Monday, February 1, 2016

Ancestral Leaves: A Family Journey through Chinese History

Joseph W. Esherick Ancestral Leaves: A Family Journey through Chinese History, examines the story of the Ye family through several, mostly tumultuous periods in Chinese history.

The family are lower-level Confucian-Scholar officials in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They are steeped in the Confucian classics, and strive for the honor and wealth which comes with governmental office.

Eskerick then moves forward in time showing how the Ye family fares as times change; by the twentieth century they are in the merchant class, which is growing in power and prestige.

With the end of the imperial Chinese system, the Ye family fought for both the Nationalists and Communists. During the early years of Communist rule, the family prospered in relatively peaceful years, but with the Cultural Revolution in 60s and 70s, they are exposed to all manner of danger and deprivation.

Finally, with the rise of the capitalist system in the early 1980s, the Ye family engages in all manner of middle class professions: they go to college, train as scientists, doctors, and lawyers.

The lesson in this book is simple but profound. The Ye family, and most Chinese people, adjusted to changing times. Not only adjusted, but also prospered, even in trying times.

Eskherick’s book is an excellent way to view recent Chinese history through a very human lens.

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