Saturday, November 1, 2008

On "China and the Chinese" by Herbert Allen Giles ***

I was expecting--hoping for--a history of China up to 1902, when this book was published. In that, I was disappointed. This is not a history in the least but rather an exploration of Chinese culture, at least as it existed up to 1902, in the form of six lectures on distinct topics. Some of the lectures themselves are very good and very interesting. I particularly enjoyed Giles's first lecture, on the subject of the Chinese language. In that one, Giles discusses how Chinese is monosyllabic and how one manages to convey complex ideas with only a single syllable. I tend to like these theoretical discussions of other languages--more than I like actually learning to speak another language. Another interesting lecture compares the Chinese to the Greeks and hypothesizes on where these similarities arose. (I find it interesting that some Bible scholars assign the Greeks to being descendants of Japheth, while others assign the Asian people. Could it in fact be both?) You can read the text here, or listen to the audio here.

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