China is one of the oldest states in the world. It achieved its approximate current borders with the Ascendancy of the Yuan dynasty in the 13th century, and despite the passing of one Imperial dynasty to the next, it has maintained them for the eight centuries since. Even the European colonial powers at the height of their power could not move past coastal enclaves. Thus, China remained China through the Ming, the Qing, the Republic, the Occupation, and Communism.
But, despite the desires of some of the most powerful people in the Great State through the ages, China has never been alone in the world. It has had to contend with invaders from the steppe and the challenges posed by foreign traders and imperialists. Indeed, its rulers for the majority of the last eight centuries have not been Chinese.
Timothy Brook examines China’s relationship with the world from the Yuan through to the present by following the stories of ordinary and extraordinary people navigating the spaces where China met and meets the world. Bureaucrats, horse traders, spiritual leaders, explorers, pirates, emperors, invaders, migrant workers, traitors, and visionaries: this is a history of China as no one has told it before.
Impressive ... [Timothy Brook] at his best * TLS * Excellent ... The power of this book lies partly in the fact that Brook does not overstate his case. While he does not seek to claim that China's current actions are prefigured by the past, an attentive reader cannot fail to notice extraordinary parallels -- James Kynge * Financial Times * Timothy Brook's Great State puts forward an elegant and compelling argument for why we should look at the cosmopolitan part of the Chinese mind-set as well * Literary Review * Some of Mr. Brook's subjects are ethnically Chinese, but many are not - Mongols and Manchus figure prominently, as do Tibetans, Englishmen, Portuguese, Koreans and a host of others ... [It is] a wondrous range * Wall Street Journal * What a pleasure to read a significant, original book that covers millennia of Chinese history in an informal, often chatty, but always learned style * Times Higher Education * [A] vigorous account ... Scattered across the maps and paintings that Brook invokes, his thirteen encounters take in pirates, merchants, soldiers, traders, explorers, emperors and spiritual leaders - characters in China's complex trade, military, spiritual and political relationships down the centuries. Brook unravels the threads of these relationships across a canvas of war, friendship, savage struggles for power, lethal epidemic disease, triumph and calamity. It is a dizzying and exhilarating journey ... Great State offers some compelling lessons for today, and for all our futures -- Isabel Hilton * New Statesman * A fresh look at China's engagement with the outside world over centuries ... With useful maps and stories within stories, this is an ingenious look at an often misunderstood country * Kirkus Reviews * Praise for Vermeer's Hat: Spell-binding ... as a guide to the world behind the pictures Vermeer's Hat is mind-expanding * Sunday Times * A brilliant attempt to make us understand the reach and breadth of the first global age * Guardian * Brook takes you into the paintings in a way that can be spookily intimate * Evening Standard * An erudite, surprising book that finds traces of swashbuckling where you'd least expect * Daily Telegraph * Truly mesmerising. In this accessible but authoritative study, he... shows better than anyone I've read so far, the truly subversive power of detail * Independent * Praise for Mr Selden's Map of China: The great charm of this book lies not only in its illustrative, erudite detail but in the serendipity that regularly seizes Brook and adds spice to a spellbinding story * Times * The quest is fascinating and picaresque, a sort of cartographical Tristram Shandy with a sure-handed narrator steering us from Ming dynasty China to pre-Civil War Oxford to the Spice Islands of South-East Asia * Sunday Telegraph *
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