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Merle

Merle

Chinese Society in the Eighteenth Century by Susan Naquin and Evelyn Rawski

Chinese Society in the Eighteenth Century - Susan Naquin, Evelyn S. Rawski

This is an informative book, but a very academic one, in the sense that it speaks in generalities, abstractions and conclusions rather than specific people or incidents, colorful examples or stories around major events. The authors cover a lot of information about politics, the economy, religion, social structure, employment and leasing relationships, etc., in 18th century China. This is a good book if you're interested in crops and industries located in specific areas, the status of intellectuals and civil service examinations, who took responsibility for public works, how tightly controlled by the emperor different areas of the country were, and what popular pilgrimage sites were located in different regions. It's not as good if you're looking for a sense of what people's lives were like, or if you want your history enlivened by human interest anecdotes; aside from emperors, who are discussed in terms of their policies, I think only a couple of people are even mentioned by name. And it definitely seems like a compilation of research rather than a book in dialogue with others, since it seems to stick to pretty anodyne information without much analysis. The cultural information in the first half is still interesting, though the "Regional Societies" section dominating the second half was a slog, largely documenting the major products and ethnic groups of each region. (Somewhat confusingly, the authors have chosen to refer to ethnic minorities by their historical Chinese names, such as "Miao" for the Hmong, rather than the names modern readers are more likely to be familiar with. They use archaic names for cities, like Peking, as well.) I don't want to penalize an academic book too hard for being academic (though I really wish more popular histories were available in English), but it would have been nice if it were more engaging.