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Clemenceau could sum up Americans with two short yaps: ""They can't generalize. And they make terrible coffee."" And even now Gaullists would agree. Nobody can do this with the Chinese: a history as perverse as the chameleon; famine and luxury, barbarians and mandarins, warlords and monks. You can also think of a magnet and a sponge, attracting and absorbing: an alien dynasty, the Manchus, ruled there for years; Buddhism came from India; Communism from a rival neighbor. The two great philosophers, Confucius and Chuang Tzu, pushed simplicities to the point of paradox and then back again. Few cities are more magical than Peking or Shanghai, nor geographical names lovelier than the Yellow River, nor periodic misery so dense as in that ancient mass, extending from Pamir to the Pacific, from Manchuria to the Himalayas. It is a complex, pageant-like tale, always worth retelling, and Dr. Li, a native Sinologist now American based, knows it like the palm of his hand, exploring the significant, skipping the trivial, writing with unpressured accuracy, combining both the Occidental and Oriental viewpoint, working through the economic, political, cultural and social zigzags with an economy unique in such a book, imparting to the reader the fundamentals of the Chinese character, so necessary for our understanding of contemporary events. The long concluding chapters on the follies of the Nationalist regime and the odd unexpected triumph of Marxism are excellently done, meaningfully prepared for by the earlier excursions into feudalism, the Mongol, Ming and Sung regimes, the 19th century Western impact. A fine chronicle.

Publisher: Scribners