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The Chan's Great Continent

3.46  ·  Rating Details  ·  122 Ratings  ·  15 Reviews
China has transfixed the West since the earliest contacts between these civilizations. Now Jonathan Spence, our foremost historian of Chinese politics and culture, tells us, in his elegant new book, how the West has understood China over seven centuries. Ranging from Marco Polo's own depiction of China and the mighty Kublai in the 1270s to the China sightings of three twen ...more
Hardcover, 279 pages
Published September 1st 1998 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1998)
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This book started really well, I thought his look at the early Western writing on China, starting with the Jesuits and moving on to the embassies was quite interesting. However once the book hit the 19th century it seemed to loose coherence and I wasn't entirely sure why he picked the examples he did, and why he ignored much of what he did. Spence writes popular history books about China, however you'd need a grasp of what was going on in the history to know the background of events being writte ...more
Super interesting. It's divided by periods, starting from Marco Polo and his less-known predecessors and contemporaries, and deals with adventurers, explorers, merchants, missionaries and writers like Pierre Loti and Kafka. It's hard to put down, really, very accessible, funny too, although there is a lot of terrifying stuff. I didn't realize that China was so idealized by European intellectuals prior to the 19th century, but then when you think about all the chinoiserie, kiosks, pavilions, vase ...more
Jamie Gillespie
Sep 21, 2013 Jamie Gillespie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love the approach he takes with this book. The various western perspectives if China, and the beliefs and experiences that led to them, are explained and examined. Excellent, intelligent writing.
Aug 02, 2007 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, china
This book was fascinating, Spence's erudition flowing from every page. Jonathan Spence, perhaps the Anglo world's foremost historian of China, chronicles perceptions of China in the West from Marco Polo's sometimes-precise, sometimes-fantastical travelogues of the late 13th century to the imaginative, infinitely expansive short stories of Borges and Calvino in the late 20th century. All the while, such figures as Franz Kafka, John Steinbeck, Jane Austen, Oliver Goldsmith, Lord Macartney, Karl Ma ...more
Wens Tan
Interesting to read about how Western perception of China changed, from the times of Marco Polo / Kublai Khan (late 1200s) to Nixon / Mao. There was admiration for its stable societies and generous people, disdain at its stagnant development and ingenious imitation, wonder at the exotic and sensual, disapproval of its servility to the emperor, fear when immigrants poured in from the 1800s, nostalgia for the innocence after the materialist republic was established, but time and again, intrigue.

Jennifer Li
Jan 02, 2008 Jennifer Li rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm only on the 1st chapter but so far it's boooooooriiiing. Early descriptions of the Chinese by Europeans in the 13th c. are hilarious though: "The [Chinese] are a small race, who when speaking breathe heavily through the nose; and it is a general rule that all orientals have a small opening for the eyes." Meanwhile the Chinese were probably making fun of the Europeans' tall oafish stature, stinky b.o., big noses, and calling them uncouth barbarians unversed in the subtle ways of Chinese calli ...more
Jan 16, 2010 Andrés rated it it was amazing
An excellent book with a rich bibliography for continued reading. It is initially (but not after further reflection) surprising how long China has figured in Western imaginations. Professor Spence describes well the different approaches made to China without imposing contemporary standards on their conclusion: an admirable objectivity.
Mar 27, 2009 Karl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another Jonathan Spence book. This one attempts to show the way that China has been percieved by "the west" from earliest historical references to present. If I remember correctly it begins with Marco Polo. It does a fairly good job, it's not particularly exciting but it was worth digesting.
Nov 14, 2011 k rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good, not great. Material that is probably interesting for people familiar with China, but simplified to be interesting for everyone. Never feels like the thesis is being developed beyond "we see what we want to see in China".
Sep 02, 2011 Jbondandrews rated it liked it
The Chan's Great Continent was fairly written. Some parts were similiar to Julia Lovell's book about the 'Great Wall', but this was told from the Western perspective.
Omar Khan
May 14, 2008 Omar Khan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good and well-written story of westerners going to China and interpreting it in their own ways. Learned a lot of new things.
morning Os
Maybe my expectation was really high. I enjoyed it but it took a more careful reading than I expected.
Jan 22, 2010 Tara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The West's perceptions of China, from Marco Polo to modern times.
Dec 03, 2008 Yuliana rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Read this as I traveled through China.
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Help me find a subject on this book for my sisters paper!!! 1 3 Apr 03, 2012 07:52PM  
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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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