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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.
50 of 51 people found this review helpful
Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?
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
13 of 15 people found this review helpful
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.
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.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful