China reading list

~davdev-hidtul

I'm a novice trying to learn a bit more about China, as I'll be working there for at least a few years. So far, I've read

China: A New History

by Fairbank and Goldman, as well as some of Louis Cha's

Legend of the Condor Heroes

(a kung fu fantasy with a fair amount of historical and cultural detail).

What next? I'd like a better grasp on the overall historical narrative as well as basics on how modern China is organized.

Spandrell

SAM Adshead China in World History is really good

anon

.

~davdev-hidtul
Replying to:
Spandrell

Thanks. I've started reading this, which has a lot of interesting ideas in it, in particular this hypothesis:

“Yet Edwin G. Pulleyb-lank has argued that the prototype for the Phoenician alphabet, the ancestor of all other Western alphabets, was the set of Chinese characters known as the heavenly stems and earth branches which today are a cycle of calendrical signs, but in the second millennium BC were an alphabet of initial and final consonants used in a compound script together with pictographs, ideographs and logographs. China therefore invented the principle of the phonetic alphabet, but did not develop it, and in fact eliminated it in her mature script. The West, on the other hand, did not invent the principle, but developed it, by eliminating all other elements in script and by adding the Greek invention of the representation of vowels.”

However, I'm still looking for a good general outline of the historical narrative, without so much admittedly very interesting philosophical and cultural detail.

anon

i think you can do worse than the cambridge illustrated history of china. i also kinda like ray huang, china: a macro history or 1587 a year of no significance.

~fonner-batmul
Replying to:
~davdev-hidtul

I think it's widely accepted that the Phonecian alphabet, like the Hebrew/Arabic, came from phonetic images modelled on Egyptian hieroglyphs, as earlier versions have been found where the letters look like one object. For example, d looks like a fish because in semetic languages fish starts with a d, and it became highly stylized over many iterations.

Spandrell
Replying to:
~davdev-hidtul

That's a fun theory but just not true

~davdev-hidtul
Replying to:
Spandrell

The book is full of fun theories. Adshead is a highly erudite and entertaining show-off. Thanks for the tip!

On the goods that were traded between East and West:

By origin the lifestyle to which these appurtenances belonged was Iranian, put together at the court of Chosroes II, Parwiz- feckless ruler but matchless paradigm - at Ctesiphon, copied by T'ang T'ai-tsung at Ch'ang-an, bequeathed to Harun al-Rashid at Baghdad and commemorated for posterity by Firdousi in his Shahnameh, which became the instrument for its revival in the days of the Timurids.

~davdev-hidtul

An surprising apparent consequence of the sixteenth century energy/timber crisis under the Wanli emperor:

“This energy crisis was met not by searching out new sources of supply at possibly higher cost, but by a reduction in demand... Just as the state contracted its demand for taxes, so society contracted its demand for goods. At the same time, a cause perhaps, a significant change took place in the Chinese family system. The age of marriage for boys fell, the percentage of people marrying rose, nuclear families multip-lied at the expense of extended families and the birth rate increased. The introduction of American food plants facilitated the provision of new farmlets, but the demand preceded the supply and was rooted in psychological changes: a preference for children over goods, perhaps as insurance against age, a greater push or pull from the family nest. China became increasingly a community of low-energy micro-units, farms and workshops - a pattern which has been regarded as typ-ically Chinese but which in fact dates only from the sixteenth century.”

The optimistic expectation would be that if white people become poorer due to government dysfunction and green mania, they'll begin reproducing again. That, or we'll just enter a new dark age and go extinct.

~davdev-hidtul

Adshead argues in a number of places that the suppression of Buddhism in China was detrimental to the development of Chinese culture, not because the particular content of Buddhism was so valuable, but because the theoretical, mystical, “cognitional” attitude of Buddhism was more sophisticated than the mythical and “paradigmatic” attitude of Confucianism. I don't know enough about Buddhism or Confucianism to comment. Here's a typical Adshead quote on the matter:

“As Karl Popper argues, the inception of science needs both dogma and criticism. Islam had the dogma but, thanks to the dervishes and canonists, no criticism. China had the criticism, but, thanks to the abandonment of Buddhist scholasticism, no dogma. Latin Christendom alone had both and hence made the crucial breakthrough into higher rationality.”

~davdev-hidtul

Adshead has strong opinions on Chinese fertility and family patterns. In addition to fearing the Yellow Menace, he's also annoyed the Yellow people aren't White. I wonder though whether he ever spent enough time in China to have a realistic view of the modern Chinese family. That said, here's an interesting factual summary of how the Chinese shot themselves in the social and demographic foot.

“The party inherited and continued the feminism of 4 May movement, the intellectual awakening at Peking university between 1916 and 1922. It attacked the early, universal, family-arranged, filial and fertile marriages of teenagers characteristic of the peasant frontier, and advocated the later, less-than-universal, individual-arranged, conjugal and Malthusian marriages of adults characteristic of the big city. Under the marriage law of 1950, which outlawed polygamy and the sale of wives and daughters and redefined divorce and abortion, the legal age of marriage was fixed at 20 for men and 18 for women, but the party recommended 22/23 and 20/21 as the optimum, and later raised this recommendation to 25 and 23 in the countryside, 28 and 26 in the towns. The party could be construed as the modernizer of the family.”

~davdev-hidtul

Stone Age Herbalist has an interesting series on pre-historic China and the supposedly shamanic origins of the ancient Chinese state:

https://www.stoneageherbalist.com/p/shamanism-and-the-origin-of-the-chinese

https://www.stoneageherbalist.com/p/shamanism-and-the-origin-of-the-chinese-96b