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The Ten Thousand Things

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  166 ratings  ·  36 reviews
In the turbulent final years of the Yuan Dynasty, Wang Meng is a low-level bureaucrat, employed by the government of Mongol conquerors established by the Kublai Khan. Though he wonders about his own complicity with this regime—the Mongols, after all, are invaders—he prefers not to dwell on his official duties, choosing instead to live the life of the mind.

Wang is an extrao
Hardcover, 354 pages
Published April 10th 2014 by Harry N. Abrams (first published February 27th 2014)
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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Aasem Bakhshi
Sep 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
A exquisite journey through the the historical China from the eyes of the master painter Wang Meng. I read it as a dialog between Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoist philosophies. Absolutely loved it, though it was not a page-turner but required certain kind of deliberated attachment to get the feel. My review in Urdu with a translated passage from the Chapter Blue Bein Mountains:
Marty Nicholas
May 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm at a bit of a loss. Wish I knew more about his research into the lives of Wang Meng, Ni Tsan, Old Huang; master 14th Century Yuan Dynasty landscape painters. The story is absorbing and lyrical. Loyalty, artistic integrity, a life with regrets and acceptance. The "art of nature, the nature of art." A mirror on our own lives. ...more
Marc Faoite
May 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Whenever we conjure up a mental picture of traditional Chinese landscape paintings it will often include arched bamboo, or crooked pines framing faint and distant mountains half shrouded in mist, with some human element – a house, or a bridge, or a pagoda - closer towards the foreground.

These painting will be sparse in colour, or simply rendered in shades of black and white and grey with large blank areas that give a sense of expansion, spaciousness and scale to the overall scene.

Some of the bl
Jul 02, 2016 rated it liked it
A little too long. A little too many names, and too many dynasties. Too many young beautiful women falling for the married hero. Even though it's based on real events, the emphasis of the narrative seems to betray the writer's fantasies. What's good: descriptions of the different styles of 14th century painting, becoming more colorful as time goes on. Also, the "White Tigress," a charismatic bandit, is the most interesting character, and the narrative drags after she is gone. The reader can find ...more
Bob Paterson-watt
Feb 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Bob by: Adam Lehto
Exquisite prose, serene and believable narrative voice. To say I found this book engrossing is an understatement. The only thing that could have made it better was to read the text in situ. Both the literal pictures described in the book and the pictures the author painted with his words have opened up a world previously unknown and inaccessible. I now feel like I've been to China in the 13th century. I am now in pursuit of Wang Meng's art. And you should pursue a copy of this book with haste. T ...more
Harry Miller
Dec 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
It is very difficult to write a historical novel set in China. The challenge is to make its social world seem different from that of the Western reader without degenerating into exoticism -- which itself is just a projection of Western fantasies onto China.

The Ten Thousand Things meets the challenge simply by telling a straightforward story and leaving the fortune cookies behind. It deals with Chinese politics, religion, art, and philosophy in economical and accessible prose.

Spurling has writt
Jul 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Set as China splintered itself into the Ming dynasty, following the life of the artist Wang Meng, an old-fashioned historical novel that examines an era through its effects on one character.
Jan 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Based on the life of the 14th century Chinese painter Wang Meng, who witnessed--and even participated in--the downfall of the Mongol-run Yuan Dynasty and the establishment of the Ming, this book consciously avoids being a blockbuster historical drama. Instead, the author adopts the attitude of the painter himself, offering an oblique and meditative view of world-changing events through the metaphor of his paintings.

The descriptions of numerous paintings are the overriding strength of the book. D
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is beautiful beyond description. The history of China in the 14 century described at the time of turmoil and struggle gives the reader a better understanding of this country in our time.
While dynasties risen and destroyed, the new order of power is as cruel and bloodthirsty as the old one, the art of observing and reflecting the ten thousand things is a way of acceptance of ones times.
Written in exclusive style, with the description of ancient art of calligraphy the book flows as a ri
Janka H.
I am probably not a suitable reader for this metaphorical book about the life experience of artist Wang Meng in the ancient China. This is not a novelwhere the plot is the center of the story, instead, the philosophy, visual arts, feelings and meditation take the leading place here.
The writing style is interesting and the ancient China is a wonderful canvas to paint the story on, so to say - I was just missing the story I could connect to.
May 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
Tedious. More about successive dynastic upheavals than about Wang Meng himself.
Came away feeling that I'd read a powdery history textbook with liberal dashes of Daoist sympathies. (These, along with successive fantasies of lovely young women offering themselves to the elderly protagonist, seem likely sentiments of John Spurling's, poorly concealed).
Brian Hanson
Sep 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful. Takes you to a restorative place, this tale of inward calm and reflection on nature amidst threat and strife. Perfect for the present day. A world recreated in all it's alienness, yet always giving reminders of the world we are in ...more
Lizzy Siddal (Lizzy’s Literary Life)
3.5 rounded up to 4
Viviane Crystal
Jul 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What are the Ten Thousand Things that the artist, government official, and philosopher Wang Meng says are “Mind” at the conclusion of this remarkable story which takes place in 14th Century China? They are everything sublime and temporal, every experience one could possibly experience combined with the exquisite expression of nature through art. Stories abound in this rich text of Wang’s life events and stories others have told him that have really occurred or are tales of Chinese history, mytho ...more
Feb 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Managed to pick up the wrong "The Ten Thousand Things", this one set in China. But I finished it out, and really got to like the main character. ...more
Bridget Coila
Jul 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: china
Lovely descriptive tale of the Yuan-dynasty artist Wang Meng as he lived through the end of one dynasty and the beginning of another (the Ming dynasty).

