CHINESE ROUNDABOUT by Jonathan D. Spence


Essays in History and Culture
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 More erudite history and eminently readable scholarship from Yale Sinologist Spence (The Search for Modern China, 1990, etc.). Many of these essays and reviews, previously published in both scholarly and nonscholarly journals, were inspired by Western inquirers of yore like 16th-century Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci and novelist AndrÇ Malraux, both subjects of essays in an opening section entitled ``Crossing the Cultures.'' In ``Looking East: The Long View,'' Spence concedes that Western confusion about China began with accounts by Ricci and other missionaries, but, still, he relishes these reports' delicate balance and appreciation for culture. A second, scholarly and vigorous group of essays, ``The Confucian Impulse,'' surveys a range of topics from the Mings to the Manchus. Outstanding is Spence's recovery of the Ming painter Tao-chi, member of a brilliant artistic circle that Spence brings to life with remarkable color. A third section consists of a hodgepodge of essays on topics from food to opium. While exhaustively detailing Chinese culinary pleasures, Spence notes that, through much of Chinese history, ``it was the danger of famine that gave such urgency to agriculture and such joy to eating.'' He describes the crucial economic function of opium in late-19th-century China and measures political swings in the country according to its use. Other highlights include a penetrating analysis of Chinese director Bai Hua's controversial 1980 film, Bitter Love, and an admiring essay on eminent Harvard Sinologist John Fairbank. Spence conveys vast knowledge with a style and grace unique in academic writing. A pure pleasure cruise through the Middle Kingdom. (Photos--not seen.)

Pub Date: June 8th, 1992
ISBN: 0-393-03355-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1992


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