Leveraging the rich collections of the Field Museum, Bardoe paints a broad history of China from the Stone Age to the present.
This ambitious project opens with an assertion that further challenges its mission: “There is no single China.” From the outset, the author acknowledges the great diversity of people, governance, and geography that make up what readers may understand as China. Yet over millennia, China’s rulers forged an empire that lasted through the 20th century, with cultural traditions that persist even today. Across this huge span of time, the author gathers the central threads of Chinese history, including innovations in ceramics and metal work in the early days, the trying work of empire-building, the development of major schools of thought, and China’s uneasy engagement with the rest of the world. Notwithstanding its vast scope, the narrative, supported by expertise and artifacts from the Field Museum, offers focus and insight. Each chapter concludes with an opportunity for reflection (“Imagine being Empress Dowager Cixi…”), bringing readers into the text. Readers may wonder at the extremely cursory mention of recent history, but, despite the book’s title, the author is fairly clear about her intention to focus elsewhere.
A bit dry for casual readers but nonetheless an excellent resource and a beautifully presented, nuanced introduction to pre-20th-century Chinese history. (timeline, source notes, selected bibliography, image credits, index) (Nonfiction. 10-adult)