China Between Empires - The Northern and Southern Dynasties (Anglais) Relié – 3 février 2009
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However, this work is weak in structure and seems to lack a unifying vision. Very often it reads like a sequence of abstracts of primary research strung together; in general, it fails to articulate a clear and compelling vision of how society changed in this period and what drove the changes. The maps are too approximate to help any real understanding of the places mentioned in the text, even to someone who is quite familiar with the modern geography of China.
This was a time of very substantial changes: just to mention two aspects, non-Han people took military and political control of North China, and eventually formed a mixed-race ruling elite; and massive population movements took place between North and South, but also between urban and rural areas. The similarities and differences with the history of the Western part of Eurasia at the same time are fascinating, but the author hardly even mentions them; nor is there any real effort to tackle the "why" of such massive change: why did the non-Han gain the upper hand? why did the economy change? how did economic change affect political change? It is almost as if the author tried to avoid any Marxist interpretation of history, and in doing so precluded himself from shedding any light on the connection between economic and political structures.
I am not a specialist, but I cannot believe that these questions have never been addressed. The bibliography is very rich, running to over 10 pages, and I plan to use it as the springboard into a deeper investigation of the period.
It would be fair to say that this period is not so easy to write a textbook in English.
To me, most of my understandings of this period first came from Japanese books written by Miyazaki and Tanikawa (both were professors @ Kyoto U). Unlike this book by Lewis, they all have a clear vision and perspective of this period, although they did not try to sell out their ideas.
Most works in much Western scholarship (such as Albert Dien and Lewis) have been to delve into some specific questions (Buddhism, Fine Arts, etc) rather than generalization. The recent book from Harvard University Press is also based on the collection of independent articles, which is not so much for general readers.
For the Western readers, in addition, one of difficulties for non-specialists to comprehend this period would be the delay of long-waited publication of the CHC volume.2., as the reviewer below mentioned. This book not so much transcends as follows the existing intellectual tradition.
When I purchased this book, I expected the readable textbook summarizing major aspects of this period within a unifying theme. well... This book does not seem to satisfy my expectation. The author focused more on cultural history a bit loosely organized way which resonates the edited book by HUP I mentioned above.
The lack of his discussion of political event and ethnicity in fact shocked me a lot. The book title betrays me since the author did not make a strong link to Han and Tang dynasties. How it is possible to understand this period without considering two major aspects (political division and ethnic diversity)? Why, unlike the aftermath of the Roman Empire, Chinese established another unified Sui-Tang Empires after the collapse of Han Empire and three centuries of political division thereafter? The history of ethnic relations is crucial yet this book never took it seriously, if not completely ignoring).
Also military history (of the late Norther Dynasties) should have been discussed more since it is crucial to understand the rise of Sui-Tang empires. The Fubing (military conscription) system, Guan-long group, Six Garrisons are the core of the birth of later empires. In addition, we should realize that all the dynastic changes in the Southern Dynasties were driven by warlordism and factionalism (from Eastern Jin until Chen). This book will not help the reader to comprehend such complex mechanism both in the Northern and Southern Dynasties.
Finally, this book missed the population dynamics occurred in this period.How many non-Han peoples moved to North China (Central Plains)? In turn, how many Han Chinese were migrated to the south of Yangtze River? How they interacted with local natives? What happened after the three centuries of mutual interactions?
If I am not so biased, i) ethnicity, ii) military history and warlordism, iii) political events and iv) population dynamics (emigration of Han peoples to South China and influx of non-Han to Central Plains) must not be excluded.
So I instead read the works of Chen Yinge, Tang Changrou, Zhou Yiliang and others to fill the gap. The author did not introduce and summarize such brilliant scholarship. He should have made it accessible to those who cannot read East Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean).
I hope forthcoming CHC vol. 2 would look more systematic and resourceful.
Be honest, if Amazon provided the preview, I might have not purchased this book after reading the chapter organization.
Another theme inherent in several of these chapters is the difficulty of reconstructing a centralized state in the chaos of this period. Lewis describes multiple different political structures and expedients attempted by many different states that existed in this lengthy interregnum. Different feudal-type structures, attempts at centralized bureaucracy, hybrid versions of bureaucracy and feudalism, varying land tenure arrangements, and mass movements of populations are all described.
This book has some defects. This is the third volume in the Belknap series written by Prof. Lewis. Essentially, he has written one large book covering the Chin-Han through the demise of the Tang. This is impressive but reading this volume appears to presuppose reading of the prior books. Some terminology, for example, is introduced without definition. I prefer more narrative but the organization of the book is understandable given the requirements of a shorter book. The quality of writing is generally good and the bibliography is solid.