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From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History

By: Kenneth J. Hammond,The Great Courses
Narrated by: Kenneth J. Hammond
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Editor reviews

A sweeping panorama of the immense 5000 year history, influence and power of China is provided in one of the most complete studies available today on audiobook, From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History, by The Great Courses in their Civilization & Culture Series, narrated by a leading expert in Chinese Studies, Professor Kenneth J. Hammond. Covering all subjects in these essential 36 lectures, Hammond divulges a vast expanse of research, giving listeners a complete understanding of this fascinating nation. An absolutely essential listen for those interested in politics, business, religion, economy and history. Available now from Audible.

Summary

For most of its 5,000-year existence, China has been the largest, most populous, wealthiest, and mightiest nation on Earth. And for us as Westerners, it is essential to understand where China has been in order to anticipate its future. These 36 eye-opening lectures deliver a comprehensive political and historical overview of one of the most fascinating and complex countries in world history.

You'll learn about the powerful dynasties that ruled China for centuries; the philosophical and religious foundations-particularly Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism-that have influenced every iteration of Chinese thought, and the larger-than-life personalities, from both inside and outside its borders, of those who have shaped China's history. As you listen to these lectures, you'll see how China's politics, economics, and art reflect the forces of its past.

From the "Mandate of Heaven," a theory of social contract in place by 1500 B.C.E., 3,000 years before Western philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, to the development of agriculture and writing independent of outside influence to the technologically - advanced Han Dynasty during the time of the Roman Empire, this course takes you on a journey across ground that has been largely unexplored in the history courses most of us in the West have taken.

In guiding you through the five millennia of China's history, Professor Hammond tells a fascinating story with an immense scope, a welcome reminder that China is no stranger to that stage and, indeed, has more often than not been the most extraordinary player on it.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2004 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2004 The Great Courses

What listeners say about From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History

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Wonderful set of lectures

Where does From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This set of lectures was definitely one of the best I have listened to. Really engaging, the lecturer covers an incredible range of eras in these lectures. One of the best things about it for me was that it give you an in depth outline of how each of the Chinese dynasties fits in with the other, which then enables you to read into which ever one interests you the most without feeling totally lost (the Harvard UP set on Chinese Imperialism is particularly good for this).

What was one of the most memorable moments of From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History?

All of the lectures were really well put together, though perhaps a couple of the most memorable were the ones on the ancient civilisations and the evolution of the writing system, simply because it speaks to the origin of language itself, which is always fascinating. The other is probably when Wu Sangui opened the gates of the Great Wall at Shanhai Pass letting the Qing forces through, then allying his forces to help them take the capital at Beijing. Wu did all this mainly so that he could ensure that the recent usurper of the Ming throne, Li Zicheng, didn't take the woman he loved into his harem. Dramatic events!

What does Professor Kenneth J. Hammond bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

The lecturer was really good, in all honesty I listened to the lectures at 1.5x speed, mainly because the speed people naturally give lectures tends to be a tad on the slow side.

8 people found this helpful

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Interesting but slow delivery grated in the middle

Chinese subject is perhaps too vast a subject to tackle in even a long set of courses such as this and certainly Professor Hammond seemed to struggle to make it manageable in the middle sections of this course. I confess I zoned out a little and got a bit lost in the series of dynasties in the Middle Ages. That being said the rest of the course was fascinating and it really picked up in the later periods when it is, perhaps, easier for a westerner to relate to the individuals involved.

My only serious gripe with the course was Professor Hammond's delivery. He is clearly knowledgable and highly qualified but at times it sounded like his heart wasn't in it with a lot of sighs and very flat delivery. That combined with a habit of finishing a sentence with "OK?" grated a little but not enough to spoil the overall product.

4 people found this helpful

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Fascinating but at times Disappointing

I was very interested with the subject matter, but the hesitant speech of the lecturer is far from compelling. He occasionally made references to books with the assumption that they were known, but without any context for the works. Moving into the 19th century errors come in, particularly regarding the treaty giving Britain control of Hong Kong.
In the 20th century he follows the party line in his apologist history of Mao's rule. His assertion that the CCP was seen as the main force of resistance to the Japanese carefully avoids saying how staggeringly untrue this perception was, with many hundreds of thousands of Nationalists dying, fighting the Japanese, but only a few thousand Communists, whose numbers grew rapidly due to their lack of involvement in fighting. The upper figure given for the deaths in the Great Leap Forward was the official upper figure accepted by the Communist party, and is far lower than most estimates. All in all it was worth listening to for the early empires but far too biased in the later history.

