Trying to squeeze an entire history of Chinese civilization into a brief, one volume account is a formidable task, but one that has succeeded brilliantly here. Hilda Hookham has provided us with a concise story that, while not getting too entangled with personalities and cultural issues, manages to navigate the swirling passage of events that comprise over 3,000 years of Chinese political history. As a result, one is left with a singular impression of what Chinese civilization has meant, both as a cultural reality, and as a historical political force. It has been a tumultuous journey.
Recurring themes repeat themselves in dynasty after dynasty: order and statecraft, resource allocation and use, imperialism and population growth, barbarian invasion and subjugation of outlying districts. Each dynasty right up to the current communist regime has followed similar paths. In this brilliant synthesis, we begin to see the patterns of stable government, the building up of infrastructure, reforms to help the peasantry, and reforms of government bureaucracy. Then comes the destabilizing influences of corruption, debauched court life, demands for greater taxation, failing infrastructure, famine, military revolt and invasions by barbarians. The peasants revolt, the military crumbles and a new dynasty takes control, with or without the support of foreign powers, depending on the period. Eventually, as in the case of the Mongols and the Manchurians, the barbarians end up as rulers.
Throughout all of this turmoil, the essence of Chinese civilization has endured, sometimes, as in the case of the murderous Mao regime, at the cost of millions of lives. From Confucius and Lao-Tzu to Sun Yatsen, Chang Kaishek and Mao Zedong, Chinese civilization unfolds here in this audiobook as a comprehensible and highly enjoyable summary.
©1970 Hilda Hookham; (P)2008 Audio Connoisseur