Just over a thousand years ago, the Song dynasty emerged as the most advanced civilization on earth. Within two centuries, China was home to nearly half of all humankind. In this concise history, we learn why the inventiveness of this era has been favorably compared with the European Renaissance, which in many ways the Song transformation surpassed.
With the chaotic dissolution of the Tang dynasty, the old aristocratic families vanished. A new class of scholar-officials—products of a meritocratic examination system—took up the task of reshaping Chinese tradition by adapting the precepts of Confucianism to a rapidly changing world. Through fiscal reforms, these elites liberalized the economy, eased the tax burden, and put paper money into circulation. Their redesigned capitals buzzed with traders, while the education system offered advancement to talented men of modest means. Their rationalist approach led to inventions in printing, shipbuilding, weaving, ceramics manufacture, mining, and agriculture. With a realist’s eye, they studied the natural world and applied their observations in art and science. And with the souls of diplomats, they chose peace over war with the aggressors on their borders. Yet persistent military threats from these nomadic tribes—which the Chinese scorned as their cultural inferiors—redefined China’s understanding of its place in the world and solidified a sense of what it meant to be Chinese.
The Age of Confucian Rule is an essential introduction to this transformative era. “A scholar should congratulate himself that he has been born in such a time” (Zhao Ruyu, 1194).
After the collapse of the Han dynasty in the third century CE, China divided along a north-south line. Mark Lewis traces the changes that both underlay and resulted from this split in a period that saw the geographic redefinition of China, more engagement with the outside world, significant changes to family life, developments in the literary and social arenas, and the introduction of new religions.
The Yangzi River valley arose as the rice-producing center of the country. Literature moved beyond the court and capital to depict local culture, and newly emerging social spaces included the garden, temple, salon, and country villa. The growth of self-defined genteel families expanded the notion of the elite, moving it away from the traditional great Han families identified mostly by material wealth. Trailing the rebel movements that toppled the Han, the new faiths of Daoism and Buddhism altered every aspect of life, including the state, kinship structures, and the economy.
By the time China was reunited by the Sui dynasty in 589 ce, the elite had been drawn into the state order, and imperial power had assumed a more transcendent nature. The Chinese were incorporated into a new world system in which they exchanged goods and ideas with states that shared a common Buddhist religion. The centuries between the Han and the Tang thus had a profound and permanent impact on the Chinese world.
The Tang dynasty is often called China’s “golden age,” a period of commercial, religious, and cultural connections from Korea and Japan to the Persian Gulf, and a time of unsurpassed literary creativity. Mark Lewis captures a dynamic era in which the empire reached its greatest geographical extent under Chinese rule, painting and ceramic arts flourished, women played a major role both as rulers and in the economy, and China produced its finest lyric poets in Wang Wei, Li Bo, and Du Fu.
The Chinese engaged in extensive trade on sea and land. Merchants from Inner Asia settled in the capital, while Chinese entrepreneurs set off for the wider world, the beginning of a global diaspora. The emergence of an economically and culturally dominant south that was controlled from a northern capital set a pattern for the rest of Chinese imperial history. Poems celebrated the glories of the capital, meditated on individual loneliness in its midst, and described heroic young men and beautiful women who filled city streets and bars.
Despite the romantic aura attached to the Tang, it was not a time of unending peace. In 756, General An Lushan led a revolt that shook the country to its core, weakening the government to such a degree that by the early tenth century, regional warlordism gripped many areas, heralding the decline of the Great Tang.
In a brisk revisionist history, William Rowe challenges the standard narrative of Qing China as a decadent, inward-looking state that failed to keep pace with the modern West.
The Great Qing was the second major Chinese empire ruled by foreigners. Three strong Manchu emperors worked diligently to secure an alliance with the conquered Ming gentry, though many of their social edicts—especially the requirement that ethnic Han men wear queues—were fiercely resisted. As advocates of a “universal” empire, Qing rulers also achieved an enormous expansion of the Chinese realm over the course of three centuries, including the conquest and incorporation of Turkic and Tibetan peoples in the west, vast migration into the southwest, and the colonization of Taiwan.
Despite this geographic range and the accompanying social and economic complexity, the Qing ideal of “small government” worked well when outside threats were minimal. But the nineteenth-century Opium Wars forced China to become a player in a predatory international contest involving Western powers, while the devastating uprisings of the Taiping and Boxer rebellions signaled an urgent need for internal reform. Comprehensive state-mandated changes during the early twentieth century were not enough to hold back the nationalist tide of 1911, but they provided a new foundation for the Republican and Communist states that would follow.
This original, thought-provoking history of China’s last empire is a must-read for understanding the challenges facing China today.
Studies of collaboration have changed how the history of World War II in Europe is written, but for China and Japan this aspect of wartime conduct has remained largely unacknowledged. In a bold new work, Timothy Brook breaks the silence surrounding the sensitive topic of wartime collaboration between the Chinese and their Japanese occupiers.
