• A Brief History of China

  • Dynasty, Revolution and Transformation: From the Middle Kingdom to the People's Republic
  • By: Jonathan Clements
  • Narrated by: Julian Elfer
  • Length: 11 hrs and 23 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (53 ratings)

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A Brief History of China

By: Jonathan Clements
Narrated by: Julian Elfer
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Publisher's Summary

A Brief History of China tells of the development of a rich and complex civilization where the use of paper, writing, money, and gunpowder were widespread in ancient times and where silk, ceramics, tea, metal implements, and other products were produced and exported around the globe. It examines the special conditions that allowed a single culture to unify an entire continent spanning 10 billion square kilometers under the rule of a single man - and the unbelievably rich artistic, literary and architectural heritage that Chinese culture has bequeathed to the world. Equally fascinating is the story of China's decline in the 19th and early 20th century - as Europeans and Americans took center stage - and its modern resurgence as an economic powerhouse in recent years.   

In his retelling of a Chinese history stretching back 5,000 years, author and China-expert Jonathan Clements focuses on the human stories which led to the powerful transformations in Chinese society - from the unification of China under its first emperor, Qinshi Huangdi, to the Mongol invasion under Genghis Khan and the consolidation of Communist rule under Mao Zedong. Clements even brings listeners through to the present day, outlining China's economic renaissance under Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping.

©2019 Jonathan Clements (P)2019 Tantor
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

What listeners say about A Brief History of China

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Succinct and detailed overview of a huge topic

The book does a great job of outlining the major periods of history in China from ancient to modern. Importantly, it also provides small vignettes with details about what life was like for a person in those eras. This makes it much easier to understand the context of the larger historical changes. "Brief" is an accurate description as there is too much material to cover any topic in depth.

I was particularly impressed at how the book uses archaeological and climatological evidence to support historical political changes. The Further Reading section at the end details the sources that the author drew from. It's clear that the author is quite knowledgeable about the field, and I found the writing style far more gripping than a lecture. I think this book is a great introduction to any of the topics within.

The narration was pleasant and easy to follow. I had to turn the speed down from my usual 1.3 to 1.0 as it proceeds at a good pace. I believe this is more a quality of the succinct writing than the narration speed.

3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Great Story, Painful and Distracting Narration

The story is great, it’s an excellent comprehensive book of the history of China, but the narrator’s absolute butchery of the Chinese language is wildly distracting from the story being told. If he was going to spend countless hours recording and editing a story with lots of Chinese words and names, why on earth could they not have given him a 10-min crash course on basic Chinese pronunciation??

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Fantastic, harmonized

Loved this, don’t read much history but this had me captivated all the way through. I thought I’d stop listening before the communists because I was mostly interested in the old stuff, but it turns out the ending was most exciting of all! Gave us a true experience of China’s control over anything written in it or - apparently - about it.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-24-22

Not what I was looking for at all

The book tells you surprisingly little about the big events in Chinese history and how or why they happened. There's extremely little analysis of events from a 'big picture' lens. The writer seems to gloss over events of massive significance in favour of wasting endless time telling you about minor side characters in history. At a certain point he glosses over events that I AM familiar with being of great complexity and importance. But he makes a single wry reductionist comment about it and goes back to spending 20 minutes detailing irrelevant minutia in prose style.
The author has a strangely disparaging tone throughout the entire book of the entire subject matter. Weird for someone writing a book about China. He's constantly judging people and events and wryly making snide comments about how it wouldn't be acceptable behaviour in modern Western culture. No s**t sherlock. For example, more chapters than not seem to clumsily force a feminist narrative, forcing a modern lens onto events and people millenia old. I understand that women are underrepresented in history and thats a shame. But if I don't know anything about Chinese history and I want to learn, it's not very useful to tell me at length about all the people were *not* in power and *not* making the big decisions just to please modern sensibilities.

To sum up my feelings: the author says at the start of the book 'Chinese history is very long so we have a lot to cover in very little time'. Then wastes the vast majority of the time telling you little of importance.
I didn't know a huge amount about Chinese history and after reading this book, I still don't.

2 people found this helpful

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  • yana zelinger
  • 09-01-20

Boring book

Through the second chapter, can’t grasp the point
Narrative is not clear, more philosophy then history

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • DM
  • 08-01-20

Enjoyable

Interesting and enjoyable whistlestop tour through Chinese history - perfect for a beginner like me. Well narrated.

1 person found this helpful

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  • JTH
  • 03-31-20

fresh and insightful take on Chinese history.

An insightful and refreshing take - bringing in new scholarship on women and climate, and an occasional wry sense of humour. Recommended. Esp. as an audio-book.

1 person found this helpful