On the 'barbarian' dynasties Liao and Jin, created by northern tribal peoples, the Khitan and the Jurchen. More about Liao, for Jin quickly took on Ch...moreOn the 'barbarian' dynasties Liao and Jin, created by northern tribal peoples, the Khitan and the Jurchen. More about Liao, for Jin quickly took on Chinese culture and values. Even in Jin, though, observers from Song China noted the barbarisation of society: women freely on the streets, while Song kept them at home. In emergency, Jin women remembered they were tribal and actively involved themselves in war.
Liao society kept northern values to the end. The sexes weren't segregated; girls rode, shot and studied with boys. Daughters weren't a future loss but a gain, and weren't unwelcome. The custom was for the wife to be older than the husband, often a fair bit older. Single women existed. Virginity before marriage was not an issue.
The Liao Emperor throws a feast when his mother kills a bear. An empress commands the army at Liao's crucial victory over Song. Women participated in politics and war.
And it was catching. In Jin, a woman who has no barbarian about her, she's Han Chinese, followed the example she was given and led a bandit army, for a career in the three-way wars between Jin, Song and Mongols.
In this age, foot-binding was coming into general practice in Song. The author sees a crack-down, a reaction against barbarian habits, once China was for the Chinese again.
This book is written in such a way that those new to Liao and Jin -- perhaps here with an interest in women in history -- have a sufficient introduction. It should present no difficulty to a general reader. Although much of the material on Liao (except for archaeology) can be found within the 1949 opus, Wittfogel's History of Chinese Society: Liao -- inexplicably, this is the first English book on the subject. (less)
This is an old work from 1949. It is exhaustive and you can't do without this book, in spite of its age - it's hard to imagine such a thorough work, h...moreThis is an old work from 1949. It is exhaustive and you can't do without this book, in spite of its age - it's hard to imagine such a thorough work, heavy on my lap, being either compiled or published these days. Call me a cynic.
It translates almost every document left by Liao; it's perhaps half translation (this is not a bad thing). As a source book it's just invaluable and a dream... if only we had this for Jin or indeed a lot of other societies. Liao gets lavish treatment here. No-one's even tried to write about them so deeply since.
I find nothing old-fashioned, in a bad sense, about the authors. And there's a test case: Liao women were freer than women were in 1949, I believe; but the authors aren't fazed by that.
Too much information for almost every purpose you can possibly have. It's great. (less)
You need that cover big-scale. It's a gilt-bronze grave mask from the steppe society of the Qidan (known as the Liao). Better than Tutankhamen.
Aside...moreYou need that cover big-scale. It's a gilt-bronze grave mask from the steppe society of the Qidan (known as the Liao). Better than Tutankhamen.
Aside from the pictures, the text in this book is high-standard. I learnt things about the culture of the Qidan, in particular, who left us much material through their unique burial practices. And that mask is an outstanding work of art: serene and beautiful.
'Dirse Khan came home. He called to his wife, "Come here, luck of my head, throne of my house, my sugar-melon, my honey-melon."'
'great sorrow came ove...more'Dirse Khan came home. He called to his wife, "Come here, luck of my head, throne of my house, my sugar-melon, my honey-melon."'
'great sorrow came over his wife; her black almond eyes filled with bloody tears'
'the boy gave the bull a merciless punch on the forehead and the bull went sliding on his rump'
'Dirse Khan took up his strong bow, strung with wolf-sinew'
'you will not die of this wound. The flowers of the mountain with your mother's milk will be salve for it.'
'Water has looked on the face of God. I shall ask this stream for news.'
'Lady Burla the Tall overheard this, and fire fell on her heart and soul'
'Alas for my falcon, quivering in my fist!'
'In those days the nobles' blessings were blessings and their curses were curses, and their prayers used to be answered.'
'Three times he kissed her, once he bit her.'
'Among the Oghuz nobles, lying was unknown; they believed him and wept.'
