dynasties, the Hua-Xia culture of early China more fully coalesced. Even more significantly, the Confucian system of thought in the north and Daoism in the Yangzi River basin had begun to develop and influence each other, forming the core of a Chinese way of thought. Thus many of the ways of understanding the questions of human life and what lies beyond emerged at this time.

    The use of bronze and the war chariot brought deep and far reaching changes to the early Chinese cultures....

    (pp. 121-180)

    The third century B.C.E. to the second century C.E. was a critical period of metamorphosis for China. It expanded from the central area of the North China Plain in all four directions, setting out its basic territorial extent. The Qin-Han imperial government established a nation that covered “all under heaven,” one that was supported by intensive agriculture, a commercial network, and a bureaucratic civil service. From this setting, the characteristics of Chinese culture emerged. Based on the stability of an all-encompassing government, China was able to maintain an extended conflict with the nomadic peoples to its north. During this same...

  11. 4 China in East Asia: THE SECOND TO TENTH CENTURIES C.E.
    (pp. 181-261)

    The rivers roll on without cease as the China of the North China Plain strides forward to become East Asian China. During the period covered in this chapter, the immigration and internal migration of neighboring peoples transformed the face of ancient China while greatly enriching its ancient culture. At the same time, this long series of changes brought about a renewal in Chinese styles of eating, dressing, dwelling, and traveling, laying a firm foundation for the Chinese style of living of later generations.

    The destruction of the Qin-Han imperial system, which had lasted from 221 B.C.E. to 220 C.E., was...

  12. 5 China in an Asian Multistate System: THE TENTH TO FIFTEENTH CENTURIES C.E.
    (pp. 262-328)

    From the tenth to the fifteenth centuries, Chinese civilization expanded beyond East Asia and encountered many challenges, conflicts, and amalgamations with other civilizations. The expansion of several non-Chinese peoples, especially the western march of the Mongols, brought China and the West closer together, into one Eurasian field of interaction. China’s economic network expanded, and Chinese thinking grew into a substantially complete system of thought. After this transformation, China and East Asia were virtually indivisible.

    In the usual alignment of Chinese history, the Tang and Song are grouped together as unified dynasties. In reality, though, the Song dynasty was only one...

  13. 6 China Enters the World System, Part 1: THE FIFTEENTH TO SEVENTEENTH CENTURIES
    (pp. 329-411)

    During this period, China enters completely into the world order. The opening of oceanic transport and the increasing frequency of Eurasian overland contact bring China into the world economy. A favorable balance of trade keeps its economy growing rapidly for three hundred years, and China leaps ahead to become the most prosperous region in the world! Stimulation from abroad also prompts China’s intellectual world to reevaluate traditional Chinese culture. This is a great effort somewhat analogous to the European Enlightenment, but, unfortunately, it does not last long.

    The periodization of this chapter goes back to 1500 C.E., or,specifically, the momentous...

  14. 7 China Enters the World System, Part 2: THE SEVENTEENTH TO NINETEENTH CENTURIES
    (pp. 412-500)

    Compared to the rapid development of the West during this period, China’s entry into the world system was slow and gradual, because its comprehensive cultural system, which had developed over the previous two millennia, had become fixed and rigid. As a result, the new ways of thinking that had entered China from the outside world were unable to flourish. These were the final centuries in which traditional Chinese culture and government could continue to function.

    Over the course of China’s history, many governments and dynasties have risen and then been toppled. Most of these dynastic changes have been the result...

  15. 8 A Century of Uncertainty: 1850 TO 1950
    (pp. 501-574)

    The West’s Industrial Revolution and subsequent capitalist imperialism determined the fate of the entire world for a hundred years. China was beaten down by these twin pressures. In the hundred years after the mid-nineteenth century, as China strove to adapt to this new world situation—through internal self-examination and reflection and through study abroad and emulation—the entire fabric of Chinese civilization was torn to pieces. China’s self-reorganization and progress toward joining this new world first had to endure the terrible hardships of the first half of the twentieth century. Only then did signs of hope and renewal gradually appear....

  16. Afterword
    (pp. 575-578)

    Across several thousand years of history, Chinese culture experienced innumerable ups and downs, and the Chinese people who lived within this cultural sphere also experienced innumerable vicissitudes of life. Looking back on the developmental path of Chinese culture, the most striking feature is its broadminded inclusiveness. When the Chinese encountered different cultures, they were generally able to absorb their best features and incorporate them into their own cultural system. Furthermore, when a Chinese system of thought became overly dominant and moribund, they were also able to reform it and thus give Chinese culture a new opportunity to flourish.

    In the...

  17. Index
    (pp. 579-612)