The Tang dynasty is often called China’s “golden age,” a period of commercial, religious, and cultural connections from Korea and Japan to the Persian Gulf, and a time of unsurpassed literary creativity. Mark Lewis captures a dynamic era in which the empire reached its greatest geographical extent under Chinese rule, painting and ceramic arts flourished, women played a major role both as rulers and in the economy, and China produced its finest lyric poets in Wang Wei, Li Bo, and Du Fu.
The Chinese engaged in extensive trade on sea and land. Merchants from Inner Asia settled in the capital, while Chinese entrepreneurs set off for the wider world, the beginning of a global diaspora. The emergence of an economically and culturally dominant south that was controlled from a northern capital set a pattern for the rest of Chinese imperial history. Poems celebrated the glories of the capital, meditated on individual loneliness in its midst, and described heroic young men and beautiful women who filled city streets and bars.
Despite the romantic aura attached to the Tang, it was not a time of unending peace. In 756, General An Lushan led a revolt that shook the country to its core, weakening the government to such a degree that by the early tenth century, regional warlordism gripped many areas, heralding the decline of the Great Tang.
This is an impressive survey history of the Tang dynasty, concise and accessible. China's Cosmopolitan Empire is written so succinctly and clearly that it provides, to my knowledge, the best summary of the Tang period yet available in English. It will make an excellent source for the general student of Chinese or East Asian history.
[A] readable introduction to the Tang Dynasty.
This series on China, brilliantly overseen by Timothy Brook, is a credit to Harvard University Press. Above all, it encourages us to think of China in different ways.
In China's Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty, Mark Edward Lewis has done a superb job of synthesizing the scholarship on the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and rendering it into a readable account. Professor Lewis's general narrative of Tang history, chapters two and three of the book, is the best overview of Tang history in any language, and would be a good starting point for anyone interested in the dynasty...There is a large corpus of scholarship in English on Tang dynasty history and culture. China's Cosmopolitan Empire is an admirable addition to that corpus. It will undoubtedly become the standard survey in English for the foreseeable future.
With clarity and rich details, sustained by quotes, anecdotes, poems, and visual images, Lewis brings to life the vitality of a transforming China in geography, politics, urban life, rural society, the outer world, kinship, religion, and writing, all in comparison with previous times...Lewis's nuanced details of a changing Tang are direct challenges to the dated but still influential views of China as an unchanging Sinocentric empire, uninterested in commerce and foreign contact.
Lewis' book will be of great interest and utility to general readers as well as students who are looking for a lucid overview of Tang history and culture.
Mark Edward Lewis has produced an impressive volume on the history of the Tang dynasty...Its greatest contribution is its integration of the latest secondary scholarship into interesting arguments about the evolution of Chinese society between the seventh and tenth centuries...This book remains an excellent place to see the latest insights into Tang history. It is a thought-provoking effort to synthesize that work and reflect on the significance of the Tang for China's history. If it inspires the next generation of students to pursue Tang history seriously, Lewis will have made a real contribution to Tang studies.
- Belknap Press
- General editor Timothy Brook
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