HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Pageant of Chinese History
Author: Elizabeth Seeger
Illustrator: Bernard Watkins
Publisher: David McKay Company, Fourth Edition in 1967
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 13-18
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Seeger, Elizabeth. The Pageant of Chinese History (published in 1934, Fourth Edition reprinted in 1964 by David McKay Company Inc., New York City, NY). Do you have an interest in history but find that reading history textbooks can become a little boring? When told in story form, as author Elizabeth Seeger does in this excellent overview of Chinese history, it can be fascinating. The book begins with the myths and legends of how China was settled and established, and then covers the major ruling dynasties, such as Chou, Han, Tang, Sung, Yuan, Ming, and Ching, from the earliest days down to the time of its publication. Throughout the chronological history, the book includes sections on the relevant philosophies, religious beliefs, and cultural arts which developed within the various time periods. Revisions produced after the book’s publishing in the 1930s have tried to catch up to the earth-shattering changes that happened to China after World War II, with the last reprint in 1967 as a fourth edition to include the Revolution and Communism, as well as a chapter on “The New China.”
Seeger wrote this book as a result of being a teacher. When asked to instruct students in world history at a progressive school in New York City, she noticed that the course was very heavily Western focused, starting with Egypt, moving to Greece and Rome, and heading to the rest of Europe and America. But she wanted to cover, at a bare minimum, China, Japan, and India as well. So she produced this entertaining volume, which was chosen as a Newbery Honor Book in 1935, and several others. It does not tell everything, but for a person who is curious about China, it is a good introduction for a study of Chinese history, culture, literature, religion, and lifestyle. Though it is somewhat of a monster at 407 pages, the author is hurt by chronology. She spends hundreds of pages on the early millennia of Chinese history, so she has to fly through modern times.
My biggest complaint was that in her discussion of the New China Seeger did explain some of the troubles associated with Communism but left it hanging on somewhat of a “let’s wait and see—maybe everything will work out all right” kind of thread. Of course, she could not know the future, but subsequent events have proven what an absolutely horrible track record Communism has had, even in China, just as many astute observers in those days predicted. However, those who stick primarily with the early chapters will gain a better understanding of Chinese culture and its value system. One reviewer wrote, “Seeger did more in this one book to explain the national character of China to me than any other dozen books I’ve read.” And another said, “Although I didn’t have time to devote to this entire book, it’s one I’d certainly like to have around and hope I’d see kids reading for fun.”