26 May 2006

China Marches West and Monuments of Central Asia

I finished China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Asia by Peter C. Perdue this week. It was an interesting book on a fascinating topic, but my goodness, it was long and detailed in places. I skipped large parts about Qing troop movements against the Zunghars and grain production in northwest China.

Perdue basically looks at Qing China from a different perspective- neither the traditional European ideas nor the Chinese interpretation. He argues that the Qing dynasty, which was Manchu (and therefore Central Asian) was significantly different from previous dynasties. This is partly shown by the Qing's ability to conquer large pieces of land surrounding China- basically creating what is China today. Perdue has the advantage of using a variety of sources for this time period instead of the official Qing sources and that shows in his conclusions.

He focuses much more on the Qing's interaction with the Zunghar empire that what is traditionally thought of as Central Asia. I would have been interested in learning more about the Qing's relations with the Turkic tribes to their west in addition to the Mongol tribes to their north.

Perdue argues against the traditional Chinese idea that China has always had today's "natural borders" and that Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and parts of the south have always been part of China. But he also disputes the idea that China was not a modern state as is commonly believed by many in the West. He believes China was advancing in a similar way to the West until about 1750-1800 when the Qing began to decay. He also clearly demonstrates that China has not always been peaceful, non-aggressive, and static. China is far more dynamic than either Chinese scholars or Western scholars have generally given it credit for.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to people with a particular interest in China, Mongolia, Central Asia, and maybe Russia.

And I didn't actually read all of Monuments of Central Asia: A Guide to the Archaeology, Art and Architecture of Turkestan by Edgar Knobloch, but this is a book I'd love to always have on hand. It is an excellent comprehensive guide to a huge number of interesting places in Central Asia. He also includes a chapter at the end about how Afghanistan's monuments have faired since most of his visits to the region were before the current troubles there (he first visited Central Asia in 1959).

He doesn't focus on any one religion or time period, nor on anything like the Silk Road. He even manages to find a few places to write about in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. There are a number of color and black-and-white photos throughout the book.

My only complaint is that the writing is pretty dry- that's why I didn't just sit down and read the entire thing. But if interesting places in Central Asia are your thing, this is the book for you.


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