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News from the Old Country

Jonathan Spence, 14 September 1989

Qian Mu and the World of Seven Mansions 
by Jerry Dennerline.
Yale, 192 pp., £18, March 1989, 0 300 04296 5
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... At once the simplest and the hardest question one can ask if one studies China is ‘What does it mean to be Chinese?’ The question has real immediacy as the multilayered Chinese communities in Hong Kong and Taiwan, South-East Asia and Australia, Western Europe and the United States, try to make sense of what the Chinese Communist Government has just done to hundreds of its own young people ...

The Manchu Conquest

Jonathan Spence, 7 August 1986

The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in 17th-Century China 
by Frederic Wakeman.
California, 736 pp., £63.75, January 1986, 0 520 04804 0
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... The fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644, and the consolidation of its successor Qing dynasty over the ensuing twenty years, was one of the more dramatic events in human history. It is a complex story to tell, since so many aspects must be considered. The erosion of Ming power took many years, and various Ming pretenders fought on, by land and sea, until the early 1660s ...

Like Father, Unlike Son

Jonathan Spence: Zhu Wen’s China, 6 September 2007

‘I Love Dollars’ and Other Stories of China 
by Zhu Wen, translated by Julia Lovell.
Columbia, 228 pp., £16, September 2006, 0 231 13694 3
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... What does it mean to live morally in an uncaring society? The question is deeply embedded in any culture that has an enduring creative legacy, and China is no exception. For some years, especially from the late 1940s until Mao’s death in 1976, the question was sidestepped as the Party imposed its own vision of Soviet-inspired socialist realism. But for the generation of Chinese born during the 1940s, who reached adulthood in the mid-1960s during the fiercest years of the Cultural Revolution, the question reappeared with new insistence ...

The First Emperor

Jonathan Spence, 2 December 1993

Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty 
by Sima Qian, edited and translated by Burton Watson.
Columbia, 221 pp., $50, June 1993, 0 231 08166 9
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... Educated Chinese and Western lovers of Chinese culture alike would have little trouble compiling a short list of the finest Chinese classical poets, but they would never be able to reach unanimity on who was the best; the same generalisation would hold true for philosophers, essayists, dramatists or painters. But with historians, there is no doubt they would soon agree that there was only one true candidate, Sima Qian (?145-?89 BC), author of the Shi Ji, or ‘Historical Records ...

Closed Windows

T.H. Barrett, 11 January 1990

The Question of Hu 
by Jonathan Spence.
Faber, 187 pp., £12.99, September 1989, 0 571 14118 8
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... away, it may be time to start reflecting on a very different type of tale. John Hu, the Hu in Jonathan Spence’s latest book, was a man without guile, and without luck. He travelled to France from Canton in 1722 as the employee of Jean-François Foucquet, a Jesuit missionary, but behaved in such a bizarre fashion that in 1723 he was committed to an ...

The Exotic West

Peter Burke, 6 February 1986

The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci 
by Jonathan Spence.
Faber, 350 pp., £15, April 1985, 0 571 13239 1
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Chine et Christianisme: Action et Réaction 
by Jacques Gernet.
Gallimard, 342 pp., frs 154, May 1982, 2 07 026366 5
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... to be told yet again, it really needs to be presented from a fresh angle. This is what Professor Jonathan Spence is almost uniquely qualified to do. I am no Sinologist, but all the same I have followed Spence’s career as a historian with the greatest interest since the publication, in 1974, of his Emperor of ...

How to Kowtow

D.J. Enright: The thoughts of China, 29 July 1999

The Chan’s Great Continent: China in Western Minds 
by Jonathan Spence.
Penguin, 279 pp., £20, May 1999, 0 7139 9313 8
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... political stances have at times dulled the sheen.’ In The Chan’s Great ContinentJonathan Spence reflects on 48 ‘sightings’ or mis-sightings of ‘a great but distant culture’, stretching from the 13th century up to the Seventies. Was Marco Polo really in China between 1275 and 1292, working as an agent of the Mongol ruler, Kublai ...

