The renowned historian captures a critical moment in Chinese history
Celebrated China scholar Jonathan Spence vividly brings to life seventeenth-century China through this biography of Z hang Dai, recognized as one of the finest historians and essayists of the Ming dynasty. Born in 1597, Z hang Dai was forty-seven when the Ming dynasty, after more than two hundred years of rule, was overthrown by the Manchu invasion of 1644. Having lost his fortune and way of life, Z hang Dai fled to the countryside and spent his final forty years recounting the time of creativity and renaissance during Ming rule before the violent upheaval of its collapse. This absorbing tale of Z hang Dai's life illuminates the transformation of a culture and reveals how China's history affects its place in the world today.
Spence describes Zhang Dai as an "excavator," someone who "tried to get into the deep and dark places" of memory. The same could be said of Spence himself. He is marvelously tactful in allowing Zhang an aura of mystery"it is hard to catch the essence of Zhang Dai," he confesses. He resists making facile comparisons to other writers or other times…anchoring us firmly in a 17th-century landscape and mindscape. In Return to Dragon Mountain, Spence has himself opened an unsuspected world of "tadpole traces" and "bird feet markings," a magic-lantern realm lost until now and movingly retrieved.