3 people found this helpful

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Yao to Now

I’m 26 and have been listening to audiobooks for most of my life; this is easily one of the best that I’ve come across. He has a great voice, it’s gentle and confident, and the quality of the recording is more than adequate, so it’s a very easy listen - good to engage with but also to fall asleep to if needed. The material is fairly dense and if my mind is particularly foggy I’ll listen to music instead, but usually the pace, subject matter and strength of the writing make for such entertainment that you don’t notice how much information is filtering through you. Sometimes I’ll rewind a part that I’ve missed, but more often I’ll relisten to a chapter or section that I’ve particularly enjoyed. I’ve no doubt that it will become increasingly important to try to understand todays China as we progress through the rest of this century and this is a great place to start. I’ve never bothered to leave a review before, but I wanted to leave my praise here because this is so worthy of it and I’m grateful.

1 person found this helpful

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Fabulously interesting series of lectures

Would you consider the audio edition of From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History to be better than the print version?

No idea but it was excellent in it's own right.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Prof Hammond delivered the lectures with an infectious enthusiasm for his subject

Which scene did you most enjoy?

I was riveted to Prof Hammond's narrative throughout and wasn't bored once

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The realisation that China has a 3000 year competitive advantage over Western economies, bureaucracies and political systems

Any additional comments?

I'm guessing it won't be long before our children are learning Chinese history as part of the mainstream curriculum unless we find a way to compete against the soft power and relentless expansion China has been exercising over the last 30 years backed up with the best part of 6000 organising themselves better than we do.

1 person found this helpful

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A great introduction to Chinese history

I recommend this book deeply for anyone who wish to gain an understanding of the major threads of development in Chinese society over the previous 5000 years.

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A must buy for any history buff

Fantastic comprehensive history of China from 3000BC up until early 21st century, narrated by a lecturer whose passion shines through in every word.
I can’t recommend this highly enough

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Brilliant

Excellent, informative. The narration is good, but a few "uhs" and "aaahhs" could have been edited out in post. It's nothing extraordinary, totally normal for a live lecture, but sometimes enough to be annoying. All in all probably the best Great Courses lecture series; I've been through it three times.

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Incredibly interesting and clearly explained.

I found this to be a compelling story, very well explained. I will be listening to it again.

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Old-school class teaching technique

It is an oldschool class: very slow, no story telling at all, sometimes feeling throwing names after names without any effort to make it seducing to the student. But it has a lot of content.

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  • Kristi R.
  • 25-07-15

"Only powerful people have liberty." Sun Yat-sen

History of China
1. Geography and Archaeology
2. The First Dynasties
3. The Zhou Conquest
4. Fragmentation and Social Change
5. Confucianism and Daoism
6. The Hundred Schools
7. The Early Han Dynasty
8. Later Han and the Three Kingdoms
9. Buddhism
10. Northern and Southern Dynasties
11. Sui Reunification and the Rise of the Tang
12. The Early Tang Dynasty
13. Han Yu and the Late Tang
14. Five Dynasties and the Song Founding
15. Intellectual Ferment in the 11th Century
16. Art and the Way
17. Conquest States in the North
18. Economy and Society in Southern Song
19. Zhu Xi and Neo-Confucianism
20. The Rise of the Mongols
21. The Yuan Dynasty
22. The Rise of the Ming
23. The Ming Golden Age
24. Gridlock and Crisis
25. The Rise of the Manchus
26. Kangxi to Qianlong
27. The Coming of the West
28. Threats from Within and Without
29. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom
30. Efforts at Reform
31. The Fall of the Empire
32. The New Culture Movement and May 4th
33. The Chinese Communists, 1921-1937
34. War and Revolution
35. China Under Mao
36. China and the World in a New Century

“In the construction of a country, it is not the practical workers but the idealists and planners that are difficult to find.” Sun Yat-sen

I really enjoyed this Great Course. Professor Kenneth J. Hammond from New Mexico State makes this 5,000 year history of China come alive.

It helped me to begin to understand the difference in cultures between the western world and the east. It also helped me to see that because I was brought up in a democracy/republic that all nations may not want that kind of government.

I was surprised to learn that under Communism women had more rights than they had previously and as capitalism grabs hold of China, women’s rights are disappearing. I also found it interesting to learn why the students were protesting in Tiananmen Square and the eventual outcome of that protest.

I also found intriguing the family dynasties that ruled China over the years and the Mongols taking control under the Khans when Marco Polo visited. I was disgusted to find Great Britain as the biggest drug cartel in history and how they pushed opium on the Chinese people in order to have an advantage in trading in silver with them.

In America we learn little of Chinese history and these classes are about thirty minutes in length which is perfect for a little at a time. This took me a long time to finish but I feel I have a better understanding of the Chinese people and history thanks to Prof. Hammond.


