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.'
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’.