#Essential Reads | What China and India Once Were

Editor | Foreign Affairs

Here is a brilliant book that help you to understand modern China and India through an unprecedented comparative analysis of their long histories.

Sheldon Pollock and Benjamin Elman’s What China and India Once Were is a timely, far-ranging comparison of the thought, politics, institutions, social practices and more of two great civilizations.

In the early years of the twenty-first century, China and India have emerged as world powers. In many respects, this is a return to the historical norm for both countries. For much of the early modern period, China and India were global leaders in a variety of ways. In this book, prominent scholars seek to understand modern China and India through an unprecedented comparative analysis of their long histories.

Using new sources, making new connections and re-examining old assumptions, noted scholars from China and India pair up in each chapter to tackle major questions by combining their expertise. What China and India Once Were details how these two cultural giants arrived at their present state, considers their commonalities and divergences, assesses what is at stake in their comparison and, more widely, questions whether European modernity provides useful contrasts. In jointly composed chapters, the contributors explore ecology, polity, gender relations, religion, literature, science and technology, and more, to provide the richest comparative account ever offered of China and India before the modern era. The book establishes innovative frameworks for understanding the historical and cultural roots of East and South Asia in the global context, drawing on the variety of Asian pasts to offer new ways of thinking about Asian presents.

Political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta told Arrackistan.com: “ This is methodologically sophisticated, unfailingly intelligent . . . This fascinating volume is the indispensable starting point for long-range India–China comparisons.”

Pankaj Mishra, author of From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt against the West and the Remaking of Asia said: “In one stroke, What China and India Once Were opens up a new realm of knowledge. This bold experiment in comparative history not only exposes many contemporary ideas and assumptions about India and China as parochial, it equips anyone interested in political economy, gender relations, religion, art, and literature with intellectual tools of remarkable subtlety and precision—the means to a profound and holistic understanding of two major countries that would decisively shape the world’s future.”

Another leading voice Rosalind O’Hanlon, St Cross College, said: “ Leading historians of early modern India and China come together in this volume to off her a series of wonderfully imaginative and sharply analytical studies of key aspects of these two large imperial formations. The result is a path-breaking volume which will be required reading for those interested in debates about “early modernity” and their implications for understanding the origins of our own globalized world.”

Noted commentator Alexander Woodside, University of British Columbia, told Arrackistan.com: “ What China and India Once Were makes an admirably far-ranging eff ort to compare the thought, political creativity, and institutions and social practices of these two great civilizations, which are now re-entering the ranks of global powers. This insightful book could not be more timely.”

The Editors:

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 the founding general editor of the Murty Classical Library of India.

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).

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