Encyclopedia of China: The Essential Reference to China, Its History and Culture

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9780816026937: Encyclopedia of China: The Essential Reference to China, Its History and Culture

A reference guide to China presents its history as well as current information on its government, industry, art, and culture

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Encyclopedia of China is a goldmine of information on the world's most populous country. It's easy to read, written in a lively and straightforward style, and filled with fascinating detail. Unfortunately, it displays a strong Sinocentricity, conscious or not, reinforcing the monolithic face that China likes to present to the world. The accomplishments of minorities and neighbors are marginalized, and Uighurs, Tibetans, and Vietnamese, to name a few, will be surprised at the book's ignorance of their history and achievements. Monkeys get more space than Mongolians, who ruled China for a century and substantially changed many aspects of Chinese culture. This tendency might be expected, but it is not inevitable. The book ignores well-publicized archaeological discoveries, such as Sanxingdui, that indicate China's heterogeneous origins; the highly sophisticated and influential Kingdom of Chu does not even rate an entry.

The subject-titles include English, Mandarin, Cantonese, and other transliterations of Chinese, whatever most corresponds to the Western reader's probable encounter with a word; this informality is helpful and refreshing. The encyclopedia's usefulness would be immensely increased by including Chinese characters, however, especially as Chinese is a language of homonyms. A decade ago this omission would have been excusable, but the editorial work required for simple one- or two-character entries would not have been prohibitive, and today's software makes the typesetting easy. Everyone has his own ideas on the relative importance of entries, but this reviewer found the space given to Western Communist sympathizers excessive (Sidney Rittenberg surely merits less space than the whole of Chinese agriculture). More illustrations would be welcome, as would bibliographic references at the end of important entries. Despite these comments, Encyclopedia of China is strongly recommended to the student and general reader for its wealth of easily accessible facts. --John Stevenson

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