- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Viking (8 November 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0670091340
- ISBN-13: 978-0670091348
- Package Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 3.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #60,047 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
What China and India Once Were: The Pasts That May Shape the Global Future Hardcover – 8 Nov 2018
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About the Author
Benjamin Elman is Gordon Wu '58 Professor of Chinese Studies and professor of East Asian studies and history at Princeton University. His books include A Cultural History of Modern Science in China (2006) and Civil Examinations and Meritocracy in Late Imperial China (2013).
Sheldon Pollock is the Arvind Raghunathan Professor of South Asian Studies at Columbia University. His many publications include World Philology (2015) and A Rasa Reader: Classical Indian Aesthetics (Columbia, 2016). He is founding general editor of the Murty Classical Library of India.
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While they have not used academic jargon and essays are rather easy to read, the tone and style is academic and boring across all the essays. The comparison of China and India seems forceful...they might have compared China with Iran or Ottoman Empire for the same period. For those not familiar with geography of India and China, I recommend looking at a population density map of Asia and you'll realize that the major chunk of two populations are thousands of kilometers apart and separated by mighty Himalayas, Tibetan plateau, and inhospitable desert. The two civilizations have been disconnected and definitely during the period this book covers.
There were no known visitors from China to India after Xuantsang in 7th century. Might be due to the Battle of Talas in 751 AD between Abbasid Caliphate and Tang Dynasty that created a boundary stopping further exchange. (It's not covered in this book though).
From the Introduction onward, the authors have tried to portray the positive aspects of the Mughals. It's almost opposite of the two books written by Toby Huff (The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West and Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution: A Global Perspective). Authors fail to capture the shortcomings of the Mughals or facts like the Persian artists looking down upon Mughal Art which was considered too loud and jarry.
A much better, insightful, and comprehensive book comparing India and China is 'India, China and the World: A Connected History' by Tansen Sen that I call first rate scholarship. I enjoyed it despite it being written by an academic and doesn't come across a a popular history book.
So overall this book is surprisingly mediocre despite a star cast.