A single volume history of China, offering a look into the past of the global superpower and its significance today.
Michael Wood has travelled the length and breadth of China, the world’s oldest civilization and longest lasting state, to tell a thrilling story of intense drama, fabulous creativity, and deep humanity that stretches back thousands of years.
After a century and a half of foreign invasion, civil war, and revolution, China has once again returned to center stage as a global superpower and the world’s second largest economy. But how did it become so dominant? Wood argues that in order to comprehend the great significance of China today, we must begin with its history.
The Story of China takes a fresh look at the Middle Kingdom in the light of the recent massive changes inside the country. Taking into account exciting new archeological discoveries, the book begins with China’s prehistory—the early dynasties, the origins of the Chinese state, and the roots of Chinese culture in the age of Confucius. Wood looks at particular periods and themes that are now being reevaluated by historians, such as the renaissance of the Song with its brilliant scientific discoveries. He paints a vibrant picture of the Qing Empire in the 18th century, just before the European impact, a time when China’s rich and diverse culture was at its height. Then, Wood explores the encounter with the West, the Opium Wars, the clashes with the British, and the extraordinarily rich debates in the late 19th century that pushed China along the path to modernity.
Finally, he provides a clear up-to-date account of post-1949 China, including revelations about the 1989 crisis based on newly leaked inside documents, and fresh insights into the new order of President Xi Jinping. All woven together with landscape history and the author’s own travel journals, The Story of China is the indispensable book about the most intriguing and powerful country on the world stage today.
Documentarian Wood (The Story of England) chronicles 4,000 years of Chinese history in this brisk and accessible account. Moving chronologically from China's distant past to the events of the past century, Wood pays particular attention to the country's long history of global encounters. Highlights include descriptions of life in a Han dynasty postal station on the Silk Road between the first century BCE and 107 CE, and an account of Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci's attempt to "bridge civilizations" by accepting Chinese "beliefs and rituals for the veneration of the dead" in the early 17th century. Wood also details social unrest and rising foreign influence after the Opium Wars and the Taiping rebellion, and documents "mass hysteria" sparked by Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, including the destruction of family heirlooms and cultural relics by Red Guards, and the massacre of 9,000 men, women, and children by local Communist party bosses in the town of Daoxian in Hunan province. Deeply researched and energetically written, this immersive account is a worthy introduction to the vast sweep of Chinese history and culture.