From British scholar Cotterell (Chariot: The Astounding Rise and Fall of the World’s First War Machine, 2005, etc), a thoroughgoing history of China’s ruling dynasties and their extraordinary achievements in architecture.
The author’s knowledge of Chinese dynasties is nearly encyclopedic, and readers are assumed to have a basic grounding in the chronology. Imperial capitals were laid out according to cosmic principles, and Cotterell jumps right in to explain the cosmology of northern China’s ancient Shang kings, who established the capital in Anyang across the Yellow River on the advice of divination. The first emperor, in 256 BCE, was the energetic Qin Shi Huang Di, who was much influenced by Daoism and the Five Elements; he commissioned extensive building, from the Great Wall and the national road system to a grand palace called Er Fang and his famous terracotta army at Mount Li. The Qin dynasty, under the sway of Confucianism, moved between Xianyang and Chang’an. The subsequent Han dynasty moved to Luoyang, the second largest city in the world after Rome. After the invasion of the steppe people, the Jin abandoned Luoyang in favor of Nanjing, though it never attained the glory of the previous imperial capitals. During the Sui and Tang dynasties, Chang’an flourished without rival in the world. The war of succession among the Five Dynasties gave rise to Zhang Zeduan’s legendary painting of the thriving city of Kaifeng, Spring Festival on the River, reproduced in part here. Hangzhou, capital of the seagoing Southern Song, in the 13th century fell to Mongol invaders; their capital at Dadu (later called Beijing) was admiringly portrayed by Marco Polo. The Ming dynasty that followed ruled at first from Nanjing, but in the early 15th century returned the capital to Beijing, enriched by the construction of the emperor Yongle’s Purple Forbidden City. Cotterell’s work takes the traveler deep into the fascinating recesses of each dynasty.
A challenging but valuable companion for the traveler to China.