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The Open Empire: A History Of China To 1800 (Second Edition).epub - Compare and contrast China with other regions and civilizations

The Open Empire: A History of China to 1800 (Second Edition)

If you are looking for a comprehensive, engaging, and up-to-date introduction to early Chinese history, you might want to check out The Open Empire: A History of China to 1800 by Valerie Hansen. This book is a revised and expanded edition of Hansen's original work published in 2000. It covers China's history from its origins to the end of the Qing dynasty in 1800. It also uses an innovative approach to explore China's past as an "open empire", a term that Hansen coined to describe how China interacted with its neighbors and outsiders throughout history.

The Open Empire: A History Of China To 1800 (Second Edition).epub


In this article, we will review The Open Empire by summarizing its main themes, arguments, and contents. We will also provide some frequently asked questions about the book at the end. Let's get started!

The Concept of the Open Empire

One of the most distinctive features of The Open Empire is its use of the concept of the open empire to analyze China's history. Hansen defines an open empire as "a large political entity whose borders are not fixed but change over time as a result of wars or treaties; whose rulers welcome people of different ethnicities, cultures, and religions; and whose center is linked to distant regions by trade and the exchange of ideas" (p. xix). Hansen argues that China was an open empire for most of its history, and that this openness shaped its political, social, and cultural development.

Hansen uses the concept of the open empire to challenge some common misconceptions about China's history, such as the idea that China was isolated, homogeneous, or unchanging. She shows how China was always connected to the rest of the world through trade, migration, diplomacy, and warfare. She also shows how China was always diverse and dynamic, with different ethnic groups, languages, religions, and customs coexisting and influencing each other. She also shows how China was always changing and adapting to new circumstances and challenges, such as foreign invasions, natural disasters, or technological innovations.

By using the concept of the open empire, Hansen aims to present a more nuanced, balanced, and realistic picture of China's past. She also aims to make China's history more accessible and relevant to modern readers, who live in a globalized and multicultural world.

The Origins and Development of Chinese Civilization

The first part of The Open Empire covers the origins and development of Chinese civilization from prehistory to the end of the Han dynasty in 220 CE. Hansen traces the main features and achievements of early Chinese cultures, such as agriculture, writing, bronze technology, philosophy, religion, art, and literature. She also examines the political and social changes that led to the emergence and consolidation of imperial rule in China.

The Shang and Zhou Dynasties

The earliest recorded dynasty in Chinese history is the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600-1046 BCE), which ruled over a large area in northern China. The Shang dynasty is known for its development of writing, which was used for divination, administration, and communication. The Shang dynasty is also known for its production of bronze vessels, weapons, and ritual objects, which reflected its hierarchical and religious society.

The Shang dynasty was overthrown by the Zhou dynasty (ca. 1046-256 BCE), which claimed to have received the Mandate of Heaven, or the divine right to rule. The Zhou dynasty expanded its territory and established a feudal system of governance, where local lords owed allegiance to the king. The Zhou dynasty also witnessed the emergence of new philosophical schools, such as Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism, which offered different views on ethics, politics, and human nature.

The Warring States Period and the Qin Unification

The later part of the Zhou dynasty was marked by political fragmentation and warfare among competing states. This period is known as the Warring States period (ca. 475-221 BCE), which saw the rise of new military technologies, strategies, and institutions. It also saw the flourishing of culture and learning, as different states patronized scholars, artists, and craftsmen.

The Warring States period ended with the unification of China by the Qin state in 221 BCE. The Qin dynasty (221-206 BCE) was the first imperial dynasty in Chinese history, which established a centralized and standardized system of administration, law, currency, weights and measures, writing, and roads. The Qin dynasty also undertook massive construction projects, such as the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army. The Qin dynasty was short-lived but influential, as it laid the foundations for subsequent dynasties.

The Han Dynasty and the Silk Road

The Qin dynasty was succeeded by the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), which is considered one of the golden ages of Chinese history. The Han dynasty expanded and consolidated imperial rule over a vast territory that stretched from Central Asia to Vietnam. The Han dynasty also promoted trade and cultural exchange with other regions through the Silk Road, a network of routes that linked China with India, Persia, Rome, and beyond. The Han dynasty also fostered a rich and diverse culture, which saw the development of literature, history, science, technology, art, and religion.

The Era of Division and Reunification

The second part of The Open Empire covers the era of division and reunification from 220 to 960 CE. Hansen explores the challenges and opportunities of political fragmentation and cultural diversity in this period, which witnessed the emergence of new dynasties, religions, and literary forms.

The Three Kingdoms and the Six Dynasties

The fall of the Han dynasty in 220 CE led to a period of civil war and division among three rival states: Wei in the north, Shu in the southwest, and Wu in the southeast. period is known as the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 CE), which is famous for its bloody warfare and diplomatic intrigue. It is also celebrated in Chinese historical fiction as an age of chivalry and individual heroism.

