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Return to Dragon Mountain: Memories of a Late Ming Man
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Return to Dragon Mountain: Memories of a Late Ming Man

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  155 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
The renowned historian captures a critical moment in Chinese history
Celebrated China scholar Jonathan Spence vividly brings to life seventeenth-century China through this biography of Z hang Dai, recognized as one of the finest historians and essayists of the Ming dynasty. Born in 1597, Z hang Dai was forty-seven when the Ming dynasty, after more than two hundred years o
ebook, 352 pages
Published September 1st 2007 by Penguin Books (first published 2007)
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(showing 1-30 of 423)
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Mr. Zhang Dai (张岱), was a connoisseur of tea and wine, poet, player of the qin (琴), essayist, historian, philosopher, and aesthete. His short essay collections mark him as one who observes the world and one who is sensitive to the times and customs and whatever strikes his fancy.

Zhang left behind a treasure house of memoirs and literary essays, and Spence mines these for insights into life in the late Ming period. They are a useful understanding of the scholar-gentry, the astounding luxury of th

In Return to Dragon Mountain Jonathan Spence explores in detail the life and times of the privileged class in China just before and after the Manchu invasion in 1644 and the subsequent collapse of the Ming dynasty. And he does so using the extensive writings of a participant, one Zhang Dai, a prolific author of memoirs, histories, biographies, poetry, dramas and essays. Spence provides a fascinating look into a lost world, whose inhabitants, and this is one of the insights that a truly detaile
John Winterson
Dec 26, 2015 John Winterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most Westerners, even educated and well-read Westerners, know embarrassingly little about China. Professor Spence’s books provide the perfect introduction to a truly fascinating culture. Together they lead to a synthesis of two apparently contradictory impressions: on the one hand, the Western reader is struck by how different China can be, not only in outward tradition but in mindset, while at the same time the human characters of her people seem reassuringly familiar.

This particular volume, wh
Mar 04, 2013 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
History occasionally delivers up the record of an extraordinary witness whose voice grants us entry into a vanished world. Just as rarely, the historical profession delivers a talent capable of capturing that voice and exhuming it both from the historical past and the obscurity of scholarly writing. This is what Jonathan Spence has done with the late Ming dynasty ne'er-do-well, aesthete, and leisured gentleman Zhang Dai.

Zhang Dai, by his own account, failed at everything he attempted. By the yar
May 30, 2011 Ms.pegasus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Chinese history or culture
Zhang Dai [pronunciation: jahng die] lived in an inauspiciously interesting time – the end of the Ming Dynasty, which fell to the Manchu invasion in 1644. Initially, his significance appears to be the parallel between his own life and a decadent culture. He expended his youth on aesthetic dabbling. Travel, creation of a dramatic troupe, the staging of extravagant parties, and intense indulgence in passing interests occupied his time. The lack of substance seems like a metaphor for the negligent ...more
Jan 10, 2009 tomlinton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not Zhang Dai's words
but a precis
of his writings
Perhaps you might call it a biography
or a history of the Ming Dynasty
from a unique perspective
Haven't been able to put it down
despite a lack of drama

Over 3 million characters
to summarize
including the man's inmost thoughts
and his fall from riches
along with the end of the Ming

