Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Entering the Realm of the First Emperor of China (220 BC)

I am nearing the end of of my Qin Dynasty reading, and as usual the book pile has grown a little as I have been carrying out my investigations...

I started with the first few chapters (early times to Han) of the Cambridge Illustrated History edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey which gave me an excellent grounding,

I then revisited a book I had read a couple of years ago: The Dynasties of China by Bamber Gasgoigne. Just a couple of pages in that introduces the era.

I then moved on to read The First Emperor edited by Jane Portal.

This was a series of essays on various aspects of the life of the first Qin emperor, but its main focus was the archeology of his tomb near Xian. Various experts described the buildings, the scientific studies, the clothing, the social aspects and what is known about the emperor's life. There was a little overlap, but this added to the dove-tailing effect as one expert took over from the one who had gone before. The book is stunningly illustrated, and I now feel I know a lot about the contents of the emperor's tomb.

One of the authors of the essays was Michael Lowe, and I read his book: Everyday Life in Early Imperial China next.

This concentrated mainly on the Han empire that came after the Qin. The Han Empire lasted for several centuries, whereas the Qin lasted for less than two decades, so there is much more information about life under the Han than the Qin. One of the main sources of information is The Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian, and I have read the pertinent parts of this too, having discovered one night that it was available on the Kindle ( The First Emperor Selections from the Historical Records by Sima Qian, translated by Raymond Dawson).

Frances Wood's The First Emperor of China
also depends on Sima Qian's book, but she also uses the content of the Emperor's tomb to give a concise description of life in Qin China. Again, this book was very well illustrated with drawings which added a lot to my understanding of the era.

The remaining books I have dipped into: China Land of Discovery and Invention by Robert K.G. Temple - which is a catalogue of Chinese inventions, and each time I look I am amazed at the range of Chinese discoveries made so long before our own. The Anthology of Chinese Literature from early times to the 14th century by Cyril Birch

gave me a taste of various Chinese writing including extracts from Sima Qian, and Zhuangzi which enticed me to read more (the Raymond Dawson translation and also Zhuanzi's Essential Writing).

The I Ching was recommended to me by Anne S. I have so far only dipped into this too but already I see it provides an excellent insight into the mindset of China in this era.

I like to feel fully immersed in a time and approach it from as many different ways as I can find. So apart from the books I have also been watching films: Confucius

(which was full of epic battles and gave the sense of a wandering scholar), Hero (more fighting, but this time one to one and conveyed in a mystical and fantastical way)

and tonight, perhaps, The First Emperor

after which I shall come blinking back into the light of the modern day.


Anonymous Shelley said...

The glazed expression on some of those statues is almost...classical Greek.

Tue Feb 14, 06:52:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Strange you should say that, Shelley, because I found out last year that some Chinese and Japanese sculpture do indeed have a Classical Greek influence. I think it reached China a little later than 200 BC though. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Buddhist_art

Tue Feb 14, 08:31:00 pm  

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