A History of East Asia Book Review | Language Reading Challenge Culture & History / Language Resources

Welcome to the seventh official Language Reading Challenge Update and Linkup! As a quick recap, you can check out the previous months’ challenges here:

January // Book about the culture of the area you’re studying
February // Book in your target language
March // Travel book or travelogue related to region that uses the language you’re studying
April // Book about the language that you’re learning
May // A language course book
June // A book written by a language blogger

The guidelines to participate are available here and you can find out what we’ll be reading over the next few months, as well.

The challenge for this past month was to read a book about the history of a place that speaks your target region whether it’s a country, a region, or even a specific city.

A Review of A History of East Asia: From the Origins of Civilization to the Twenty-First Century by Charles Holcombe

To fulfill this month’s challenge, I decided to read a book about the history of east Asia not only because it covers the regions of two languages that I’m studying (Chinese and Korean), but because in comparison to European or American history, I know relatively little about Asian history and that’s something that I’d really like to change.

A History of East Asia is a textbook, so compared to some of the other books that I’ve read as a part of this challenge, it was pretty intense. At 400-something pages, there is a lot of information packed into the book (particularly because it covers the histories of China, Japan AND Korean), but that doesn’t mean that it’s too dense to get through. In fact, I found it to be quite the opposite. For a book that could potentially be rather academic in tone, I found A History of East Asia to be pleasantly accessible in language and content.

Overall, the book seems to be pretty China-centric, so I would definitely recommend it to those most interested in learning about the history of China. That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t something in this book for those looking for introductions to Japan’s and Korea’s histories.

Some of the subjects that I found most interesting in reading A History of East Asia include:

A discussion of the terms “China”, “Japan”, and “Korea”, why they are used, their origins and the variations that exist. // This I found interesting, particularly because the names for these countries in their respective languages are so different from those that we use in English.

The differences between the three main languages as far as form and grammar. // I’ve read about the Korean, Japanese, and Chinese languages, but it was interesting to read this book’s section on language because it not only discussed each in their own right, but also in comparison to one another.

The efforts made by each of the three countries to promote a unified culture. // Reading about the various actions taken by the different governments throughout history to unify their peoples was really interesting regardless of whether or not I agree with the efforts they made.

That East Asia is often defined as “that region of the world that came to extensively use the Chinese writing system.” // As well as Confucianism.

A Few of My Favorite Quotes from the Book

“Far more than princes, states or economies, it is language-communities who are the real players in world history […]”

“Languages are frequently central to the self-identification of human communities (and the primary barrier to communication with others) […]”

“It is not the languages as spoken, but the language as written – the shared use of a common premodern writing system and, to a surprising degree, even a common written language – that gives East Asia much of its cultural coherence and distinctiveness as a region.”

Conclusion

To sum things up…

When I decided on A History of East Asia as a part of this challenge, I was looking for a book that served as an overview of Chinese or Asian history and I got that and more with this book. It’s filled with cultural insights, historical timelines and even linguistic histories for not only China but also Japan and Korea, and I found it to be a great introduction to Asian history.

Title: A History of East Asia: From the Origins of Civilization to the Twenty-First Century
Author: Charles Holcombe
Pages: 232 pages
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Publication Date: May 17, 2007

Language Reading Challenge Linkup

1. Share your post discussing the book that you’ve read this month. Submissions unrelated to the theme or links to your homepage will be deleted.

2. Link back to this post as a part of your post.

3. Follow the hosts: Shannon from Eurolinguiste.

4. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE: Please visit the site of the person who linked up immediately before you and leave them an encouraging comment! If you do not do this, you will be removed from the linkup.



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