Category Archives: Book Reviews

Reviews of recently published academic books in China

[Book Review] Chen Zhenghong’s book series about the “Records of the Chroniclers”

Chen Zhenghong 陈正宏, Shikong: Shiji’ de benji, biao yu shu 时空:《史记》的本纪,表与书 (Time and Space: The Basic Annals, Tables and Treatises of the Records of the Chroniclers), Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 中华书局 2020. ISBN 978-7-1011-3965-5, 297 pages, 45 RMB.

Chen Zhenghong 陈正宏, Xueyuan: Shiji‘ de shijia 血缘:《史记》的世家 (Blood Lines: The Hereditary Houses of the Records of the Chroniclers), Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 2021. ISBN 978-7-1011-5143-5, 278 pages, 42 RMB.

reviewed by Hans van Ess (Universität München)

There is no scarcity of scholarly books on the Records of the Chroniclers, the famous Shiji by Sima Qian 司馬遷 (145? BCE–87? BCE), the first comprehensive history of ancient China. Chen Zhenghong (b. 1962), who modestly says of himself that he is not a specialist of the Shiji but just a professor of wenxianxue 文獻學 (at Fudan University), meaning philology or – maybe better – textual research, has published the two books under review as the first in a series of four planned volumes in which he intends to describe the relevant information contained in all chapters of the Shiji for a non-specialist general readership. Chen’s book is the companion to a podcast series for the commercial Chinese “Himalaya” (喜马拉雅FM) company. This has to be considered when reading these books. Chen reassures his reader that a lack of knowledge of Classical Chinese will not be an impediment to understanding.

Chen’s book is also written in a very colloquial and easy-going style. The first volume is devoted to the annals’, tables, and treatises, the second to the hereditary houses. We have to wait for his treatment of the biographical section, which with seventy chapters makes up a little bit more than half of the Shiji, and will be the subject of the final two volumes in Chen’s proposed series.

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[Book Review] 赵冬梅《法度与人心:帝制时期人与制度的互动》 (Zhao Dongmei: Norms and Agency. Interactions between Institutions and Actors in Imperial China)

Zhao Dongmei 赵冬梅, Fadu yu renxin: dizhi shiqi ren yu zhidu de hudong 法度与人心:帝制时期人与制度的互动 (Norms and Agency: Interactions between Institutions and Actors in Imperial China), Zhongxin Chuban Jituan 中信出版集团, 2021. ISBN 978-7-5217-2398-4, 460 pages, 128 RMB.

reviewed by Rong Hengying 戎恒颖 (Fudan University)

Author Zhao Dongmei, born in 1971, is currently a professor of history at Peking University. A specialist in Song institutional history, she has largely focused her research on the military selection system under the Song dynasty (Wudao panghuang: Zhongguo gudai de wuju yu wuxue 武道彷徨:中国古代的武举与武学, The Irresolute Military Way: Competitive Examinations and Military Teachings in Ancient China, 2000; Wenwu zhijian: Bei Song wuxuanguan yanjiu 文武之间:北宋武选官研究, The Civilian and the Military: A Study of the Military under the Northern Song, 2010). She has also worked in depth on Sima Guang and analysed Wang Anshi’s New Policies in her latest work (Da Song zhi bian 大宋之变1063–1086, The Great Political Change under the Song 10631086, 2020).

This latest book – a rare general history publication penned by a prominent Chinese scholar – puts forward a course of imperial trajectory, spanning two thousand years from the Qin Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty (221 B.C.–1912 A.D.). This work serves as a companion to another recently published volume, Renjian yanhuo: yanmaizai lishi li de richang yu rensheng 人间烟火:掩埋在历史里的日常与人生 (Ordinary Life: The Everyday Buried in History), which is devoted to the social and material history of ancient China. The two books can be said to form a diptych, delving respectively into history written by and for the elite, and into “everyday” history kept on the margins of classical historiography. Continue reading

[Book Review] 施展《破茧:隔离,信任与未来》(Shi Zhan: Breaking out of the Cocoon. Isolation, Trust, and the Future)

Shi Zhan 施展, Pojian: Geli, Xinren yu Weilai 破茧:隔离,信任与未来 (Breaking out of the Cocoon: Isolation, Trust, and the Future). Changsha: Hunan Wenyi Chubanshe 湖南文艺出版社, 2021. ISBN 978-7-5404-7973-2, 275 pages, 58RMB.

by David Ownby (Université de Montréal)

Shi Zhan (b. 1977) is a professor of political science at the China Foreign Affairs University 外交学院 in Beijing, and director of the Research Center on World Politics at the same university. In 2009, one year after completing his Ph.D. in history at Peking University, Shi joined a group of liberal scholars that called themselves Daguan 大观, which might be translated as “The Big Picture,” or “The Grand Vision;” they ultimately launched a journal that bears the same name (and which is quite difficult to find, at least in North America).

In Shi’s telling, the Daguan group was inspired by Alexandre Kojève’s New Latin Empire, the rudiments of which Kojève composed at the end of World War II as part of a memo addressed to Charles de Gaulle, and which was published in Chinese translation in 2008. To oversimplify, Kojève proposed that the “Latin” countries of Europe bind together in a pact that would ward off American pressure from the West and Soviet pressure from the East. Although a philosopher by training—he did his Ph.D. under Karl Jaspers and influenced much of the French postwar intellectual elite through his lectures on Hegel—Kojève ultimately worked in the French Ministry of Foreign Relations throughout much of the post-war period, and helped to create the European Union and the European Common Market.

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