The Three Kingdoms period was followed by the Six Dynasties period (220-589 CE), which saw the continuation of political division and instability in China. The north was dominated by a series of short-lived dynasties, some of which were founded by non-Chinese nomadic peoples who invaded and settled in China. The south was ruled by successor states of the Eastern Wu, which claimed to be the legitimate heirs of the Han dynasty. The Six Dynasties period was also a time of cultural diversity and innovation, as different ethnic groups, religions, and literary forms coexisted and influenced each other.

The Sui and Tang Dynasties

The era of division and reunification ended with the establishment of the Sui dynasty (581-618 CE), which reunified China after nearly four centuries of fragmentation. The Sui dynasty restored imperial authority and centralized administration, and undertook ambitious projects such as the Grand Canal and the reconstruction of the Great Wall. The Sui dynasty also expanded China's territory and influence by launching military campaigns against neighboring states, such as Korea, Vietnam, and Central Asia.

The Sui dynasty was short-lived but paved the way for the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), which is widely regarded as one of the most prosperous and glorious periods in Chinese history. The Tang dynasty inherited and improved upon the achievements of the Sui dynasty, and reached its peak of power and culture under the reigns of Emperor Taizong (626-649 CE) and Emperor Xuanzong (712-756 CE). The Tang dynasty presided over a cosmopolitan empire that encompassed diverse peoples, cultures, and religions. The Tang dynasty also fostered a flourishing culture that saw the development of poetry, painting, music, sculpture, calligraphy, printing, and other arts and sciences.

The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms and the Song Dynasty

The Tang dynasty declined and collapsed in the late 9th and early 10th centuries, due to a combination of internal rebellions, military coups, natural disasters, and foreign invasions. The fall of the Tang dynasty ushered in another period of political disunity and turmoil, known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907-960 CE). During this period, five successive dynasties ruled over northern China, while ten smaller states competed for power in southern China.

The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period ended with the emergence of the Song dynasty (960-1279 CE), which reunified most of China under its rule. The Song dynasty was a remarkable era of economic, social, and cultural transformation in Chinese history. The Song dynasty witnessed the growth of commerce, urbanization, and population; the emergence of a scholar-official class; the invention of gunpowder, paper money, movable type printing, and other technologies; and the flourishing of Neo-Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, literature, painting, ceramics, and other forms of culture.

The Mongol Conquest and the Yuan Dynasty

The third part of The Open Empire covers the Mongol conquest and the Yuan dynasty from 1206 to 1368 CE. Hansen examines the impact and legacy of foreign rule and cultural integration in this period, which witnessed the formation and expansion of the largest land empire in history.

The Mongol Empire and its Administration

The Mongol Empire was founded by Genghis Khan (1162-1227 CE), who united the nomadic tribes of Mongolia under his leadership. Genghis Khan launched a series of campaigns that conquered most of Eurasia, from China to Eastern Europe. His successors continued his conquests and divided his empire into four khanates: the Yuan dynasty in China; the Ilkhanate in Persia; the Chagatai Khanate in Central Asia; and the Golden Horde in Russia.

The Mongol Empire was characterized by its military prowess, religious tolerance, legal code, postal system, trade network, and cultural exchange. The Mongols adopted and adapted various aspects of the cultures they encountered, such as writing, religion, art, and technology. The Mongols also facilitated the movement of people, goods, and ideas across their vast domains, creating a cosmopolitan and diverse civilization.

The Yuan Society and Culture

The Yuan dynasty (1271-1368 CE) was the Mongol-ruled state in China, established by Kublai Khan (1215-1294 CE), the grandson of Genghis Khan. Kublai Khan moved his capital to Beijing and proclaimed himself emperor of China. He also attempted to conquer Japan, Vietnam, and Java, but failed. The Yuan dynasty was the first foreign dynasty to rule over all of China.

The Yuan society and culture were marked by the social changes, religious diversity, and artistic achievements under Mongol rule. The Yuan society was divided into four classes: Mongols, Semu (other foreigners), Han (northern Chinese), and Southerners (southern Chinese). The Mongols enjoyed the highest privileges and monopolized the military and administrative positions. The Semu, who included Muslims, Turks, Persians, Tibetans, and others, served as intermediaries and advisers to the Mongols. The Han and Southerners were discriminated and exploited by the Mongols, and were excluded from high offices. The Yuan culture was influenced by various religions, such as Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Daoism, and Confucianism, which coexisted and competed for patronage and followers. The Yuan culture also produced many outstanding works of literature, drama, painting, calligraphy, sculpture, and architecture.

The Yuan Decline and Resistance