Imperial China 900-1800

F.W. Mote

Harvard University Press 1999
A book review by Danny Yee © 2001
Imperial China is a readable history of China from the end of the Tang dynasty down to 1800. It covers the dynasties of the Song, Jin/Jurchen, Southern Song, Yuan/Mongols, Ming, and the first century and a half of the Qing/Manchu, as well as the complex transitions between them.

Mote's focus is on politics, and in particular on the broad sweep of changing systems of government and political institutions. His approach to this is never dry, however, and he includes much biographical material, covering in depth not just the key emperors, councillors, and eunuchs, but a broad range of scholars and tribal leaders such as Abaoji, Aguda, and Chinggis Khan. The treatment of the latter is part of a broader focus on border policies and relationships with neighbouring states and tribal confederations, especially those in the north from where the conquest dynasties came. (The Liao/Khitan and Xi Xia/Tangut are treated in depth, with as much as sixty pages on the former.)

Mote also treats social and economic history, notably demographics, but this takes second place, with one chapter for each dynasty/era and no attempt at a connected account. He briefly covers literature and the arts, science and technology, and religion, but goes into much more detail with trends in elite intellectual history, from Song Neo-Confucianism to Qing evidential learning.

A decent selection of maps and dynastic succession charts are provided, but the only illustrations are six attractive but mostly decorative half-tones. Weighing in at a thousand pages, Imperial China is obviously for fairly serious students of Chinese history — though they may find it unexpectedly engaging.

April 2001

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%T Imperial China 900-1800
%A Mote, F.W.
%I Harvard University Press
%D 1999
%O hardcover, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0674445155
%P xix,1107pp