Jonathan Spence's eleven books on Chinese history include The Gate of Heavenly Peace, Treason by the Book, and The Death of Woman Wang. His awards include a Guggenheim and a MacArthur Fellowship. He teaches at Yale University.
Zhang Dai (1597-1689), subject of this absorbing and evocative literary-biographical study, was a Chinese essayist and historian whose long life bridged the conquest of China by the Manchus and the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644. The upheaval inspired him to write a history of the Ming as well as personal recollections of his youth, which Spence (Mao Zedong), a MacArthur fellow and a leading historians of China, mines for insights into the culture of this period. Zhang's reminiscences about his earlier life as a well-to-do scholar and aesthete are full of poetic reveries-a treasured blend of tea, evening lanterns in his hometown of Shaoxing, an exquisite courtesan, plum blossoms in the moonlight-which contrast with his later circumstances of poverty, coarse food and wizened, querulous concubines. The memoirs are studded with biographical sketches of his vast extended family, a gallery of eccentrics whose lives furnish handy illustrations of moral precepts. They also open a window on the social world of the late Ming scholarly caste, whose lives revolved around eternal cramming for the examinations that controlled entree into the imperial bureaucracy; Zhang's father was 53 when he finally passed and was able to get his first job. Through Zhang's Proustian sensibility, Spence retrieves a portrait of a civilization imbued with esoteric obsessions as well as sensuality. (Sept. 24) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Praise for Return to Dragon Mountain:
Selected as a "Best Book of the Year" by The Washington Post
"Westerners seeking to understand China should shelve that big pile of anxious new volumes on China's economic ascent, and read instead Return to Dragon Mountain. Jonathan Spence is arguably the best living English-language Chinese historian . . . An extraordinary life and a fascinating story."
-The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Spence takes us inside the mind of a fellow historian. . . . [Zhang Dai] left a timelessly human record of a pivotal and fascinating era, and Spence has employed patience and empathy to bring him back to life."
-The Washington Post
"Beguiling . . . Spence only enhances his fine reputation with seasoned perceptions of the accessible, multifaceted Zhang Dai."
"Beautiful . . . in Return to Dragon Mountain, Spence has himself opened an unsuspecting world, a magic-lantern realm lost until now and movingly retrieved."
-The New York Times Book Review
-The New York Review of Books