A stunning, one-of-a-kind history of China over the past 400 years; by the author of The Question of Hu (1988), etc. By the end of the 17th century, China was still a heterogeneous country whose vast expanses and endless variations in culture, economy, and religious practices have made the writing of any coherent history a daunting task. As Yale professor Spence points out, scholars have begun to tackle it by defining ""macroregions""--in which it is possible to describe and analyze these differences and to relate them to central political decisions. But until now there has been no work as comprehensive and comprehensible as his own. Moving from the Ming dynasty through the Manchus, the Revolution, the Kuomintang, and on through Tiananmen Square with an unparalleled combination of erudition, vision, sweep, and grace, Spence integrates a formidable amount of information about politics, culture, religion, land use, lineage patterns, poverty, wealth, and change--and at the same time manages to flesh out the leading characters in the continuing drama. Dominating the entire scene are the defiant problems of integrating the diverse elements of the country into an administrative whole and consolidating its borders. Along the way, Spence offers invaluable insights into the long history of literature and the arts, attitudes towards intellectuals and women, efforts at population control, and the intensely moral and ethical ideals of the Confucian tradition, which--though rebelled against and defused through time and change--still permeate the society. In the picture that emerges, China's ambivalent moves toward and away from the rest of the world become less of a mystery. Extraordinarily involving and insightful: a masterwork.