80 people found this helpful

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  • Tommy D'Angelo
  • 23-11-19

Great in Some Areas but Lacking in Others

This was an odd course to say the least. The poor reviews left me hesitant to purchase this course for years but when I did I found the beginning half of the course to be very interesting and engaging. Sure the professor focused mostly on high political life and the ruling class but for that component I thought it was a well executed discussion. I couldn't tell from where all these negative reviews originated.

But as the course dragged on it was getting more and more difficult to ignore his tendency to overuse filler words (uhhh, ummm) in his struggles to find the right words which became very distracting and when he got to modern day history of China I thought his treatment of the Communist party was mind boggling. He glossed over the atrocities that the Communists (especially Mao Zedong) carried out on their own citizens. Regardless of your perspective (some professors will justify them while others will harp on them ad nauseum) these events form a huge part of the history of 20th century China so for them to not even be discussed in any context is bizarre.

I have to say more on his presentation style tendency to use filler words. This came out most often when he was struggling to find the right word or two to wrap up a thought when in reality any additional words added no value to the message anyway so the delayed completion was painful many times (“We already know what you mean so just stop killing us with the “uhhhh” as you search for the final words!”). I can see this presentation being a million times better if he just read off of a script!

Another warning: there is very little information on Chinese culture or social life. Other than lectures on Confucianism, Buddhism, Neo-Confucianism, and art in the 11th and 12th centuries there was very little attention outside the political history of China. How was everyday life was for everyday citizens?

The major imperil dynasties listed below are covered in-depth:
o Xia
o Shang
o Zhou
o Qin
o Han
o Jin
o Sui
o Tang
o Song
o Yuan
o Ming
o Qing


My personal highlights included lectures 2 (the first dynasties of China: the Xia and Shang) and 33-34 (conflict between the Nationalist and Communist parties in the 20th century).

If you're interested in political high life involving the rise and fall of dynasties and court life then this course delivers. If you're looking for a full account of Chinese history (social life and culture) that is balanced in how it handles controversial decisions then stay away and instead pick up "The Foundations of Eastern Civilization".

62 people found this helpful

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  • Discerning buyer
  • 30-12-17

Informative but dry and incomplete

The teacher belongs to the "one damn thing after another" school of history--lots of facts, very little effort to hold them together with theories or draw any interesting lessons out of them. Few comparisons with other cultures, little discussion of competing interpretations of events, etc. If I hadn't done outside reading, for instance, I'd have no idea that the existence of the Xia dynasty is still controversial--the teacher presents it as established fact.

Once Communism enters the scene, the story gets deceptively rosy. The Cultural Revolution is presented as mostly an internal party fight--the millions of casualties aren't mentioned. Casualties from the collectivization famine are mentioned, but they're presented as, "Collectivization led to increased food production, but they thought they had even more food than they really had, so they stopped rationing and--it was the darndest thing!--ten million people starved to death. Totally by accident. Nobody responsible here."

He presents China's accomplishments since Tiananmen in glowing terms, then says, "But they've come at a cost." My ears perk up, hoping for honest analysis. He continues, "Teachers' salaries haven't kept up with the rising standard of living, and health care is kind of expensive." Everything else, I guess, is peachy. He mentions government population control efforts, but he can't even bring himself to say the words "one-child policy," to say nothing of "forced abortions and sterilizations."

I get there are things it's dangerous to say if you're a scholar who wants to keep working in China. But if you can't talk about post-1960s China without becoming a party shill, it's best to say nothing at all.

46 people found this helpful

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  • Henry Shoots
  • 13-04-15

Communist party couldn't find a better proponent

Would you try another book from The Great Courses and/or Professor Kenneth J. Hammond?

I would not.

Which character – as performed by Professor Kenneth J. Hammond – was your favorite?

None.

What character would you cut from From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History?

None.

Any additional comments?

