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T.H. Barrett

11 January 1990
The Question of Hu 
by Jonathan Spence.
Faber, 187 pp., £12.99, September 1989, 0 571 14118 8
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... of ordinary people in the middle of totally unfamiliar cultures which are now only a few flying hours away, it may be time to start reflecting on a very different type of tale. John Hu, the Hu in JonathanSpence’s latest book, was a man without guile, and without luck. He travelled to France from Canton in 1722 as the employee of Jean-François Foucquet, a Jesuit missionary, but behaved in such a ...
6 February 1986
The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci 
by Jonathan Spence.
Faber, 350 pp., £15, April 1985, 0 571 13239 1
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Chine et Christianisme: Action et Réaction 
by Jacques Gernet.
Gallimard, 342 pp., frs 154, May 1982, 2 07 026366 5
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... and Western mathematics has also attracted much attention from historians of science. If the story is to be told yet again, it really needs to be presented from a fresh angle. This is what Professor JonathanSpence is almost uniquely qualified to do. I am no Sinologist, but all the same I have followed Spence’s career as a historian with the greatest interest since the publication, in 1974, of his ...

How to Kowtow

D.J. Enright: The thoughts of China

29 July 1999
The Chan’s Great Continent: China in Western Minds 
by Jonathan Spence.
Penguin, 279 pp., £20, May 1999, 0 7139 9313 8
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... the passing centuries have never managed to obliterate it altogether, even though vagaries of fashion and shifting political stances have at times dulled the sheen.’ In The Chan’s Great Continent JonathanSpence reflects on 48 ‘sightings’ or mis-sightings of ‘a great but distant culture’, stretching from the 13th century up to the Seventies. Was Marco Polo really in China between 1275 and 1292 ...

Chinese Leaps

Jon Elster

25 April 1991
The Search for Modern China 
by Jonathan Spence.
Hutchinson, 876 pp., £19.95, May 1990, 0 09 174472 5
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Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1880s to the 1980s 
by Jack Gray.
Oxford, 456 pp., £35, April 1990, 0 19 913076 0
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... of reasons. One is that similar causes tend to produce similar effects. China’s topography, weather and soil impose perennial constraints on warfare and agriculture. A striking example is found in JonathanSpence’s The Search for Modern China: ‘Chiang Kai-shek [in 1949] had roughly the same range of options that had faced the southern Ming court once the Manchus had seized Peking and the North ...

The Manchu Conquest

Jonathan Spence

7 August 1986
The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in 17th-Century China 
by Frederic Wakeman.
California, 736 pp., £63.75, January 1986, 0 520 04804 0
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... The fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644, and the consolidation of its successor Qing dynasty over the ensuing twenty years, was one of the more dramatic events in human history. It is a complex story to tell, since so many aspects must be considered. The erosion of Ming power took many years, and various Ming pretenders fought on, by land and sea, until the early 1660s. In central and north China rebel ...

Like Father, Unlike Son

Jonathan Spence: Zhu Wen’s China

6 September 2007
‘I Love Dollars’ and Other Stories of China 
by Zhu Wen, translated by Julia Lovell.
Columbia, 228 pp., £16, September 2006, 0 231 13694 3
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... What does it mean to live morally in an uncaring society? The question is deeply embedded in any culture that has an enduring creative legacy, and China is no exception. For some years, especially from the late 1940s until Mao’s death in 1976, the question was sidestepped as the Party imposed its own vision of Soviet-inspired socialist realism. But for the generation of Chinese born during the 1940s ...

News from the Old Country

Jonathan Spence

14 September 1989
Qian Mu and the World of Seven Mansions 
by Jerry Dennerline.
Yale, 192 pp., £18, March 1989, 0 300 04296 5
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... At once the simplest and the hardest question one can ask if one studies China is ‘What does it mean to be Chinese?’ The question has real immediacy as the multilayered Chinese communities in Hong Kong and Taiwan, South-East Asia and Australia, Western Europe and the United States, try to make sense of what the Chinese Communist Government has just done to hundreds of its own young people. Professor ...

