Early Chinese History
November 8, 2009 6:19 PM   Subscribe

What are some good books about the history of China, up to say the Qing dynasty? I am particularly interested in the Warring States period up to the first empire. Extra credit for discussions of the spread of Buddhism.
posted by shothotbot to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For an overview, I liked Ray Huang's China: A Macro History.

I recently finished F.W. Mote's Imperial China: 900-1800, which covers the period specified (thus, half the Qing). Not your particular period of interest, but the depth of coverage is amazing.
posted by zompist at 7:22 PM on November 8, 2009

I suspect that this is not exactly what you are looking for, and I have no real education on the subject of the history of China but once read The Outline of History (Vol I and II) by H.G. Wells. The books are about a hundred years old by now (at least the first editions) and some of it is speculative (especially in the begining about the origins of life and etc) and I cannot say how accurate and historically true his reporting is. But it is a chronology, and sprinkled throughout is the story of China and Buddism. I enjoyed these books very much and learned a great deal, but China is only a part of the story in them.
posted by bebrave! at 7:28 PM on November 8, 2009

I have three recommendations for you:
Sources of Chinese Tradition, Vol. 1
Warring States Project
posted by mattbucher at 8:05 PM on November 8, 2009

Best answer: mattbucher's suggestions are very good. John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman's China: A New History is the best single-volume general history I've seen. I also strongly recommend Edward H. Schafer's The Golden Peaches of Samarkand, which is an incredibly sensuous walk through the foreign goods and religions flourishing in China at the height of the Tang dynasty.
posted by bokane at 9:25 PM on November 8, 2009

Best answer: For Buddhism, there's Jacques Gernet's Buddhism in Chinese Society: An Economic History from the Fifth to the Tenth Centuries, which is a lot more readable than the word 'economic' might suggest.
posted by Abiezer at 3:57 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A nice local social history that's a little later but still pre-Qing, and free to read online is A Ming Society: T'ai-ho County, Kiangsi, Fourteenth to Seventeenth Centuries.
posted by Abiezer at 4:46 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have you checked out the work of Jonathan Spence? His most well-known book is The Search for Modern China but he's written extensively on earlier periods of Chinese history.
And he's a pretty cool dude.
posted by bookgirl18 at 9:07 AM on November 10, 2009

Response by poster: Lots of good suggestions, thanks everyone.
posted by shothotbot at 6:00 AM on November 13, 2009

Response by poster: The Fairbanks book is great, but it disposes of Chinese history from the stone age to the Qing in about 120 pages. Brisk pace! There is a 70 page annotated suggested reading sections which is quite good, however.

Harvard is publishing a six volume history of Imperial China, which is a bit frustrating to get a handle on, but from poking around amazon a bit I think its I Han & Qin, II - Disunion, III - Tang, IV - Song, V - Yaun and Ming, VI -Qing.
posted by shothotbot at 4:59 PM on November 29, 2009

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