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.
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A worthwhile "big-history" survey
Perhaps...at least certain parts.
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.
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.
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.
Good History but Lacking Depth on the Foundations
Overall: a solid course full of great history from a professor with an engaging style but there were also a number of lectures I found myself disinterested and wondering when a deep discussion of the foundations of an Eastern civilization would occur.
• The following topics were engaging: the history of China, all of its major dynasties, oracle bone inscriptions of the Shang dynasty, the silk roads, samurai Japan, and the evolution of the countries from conquerors to the conquered at various times in their histories
• Eastern civilization was not just studied in isolation: interactions with the western world, comparisons to the western world at different points in time, and the examinations of which civilization was leading technological advances on the world scene at what times helped add perspective
• At times I wished the professor would’ve spelled the name of the dynasty or person he was discussing since he seemed to either mispronounce it or say it in a fast way that seemed rushed
• At times the recounting of the rise and fall of dynasty after dynasty (especially in Korea and Japan) without any historical context of the ultimate legacy of that dynasty or providing perspective at a bigger picture level was monotonous and un-intriguing
• Although the professor does a good job of continuously referencing the “foundations of Eastern civilization” in his lectures, the foundations themselves seemed light to me; Other than respect for elders, an emphasis on the collective vs. the individual, Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism (and even in these cases I found myself wishing the professor would’ve elaborated a little further on the key tenants or provided practical examples of their use in government, society, etc.) there seemed to be a lack of core foundations that would define an “Eastern civilization”
• Breaking up the course into four distinct regions (China, Korea, Japan, and southeast Asia such as Vietnam) and discussing one region at a time for a number of centuries before switching to another led to a sense of hopping backwards and forward in time just a little too much; A more effective approach could’ve been discussing all four regions at the same time in a strict chronological narrative
- Tommy D'Angelo