Saturday, July 5, 2008


Cotterell, Arthur. Imperial Capitals of China (Overlook $28). As early as the 3rd Century, Chinese emperors tried to engage the Immortals with cosmologically pleasing urban planning, their capitals displaying religious preoccupations (ley lines) and building designs. The British scholar's resulting dynastic history of the Celestial Empire, "the oldest continuous civilization in existence today," is filled with charming illustrations and site maps, wonderful for browsing.

Menzies, Gavin. 1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance (Morrow $27). Menzies reexamines history with all the excitement of an adventure novel. Read with 1421: The Year China Discovered America ($16).

Pan, Philip P. Out of Mao's Shadow (Simon Schuster $28). "The struggle for the soul of a New China." Will the Party leaders remain autocrats?

See, Lisa. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan; Peony in Love ($14 each). Two novels drawing on stories of women in Imperial China and dealing with such issues as secret language, bound feet, arranged marriages, anorexia, and definitions of family and friendship.

Van Gulik, Robert. Chinese Maze Murder ($13) and many other titles in the remarkable Judge Dee series set in the Tang Dynasty but written in an elegant 18th century narrative structure. And good mysteries, besides.

Wood, Frances. China's First Emperor (St Martins $25). By unifying, or eliminating, six states (258-210 BC), he created imperial China. He stressed the rule of law but suppressed all opposition, burning books and burying scholars alive. His military achievements are reflected in the astonishing terracotta soldiers, the army that guards his tomb (still unopened). His Great Wall still fascinates the world. When he died, his body was carted about on ice as it was rightly feared chaos would follow.

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