'I shall not call you 'horse' but 'brother', and better than any brother. 'There's work to be done, comrade,' I shall say - and better than any comrade.'
'With your proud swaggering walk, your lion-like stance, your intent gaze, you are so like my brother Beyrek, minstrel.'
'The Black Lord was felled by a blow from Wild Dundar's sword, Kara Budak felled the Black Lion King.'
'The Lady Burla the Tall aimed a blow of her sword at the infidels' black standard and brought it down.'
'make his soul yelp and bring it here.'
'Now the infidel King of Trebizond had a mightily beautiful and beloved daughter. She used to draw two bows at once, to her right and to her left. The arrow she shot never fell to earth.'
'Wherever dust is falling and swirling, wherever the crow and raven are dancing, there shall I seek him.'
'Warrior, nonchalantly cutting off heads, warrior, attacking my enemy without so much as a by-your-leave, what warrior are you?'
'My strong white-gripped bow, which I bought at the price of a stallion; my twisted string, which I bought at the price of a bull.'
'who weeps blood if for three days running he does not see an enemy'
'They withdrew to a place apart, they clung together, they who had longed for each other talked together and howled together like wolves of the wilderness.'
'Armour is known by its jangling as meat is known by its seething.'
'My left eye wept at the awesome sight.'
'One day Salur Kazan son of Ulash, lion of heroes, chick of the long-plumed bird, hope of the wretched and the helpless, prop of forsaken warriors, marshal of the teeming Oghuz, foe of Kan Abkaz, master of the chesnut horse, brother of Kara Gone, uncle of Kara Budak, father of Khan Uraz, rose up from his place.'
'The boy inquired, "What is the meaning of 'enemy'?" Kazan replied, "My son, the meaning of 'enemy' is the people whom we kill when we catch them, and when they catch us they kill us."'
'"I see, my son," said Kanli Koja, "you don't want a girl; you want a dare-devil hero to look after you, and you can eat and drink and be merry." "That is so, my dear father," he replied, "but you'll go and get me some pretty dressed-up doll of a Turcoman girl, whose belly will split if I should suddenly lean over and fall on her." "Son," said Kanli Koja, "finding the girl is up to you."' (less)
I doubt I can be objective on this book. It was my first full-scale history of the steppe; my first real acquaintance with the life of Jenghiz Khan, t...moreI doubt I can be objective on this book. It was my first full-scale history of the steppe; my first real acquaintance with the life of Jenghiz Khan, too (as spelt in Grousset). First published 1939; in print for its 'majestic sweep and grandeur... the intellectual grasp of Grousset's original masterwork'... 'uniquely great'. That's from the forward to the 1970 edition in English, and I might just end my comments there.
It is a sweep of steppe history, and captured my imagination: his descriptions of steppe art; his portrait of Jenghiz Khan, and the latter's similarity to Attila. I met Jenghiz Khan here, and perhaps that's why I can't stand most biographies of him - because he's as Grousset paints him, at bottom, to me. It's a striking portrait and one not easily overwritten, if Grousset's came first.
Since he wrote in 1939 he has outdated knowledge and of course you have to read further. But for that 'majestic sweep' and steppe history seen as a follow-on whole, for his brave attempts to characterize such as Attila and Jenghiz, and not least for his open mind and sympathy with nomad peoples - I'm so glad that by mere accident, I started here.
Half travelogue, and the latter parts are investigation into his death and the scramble for his tomb, or for political ownership of him (outrageously,...moreHalf travelogue, and the latter parts are investigation into his death and the scramble for his tomb, or for political ownership of him (outrageously, the Chinese claim him). Interspersed is Temujin’s story, a potted history and an excursion into war strategy, but this isn’t a biography as such, or a history of the Mongols.
