I asked my father-in-law, editor of a popular Chinese magazine in the '80s (and all-around brilliant man), 'What is your favorite dynasty?' He seemed slightly uncomfortable with my question, perhaps due to some aspect of his prior learning on the subject. Then he unequivocally endorsed the Song. 'Why'? said I, in my broken Chinese and with the halting help of Google Translate.
His answer was unclear due to my lack of language skills, but it had to do with the great advances in culture that occurred before the Mongol conquest of Kublai Khan in the 1250's. Science, technology, art and philosophy all had flourished. 'Neo-Confucianism?' I ventured. No, he said, that wasn't a popular subject during his period of education. I then surmised it didn't hurt that the later Southern Song were centered in Hangzhou, place of his birth, and the largest city on earth in the 13th century.
Dieter Kuhn's 'Age of Confucian Rule' is number 4 of 6 volumes in Harvard's recent History of Imperial China series. The series is available as a nicely made set of illustrated books (if you prefer your reading in analog) or in electronic versions (mysteriously stripped of their illustrations). That is all except for this volume, which has no e-book equivalent, for reasons unknown. Kuhn is something of an exception as well, a Chinese history professor at Wurzberg University, presumably writing in German and providing his own English translation. This extra measure of labor may speak to his pre-eminence on the subject.
The book follows the now well tread way of the series, combining a 99 page chronological survey with an additional 8 topical chapters on literature, education, religion, art and architecture, industry and economy, and finally family life. Kuhn is a good writer, and his knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject is well conveyed, if somewhat encyclopedic in style. If you pair this work with Jacques Gernet's classic 'Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion' you can't go wrong on all things Song.
- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (4 October 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674062027
- ISBN-13: 978-0674062023
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 544 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 22,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)