Japan's attack on Shanghai in August 1937 led to the occupation of the Yangtze Delta. In spite of the legendary violence of the assault, Chinese elites throughout the delta came forward to work with the conquerors. Using archives on both sides of the conflict, Brook reconstructs the process of collaboration from Shanghai to Nanking. Collaboration proved to be politically unstable and morally awkward for both sides, provoking tensions that undercut the authority of the occupation state and undermined Japan's long-term prospects for occupying China.
This groundbreaking study mirrors the more familiar stories of European collaboration with the Nazis, showing how the Chinese were deeply troubled by their unavoidable cooperation with the occupiers. The comparison provides a point of entry into the difficult but necessary discussion about this long-ignored aspect of the war in the Pacific.
In recent years, most of the economies of Eastern Asia have been absorbed into global capitalism. Capitalism has transformed these economies, but the process has not been one-way. The cultures of Eastern Asia have in turn shaped how capitalism organizes labor, capital, and markets in ways that could not have been anticipated even ten years ago.
On the basis of rich empirical analyses of East and Southeast Asia, and with theoretical insights from different approaches in the social sciences, Culture and Economy addresses these issues in both macroscopic and microscopic terms. Specific topics discussed range from the use and reinvention of Confucian and Islamic legacies in South Korea and Malaysia to promote a particular vision of the economy, to the role of family- and network-structured firms and the reliance on trust-based personal networks in Southeast Asia, to the cultures of labor and management in Chinese village enterprises and Vietnamese ceramics firms, as well as in South Korean export processing zones and the current Chinese labor market.
These careful case studies suggest that it is inevitable that Eastern Asia will shape, even remake, capitalism into a system of production and consumption beyond its original definition.
Timothy Brook is Professor of History, Stanford University. Hy V. Luong is Professor of Anthropology, University of Toronto.
Death by a Thousand Cuts
Timothy Brook, Jérôme Bourgon, and Gregory Blue Harvard University Press, 2008 Library of Congress HV8699.C6B76 2008 | Dewey Decimal 364.660951
In a public square in Beijing in 1904, multiple murderer Wang Weiqin was executed before a crowd of onlookers. He was among the last to suffer the extreme punishment known as lingchi. Called by Western observers “death by a thousand cuts” or “death by slicing,” this penalty was reserved for the very worst crimes in imperial China.
A unique interdisciplinary history, Death by a Thousand Cuts is the first book to explore the history, iconography, and legal contexts of Chinese tortures and executions from the tenth century until lingchi’s abolition in 1905. The authors then turn their attention to an in-depth investigation of “oriental” tortures in the Western imagination. While early modern Europeans often depicted Chinese institutions as rational, nineteenth- and twentieth-century readers consumed pictures of lingchi executions as titillating curiosities and evidence of moral inferiority. By examining these works in light of European conventions associated with despotic government, Christian martyrdom, and ecstatic suffering, the authors unpack the stereotype of innate Chinese cruelty and explore the mixture of fascination and revulsion that has long characterized the West’s encounter with “other” civilizations.
Compelling and thought-provoking, Death by a Thousand Cuts questions the logic by which states justify tormenting individuals and the varied ways by which human beings have exploited the symbolism of bodily degradation for political aims.
The Japanese Army's invasion of China in 1937 was the first step toward a hemispheric war that would last until the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. What ended in one atrocity began with another: the savage military takeover of China's capital city, which quickly became known as the Rape of Nanking. The Japanese Army's conduct from December 1937 to February 1938 constitutes one of the most barbarous events not just of the war but of the century. The violence was documented at the time and then redocumented during the war crimes trial in Tokyo after the war. This book brings together materials from both moments to provide the first comprehensive dossier of primary sources on the Rape.
Part 1, "The Records," includes two sources written as the Rape was underway. The first is a long set of documents produced by the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, a group of foreigners who strove to protect the Chinese residents. The second is a series of letters that American surgeon Dr. Robert Wilson wrote for his family during the same period. These letters are published here for the first time.
The evidence compiled by the International Committee and its members would be decisive for the indictments against Japanese leaders at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo. Part 2, "The Judgments," reprints portions of the tribunal's 1948 judgment dealing with the Rape of Nanking, its judicial consequences, and sections of the dissenting judgment of Justice Radhabinod Pal.
These contemporary records and judgments create an intimate firsthand account of the Rape of Nanking. Together they are intended to stimulate deeper reflection than previously possible on how and why we assess and assign the burden of war guilt.
Timothy Brook is Professor of Chinese History and Associate Director of the Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies, University of Toronto, and is coeditor of Nation Work: Asian Elites and National Identities and Cultureand Economy: The Shaping of Capitalism in Eastern Asia, both published by the University of Michigan Press.
In 221 BC, the First Emperor of Qin unified the lands that would become the heart of a Chinese empire. Though forged by conquest, this vast domain depended for its political survival on a fundamental reshaping of Chinese culture. With this informative book, we are present at the creation of an ancient imperial order whose major features would endure for two millennia.