Any student of Chinese history will appreciate the story and the insights into the politics, art and history of that time period. The story moves along smoothly, so it is pleasant to read.

My favorite character wasn't Wang Meng himself, though. His fellow artist Ni Zan holds that honor- Ni Zan was also a real person- an actual friend of the real W
Apr 04, 2015 rated it liked it
The recollections of an elderly painter and ex-official who served in a minor capacity in the Ming dynasty, this story is filled with descriptions of his paintings which he originally felt were uninspired and pedestrian but eventually were praised by his contemporaries and are now considered to be by a master.

Descended from the Song dynasty, he kept a low profile during the final years of the Yuan, avoiding ties with the warlords who contended with one another and with the declining Mongols for
Jun 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china
This is a brilliant, absorbing novel with colorful characters, illuminating the 14th century in China by its focus on a group of artists who actually lived and achieved renown. It is literate, entertaining, well-researched, and educational.

John Spurling has written many more plays than novels. Perhaps this is a reason that I enjoyed the conversations between characters so much. I felt as though I were eavesdropping on real interactions between unique individuals. In a good play or a screenplay,
Jan 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
For me, reading this book was like eating sashimi. First some raw, chilled tuna with wasabi, then some salmon which tastes different but still delectable, then shrimp, octopus, scallop, and more. And finally with feelings of satisfaction, a 5-star rating is pronounced. But a few hours later, some doubt starts to seep in. The memories don't seem so perfect after all; a fishy aftertaste still lingers at the back of the throat, and makes the tummy feel a tad queasy. Perhaps a warm, brothy ramen wou ...more
Gary Knapton
Sep 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A gentle, calming, classic-style story of political turmoil and spiritual escape - of the healing qualities of artistic appreciation.

The Blue Bien mountains tower above and the Yangze river meanders into the distance and while people fight and die everyday for power, others retreat into the illusory wonders of the earth, under the watchful eye of the Buddha. A soothing, easy read. Meditative.

David Usharauli
This book is a literary masterpiece. Book is a natural blend of history and philosophy. Set in China in the middle of 14th century, it follows the life of low level [former] administrator, part freelance painter, named Wang, as he retires from active government duties under Mongol Yuan dynasty and tries to devote full time to landscape painting.

posted by David Usharauli

http://davidusharaulibookidealist.blo... I
Dec 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
Great writing style; it felt exactly like it was written indeed by a 14th century Chinese scholar or at least what I imagine that would be like. The story is based on the life of a painter and civil servant and his adventures and misadventures during a period of turmoil. My 3 stars are due to the fact that I thought the book dragged on, lacking a definite plot. Probably my shortcoming rather than the author's. ...more
Jun 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Very interesting book and well written, which adds to other historical views of China's past, including how most of the dynasties were established. This one takes place during the time of the Mongols in China, at the time of Kublai Khan's grandson, and the different roads and paths of the various levels of populace and their vast differences. The book is also about families and relationships. ...more
Jul 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Strong 4. Superb account of apparently real artist from tumultuous period in ancient China. Excellent writing, thoughtful, exciting, great. Outside my typical historical fiction comfort zone of UK in the 20th Century and all the better for it. Well deserving of Walter Scott Historical Prize. Highly recommended.
The Sample Reader
Sep 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: xmas-list
I don’t read enough historical fiction, and The Ten Thousand Things strikes me as, potentially, a deep and weighty piece of writing at an accessibly everyman price.

Read the full ebook Sample Reader review here.
Mar 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Opened this with zero expectations and quite frankly a little trepidation (Caucasian writing Asian story gives me Memoirs Of A Geisha flashbacks and not in a good way). Turned out to be beautifully written and rather poetic in bits. Thoroughly enjoyed it
Sep 12, 2014 marked it as to-read

Reviewed by Caixin
Jan 30, 2015 rated it liked it
It was pretty good. It took me many weeks to read, though, as it didn't grab me enough to make me want to fly through it. Of course, reading it slowly made some of the back and forth in time (it's not told chronologically) kind of confusing. ...more
Michelle Suhr
Jul 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
More interesting and has more meaning with pre-knowledge of the art history and governmental history. First book I've read about china that does not mention the use of opium. ...more
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Born in Kisumu in 1936, and brought up in Nairobi, John came to England aged 10. Two years later he wrote and produced his first play - a schoolboy farce about Julius Caesar's fictitious third landing in Britain.

After National Service in the Royal Artillery, and studying Law at St. John's College, Oxford, in 1960 John helped organise a United Nations plebiscite in the then Southern Cameroons, now

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