Thursday, January 1, 2004

Book Review: China Revealed: The West Encounters the Celestial Empire

Out of Italy comes a recently released chronicle of the West’s fascination and fixation with China. China Revealed is not just a masterful collection of illustrations and photos copied from museums and archives around the world that would dress up any living room and delight the eye. The laconically written text traces the historical encounters of the West and China from early Arab traders in the 9th century to when the last emperor of the Qing dynasty left Beijing’s forbidden city to become a puppet in the Japanese imperial design for China just before the outbreak of World War II.

In thirty chapters and 330 large-format pages, Guadalupi reviews how the early enthrallment with a mystic China evolved into a nineteen century target for every western nation with colonial ambitions. Early contacts are initiated by the Vatican desirous of establishing an alliance with the invading Mongols to battle the Islamic forces and the tempting potential of converting the horde to Christianity. Later contacts are consequences of the need to satisfy the western world’s hunger to trade for China’s tea, silk and porcelain and trade flourished when the West found opium a suitable substitute for silver as the medium of exchange.

Marco Polo and others including a number of historically obscure or forgotten figures come to life by the author’s deft descriptions. This is a hugely entertaining and valuable reference for anyone wishing to understand the historical China as seen by western eyes. The book is so rich in information that the reader will have to read it many times in order to absorb it all.

I came across this book by accident at one of the Costco stores and bought the last two copies from this location, one to give away. I have not been able to find the book from various online sources except for one UK based site. According to this site, the book was released on November, 2003 so there should be copies around for those wishing to learn how China has been shaped and influenced by the West.