Chinese Leaps

Jon Elster, 25 April 1991

The Search for Modern China 
by Jonathan Spence.
Hutchinson, 876 pp., £19.95, May 1990, 0 09 174472 5
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Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1880s to the 1980s 
by Jack Gray.
Oxford, 456 pp., £35, April 1990, 0 19 913076 0
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... and soil impose perennial constraints on warfare and agriculture. A striking example is found in Jonathan Spence’s The Search for Modern China: ‘Chiang Kai-shek [in 1949] had roughly the same range of options that had faced the southern Ming court once the Manchus had seized Peking and the North China plain 305 years before. He could try to ...

Reputation

Peter Burke, 21 May 1987

The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in an Age of Decline 
by J.H. Elliott.
Yale, 733 pp., £19.95, August 1986, 0 300 03390 7
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Philip IV and the Decoration of the Alcazar of Madrid 
by Steven Orso.
Princeton, 227 pp., £36.70, July 1986, 0 691 04036 2
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... In 1980, Elliott published a study of the latter palace in partnership with the art historian Jonathan Brown, reconstructing its appearance from literary sources (since the palace itself was destroyed by the British during the Peninsular War), and paying particular attention to the programme of the paintings by Velazquez, Zurbaran and others in the throne ...

The First Emperor

T.H. Barrett, 10 November 1988

Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times 
by Morris Rossabi.
California, 322 pp., £12.50, May 1988, 0 520 05913 1
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Searches for an Imaginary Kingdom: The Legend of the Kingdom of Prester John 
by L.N. Gumilev, translated by R.E.F. Smith.
Cambridge, 403 pp., £37.50, February 1988, 0 521 32214 6
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... no archives from me period to compare with those of three centuries later so cunningly used by Jonathan Spence to construct his Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K’ang-hsi. If we had to judge Khubilai on the basis of his appearance in later Chinese historical writings we might never be tempted to read a full biography of him at all. Many of them ...

Chinese Whispers

D.J. Enright, 18 June 1981

The Woman Warrior 
by Maxine Hong Kingston.
Picador, 186 pp., £1.50, March 1981, 0 330 26400 1
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China Men 
by Maxine Hong Kingston.
Picador, 301 pp., £1.50, March 1981, 0 330 26367 6
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... and ‘Girls are maggots in the rice.’ In a forthcoming account of modern Chinese history Jonathan Spence mentions the young revolutionary poetess, Chiu Jin, who wrote in 1904: We, the two hundred million women of China, are the most unfairly treated objects on this earth. If we have a decent father, then we will be all right at the time of our ...

Unmasking Monsieur Malraux

Richard Mayne, 25 June 1992

The Conquerors 
by André Malraux, translated by Stephen Becker.
Chicago, 198 pp., £8.75, December 1991, 0 226 50290 2
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The Temptation of the West 
by André Malraux, translated by Robert Hollander.
Chicago, 122 pp., £8.75, February 1992, 0 226 50291 0
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The Walnut Tree of Altenburg 
by André Malraux, translated by A.W. Fielding.
Chicago, 224 pp., £9.55, April 1992, 0 226 50289 9
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... He was sensing the possibilities that were to come to fruition in the European Community.’ And Jonathan Spence, discussing The Temptation of the West, a supposed exchange of letters between ‘AD’, a Frenchman, and his Chinese correspondent ‘Ling’, is more venturesome still, It is never safe, and often folly,’ he admits, ‘to call any ...

Joe, Jerry and Bomber Blair

Owen Hatherley: Jonathan Meades, 7 March 2013

Museum without Walls 
by Jonathan Meades.
Unbound, 446 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 1 908717 18 4
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... Jonathan Meades, for the last thirty years Britain’s most consistently surprising and informative writer on the built environment, has finally published a book on the subject. A volume did appear in 1988 – English Extremists, written with Deyan Sudjic and Peter Cook, celebrating the postmodern architects Campbell Zogolovitch Wilson Gough – but since then his medium has been television ...

The Impostor

Peter Burke, 19 April 1984

Le Retour de Martin Guerre 
by Natalie Davis, Jean-Claude Carrière and Daniel Vigne.
Robert Laffont, 269 pp.
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The Return of Martin Guerre 
by Natalie Davis.
Harvard, 162 pp., £12.75, October 1983, 0 674 76690 3
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... have sometimes been spectacular, as in the case of Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms; or Jonathan Spence’s The Death of Woman Wang, which described the adventures of a woman who ran away from her husband, returned to him, and was strangled by him as she slept one night in 1672 in a village in Shantung Province; or, best-known of ...

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