China: Empire of Living Symbols Review

China: Empire of Living Symbols
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China: Empire of Living Symbols ReviewCHINA : Empire of Living Symbols. By Cecilia Lindqvist. Translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate. 424 pp. New York : Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1991 (1989). ISBN 0-201-57009-2 (hbk.)
Although Cecilia Lindqvist is a professional scholar of Chinese and was in fact a pupil of Bernhard Karlgren, one of the greatest sinologists of the 20th century, she is one of those rare scholars who, instead of devoting herself exclusively to academic publications, has not been afraid to produce a book designed for the general reader.
Her book, though founded in a specialist knowledge of both Chinese and China, where she lived for many years, is written with a light and engaging touch, is magnificently illustrated with numerous photographs, both black-and-white and color, line drawings, maps, Chinese characters, etc., and is so beautifully produced that it could be read or browsed with interest by anyone.
Her book attempts so many things, and succeeds so well in them all, that it would be difficult to overpraise it. It introduces us to the pictorial element of the Chinese script in a more engaging way than has ever been done before, and becomes in fact a painless way of acquiring a vocabulary of the basic building blocks which go to make up Chinese characters.
It relates these basic pictograms to a wide range of topics in Chinese cultural history in a sumptuously illustrated series of chapters dealing with - Oracle Bones and Bronzes; Man, Mankind; Water and Mountains ; Wild Animals; Domestic Animals; Carts, Roads, and Boats; Farming; Wine and Jars; Hemp and Silk; Bamboo and Tree; Tools and Weapons; Roofs and Houses; Books and Musical Instruments; Numbers and Other Abstract Characters. It also includes a chapter on Meaning and Sound which traces the development of Chinese writing from the early pictographs through to phonetic compounds.
The book is rounded out with a gallery of superb color photographs; a section on Character Stroke Order; a really excellent Bibliography of both Western and Chinese books (which unfortunately gives only the pinyin and lacks the sinographs for the latter); a table of Dynasties and Periods; and a full Index.
The book is a curious size, having been made 8.5 by 8.5 inches to accomodate its many photographs, is bound in full linen, stitched, and beautifully printed on a very strong smooth ivory-tinted paper.
Anyone who, after reading the book, would like to learn more about China's culture or writing system, will find that the fully annotated Bibliography with its extensive list of interesting works for further reading will provide many leads. These range from general books on the science and civilization of China up to such things as specialist Chinese dictionaries of the ancient bone and bronze forms of the characters.
Lindqvist's love of China, its people, language, and culture shines through on every page, and her book is clearly a labor of love. It can be recommended without reservation as a marvelous introduction to one of the richest and most fascinating cultures on earth.China: Empire of Living Symbols Overview

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