Mr Hammond actually works for the current Beijing communist party as their controversial "Confucius Institute" director. I wish this information was disclosed by Audible or Great Courses, if someone works under Hitler, I would had not buy that person's book on "Jewish History." I find this to be very crucial. I did not know this until AFTER I finished listening to his propaganda, I mean, lecture. Everything toward the end sounded more and more like a communist propaganda. I want to divide my review in 2 parts: the lecture on modern history of China, and the lecture in general. In the modern Chinese history section of the lecture, Mr Hammond basically glossed all over the atrocities and extremely brutal history of Mao and Chinese Communist Party. For example, policies where all the private property and wealth of the Chinese people were taken at the barrel of the gun, he called it "reform" and "important."Movements where millions of urban Chinese were forced to live in the country side, and forever had their status changed to "farmer," which made them illegal immigrants in modern China cities, Mr Hammond called it useful and important reforms for modern China.In the Great Leap Forward where millions of people were starved to death under collectivism, he called it simply an issue of error in reports of food production. Cultural Revolution, a movement that span over 10 years where teachers were paraded as traitors, mocked, attacked and many cases killed by communists, monks and priests were paraded as criminals, where endless cultural buildings, relics, art works, monuments, including the graves of Yue Fei and Confucius, were dug up and destroyed, Mr Hammond simply called it a conflict between Gang of 4 with those who opposed Mao. See, the reason Mao killed endless millions was because people are so mean to him.Right after he talked about how the misreporting of the Great Leap Forward, where officials offered unrealistic production number, was the cause of millions of deaths, he immediately praised the great "7% GDP growth" a few decades later given from the same officials. All the issues with Mao, according to Mr Hammond, was because people didn't follow his violent and brutal communism. All the issue with modern China, according to him, guess what: is because of capitalism!Yup.Those who do not learn from history will repeat it. Those who intentionally lie about history, then work for the communist party, however, are the much more vicious. His glossy account of the modern Chinese history is almost lifted right after a communist pamphlet, it almost reminds me of my childhood living under the same communist party.Maybe that is why the communist would hire him to be the director of the Confucius Institute, an organization's goal is to export communist propaganda to the USA.The other lectures on older history were very superficial for the most part. People who have some understanding of Chinese history might find it useful to chart up particular areas for further study, but many important events and characters were simply ignored. Of course, the amount of time given to 5,000 years, it is impossible to go deep into many issues.But I would not buy from Great Courses again until I careful research the presenter in the future.

40 people found this helpful

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  • Travis Greene
  • 10-10-13

A good listen

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes because it is a great crash course to Chinese history and seems to cover all of the main events.

Would you listen to another book narrated by Professor Kenneth J. Hammond?

That depends on the subject. He wasn't a particularly great story teller and didn't really make the subject come to life. I was interested in most of the lectures so I could pay attention, but occasionally he would dwell on some less interesting topics and I would lose interest.

Any additional comments?

I certainly enjoyed the audiobook but it was not one I could listen to for hours at a time because the Professor was not very energized. I was also disappointed that he did not talk about the building of the Great Wall at all. However, it was a great introduction/overview of Chinese History.

20 people found this helpful

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  • David
  • 03-10-13

Good broad brush information

Did the narration match the pace of the story?

The professors speach candence was too slow for me. I had to play the entire thing on 2x speed for it to be tolerable.

Any additional comments?

Great information overall with some solid broad brush coverage of the subject. I would have liked to have gotten more details in a number of places, but that would have made it too long.

16 people found this helpful

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  • Hercules Mulligan
  • 09-10-20

Shockingly Incomplete

I listened to the course to try to understand better China and it's role on the world stage. I was looking forward to the final few lectures to gain understanding on the situations with Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, international trade, etc. i was shocked to find that these lectures were written like PRC propaganda. There is no mention of Tibet or Hong Kong, Taiwan is not mentioned after 1949. The Tiananmen Square massacre is downplayed to an alarming extent. I could go on about human rights issues, religious suppression, the One Child Policy. The degree to which Kenneth J. Hammond ignores and chages details makes me question the entirety of the course. Disappointed does not begin to cover it.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Jason Cherniak
  • 25-12-15

It's ok

This included a lot of information and introduced me to Chinese history, but it was very short on details and in many cases provided summaries that were too vague. It was more detailed once it reached Communist China. I feel like this book is an introductory introduction and there is a better option available on Audible from the Great Courses.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Jane
  • 19-09-15

Watch out for the professor's politics

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

It's a fascinating subject, even 36 lectures can't really do it justice. Most of the lectures are Ok, but the professor didn't really make it come alive. I would have liked more attention to what life in China was like for different classes of people and what the art and literature of China was about. But my main problem was the very end when the professor's view of life under the Communist party comes out. The famine of the 1950's was only due to the overreporting of production. The Cultural Revolution can be compared to the Solidarity movement in Poland! Since the return of capitalism to China women are being abducted and forced into marriage! The professor gives short shrift to the suffering of the Chinese people over the past 70 years. Of course he can express his opinions but he's not entitled to his own set of facts.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

Not really applicable to this course.

Would you be willing to try another one of Professor Kenneth J. Hammond’s performances?

No

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

As noted above, I was a little disappointed in the lectures as a whole and a little angry at the end.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Ted Baehr
  • 13-06-20

Good overview, missing important elements

Of three courses on China, this is the best overview, but it has no perspective. In other words, it does not provide insights into the motivations and the consequences, which the other courses did very well. Killing of 20 million people or so is passed over, as well as matricide, patricide and other acts of cruelty. It focuses on the leaders, with some good references to cultural leaders. BUT -Why did the leaders do what they did? What about the others?
Dr. Ted Baehr

7 people found this helpful