To help his daughter in her 7th-grade world studies, a father began telling her stories from Chinese history. Her teacher had said that understanding China would be important, but the school curriculum had no list of reference books and the family was hard-pressed looking for materials suitable for a young audience.
As a seasoned journalist and writer, the father started telling the historical stories in Chinese and the daughter and her brothers asked questions in English. The children loved the stories, which became great topics for discussions over meals or while on the road.
These stories eventually became a book: People Who Shaped China.
The stories are not translations, but written in English from scratch. The personalities and highlights from 5,000 years of Chinese civilization are presented in a way that lets them tell the story on their own, bringing out the subtleties in the Chinese culture and worldview. Many of the persons that the authors have chosen are household names in China; their names and experiences are the subject of daily conversation.
People Who Shaped China, of which a first volume was published this August, offers its stories as bite-sized tales of Chinese history, while a timeline of events gives the timing of Chinese dynasties in the context of major world events.
For example, the end of the Shang Dynasty, the second dynasty in Chinese history, coincided with the Trojan War. The Trojan War gave Western literature the Iliad and the Odyssey; the destruction of the Shang inspired the great Chinese novel Investiture of the Gods.
Reading is light, with the average chapter being five to six pages. They focus on storytelling and avoid confusing readers with a glut of indecipherable names of the myriad characters, dynasties, and regions that populate China’s past.
“To understand the Chinese, we must understand Chinese culture. To understand Chinese culture, we must understand Chinese history. People and events of the distant past fill the memories of the Chinese people. In this volume are the stories of those who created Chinese civilization and culture and whose influence continues to shape the people living in China today.”
In reading the first volume of People Who Shaped China, we find the men and women selected to occupy its pages well serve this mission statement, printed on the book’s back cover.
The book is available on Amazon at www.amazon.com/People-who-shaped-China-Stories/dp/9881235014