Experiencers, Historians, Mythologizers

“Experiencers of the past are incapable of knowing the past that historians know, and mythologizers of the past, although sharing with historians the advantage of afterknowledge, are uninterested in knowing the past as its makers have experienced it. In other words, although the lines separating these three ways of knowing the past are not always clear (historians do, as we are well aware, engage in mythologizing, and the makers of the past are entirely capable, after the fact, of turning their own experiences into history), as ways of knowing, they are analytically distinct. … no one of the three approaches to the past explored in the book has logical — or epistemological — priority over the other two. Historical reconstruction, direct experience, and mythologization are, after all, all operations that every one of us performs every day of his or her life. Although professsional historians spend a good bit of their time doing battle with the mythologized past or rendering the experienced past intelligble and meaningful in ways that were not available to the experiencers themselves, for most human beings experience and myth have an emotional power and importance — we may indeed call it a kind of subjective truth — that historians ignore at their peril.” — Paul Cohen, History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth, 1997, xiv-xv.

Book List: Early China, 2012 (Hist 523/700-02)

This list is required readings for both undergraduate and graduate students.

China was the site of the most powerful and prosperous empires in the world for most of human history, with an artistic and philosophical tradition that continues to influence world culture. Well known names — Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, the Qin Emperor, Zhu Xi, Yang Guifei, Kubilai Khan, Kangxi — and lesser known — Sima Qian, Li Bo, Du Fu, Ban Zhao, Oriole, Zheng He, An Lushan — ring through this history. Though China has an image of stability and tradition, its history and culture have been dynamic and innovative. This course will examine Chinese development and culture from prehistory through the early Qing dynasty (roughly 1700 C.E.), including the poetic and intellectual traditions, political institutions and events, social and economic systems and changes.


  • Valerie Hansen. The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600. W.W. Norton&Co, 2000. ISBN 978-0393973747
  • Ivanhoe and Van Norden, Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy. 2nd Ed., Hackett, 2006. [] ISBN 978-0872207806
  • Burton Watson. The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century. Columbia UP, 1984. ISBN 978-0231056830
  • Dreyer, Edward, Zheng He: China and the Oceans in the Early Ming Dynasty, 1405-1433, Longman 2006. ISBN 978-0321084439
  • Lynn Struve, ed. and trans., Voices from the Ming-Qing Cataclysm: China in Tigers’ Jaws, Yale UP, 1993. [] ISBN 978-0300075533

All of these books will be read in detail during the semester, and will be the basis for class discussion and writing assignments. I have ordered them from the University Bookstore, but you are free to purchase copies anywhere, including electronic editions (though I’m not sure if they exist for these books, honestly).

Current Events and History

John Garnaut, “The Revenge of Wen Jiabao” (Foreign Policy, 29 March 2012) looks at the recent arrest of rising-star Bo Xilai in the context of the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square and family connections.

Blogger Blood and Treasure, “on the premier/princeling smackdown” (Blood and Treasure, 31 March 2012) critiques the piece, arguing that the factions are not as simple and reasons not as straightforward as all that.