In light of the recommendation of F. W. Motte’s Imperial China: 900-1800, I thought it would be useful to reiterate a minimal set of other books that are important in my intellectual development in relation to the history of China.
The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han. You need to start at the beginning, and this is that. To be fair, the Spring and Autumn period were a pretty big deal too, but I think a lot of their insights were distilled into what we see in the Qin-Han era. The Zhou and Shang are so distant that I’m not sure a real history could be written, as opposed to analysis of myth and archaeology (especially for the Shang).
China between Empires: The Northern and Southern Dynasties. The period between the fall of the (Later/Eastern) Han and the rise of the Sui-Tang lasted many centuries. There wasn’t a precedent yet truly for the revival of a unitary Chinese state during this period. So a lot of cultural and political issues got hashed out over these 300+ years. Buddhism became a major cultural force, and the social and political fabric of Tang dynasty was stitched together (the Tang were a Han-Xianbei cultural mix, for example).
There are many histories of the Tang, which has a particular appeal in the modern era, but I like China’s Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty. For the more ambitious, I think S. A. M. Adshead’s T’ang China: The Rise of the East in World History is worth a read (this is expensive, so find a good library!).
The Age of Confucian Rule: The Song Transformation of China. Compared to the Tang the Song seem a bit dull, but a lot that defines modern China has its roots in this period, and not the Tang (which was somewhat atypical). For example, the meritocratic bureaucracy really got ingrained during the Song (though it has roots in the Han).
The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. The title says it all. We’re coming into early modernity here.
And finally, China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing. These are the Manchus.
If you are wary of diving in headfirst, then I suggest John Keay’s book on China, but do not stop there. Keay is more conversant in the history and peoples of South Asia, so it’s not just best work in terms of thoroughness.
Why does any of this matter? First, because China matters to non-Sinologists in the 21st century, like the United States mattered to non-Americans in the 20th. That’s just a plain fact. It matters for the future. Second, if you take an interest in the human past China is a large proportion of that past. If you don’t know Chinese history, don’t talk to me about knowing history (similarly, you should know the history of the Near East and the Classical West, at a minimum, to really express an opinion to me about history in a broad sense and be taken seriously by me).
I would be interested in a recommendation on modern Chinese history, perhaps dating to after 1800. Someone besides Spence. And then also something on the Spring-Autumn period.
For a while I’ve been saying the new Rakhigarhi paper is going to be over-hyped in relation to what the science will tell us. The reason I say this is that The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia really hit the major points in broad-strokes already. But in India Rakhigarhi is going to be a huge deal because:
1) it is a site in the Republic of India
2) it is from the mature Harappan phase
The results will confirm some beliefs, but it’s not a game-changer. A game-changer would be if we found someone who was half Corded-Ware in genetic ancestry from India in 2250 BC. Ultimately a lot of ancient DNA will probably come online in India over the next few years (hopefully?), and then the real action of mapping the details will begin. That’s exciting.
The Genomic Basis of Arthropod Diversity. This is a big preprint and a big deal.
On Sarah Jeong. People need to never forget that NYC-DC elite journalists are a class. Their defense of her is a defense of their class interests. She’s a friend or acquaintance, and her social and political views, and writing style align with their own (or the writing they’d like to do more in public). Of course they are going to have her back and interpret everything she says charitably. She’s “their kind of people.” Someone like Protagoras, eh, I mean Jeet Heer, is inevitably going to tweet-storm about “contextualizing” her offensive statements.
Once you view elite national journalism as the voice of a self-interested class, as opposed to disinterested reportage, then it all makes sense.
Here’s Why It’s So Impossible to Get Reliable Diet Advice From the News. You should know all this. If you don’t, read it closely. It’s pretty obvious.
Mitochondrial genomes reveal an east to west cline of steppe ancestry in Corded Ware populations. No surprise. Men on the move.
The fitness consequences of genetic variation in wild populations of mice. The Hoekstra lab is producing work in evolutionary biology that is always worth keeping track of.
Genetic draft and valley crossing. You had me at draft, but I want to marry you at “valley crossing.”
How Sexually Dimorphic Are Human Mate Preferences? The blogger and twitter named “Yeyo” (the new one is a fake) raised my consciousness to the fact that in terms of upper body muscle mass human males and females are extremely dimorphic.
On Twitter, I joked that people should send me money via Paypal as recompense for my “emotional labor” as a PoC who has to educated people. No one sent me money. #whitePeopleAreRacistForReal! If you are an anti-racist white person who reads my blog, you should send me money, or you are a racist! How do you feel when you read about Cameron Whitten’s shakedowns of white liberals? I think they’re hilarious, and more power to him. He’s a total con artist, but I would appreciate these people going broke.