Still he lived to be 83
and failed scholar
though he considered himself to be
never having passed the state examinations
He left us a never-to-be-forgotten
intense portrait of life
Peter Magner
Dec 29, 2015 Peter Magner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 20, 2012 Nick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jonathan D. Spence is to me an intellectual hero, a historian who has made Chinese history accessible and intelligible, just as Elaine Pagels has done for the religious crucible of early Christianity and the versions of it that did not prevail. The late Ming Dynasty in the first four decades of the 17th century was a vibrant moment for Chinese literature. Even as the late Ming Emperors misplayed every possible hand, it was a Golden Age for reading, writing and even publication. Zhang Dai, the su ...more
Dec 19, 2010 Reid rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is definitely not a book for popular consumption -- it's an incredible window, though, onto Chinese culture. It shows how much, under Confucianism and the scholarly exams for entry into government service made China an educational meritocracy -- a view of themselves that has not really gone away. Thus today's parents push and push their children as students to excel, because for centuries (milennia?) Chinese of any social or economic status could advance up the government and bureaucratic l ...more
Jan 02, 2008 Meri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: cultural history buffs
Shelves: history, china
Sometimes I learn more about history by reading about what people from a different place and time ate for breakfast or what their summer homes looked like. This is one of those books that concentrates on the lives of individuals rather than historic events. Zhang Dai, a prolific diarist, was a mid-level scholar during the close of the Ming dynasty. He wrote with earnestness and honesty about his life and the lives of his family and friends. Though for generations the men in Zhang Dai's family ha ...more
Keith McGowan
Sep 01, 2014 Keith McGowan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I read this book in order to get an insight into Chinese culture. Other reviews raved about its "fascinating" story: I struggled to finish it. However, the book does explain the origin of the emphasis on education and the problem of corruption as well as other aspects of Chinese life. Just be forewarned, the reader must wade through long wandering stories to get to the point. But maybe that is what being Chinese is all about.
Oct 16, 2008 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-for-nls
Well, if you ever wanted to learn, from first-hand accounts, what life in China was like in the 17th Century, then this book is for you. Zhang Dai was an armchair historian whose writings on important people and events of the Ming dynasty give a great overview of this culture. Spence keeps it moving along quite nicely, never staying too long on one topic and collecting Zhang's reminiscences into a logical progression of categories and timeline. But the centerpiece of the book is the lucid, fresh ...more
Jeffrey Powanda
Apr 28, 2014 Jeffrey Powanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing nonfiction story of the struggles of a historian living at the end of the Ming dynasty. This is history as literature. Jonathan Spence is a brilliant writer. There are more insights in this slim book than in many multi-volume histories of China.
Feb 17, 2008 Poung rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 26, 2015 Brownguy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Lost steam about halfway through. I like day to day information. Biographies are tough. Interesting history though, Zhang Dai saw a lot.
Jan 10, 2016 Ji rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Read the well-translated Chinese version. This is a tremendously heavy book, even though it's a quick read with few words. The life of Zhang Dai is the life of a typical classical Chinese literal and wealthy person. In the first half of his life, he experienced everything that came with wealth: best food, women, arts, antiques, firework, lamps, flowers, birds, musical instruments.. In the second half, he lost his family members while losing his dynasty: Qing conquered China and replaced Ming. Zh ...more
Jan 11, 2008 Pat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
I have read a number of Jonathan Spence's books and I find most of them fascinating. These are not novels. Spence makes a book - invariably about historical China - from the words an writings of actual people. He provides a clear picture of how people thought of themselves and their culture in a particular time period. It is so far removed from our own culture, however, that it is still difficult to comprehend. A little more help from the author would have been appreciated. For example, on what ...more
Sean Mccarrey
Dec 30, 2011 Sean Mccarrey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book was a little sporadic in areas. Part of me really thought the book would go into more detail about Zhang Dai's life after the Ming fall. However, I was enchanted by the various stories of lanterns and heavenly paradises that seemed to fill Zhang Dai's youth and imagination. It is no wonder that a man with this sort of imagination became revered for his writing, but never passed the stringent examinations.
Jul 28, 2016 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was good without blowing me away. Spence captured the mood and lifestyle of the gentry in the twilight of the Ming dynasty quite well, which was his main thrust, I think. It's hard to fully get into the headspace of the main subject, Zhang Dai, because of the vast cultural distance. But Spence paints him with insight and grace.
Howard Cincotta
Jan 25, 2009 Howard Cincotta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I loved this study of a Ming aristocrat and scholar who had to reimagine his life when the world turned upside down with the fall of the Ming dynasty. (I'm hoping to write a story about another figure, painter Bada Shanren, who lived in this same period.)
Jan 12, 2008 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china
I'm one chapter in, and already I think this book ranks right up there with Spence's best work (which for me is The Death of Woman Wang and The Question of Hu).

Found this book at the Huntington Beach library used bookstore -- books club edition. $3
Georgina Thynne
A very interesting and highly readable account of the fall of the Ming dynasty under the Manchu invasion, seen through the writings and firsthand accounts of scholar and historian Zhang Dai, caught up in the events of those turbulent times.
Apr 24, 2008 Kate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
Sorry, don't care. It's intelligently written and all but I just don't care what happens to this guy. It's not you, ancient Chinese dude, it's me.
Aug 23, 2008 Elfie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jonathan Spence did a wonderful job making Zhang Dai and his time come alive for the reader.
Eric Chang
Dec 18, 2013 Eric Chang rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
will a prosperous nation, without any religions & compassions, be sustainable?
Lisa Hutchinson
Hated it, I don't even feel obliged to finish this book, sorry
May 01, 2009 Katie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jonathan Spence is a Chinese genius
Michael Nash
I've read better Spence.
Aug 16, 2015 Jesper rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Loved it.
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Jonathan D. Spence is a historian specializing in Chinese history. His self-selected Chinese name is Shǐ Jǐngqiān (simplified Chinese: 史景迁; traditional Chinese: 史景遷), which roughly translates to "A historian who admires Sima Qian."

He has been Sterling Professor of History at Yale University since 1993. His most famous book is The Search for Modern China, which has become one of the standard texts
More about Jonathan D. Spence...

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“Shelves full of books are all around me. Opening the different volumes I take a look, and find the pages covered with writings in unknown scripts — tadpole traces, bird feet markings, twisted branches. And in my dream I am able to read them all, to make sense of everything despite its difficulty.” 2 likes
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