The Qin and Han constitute the “classical period” of Chinese history—a role played by the Greeks and Romans in the West. Mark Edward Lewis highlights the key challenges faced by the court officials and scholars who set about governing an empire of such scale and diversity of peoples. He traces the drastic measures taken to transcend, without eliminating, these regional differences: the invention of the emperor as the divine embodiment of the state; the establishment of a common script for communication and a state-sponsored canon for the propagation of Confucian ideals; the flourishing of the great families, whose domination of local society rested on wealth, landholding, and elaborate kinship structures; the demilitarization of the interior; and the impact of non-Chinese warrior-nomads in setting the boundaries of an emerging Chinese identity.
The first of a six-volume series on the history of imperial China, The Early Chinese Empires illuminates many formative events in China’s long history of imperialism—events whose residual influence can still be discerned today.
First published in 1988 in response to the growing need for documentation concerning local history in the late imperial period, Geographical Sources provides bibliographical data regarding two distinct genres: route books, and topographical and institutional gazetteers. In its second edition, this essential research tool has been completely revised and expanded with close to one hundred new entries, which provide complete coverage of these important sources for research in Chinese social, cultural, and religious history. The separate introductions to the two genres introduce the student to the history and uses of these materials. In addition to providing bibliographic data and noting variant editions, each entry provides locations where a work or its later editions can be found, whether in North America, Europe, China, or Japan.
As increasing attention is drawn to globalization, questions arise about the fate of "the nation," a political and social unit that for centuries has seemed the common-sense way to organize the world. In Nation Work, Timothy Brook and André Schmid draw together eight essays that use historical examples from Asian countries--China, India, Korea, and Japan--to enrich our understandings of the origin and growth of nations.
Asia provides fertile ground for this inquiry, the volume argues, because in Asia the history of the modern nation has been inseparable from global influences in the form of Western imperialism. Yet, while the impetus for building a modern national identity may have come from the need to fashion a favorable place in a world system dominated by Western nations, those engaged in nationalist enterprises found their particular voices more often in relation to tensions within Asia than in relation to more generic tensions between Asia and the West.
With topics ranging from public health measures in nineteenth-century Japan through textual scholarship of Tamil intellectuals, the willful division of Korea's history from China's, the development of China's cotton industry, and the meaning of "postnational-ism" for Chinese artists, the essays reveal the fascinating array of sites at which nation work can take place.
This will be essential reading for historians and social scientists interested in Asia.
Timothy Brook is Professor of History, Stanford University. André Schmid is Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto.
In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century China, Buddhists and Confucians alike flooded local Buddhist monasteries with donations. As gentry numbers grew faster than the imperial bureaucracy, traditional Confucian careers were closed to many; but visible philanthropy could publicize elite status outside the state realm. Actively sought by fundraising abbots, such patronage affected institutional Buddhism.
After exploring the relation of Buddhism to Ming Neo-Confucianism, the growth of tourism to Buddhist sites, and the mechanisms and motives for charitable donations, Timothy Brook studies three widely separated and economically dissimilar counties. He draws on rich data in monastic gazetteers to examine the patterns and social consequences of patronage.
Contemporary discussions of international relations in Asia tend to be tethered in the present, unmoored from the historical contexts that give them meaning. Sacred Mandates, edited by Timothy Brook, Michael van Walt van Praag, and Miek Boltjes, redresses this oversight by examining the complex history of inter-polity relations in Inner and East Asia from the thirteenth century to the twentieth, in order to help us understand and develop policies to address challenges in the region today.
This book argues that understanding the diversity of past legal orders helps explain the forms of contemporary conflict, as well as the conflicting historical narratives that animate tensions. Rather than proceed sequentially by way of dynasties, the editors identify three “worlds”—Chingssid Mongol, Tibetan Buddhist, and Confucian Sinic—that represent different forms of civilization authority and legal order. This novel framework enables us to escape the modern tendency to view the international system solely as the interaction of independent states, and instead detect the effects of the complicated history at play between and within regions. Contributors from a wide range of disciplines cover a host of topics: the development of international law, sovereignty, state formation, ruler legitimacy, and imperial expansion, as well as the role of spiritual authority on state behavior, the impact of modernization, and the challenges for peace processes. The culmination of five years of collaborative research, Sacred Mandates will be the definitive historical guide to international and intrastate relations in Asia, of interest to policymakers and scholars alike, for years to come.
The Mongol takeover in the 1270s changed the course of Chinese history. The Confucian empire—a millennium and a half in the making—was suddenly thrust under foreign occupation. What China had been before its reunification as the Yuan dynasty in 1279 was no longer what it would be in the future. Four centuries later, another wave of steppe invaders would replace the Ming dynasty with yet another foreign occupation. The Troubled Empire explores what happened to China between these two dramatic invasions.If anything defined the complex dynamics of this period, it was changes in the weather. Asia, like Europe, experienced a Little Ice Age, and as temperatures fell in the thirteenth century, Kublai Khan moved south into China. His Yuan dynasty collapsed in less than a century, but Mongol values lived on in Ming institutions. A second blast of cold in the 1630s, combined with drought, was more than the dynasty could stand, and the Ming fell to Manchu invaders.Against this background—the first coherent ecological history of China in this period—Timothy Brook explores the growth of autocracy, social complexity, and commercialization, paying special attention to China’s incorporation into the larger South China Sea economy. These changes not only shaped what China would become but contributed to the formation of the early modern world.