Why translate this series of Chinese history textbooks? It is a question I often ask myself in a rhetorical way similar to why am I here and what the heck am I doing here? While some might respond that the answer is 42, Chinese history has always fascinated me. Is there anything special about this particular author? Not that I know of. I chose this series because it was on the shelf that fateful day back in 1980 when I was searching through the bookstores around Shih-fan Ta-hsüeh in T'ai-pei, T'ai-wan. (Back in that distant past Taiwan was the place to go to learn Chinese. The joke was you went to Beijing to learn French because you were isolated on a campus dominated by French students attempting to learn Chinese.) The author is not exceptional and breaks no new ground in explaining Chinese history. The only thing exceptional is that it was the first time I have seen some of the information in English. How many times have you read about the Floating Mountain Dam or the exploits of Ho-lian Po-po? I did not have even a glimmering of some of the individuals and events that make up this narrative of Chinese history as presented to a Chinese audience. (The Floating Mountain is in 18.104.22.168.3 and while Po-po is a figure that pops up in the struggle to create the Northern Wei state. Is he a barbarian Bubba?) The sections on government and the military I found particularly interesting as well as the section on the legal system. None of my texts on Chinese history have ever gone into a story of the period in this much detail.
The series advertises itself as a college-level text and in the author's introduction, that I have not yet translated, they are described as books for an introductory-level course in Chinese history. Similar, I would imagine, to what you might find in European History 101. The translation is unique in that it is a chance to see how the Chinese understand their own history. To say that the volumes are exceptionally average is not the same as saying they have no value because what makes them so exceptional is that they are so average. It is an example of what the average college student was exposed to in the course of their education.
My interests are primarily in the middle part, or medieval if you prefer, of Chinese history and that is why I started with the period between the Han and T'ang Dynasties. One of the reasons for this was the almost complete absence of anything else in English on the period, an omission I hope to address in a small way. I first started working on long time ago and have recently decided to return to the task to at least try and finish off this first book, book three of a twelve volume set.
Other periods will appear over time but it will be in no particular order and will be sections that I choose. Who knows, if I live long enough I might even one day finish all twelve volumes.
If you want to get the full experience then it is strongly recommended that you download traditional Chinese character fonts to enable your browser to display the Chinese characters I have included in the text. Check the website for your browser or do a search on Yahoo, MSN or Google. Remember to get the traditional Chinese and not the simplified Chinese characters or the characters will not display correctly.
When I first started to study Chinese history Wade-Giles was the accepted form of romanization and I use it here so don't expect to find any pinyin. One is just as arbitrary as the other and both have usages that make me scratch my head and wonder, "why did they do that?"
Before you dive in, I would offer this mea culpa. This is very much a first draft and will have numerous errors in spelling, syntax and in translation. There are more than a few passages where I just did not get it, the Chinese was more than I could handle. There are idioms, nuances, references and analogies that are beyond my current understanding. Maybe in time and with help I will address these problems. There is still enough information here to make it worth your while to read while I add to and correct the text. This is going to take years and I may not ever finish this project. However, it is something that I am committed to and over time I hope to reach the end at which point I can start all over again.