Great State: China and the World

We rated this book:


How best to tell the eight-hundred-year history of China, if not concisely, then in a coherent and absorbing way, multiple dimensions colored and argued by readers’ perceptions? Timothy Brook sustains interest through a series of stories, told chronologically and in detail almost sufficient to be called a series of books. In each, he presents two lead players: “The Pirate and the Bureaucrat,” “The Eunuch and His Hostage,” “The Castaway and the Horse Trader.” Every title, alluring in itself, presents background detail to enhance the core of the narrative. “The Lama and the Coolie,” for instance, shows how the lama’s pattern of succession is as unexpected as that of the emperors.

Brook’s message is how China and the world beyond its borders have been linked throughout this lengthy period, not only since European incursion in the nineteenth century. Trade, politics, and religion have been key elements throughout. Nowhere is this more evident than in “The Missionary and His Convert,” when the arrival of the Jesuits, edging into China in the closing years of the sixteenth century, raised a red flag. Confucianism was not unhappily challenged by Daoists, Buddhists, or the Muslims, “despite their theological errors,” but the Jesuits were viewed as a threat to the emperor’s hegemony and seen as likely spies.

Chinese inventions, culture, and art are manifested in the book’s gorgeous color plates. Great State will be welcomed especially by the those familiar with the author’s Vermeer’s Hat, which demonstrated the extraordinary links between the eastern and western worlds.

Reviewed By:

Author Timothy Brook
Star Count 5/5
Format Hard
Page Count 464 pages
Publisher Harper
Publish Date 2020-03-17
ISBN 9780062950987 Buy this Book
Issue July 2020
Category History


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