China in World History, Third Edition

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Palgrave Macmillan, Jan 15, 2000 - History - 434 pages
This new edition provides a new preface to this highly popular book. The theme of the book is China's relations with the non-Chinese world, not only political and economic, but cultural, social and technological as well. It seeks to show that China's history is part of everyone's history. In particular it traces China's relationship since the thirteenth century to the emergent world order and the various world institutions of which that order is comprised. Each chapter discusses China's comparative place in the world, the avenues of contact between China and other civilizations, and who and what passed along these channels.

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This certainly is an impressive book. I first found out about it by reading an introductory book by Bulliet, Crossley, Headrick, Hirsch, Johnson and Northrup (2005), which I bought second hand because I liked several aspects of that textbook. It is a "global history" and it seems that Adshead's book on China is also "global," in a sense, since he emphasizes the relationships that "China" has had with the "emergent world order" since the 13th century. Professor Samuel Adrian M. Adshead is an emeritus professor at Canterbury University in Christ Church, New Zealand, but he has spent time studying in the U.K. and the U.S. (at Harvard). I am sure that as I continue to read I will learn a great deal. But what seems to me to perhaps be somewhat missing in this book (despite it now being in a third edition) is that it does not come to grip with sociological theory about the emergence of modern capitalism and the capitalist world system. In Bulliet et al. (2005: pp. 174-175, 177) they say that Adshead emphasizes the differences between the Roman Empire (circa 31 BCE to 330 CE, if we only count the Western Roman Empire and ignore the Eastern Byzantine Roman Empire) and the Qin and Han Empires (221-206 and 206 BCE to 220 CE, with a "brief interruption" 9 to 33 CE). One can note differences, of course, that there were differences. But I would be very interested to hear from other readers of Adshead's book (perhaps in earlier editions) if the similarities do not outweigh the differences. I believe that Christianity did become the sociological "equivalent" of Neo-Confucianism and modified Legalism in several important respects. The Roman Emperors' cults may have been at least as effective as the Han Emperors' cults. Without allowing for the Byzantine Empire and the emergence of the Holy Roman (Germanic) Empire do we not lose a significant basis for a truly global history of the world? Of course, I am not an expert on Roman-Byzantine and European history or on Sinitic Qin and Han history, much less an expert on both sets of phenomena. But who is? Is it possible that Professor Adshead may be finding more differences between the ideological support for the Han Empire and the Roman Empire than are warranted by the facts? Could some Christian bias have crept in when early Christian (Unified) Catholicism is regarded as more separate from the pretensions of the Roman and Byzantine Emperors than Neo-Legalism and Neo-Confucianism? Were Tang and Song eras Buddhisms more easily reconciled with the revival of the position of the emperor than general Christianity and later Orthodox and Roman Catholicisms? Is it not counter productive to consider the Han peoples as somehow different in some fundamental way from the European peoples, at least before the 1500's, when a lot of things changed in "Europe"? These are genuine questions. I do not have fixed answers, but I am very curious about it. 

About the author (2000)

S. A. M. Adshead is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

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