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Book review: Jacques Gernet – Le Monde Chinois

October 11, 2010 – 6:10 pm

Christmas is coming and of course you need to ask your relatives for a proper present. If you are interested in learning something about the Chinese history, you might be interested in today’s recommendation.

I just finished this epic book called “Le Monde Chinois” written by Jacques Gernet. In fact I read the German translation which is called “Die chinesische Welt”. The title of the English translation is “A History of Chinese Civilization”. Maybe book is the wrong word to describe this, encyclopedia or compendium would be a more fitting term. This book is densely packed with information about the Chinese history.

Content of Le Monde Chinois

The tome, more than 700 pages strong, begins in the ancient times and talks about the complete Chinese history until the death of Mao Zedong (毛泽东). The part about the archaic China and its first dynasties are rather short (short in comparison to the rest of the book, still a few hundred of pages), beginning with the Song Dynasty (宋朝) the book picks up in quantity of details and each part of the Chinese history is described in great detail, all important persons in politics, military as well as intellectuals are listed. In fact there are is so many detail, I got crushed several times. Jacques Gernet really must have been studying China for a very long time.

While in the Amazon review some people state the the rather outdated Wade-Giles romanization is used, my version of the book mostly used the pinyin romanizations. I can state this only for the German version, you should check it out first if you plan to read it in another language.

Structure of Le Monde Chinois

The book is not strictly chronologically ordered. The chapters of the dynasties are ordered chronologically, however the social, political and economical events are separated within each dynasty. So when reading this book, you will go through each period several times, each time focusing on a different aspect. It took me a while to adjust to this writing style, however it helped once I got used to it.

Criticism of Le Monde Chinois

Le Monde Chinois gets an overall worth reading award from me, however I’d only recommend it to those people who really want more than just a Wikipedia article. The densely packed pages quickly lead to an information overflow and I could only read 10 or 20 pages a day. This is why it took me forever to complete this book. I definitely need to read it again, but the repeat reading won’t be soon. Another problem I found with this book is, it doesn’t tell which part of the Chinese history is particular important and which is less important. It treats all times and aspects roughly equal, so I still don’t know which part of the Chinese history is common knowledge and which is special knowledge.

In fact this book helped me to understand today’s China much better and I think this is a good additional reading for every student of the Chinese language.

If you plan to read something substantial about the Chinese history, you might consider Le Monde Chinois by Jacque Gernet, or one of its translations.


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  1. One Response to “Book review: Jacques Gernet – Le Monde Chinois”

  2. good thank u …

    By Ümit on Oct 13, 2010

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