A Brief History of the Dynasties of China
By Bamber Gascoigne
Review by Laura (Chinese Studies)
This book is an overview of a very long period of time (around 3500 years) from the earliest stages of the Chinese dynasties when a proper writing system hadn’t even been invented yet all the way through to 1912 when the last dynasty was overthrown when ideas like democracy became popular! It is a really accessible book to read because it’s a short introduction to Chinese history and gives each dynasty a chapter.
I read this because I didn’t have the chance at school to study anything about China, and all I knew was that they had a really long history of emperors! I read this before I applied to Oxford when I was still deciding what I wanted to study at university, and this book really helped me decide that it was China that I was interested in. The author makes it really easy to read and highlights a few different historical figures throughout the book. He talks about some of the unique and interesting features of each dynasty. Even though they’re all part of a long line of tradition, each dynasty was quite different from the others, so I loved learning about the differences and changes.
What’s really good about this book is that it introduces you gradually to key themes and aspects of China, like art, literature, philosophy and more as well as talking about historical events. These are all the kinds of things we get the opportunity to study on my degree now, so I’m really glad that this book was able to introduce such a variety of themes to me in a (short) and accessible way! It was really easy to read, and you can even read a chapter at a time and pick it up again later if you want. Also, what I’d learned from this book gave me some background knowledge for when I got to university and started my course, so it was useful for classes every week as well as making me interested in a Chinese Studies degree.
The book is quite standard as an introduction to Chinese dynastic history, so other people might also recommend it or something similar if you want to start finding out about China! I would also recommend this book to someone interested in history in general as at university you can often study a much wider range of courses than you can at school. If you want to study more global history, then this is a great introduction to the study of China as a historian, not just for a Chinese degree.
Overall, it was incredible to get a brief overview of China’s dynastic history. The themes about China might even inspire you to read something else too — I became really interested in feminism in Chinese history after reading this book, and in the end, I was able to talk about that in my interviews as one of my interests in China!
A Brief History of the Dynasties of China by Bamber Gascoigne