It’s a hodgepodge book -- like those reenactment documentaries, faction, and I tend to be impatient with history told this way. However, I enjoyed the travelogue in this one, and it's open-minded on its lead figure, not sensationalist or fast and loose with Mongolia's past. We hear from modern Mongolians, though I wish there were more views from Mongolia, on Genghis. (less)
This is half-history, half-novel. Or history told like a novel; with extracts from the original material - whole pages of speech from The Secret Histo...moreThis is half-history, half-novel. Or history told like a novel; with extracts from the original material - whole pages of speech from The Secret History, for example - and with picturesque chapter names such as 'Misery and Grandeur of the Nomads'; 'The Tears of Chinggis-Khan'; '"You Have Trampled Underfoot the Head of this Dead Man!"'; '"These Evil-Smelling Mongols"'; 'A Note of High Tragedy: Chinggis Khan and Jamuqa'. I quoted those to tempt you.
It's considered 'popular history'. Grousset has written a huge history of the steppe that doesn't have that 'popular' tag, so don't dismiss him. In my humble, you can do a lot lot worse for a biography on Chinggis. What Grousset does here is give you much of the source material for his life, rather simply without too much imposition of his own - and perhaps that is the best way to start. To make up your own mind. (less)
I learnt about eagles - ignorant of them before, I learnt to have the awe for them I ought to. Grand descriptions of the Altai Mountains. - That's whe...moreI learnt about eagles - ignorant of them before, I learnt to have the awe for them I ought to. Grand descriptions of the Altai Mountains. - That's where he goes, to find the old-style Kazakh hunters with eagles. Atmospheric, enthusiastic, and written with a perfect humble courtesy towards eagles, towards the Altai, and towards the people he travels through. (less)
Old but never obsolete. The one to go to on steppe epic: thorough, funny, not in the least old-fashioned, in a bad way. An enjoyment to read and tells...moreOld but never obsolete. The one to go to on steppe epic: thorough, funny, not in the least old-fashioned, in a bad way. An enjoyment to read and tells you everything you're likely to find out, unless you have other languages. (less)
Firsthand history - diaries, eye-witnesses - in very troubled times. Fifteen different accounts. A major siege seen from the inside - with a massacre...moreFirsthand history - diaries, eye-witnesses - in very troubled times. Fifteen different accounts. A major siege seen from the inside - with a massacre at the end - sticks in my head. (less)
What a wonderful book this is. At once the most detailed, intimate telling of the last years of Song I’ve read, and a cultural study of Song loyalism....moreWhat a wonderful book this is. At once the most detailed, intimate telling of the last years of Song I’ve read, and a cultural study of Song loyalism. Cultural, in that he felt the need to delve beyond the political, to explain the wave of Song suicides for the cause.
Loyalist suicide: in histories of the Mongol conquest you come across anecdotal mention of suicides so often you have to stop to wonder... the tally tots up in the back of your head and you think of ancient Romans (or I did), but in your usual sort of history, these martyrdoms are just seen along the way and not explored. Richard L. Davis, while writing his chapters on political history for the Cambridge History of China [Vol 5 Pt 1], became convinced there was more going on than met the eye, that face-value political motivations weren’t sufficient to account for this record of mass and individual suicide: that the cultural circumstances of Song, the specific psychology of the day, fed into what he presents as a tragic obsession, unique to the time and place. Factors include a masculine angst, from a perception that the southern Song were feminised or effeminate.
It’s a fascinating subject, and he writes (as I phrase it) like a frustrated novelist – I mean he crafts his sentences for style and not just substance. I enjoy history books so written. With his slow and circumstantial telling, I cared for the actors in his history as I might for people in a novel, and in fact I stayed up til midnight from reluctance to put the book down... (less)
Excellent, on a subject on which there are almost no books. Three sections: Politics; Religion and Thought; Literature and Art. Heavy on the cultural...moreExcellent, on a subject on which there are almost no books. Three sections: Politics; Religion and Thought; Literature and Art. Heavy on the cultural side, but you can get your history elsewhere. I like most the chapter on a poet who lived at the time of the Mongol invasions and wrote a very dark strand of poetry about the collapse of civilization. And the chapter on Jurchen literature, as in native Jurchen, which rarely interests a China scholar. (less)