GENERAL EDITORS’ PREFACE – Sui and T’ang China – THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF CHINA

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In the English-speaking world, the Cambridge Histories have since the beginning of the century set the pattern for multi-volume works of history, with chapters written by experts on a particular topic, and unified by the guiding hand of volume editors of senior standing. The Cambridge modern history, planned by Lord Acton, appeared in sixteen volumes between 190a and 1912. It was followed by The Cambridge ancient history, The Cambridge medieval history, The Cambridge history of English literature, and Cambridge Histories of India, of Poland, and of the British Empire. The original Modern history has now been replaced by The new Cambridge modern history in twelve volumes, and The Cambridge economic history of Europe is now being completed. Other Cambridge Histories recently undertaken include a history of Islam, of Arabic literature, of the Bible treated as a central document of and influence on Western civilization, and of Iran and China.

In the case of China, Western historians face a special problem. The history of Chinese civilization is more extensive and complex than that of any single Western nation, and only slightly less ramified than the history of European civilization as a whole. The Chinese historical record is immensely detailed and extensive, and Chinese historical scholarship has been highly developed and sophisticated for many centuries. Yet until recent decades the study of China in the West, despite the important pioneer work of European sinologists, had hardly progressed beyond the translation of some few classical historical texts, and the outline history of the major dynasties and their institutions.

Recently, Western scholars have drawn more fully upon the rich traditions of historical scholarship in China and also in Japan, greatly advancing both our detailed knowledge of past events and institutions, and our critical understanding of traditional historiography. In addition, the present generation of Western historians of China can draw upon the new outlooks and techniques of modern Western historical scholarship, and recent developments in the social sciences, while continuing to build upon the solid foundations of rapidly progressing European, Japanese, and Chinese sinological studies. Recent historical events have thrown many older conceptions into question while giving prominence to new problems, and under these multiple impacts, the Western revolution in Chinese studies is steadily gathering momentum.

When The Cambridge history of China was first planned in 1966, the aim was to provide a substantial account of the history of China as a benchmark for the Western history-reading public: an account of the current state of knowledge in six volumes. Since then, the outpouring of current research, the application of new methods, and the extension of scholarship into new fields have further stimulated Chinese historical studies. This growth is indicated by the fact that the History has now become a planned fourteen volumes, which exclude the earliest pre-dynastic period and must still leave aside such topics as the history of art and literature, many aspects of economics and technology, and all the riches of local history.

The striking advances in our knowledge of China’s past over the last decade will continue and accelerate. Western historians of this great and complex subject are justified in their efforts by the needs of their own peoples for greater and deeper understanding of China. Chinese history belongs to the world, not only as a right and necessity but also as a subject of compelling interest.

JOHN K. FAIRBANK
DENIS TWITCHETT
June 1976

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