China: A Short Cultural History

China: A Short Cultural History

China: A Short Cultural History

China: A Short Cultural History

Excerpt

A word of explanation, if not of apology, may seem to be required when offering a new short history of China to the English public. A fully detailed account of China's three thousand years of recorded history would need a work of many volumes, which it is to be feared, would find few readers in the West. Faced with the enormous store of Chinese historical material on the one hand, and the knowledge that the public has only a restricted interest in this unfamiliar subject on the other, the European historian of China is confronted with the urgent question, what to leave out.

The problem has sometimes been solved in summary fashion by omitting all but a bare mention of the history of China prior to the 19th century, and concentrating attention upon the declining years of the Manchu dynasty and its conflicts with European nations. Undue emphasis upon this unhappy period of decline has given rise to the widespread belief that the history of China is a monotonous record of three thousand years of stagnation ending in a disorderly collapse. In the hope of correcting this fallacious opinion I have attempted to observe a juster proportion, and accordingly relegated the 19th century to its proper place in the story, which is the end. The history of China, as of every other country, is a record of change and development, the transformation of a loose federation of agricultural tribes into a highly centralised autocratic empire, the growth of a once primitive culture enriched and modified by contact with alien peoples.

Political history is given only in outline, so that, by avoiding a plethora of unfamiliar names, the significance of truly formative periods may be more easily grasped and retained. Cultural conditions, the development of religion, literature and art, are treated in greater detail, and I have used Chinese sources whereever possible to indicate something of the economic background which, in part at least, determines the pattern of a culture. A neglected aspect of Chinese history, the record of early contacts with the Roman Orient and the Middle East, is rather fully treated in view of the special interest which these records have for European readers.

For plates and illustrations, and much valuable advice, I am . . .

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