Hello hello and welcome or welcome back to my little bookish corner of the internet. Today I’m sharing my review of 24 Hours In Ancient China, rounding off my completion of this collection of books. You can find my reviews of the others at the end of this post.
Spend 24 hours with the ancient Chinese.
Travel back to AD 17, during the fourth year of the reign of Wang Mang of the Han dynasty, a vibrant and innovative era full of conflicts and contradictions. But as different as the Han culture might have been to other great ancient civilizations, the inhabitants of ancient China faced the same problems as people have for time immemorial: earning enough money, coping with workplace dramas and keeping your home in order … although the equivalent in this era was more about bribing inspectors, avoiding bullying from abusive watchmen and trying to keep your house from being looted by Huns.
In each chapter we meet one of 24 citizens of this ancient culture, from the midwife to the soldier, the priest to the performer and the bronze worker to the tomb looter, and see what an average day in ancient China was really like.
For me, this was maybe the book out of the four I was most curious to read. By my own admission, I’m an Egyptology geek, with a basic knowledge (mainly because of that) of Greek and Roman history, yet I know almost nothing about Chinese history. What I do know is based on things collected from historical fiction, and even then, I don’t know much. It’s something that, especially after having finished this book, I’ve decided I want to change.
Once again this way of telling history through the lives of people really worked. It allows a well-rounded picture of the society to take shape, all while acknowledging there is so much more that there isn’t space to tell. From midwives to doctors to tomb builders to farmers, I really took a lot away from this book. I had no idea, before reading, about the beauty of Han Dynasty tombs, which I now cannot stop searching for images of. I also had no idea about things such as how the accounting system worked in situations like grain storage, and found it absolutely fascinating.
What I’ve really enjoyed about all four of these books, and especially about this one, is just how much idea of tracking real lives allows facts to wedge themselves in little spaces in my brain. It’s a very effective, visual way to learn, and I truly hope more of these books are produced. It has encouraged me to learn more, and to expand my knowledge of all things history, with a new found interest in Ancient China.