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Treason by the Book

3.62  ·  Rating Details ·  233 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
“A savory, fascinating story of absolute rule, one that not only reveals a great deal about China’s turbulent past but also suggests where some of the more durable reflexes of China’s current leaders have their roots. . . . A detective yarn and a picaresque tale.” (Richard Bernstein, The New York Times)

Shortly before noon on October 28, 1728, General Yue Zhongqi, the mos
Paperback, 320 pages
Published March 5th 2002 by Penguin Books
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Jun 07, 2013 William1 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us, 20-ce, history, china
I think lawyers, prosecutors, investigators of all kinds, as well as writers, litterateurs, critics, and academics would like this book. It's about sedition in imperial China In the early 18th century. But It's also about the astonishingly literary investigative procedures of the day. It is not a thriller, more a documentary. It can be a little dry at times. Recommended.
Jul 12, 2013 Andre rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Treason by the Book starts off very well. It has been very hard for me to find literature that carry the subject of governmental policy and process (of any kind). Jonathan Spence is exceptional at crafting an interesting narrative on what can be considered a boring subject.
This book isn't so much about policy as it is sacrifice and influence. It reveals that the measure and weight of our sacrifice is what's most important.
Vicki Beyer
Aug 13, 2011 Vicki Beyer rated it really liked it
In Qing Dynasty China in 1728 a general in Xian is offered a package that turns out to be a letter inviting him to commit treason against his Emperor, Yongzheng. “Treason by the Book” is the story of events triggered by this letter.

The most amazing aspect of this story is not the attempted treason but the investigation of the crime and the eventual response of the Emperor.

The system of information flow—both to the Emperor and from him to his bureaucrats—in the early 18th century, is hard to bel
Jun 11, 2012 Sillyrabid rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm donationg this one fast. Second worst book ever. Maybe third. No no, second. If you're wondering: the first worst is The Great Gatsby, the third worst is Under the Tuscan Sun.
I threw aside Under the Tuscan Sun with ten pages left and Treason by the Book still sucks more than Under the Tuscan Sun.
This is like on the show Chopped when one of the chefs forgets to plate one of the ingredients and still doesn't get chopped because somebody else sucked so much more. This book is that chef who suc
yu jyun
Nov 03, 2016 yu jyun rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nov 13, 2016 Bobby rated it really liked it
I was initially slightly skeptical of this book because of it's non-fiction category. Don't get me wrong, I love a good non-fiction book, but I was looking for a light read. As it turns out, this was a light read.

Rather, it could be a light read or it could be read more in-depth.

The one sentence summary of the book is: "Emperor fights intellectual civil war." Really, that is what happens. This book is an amazingly well-put-together consolidation of Chinese court documents from the 1700s. The res
Jul 22, 2008 Ee-Ling rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book highlights the intricacies of politics in the Qing dynasty and many of the challenges that the Qing rulers faced as a conquest dynasty. It shows how the Yongzheng emperor is eager to stifle dissent but at the same time, he wants to be looked upon as a benevolent ruler.

Despite his effort, it seems that there's no way to really stifle dissent. Even though the emperor engages in a "debate" with the "conspirator", and manages to "win over" the conspirator, in the end, it proves ineffectiv
Michael Griswold
Jul 29, 2013 Michael Griswold rated it liked it
Treason by the Book by Jonathon Spence...slogging through the first fifty or so pages I was prepared to write a scathing two star review, but then something weird and cool happened it sucked me in. The fear of treason consumes the leadership throughout 1600's China having just recently overthrown a previously corrupted impure leadership. But who has committed this treason and how ? Treason is a sickness gripping society where words, actions, the people you associate with, even the books you read ...more
Sep 11, 2007 bkwurm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the enduring stories about Emperor YongZhen is how he had his father’s will altered to change his father’s choice of heir from the fourteenth prince to the fourth prince (only one additional stroke needed to be added to the Chinese language characters). My mother, for example, certainly believed this to be true.


