A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations

"A brief introductory text that emphasizes cultural history while also covering political and economic history. Chapters are brief and each major Chinese dynasty, Japanese Shogunate, or other discrete period is treated in a separate chapter. Encounters with the West (beginning in the 16th century) are extensively covered." (text taken from Amazon)
Year of Publication
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Wadsworth Publishing
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Average: 4 (1 vote)


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Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations

Field of Interest/Specialty: Chinese History
Posted On: 07/26/2012

Review by Dr. David Kenley
This is a classic text that has stood the test of time. Designed primarily for undergraduate college courses, high school students should have no trouble using it as well. It is an “old school” textbook, which relies primarily on a textual narrative. Relative to most textbooks written today, there are few images and maps, and no sidebars or inserted documents. If you are looking for a straightforward, affordable, accessible narrative, Schirokauer’s Brief History is a good choice.
A Brief History is also very traditional in its approach, as it is primarily a work of political and especially intellectual history. The sections on philosophy, literature, and religion are always instructive and engaging. It is weaker in terms of gender, economic, and social history—themes you would expect in a twenty-first century textbook.
Of the 25 chapters, 13 are devoted specifically to China, 10 are devoted to Japan, and 2 are cross-cultural in their approach (the 2 chapters dealing with the 1930s and 1940s). In other words, the text adheres to contemporary geopolitical boundaries, with an attempt to balance between the two states (despite China’s much larger geographic and demographic size). The latest addition includes short snippets focusing on Korea and Vietnam, but the overwhelming majority of the book specifically focuses on China and Japan. Unlike many textbooks that privilege the modern era, A Brief History spends roughly half of all pages on the period before the sixteenth century. The chapters on Heian Japan (ca. 800-1100) and Song China (ca. 960-1279) are especially noteworthy.
Despite its title, Schirokauer’s Brief History is a whopping 710 pages. Unless you are teaching a course specifically on Chinese and Japanese history, you probably cannot justify using this textbook. If you are looking for shorter, more digestible selections, you should consider using volumes from the Association for Asian Studies’ Key Issues Series. One text, Modern China, is a mere 100 pages, and a Modern Japan version may soon become available. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful resource by a noteworthy scholar. For these reasons, you may choose to have on it on your bookshelf even if you do not assign it to your students.