The First Emperor

Jonathan Spence

2 December 1993
Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty 
by Sima Qian, edited and translated by Burton Watson.
Columbia, 221 pp., $50, June 1993, 0 231 08166 9
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... Educated Chinese and Western lovers of Chinese culture alike would have little trouble compiling a short list of the finest Chinese classical poets, but they would never be able to reach unanimity on who was the best; the same generalisation would hold true for philosophers, essayists, dramatists or painters. But with historians, there is no doubt they would soon agree that there was only one true ...


Peter Burke

21 May 1987
The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in an Age of Decline 
by J.H. Elliott.
Yale, 733 pp., £19.95, August 1986, 0 300 03390 7
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Philip IV and the Decoration of the Alcazar of Madrid 
by Steven Orso.
Princeton, 227 pp., £36.70, July 1986, 0 691 04036 2
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... of royal palaces, notably the Alcazar of Madrid and the Buen Retiro on the outskirts of the city. In 1980, Elliott published a study of the latter palace in partnership with the art historian Jonathan Brown, reconstructing its appearance from literary sources (since the palace itself was destroyed by the British during the Peninsular War), and paying particular attention to the programme of the ...

Chinese Whispers

D.J. Enright

18 June 1981
The Woman Warrior 
by Maxine Hong Kingston.
Picador, 186 pp., £1.50, March 1981, 0 330 26400 1
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China Men 
by Maxine Hong Kingston.
Picador, 301 pp., £1.50, March 1981, 0 330 26367 6
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... geese than girls’ and ‘When fishing for treasures in the flood, be careful not to pull in girls’ and ‘Girls are maggots in the rice.’ In a forthcoming account of modern Chinese history JonathanSpence mentions the young revolutionary poetess, Chiu Jin, who wrote in 1904: We, the two hundred million women of China, are the most unfairly treated objects on this earth. If we have a decent ...
25 June 1992
The Conquerors 
by André Malraux, translated by Stephen Becker.
Chicago, 198 pp., £8.75, December 1991, 0 226 50290 2
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The Temptation of the West 
by André Malraux, translated by Robert Hollander.
Chicago, 122 pp., £8.75, February 1992, 0 226 50291 0
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The Walnut Tree of Altenburg 
by André Malraux, translated by A.W. Fielding.
Chicago, 224 pp., £9.55, April 1992, 0 226 50289 9
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... fall of Hitler, when it would again be possible for French and Germans to live together as friends. He was sensing the possibilities that were to come to fruition in the European Community.’ And JonathanSpence, discussing The Temptation of the West, a supposed exchange of letters between ‘AD’, a Frenchman, and his Chinese correspondent ‘Ling’, is more venturesome still, It is never safe, and ...
10 November 1988
Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times 
by Morris Rossabi.
California, 322 pp., £12.50, May 1988, 0 520 05913 1
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Searches for an Imaginary Kingdom: The Legend of the Kingdom of Prester John 
by L.N. Gumilev, translated by R.E.F. Smith.
Cambridge, 403 pp., £37.50, February 1988, 0 521 32214 6
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... foreigners ruled all China very little came to be written independently about court life, and we possess no archives from me period to compare with those of three centuries later so cunningly used by JonathanSpence to construct his Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K’ang-hsi. If we had to judge Khubilai on the basis of his appearance in later Chinese historical writings we might never be tempted to ...

Joe, Jerry and Bomber Blair

Owen Hatherley: Jonathan​ Meades

7 March 2013
Museum without Walls 
by Jonathan​ Meades.
Unbound, 446 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 1 908717 18 4
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... Jonathan Meades, for the last thirty years Britain’s most consistently surprising and informative writer on the built environment, has finally published a book on the subject. A volume did appear in 1988 ...

The Impostor

Peter Burke

19 April 1984
Le Retour de Martin Guerre 
by Natalie Davis, Jean-Claude Carrière and Daniel Vigne.
Robert Laffont, 269 pp.
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The Return of Martin Guerre 
by Natalie Davis.
Harvard, 162 pp., £12.75, October 1983, 0 674 76690 3
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... be hoped that it will not be reduced to a formula. But there is no denying that the results so far have sometimes been spectacular, as in the case of Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms; or JonathanSpence’s The Death of Woman Wang, which described the adventures of a woman who ran away from her husband, returned to him, and was strangled by him as she slept one night in 1672 in a village in ...

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