The Dynasties of China

Bamber Gascoigne

Introduced by Bamber Gascoigne, in a new preface

Bamber Gascoigne leads us on an exhilarating journey spanning three and a half millennia of Chinese imperial civilisation.

Published price: US$ 62.95


The Dynasties of China

Glittering cultures, violent suppressions, feats of conquest and seismic revolutions: the history of China up to the 20th century is distilled through its imperial dynasties in Bamber Gascoigne’s always engaging book. We first visit the Shang dynasty, where myth and fact mingle in a riveting portrait of often extreme imperial brutality. The later Zhou era gave the world the meritocratic wisdom of Confucius. The Han dynasty, contemporaneous to the birth of Christianity, was the product of a peasant rebellion, while the Yuan dynasty was born under the leadership of the fearsome Genghis Khan. By the time the final imperial family came to power, during the Qing dynasty, in 1912, the great state of China was ceding territory to newer, Western imperial powers, with the calamities of the 20th century about to be unleashed.

Production Details

The Dynasties of China book
  • Bound in cloth, blocked with a design by Charlotte Orr
  • Set in Warnock Pro
  • 240 pages
  • Frontispiece and 24 pages of colour and black & white illustrations
  • Printed endpapers
  • Book size: 9" x 6¼"

From Confucius to Mao - Bamber Gascoigne's journey through Chinese history

The beautiful artefacts of Chinese culture are known to the world, but how many of us could recognise the characteristics of a Tang sculpture or name more than one Chinese emperor? In this narrative history, Bamber Gascoigne provides a concise and engaging account of 3,500 years of Chinese imperial culture. The story begins in C.1600 BC with the Shang dynasty, equally known for its brutality and its artistry. In the subsequent Zhou dynasty, the foundations of Chinese philosophy were laid through the writings of Confucius. Gascoigne challenges the traditional view that the author of The Analects was ‘the dullest of the school prefects’ by citing his ‘love of paradox and surprise’.

'The Folio Society has a well-justified reputation for designing and printing beautiful books, and they did me proud with an edition of my Dynasties of China. Many thanks to editor, designer and everyone else involved. It was a pleasure working with you.' Bamber Gascoigne

In this lively narrative we encounter figures such as the Han dynasty founder Gaozu, a former bandit whose followers included ‘several farmers, a dog-butcher and an undertaker’, and Wudi, the most powerful of all the Han monarchs. Later chapters explore the invasions of Kublai Khan during the Yuan dynasty and the conquests of the Ming dynasty, with its eunuch admiral Zheng He. A newly revised postscript recounts the upheavals of the 20th century, which Gascoigne proposes may have more in common with China’s past than historians have suggested. The rich picture selection reflects the significence of art for each dynasty, including the famous bronze horse from the Han dynasty, scroll paintings from the Tang dynasty and photographs of the imperial family from the early 20th century. The author has also contributed a new preface, recalling one of his visits to China in 1981, just five years after the death of Mao, and his encounter with one guide who ‘wanted to be a capitalist but was not sure how’.

A unique binding design

The Folio Society has always had a close relationship with the Illustration BA (Hons) students at Falmouth University, with many graduates going on to collaborate on Folio editions. This year The Folio Society offered Falmouth students the chance to design a binding for a forthcoming Folio edition. Charlotte Orr's proposed design was so exceptional, we decided to commission her for the actual book - The Dynasties of China.

'My final design is of a Chinese willow tree that creates a negative shape of the map of China. Designing the was a challenge because the subject matter is so wide in scope, but I learnt a lot when researching. I went through many other ideas, including Chinese temples, landscapes and objects mentioned in the book, but I decided on this design because it much bolder and simpler than my other designs. I also like the idea that the person won’t always spot the map of China straight, away and it might take them a few looks to realise there is more depth to the piece than seen at first glance.'
Charlotte Orr
'When we saw Charlotte's design we were all very impressed. She managed to create a design both beautiful and clever, with the map of China worked into the willow branches, but it was also technically perfect for our binding requirements – a strong, simple linear design in a limited palette aptly suitable for blocking. The end result is a triumph and compliments the artistic legacy of the culture perfectly.'
Sheri Gee, Art Director at The Folio Society

Inside the book

Click to view the book's timeline

Taking you through each dynasty covered in the book, this timeline give a brief insight into each historical epoch.

Click here to read an extract from the Folio edition

The book begins with the Shang dynasty in c.1600 BC, in the city we now call Beijing.


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