A History


By John Keay

Formats and Prices





  1. Trade Paperback $24.99
  2. ebook $16.99

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 6, 2011. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

An authoritative account of five thousand years of Chinese history

Many nations define themselves in terms of territory or people; China defines itself in terms of history. Taking into account the country’s unrivaled, voluminous tradition of history writing, John Keay has composed a vital and illuminating overview of the nation’s complex and vivid past. Keay’s authoritative history examines 5,000 years in China, from the time of the Three Dynasties through Chairman Mao and the current economic transformation of the country. Crisp, judicious, and engaging, China is the classic single-volume history for anyone seeking to understand the present and future of this immensely powerful nation.


  • "Exquisitely written.... In fluid, effortless prose, Keay moves energetically through the vicissitudes of China's dynastic past."—Guardian (UK)
  • "Absorbingly readable.... A pleasingly cultured account of the great sweep of China's evolution."—Independent (UK)
  • "Here, at roughly 130 pages per millennium, is China's history from the earliest fragments of Xia dynasty to the last emperor, with a little of Chairman Mao added for good (or bad) luck. Its core, though, covers the 'big five' dynasties--Han, Tang, Song, Ming and Qing--from 200 BC to the start of the twentieth century, and Keay's choice is deliberate. There is no understanding China present or future without a sense of its past. Much of that past, by any standard, is awe-inspiring."—Observer(UK)
  • "Without sacrificing substance for brevity, Keay manages to illustrate China's history very much as a narrative of the rise and fall of strong and feeble emperors, bureaucratic cliques and factionalism, the development of philosophical traditions and religious incarnations, and the constant restructuring of the empire's geographical boundaries. Readers already interested in, or wishing newly to embark upon, Chinese history will adore this book. Highly recommended."—Library Journal
  • "John Keay has written...with unflagging zest, clear, accessible prose, and a refreshingly panoramic perspective." Open Letters Monthly

On Sale
Dec 6, 2011
Page Count
608 pages
Basic Books

John Keay

About the Author

John Keay is the author of several acclaimed books, including China: A History, The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India Was Mapped and Everest Was Named, and the bestselling India: A History. He was formerly a special correspondent for the Economist, and contributes regularly to the Sunday Telegraph, Times Higher Educational Supplement, and the Literary Review.

Learn more about this author