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Publisher's Summary

China. Korea. Japan. Southeast Asia. How did Eastern civilization develop? What do we know about the history, politics, governments, art, science, and technology of these countries? And how does the story of Eastern civilization play out in today's world of business, politics, and international exchange?
Over the course of 48 ambitious lectures, take a grand journey through Eastern civilization to study everything from the material economy of day-to-day life to the political and religious philosophies that would bind these cultures together for thousands of years. While China is home to some of the great moments in world history and a major focal point for this course, you'll also take several extended forays into Central and Southeast Asia to build a comprehensive picture of Eastern civilization.
"To truly understand the modern world, it is essential to know something about the many extraordinary contributions Eastern civilization has made," Professor Benjamin says. "Simply put, it is not enough to know just the 'Western' half of the story any more-both Eastern and Western are critical to understanding our present and our future."
Now is your chance to fill in the other half of the story. You may be surprised to realize that all of us have been students of Eastern civilization, even if we have not been aware of it. Filled with captivating stories and surprising details, this course will open up an entirely new world for you as it unfolds the story of Eastern civilization.
©2013 The Great Courses (P)2013 The Teaching Company, LLC
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By Acteon on 11-22-13

A worthwhile "big-history" survey

Would you listen to Foundations of Eastern Civilization again? Why?

Perhaps...at least certain parts.

What other book might you compare Foundations of Eastern Civilization to and why?

From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History (The Great Courses, Narrated By Professor Kenneth J. Hammond); The Fall and Rise of China (The Great Courses, Narrated By Professor Richard Baum. The present book is the third lecture series from The Great Courses on China. Of the three, Baum's is much the best but covers mainly the last couple of centuries. Hammond's is a straightforward survey that is rather superficial; it provides the basic information but does not really convey the sense of how things were and why they happened (this is of course always a problem with broad surveys). Benjamin's survey suffers from this too, but he makes up for it by drawing upon archaeological evidence and by including Korea, Japan and southeast asia to put thing into a "big history" perspective.

What about Professor Craig G. Benjamin’s performance did you like?

He is energetic and evidently engaged. His Australian accent did not bother me too much, but his problem is his misunderstanding of the Chinese pinyin system of transliteration. He tell us that it is a more intuitive improvement on the older and more complicated Wade-Giles, when in reality pinyin's aim is an unambiguous coding of the sounds of Chinese through the Roman (NOT the English) alphabet. As a result, pinyin is far from intuitive for a speaker of English or any other Western language since it does not refer to any particular Western language; in fact, an English speaker would have a better chance of pronouncing something comprehensibly using Wade-Giles which was based on English. More specifically, the letters x,c,q are impossible to pronounce intuitively; unless their arbitrary phonetic values are learned precisely, the pronunciation will be incomprehensible, as often in this audiobook. E.g. the name Cao-cao is pronounced "Kao-kao" when it should be "tsao-tsao", 'Quan" becomes "Kuan" when it should sound more like "chuan". The distinction between words ending with '-an' and '-ang' is also essential, and here too mistakes render all but incomprehensible names that the reader does not already know. Pinyin is an excellent system, but it needs to be learned in a systematic way. I was dismayed that Prof.Benjamin had not done this.

Any additional comments?

There are some factual errors that I don't have time to point out, and in particular Benjamin's understanding of post World-war II China leaves much to be desired (in this area Richard Baum is far more competent). Despite its failings, however, I would still recommend this course for its "big-history" perspective.

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49 of 50 people found this review helpful


By Stephen Savage on 07-20-16

Good, but biased

There's a lot of great history here, but the professor (from Australia) tows the communist party line. Some examples include referring to modern Taiwan as part of the PRC, defending the one child policy, referring to the 89 massacre as an "incident" where we really don't know that it's as bad as everyone says. He brushes over Mao's policies as being good natured but just not working out and doesn't mention that Mao is responsible for more deaths than Hitler or Stalin.

As frustrating as the bias is, the course was a good introduction to Asian history for me. I didn't know much about the subject going in and feel like I've learned a lot. I just didn't feel like I could trust the professor.

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14 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

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By lilith_farrell on 02-12-16

Overall good but details need checking

What did you like best about Foundations of Eastern Civilization? What did you like least?

The course covers the history of Asia from pre-history to modern day, with an emphasis on the part before 16th/17th century. Probably because of the emphasis on foundation of the course. On a grand scale, the relatively isolated Asia and subsequent exchange of ideas and trade within Asia and with west are well established and told. So it's good for a general introduction to East Asian history, particularly China, Korea and Japan. The pronunciation is certainly awkward for a non-Chinese/Korean/Japanese speaker, but he tried, and mostly succeeded. <br/>However, the small nuisances and details in regard to a particular character or place or name are often wrong. For example, it's common to refer to an emperor by his reign name or posthumous title or real name. But to mistake one's reign name for his real name is a bit too much. Same goes saying the last emperor of Sui dynasty declared himself "Yang Di (the flaming emperor)". Firstly, that's a posthumous title, no one declares themselves that title. Secondly, even if someone did, he wouldn't have picked that name. Because, although in common language, "Yang" means flaming, in posthumous title, it means "deviation from justice, not fulfil one's duty", simply not a positive title. You only ever see the last or second to last emperor of a dynasty to have that title. It especially annoyed me because he had to repeat this wrong understanding several times along the way. Similarly, Japan's "tent government" doesn't mean it's meant to be temporary. Tent government is not an accurate translation in the first place, too literal. The head of "tent government" Shokan, in fact means General or high command. Tent was his headquarters when he was out fighting. It's where his advisors, high ranking officers gathered discussing strategy and made decisions. So when a general claimed power, his government was called "tent government".

Would you recommend Foundations of Eastern Civilization to your friends? Why or why not?

For a friend who doesn't know anything of eastern culture, I would recommend it for it gives enough contents and links with western countries to be easily understandable. For someone who knows eastern culture or want to go a bit amateur professional on the subject, I wouldn't because it contains a lot of mistakes to make further research hard and confusing.

Which character – as performed by Professor Craig G. Benjamin – was your favourite?

Not applicable in this case

Did Foundations of Eastern Civilization inspire you to do anything?

Check and re-check something I knew but got confused by his mistakes. Got me interested in Korean history though.

Any additional comments?

Got to admit, these details I picked up on probably don't matter on a grand scale. And a non-Chinese/Korean/Japanese speaker is hardly going to remember any awkwardly pronounced names after listening. Just bear in mind these kind of nuisances mentioned in the course aren't entirely accurate.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful


By Ian on 02-18-16

China! China! China!

What did you like best about this story?

It paints a really good portrait of the Sinosphere, with China as the Sun and the other countries floating around it, each definitely their own country, but inexorably drawn in towards China's cultural mass.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Yes, the description of imperial Beijing as a cosmopolitan hub was really well done.

Any additional comments?

The book has a great flow.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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