New book records triumphs, trials of ancient civilization to the present day

Updated: 2011-07-01 18:55

By Yu Wentao (China Daily)

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New book records triumphs, trials of ancient civilization to the present day

The recorded history of 5,000 years of Chinese civilization is not just a national treasure but also opens the doors to an understanding of what is still an enigma to the West.

China: Images of a Civilization, published in English by the Foreign Languages Press, unveils the fascinating story of China through vivid illustrations and well researched facts.

The book falls neatly into two segments: pre- and post-1840 China.

While the first part dwells on the contributions of an advanced ancient civilization, the latter focuses on Chinese people's efforts to seek independence, freedom and dignity.

While most books couch the history of the nation in terms of class struggle, peasant rebellions and dynastic change, this book takes a more unorthodox approach.

It presents the formation, evolution and far-reaching influence of ancient China, which boasted not just the Four Great Inventions, namely, the compass, gunpowder, paper-making and printing, but also made seminal contributions to the making of silk, porcelain, herbal medicine, gardens and architecture.

Among the galaxy of thinkers, strategists, scientists, writers and artists who defined this period was the great thinker-philosopher Confucius (551-479 BC). Lun Yu (The Analects), the earliest Confucian classic, was a collection of his conversations and discourses recorded by his disciples.

Writer Cao Xueqin (1715-1763) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), meanwhile, was China's answer to Shakespeare, Balzac and Tolstoy. His unfinished masterpiece, A Dream of Red Mansions continues to engage scholars to this day.

The Opium War in 1840 was a defining event in Chinese history.

The British started the opium trade in the late 18th century to reduce their trade deficit with China. In March 1839, imperial commissioner Lin Zexu arrived in Guangzhou, confiscating and destroying in public some 20,000 chests of opium. Early in 1840, the British government decided on a military intervention to protect its trade interests and force China to open its doors to the West.

The Revolution of 1911 led by Dr Sun Yat-sen overthrew the 267-year rule of the Qing Dynasty and put an end to the feudal autocratic monarchy that had lasted more than 2,000 years.

Sun is remembered by Chinese in different parts of the world as a great pioneer of the Chinese democratic revolution.

Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the nation has made great strides.

China: Images of a Civilization devotes much space to detailing the nation's achievements since 1978, the start of reform and opening-up. On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong returned to the motherland. On Dec 20, 1999, China resumed its sovereignty over Macao. In 2001, China was formally admitted into the World Trade Organization. In 2008, China stunned the world with a spectacular Olympic Games. Two years later, came the Shanghai World Expo.

"China should do more for the world," says Xu Mingqiang, co-editor of the book and former editor-in-chief of the Foreign Languages Press.

He says the nation should borrow the best from the West while preserving its own heritage.

Michael J. Walsh, professor of the Sheridan Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning, says the book is a publishing landmark and a must for those eager to learn more about the people, places and stories that make the Middle Kingdom a magical place that has roused the curiosity of so many over thousands of years.