A hundred faces of Chinese history

29 January 2014

The origins of China's current defence policies can be traced back to a military treatise written 2,500 years ago by Sunzi (often spelled Sun Tzu), one of the country's greatest historical figures. The influence of his book, The Art of War, has shaped China's foreign policy and approach to security and defence for centuries.

The story of Chinese military general Sunzi is one of more than a hundred of China's greatest historical figures featured in a new three-volume book, which will be launched on 1 February to celebrate Chinese New Year. Afourth volume on modern figures will be published next year.

The Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography, edited by Professor Kerry Brown, Executive Director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, offers readers an insight into five thousand years of Chinese history through the stories and struggles of one hundred of the country's most influential people.

"At a time when the economic focus of the world is on contemporary China, knowledge about the First Emperor of China Qin Shihuang is as pertinent as understanding the country's contemporary leaders. It's only by exploring China's rich history that we can understand modern China," Professor Brown said.

"History matters in modern China. It is a culture and polity weighed down by history: a history that does not exist so much in the material landscape but in the language, cultural memory and habits of its people."

The figures featured in the dictionary include political leaders, business leaders, lawyers, activists, writers, artists, intellectuals, and scientists.

The last time a comprehensive Chinese biographical dictionary was compiled was in 1898 by Herbert Giles, who helped to develop Wade-Giles - the romanisation system for Mandarin Chinese that has now mostly been replaced by pinyin. More than a century later, the Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography provides a new window into Chinese culture, history and values.

Produced by one of the world's leading academic reference publishers, based in the United States, the dictionary is the work of more than 100 leading experts on all periods of Chinese history from the earliest eras to the present day. The entries are accessible to the general reader and contain suggested readings, a chronology, and introductions to the dynasties and other periods in which the historical figures lived.

Six years in the making, this project has involved experts from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Europe, Australia, the United States, Canada, and elsewhere.

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