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Chronicles the drama and the rise and fall of family fortunes in China from 1839 at the beginning of the First Opium War, through Mao's Cultural Revolution to today. By the author of Paris.
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China: A Novel, Edward Rutherfurd, author; Andrew Wincott , Daniel York Loh , Zheng Xi Yong,, narrators
Using several interesting and diverse, fictional characters, Rutherford has woven a tale about China in the middle of the 19th century, that is compelling and informative. Although the characters are not real, their history is, and they are colorfully revealed using soldiers, concubines, empresses and eunuchs, among other really interesting characters.
Focusing on the different Chinese dynasties and succession of Emperors, a Taiping warrior, a Manchu, a Eunuch, a pirate, a Scot, an American, and more, the events that led to the rise and fall of China, its Emperor and that “heavenly” way of life, the birth of leaders like Sun Yat Sen and others, as the powerful nation rises, falls and rises again, unfolds. Although the Chinese call the outsiders Barbarians, it often becomes difficult to discern who the real Barbarians are.
The quirks of Chinese society, like the practice of binding the feet of well bred women to make them look like Lilies, of employing eunuchs in the palace to protect the concubines and others from unwanted romantic involvement, the danger of opium use in contrast with its importance in the marketplace, the relationship between India and China commercially, the powerful superstitions and religious beliefs that guided the missionaries and the backgrounds of all the characters, is explored in great detail. Palace intrigue becomes fascinating as the hierarchy is explained and the power of those participating ebbs and flows. The Chinese are thinkers. They are logical and extremely patient, but they often do not understand their enemies and underestimate their danger. No one can be trusted since everyone is a stepping stone for the other to advance upon.
Through the experiences of the various characters that are made up out of whole cloth, the reader learns how the opium and tea trade developed and of its eventual demise. The different dynasties in China are explored. The internal and external conflicts that develop as the rise and fall of various leaders occurs, enlightens the reader to such things as the Boxer Rebellion, the Taiping uprising, the Manchus, the Sino-Japanese conflicts, the emergence of other great super powers and the inability of each to understand the other or to anticipate the weaknesses of those they considered their enemies, because they misunderstood each other’s cultures is exposed.
Trade between India and China is explained. The reader learns how Great Britain came to control Hong Kong, about Formosa/Taiwan, how Japan, Great Britain, India, Russia, China, America and others countries interacted with each other, not always peacefully. What comes through , particularly well, are the superstitions, sayings and religious beliefs that guided each group differently. The elitism of the British and the royalty of China was in conflict, because both want to be the winner. The Emperor was a G-dlike figure. Women were valued for their beauty. Marriages were made based on stature and wealth. Certain trades were more respected. China came to the modern world, kicking and screaming and rejecting the Barbarians.
The book is very long. Sometimes it grew tedious, but the narrators were extraordinary, capturing the personality of their characters, capturing the climate of the times and the culture that each of the characters was a part of, perfectly. The English pomposity, the Chinese patience, the American arrogance, the peasant personality, the subservient female, all of the characters became lifelike and genuine because of their superb interpretation. ( )
  thewanderingjew | Oct 19, 2021 |
Pleasantly disconcerted to discover the book introduces first-person narrative to tell part of the tale on page 340 - I always prefer first person stories for their immediacy. Overall, as usual, I admire Rutherfurd's blend of the personal with the historical. He's obviously done a lot of research and it shows. One is always in danger of being overloaded by characters in a mammoth book like this one, but Rutherfurd manages to make his characters unique/memorable and foregoes a dramatis personae. This is one of his books that does not try to cover as long of a time period and I think benefits from that restraint. The scenes involving the eunuchs are particularly satisfying with the insight they lend to the intrigue in the Forbidden City. The blow by blow descriptions of castration and foot binding were a bit gruesome, but the book provides some insight into China - and insight into the Chinese psyche as a whole. This is a satisfying and comprehensive dive into a crucial 70 years in Chinese history. ( )
  dbsovereign | Sep 13, 2021 |
I’ve read every book written by Edward Rutherfurd, and have found them all to be very readable and educational. He writes very much in the same style and genre as James Michener, though perhaps just a slight cut below Michener’s best work.

This book differs slightly from that of both Michener and Rutherfurd’s previous works, in that it covers a relatively short time frame of 60 years. It commences with the years immediately preceding the Opium War of the 1840s, focusing on Macau, Canton and the founding of Hong Kong, then progresses through the Taiping and Boxer Rebellions into the early years of the 20th century.

As in his previous works, Rutherfurd tells the story of China during the period by looking at the lives of several of the actors, including a British trader, a Chinese peasant woman, a Chinese pirate, a sub-prefect and an imperial court eunuch. The author alternates story arcs well through the period in question.

While the time frame in this case is compressed when compared to his previous work, earlier years of Chinese history are touched upon within many of the story arcs. If you’ve read Rutherfurd before, you know what to expect and wont be disappointed. If you’ve read and enjoyed Michener, you’ll find Rutherfurd a worthy successor. ( )
  santhony | Aug 23, 2021 |
fiction - multi-generational saga set in China (non-Chinese author, but heavily researched)

I only got to page 8 before I decided that reading this book would require me to take notes in order to keep all the characters/storylines straight. Maybe I'll return to it another time...
  reader1009 | Aug 9, 2021 |
The kingdom of China is closed to outsiders, the Emperor rules a huge land mass and does not need to trade with barbarians. The British are desperate to get hold of China tea but cannot afford the price in silver so they smuggle opium into the country which leads to conflict. The Manchu dynasty is under threat from both the barbarians and also a sect from the south who threaten the rulers. This is a time when fortunes can be made or lost.
Normally Rutherfurd writes novels that are vast in terms of time scale but here the time is shortened, around 50 years in the 19th Century, but where the changes are massive. As ever he weaves the stories of a group of families together and because the timeframe allows it the characters are fully developed. There is the English merchant and his missionary cousin, the eunuch, the general and the peasant. This period of Chinese history is fleshed out in an incredibly readable way and the sheer length of the novel does not seem much of an issue as the stories are so fascinating. Another triumph for a favourite author ( )
  pluckedhighbrow | Jul 24, 2021 |
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Chronicles the drama and the rise and fall of family fortunes in China from 1839 at the beginning of the First Opium War, through Mao's Cultural Revolution to today. By the author of Paris.

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