Jonathan Spence (1936-2021) was a British-born historian of China who spent most of his working life teaching history at Yale University. His The Search for Modern China (1990) is the classic textbook of Chinese history, from the Ming dynasty onwards, though it’s his shorter books that have been most frequently recommended on Five Books:
Books by Jonathan Spence
The Death of Woman Wang is a book which I frequently teach, and it was one of the first books I read as a student when it first came out in the late 1970s. It’s one of the books that inspired me to become a Chinese historian, and it’s a lovely work. Spence takes a woman who only shows up in the record through one incident – a crime – so he has to take much greater liberties than Susan Mann, who’s dealing with women who left more traces of themselves to be used as building blocks. But there’s definitely a kinship between the books.
Interviews where books by Jonathan Spence were recommended
Travelling to China? What are the best books to read to get a more in-depth understanding of this complex country? Longtime Beijing resident and New Yorker writer Evan Osnos picks some of his favourites.
The changing relationship between China and America will be one of the defining foreign policy issues of our times. To understand its dynamic, says sinologist Orville Schell, we must take account of China’s lingering sense of victimhood.
Historian and Sinologist Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Chancellor’s Professor, History at UC Irvine, says that to get a real sense of China you need to focus on individuals and their stories. Here he chooses five books that draw on the country’s long tradition of biographical writing.
The ‘Great Fire Wall of China’. How has the Chinese Communist Party managed to survive the internet? Economist correspondent Gady Epstein chooses books on the world’s most successful case of authoritarian control of the internet.