In this book, Emperor YongZhen is shown to be a diligent administrator and the Manchu empire to be incredibly efficient at internal security. A treasonous plot is reported
Andrew Trask
Sep 23, 2014 Andrew Trask rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An outstanding work of history. Professor Spence relies on contemporaneous testimony to establish what criminal law looked like in a very specific period of Chinese history, but also what investigative techniques looked like as well. Both of these comparative efforts offer very specific insights into how technology and culture affect how people accept what is "truth," as well as what is "loyal." The fact that he then is able to wrap it up in a fascinating and well-documented story is just a ...more
Patrick Nichols
Jan 29, 2012 Patrick Nichols rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A mind-blowing and endearing vignette from Chinese History. In the Eighteenth century, the Chinese Emperor Yongzheng learns of a tract denouncing his regime that was circulating through the land. Using his vast police network, he sought and captured the writer. But instead of executing him, he endeavored to persuade the traitor of the error of his ways. Then they wrote a book together, about how easily one can fall into erroneous ways of thinking. Amazing, well researched, and compelling ...more
Bill Hammack
Dec 28, 2012 Bill Hammack rated it really liked it
but not as much as the reviews lead me to believe. Well-written,interesting, although abstract subject, but too many proper names to keep track of. To be fair I read this a bit fast toward the end because I wanted to finished it before leaving for Sweden. This is a true book of history, although highly narrative. I've read other books by Spence and enjoyed them - The Rise of Modern China and The Question of Hu.
May 03, 2009 Christian rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Chinese history buffs
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Great if you are interested in Chinese history. A curious set of interwoven political and criminal cases provides an introduction and examination of Manchu governance in the early 1800s, and provides insight into Emperor Yongzheng's personal style.

The style tends toward dryness and unfolds along a clear timeline. However, it is enlivened byt the odd cast of characters: indignant emperor, naive bumpkin, mysterious fake scholar and furious magistrates.
May 04, 2008 Thomas rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Conspiracy Theorists, History buffs, China lovers
Shelves: china, history
Spence does it again. He pulls a truly obscure figure from history and creates a highly readable story, all without abandoning scholarly rigor. Unlike so many authors, Spence keeps the story in history.
Amber Berry
I own this. I'm not sure where or when I purchased it. Maybe at a library book sale? It's in excellent condition.
Personally, I think it's good for those studying law or bureaucracy. Interesting, but tedious.
Madeleine McLaughlin
Mar 11, 2015 Madeleine McLaughlin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
If you like Chinese history you'll find this a wonderful addition to your reading pile. A true case history of a man charged with treason and the others involved. You get to know the emperor's mercy and the people's opinion and how stuff worked in 1720s China.
Marshall Vandegrift
Jun 04, 2014 Marshall Vandegrift rated it liked it
Well-written, full of meticulous detail while still keeping the thread of an overall narrative moving. Ultimately though I was left mostly with a sense of futility -- the underlying events involved so much furor over so little.
John Butt
Feb 19, 2015 John Butt rated it it was ok
Ridiculously boring. I suppose for those obsessed with Chinese imperial history this might be interesting.
Jan 11, 2008 Matt added it
One of the most interesting ways to read about the supremacy of the emperor in China's great dynasties.
May 27, 2013 Richard rated it it was ok
Shelves: china, history
Interesting history based on a single episode in Qing China, well-written like a slice of life in history. A little tedious after a while, though. Better to read a summary article.
Pj Mensel
Aug 01, 2016 Pj Mensel rated it liked it
Very unusual look into Chinese government. An emporer pubically debating with a supposed traitor in full view of the governmental elite
Andrew Post
Andrew Post rated it it was amazing
Jan 02, 2015
Graeme rated it really liked it
Jun 30, 2016
Ben rated it really liked it
Oct 15, 2013
Ziqiang rated it it was ok
Dec 23, 2014
Tracy Barrett
Tracy Barrett rated it really liked it
May 12, 2014
Kristen Luppino
Kristen Luppino rated it really liked it
Aug 15, 2012
Victoria rated it it was amazing
Dec 17, 2011
Mandy rated it really liked it
Mar 13, 2014
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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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