A wise and senior American colleague once told me that the true test of making a difference as a history professor is found in those chance supermarket or mall encounters with former students from ten years ago. What do they remember from the lectures, discussions, and assigned readings?
I have not yet taught in a university for ten years, but when my time comes to face up to this test in the cereal aisle, I hope the student will be able to dredge up a few particulars from her memory banks on those decade-old lectures. More important, I hope she will remember a few concepts that have helped her make some sense of what is happening in that teeming, endlessly fascinating behemoth of a nation across the Pacific. I doubt I will be too disappointed if she scrambles the Chinese dynasties a bit or gets one treaty confused with another. If she can recall some conceptual points about, say, how li and ren interrelate in Confucian thought, or explain why Mao’s Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists lost it, or speculate about why imperial China fought so much with its pastoral nomadic neighbors, then I think I shall conclude I have not taught entirely in vain.
My hopes and purposes for this book are similar. I have written it for general, interested readers and hope to entice them into increasing their