Chinese Roundabout: Essays in History and Culture

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W. W. Norton & Company, 1993 - History - 400 pages
The spirit of adventure is at the heart of Jonathan Spence's widely acclaimed scholarship on the modern history of China. This vitality, fleshed out with deep research and attired in elegant style, has drawn countless readers to subjects otherwise approachable only by experts. Through eight books, from the story of the early eighteenth century Manchu bondservant Ts'ao Yin to his magisterial history, The Search for Modern China, Spence has made the excitement of intellectual discovery palpable for us all. In the course of his fruitful career Spence has written many shorter pieces as well, and the best of these are collected for the first time in Chinese Roundabout. Here the reader will meet Arcadio Huang, the Chinese linguist and Christian convert who moves from south China to Enlightenment Paris, marries a French woman, and in conversations with Montesquieu becomes the likely source for the Persian Letters. The poignant story of Huang's hard-won success and final defeat by poverty and disease illustrates the perils of crossing cultures. Spence's delight in intellectual risk animates his Shakespearean approach to the life of the great Qing emperor in The Seven Ages of K'ang-hsi. Spence's great learning informs an authoritative essay on China's tragic experience with opium. Following the social process of addiction from the cultivation of poppies and the processing of the drug through its introduction by the British into China, its widespread distribution and consumption by Chinese, and the public struggle to suppress opium use, Spence explores issues of historical and contemporary interest. In an equally substantial piece he focuses on the cultural dimensions of food in Qing China, illuminating the marginal diet of a peasantry constantly threatened by famine as well as the grand banquets of the literati and the imperial household. In the work of 25 years, Spence has established himself as a brilliant interpreter of modern Chinese history. His books--among them the recent national bestseller The Search for Modern China--exhibit uncommon imagination, unobtrusive learning, verve, and elegance. These same qualities animate the essays gathered here.

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CHINESE ROUNDABOUT: Essays in History and Culture

User Review  - Kirkus

More erudite history and eminently readable scholarship from Yale Sinologist Spence (The Search for Modern China, 1990, etc.). Many of these essays and reviews, previously published in both scholarly ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - datrappert - LibraryThing

A collection of essays by Spence, America's foremost China scholar. Of varied quality, this is basically a hodgepodge that will hold some interest to readers with a deep interest in China, but not recommended for a casual reader. Read full review


The Paris Years of Arcadio Huang
The Peregrinations of Mendes Pinto
Gamble in China
Malrauxs Temptation
The Long View
The Dialogue of Chinese Science
Being Chinese
Arthur Wright
Arthur Waley
John Fairbank
Fang Chaoying
Bai Huas Bitter Love


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About the author (1993)

Jonathan D. Spence was born in Surrey, England on August 11, 1936. He received a B.A. in history from Clare College, Cambridge University and a M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. He was Sterling Professor of History at Yale University from 1993 to 2008. As a historian specializing in Chinese history, he wrote several books including The Search for Modern China, The Death of Woman Wang, and The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci. The Gate of Heavenly Peace won the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the Henry D. Vursell Memorial Award of the American Academy-Institute of Arts and Letters.

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