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The first Western book about China

We are in immersed, inundated, deluged, in these final weeks of work on the Berkshire Encyclopedia of China. There are many frustrations, and a startling number of wonderful moments. Not only because the Berkshire China team is so terrific, but because our extended team of authors and advisers keeps coming through for us. “I love this guy,” said one of the gang, upon receiving another offer of last-minute assistance from a scholar who has already done a great deal.

I came across some lines that I plan to quote in my publisher’s note.  They come from the first European book about China, which was published, writes Donald F. Lach, “not until” 1569 – some decades after the first Portguese mission. The author, a Portuguese Dominican named Gaspar da Cruz, included this “Notice to the Reader”:

I hereby give readers a necessary warning by which they can conjecture the greatness of the things of China, viz.—that whereas distant things often sound greater than they really are, this is clean contrary (because China is much more than it sounds), and the sight must be seen and not heard, because hearing it is nothing in comparison with seeing it.

I’ve lost track of the number of China hands who have told me exactly the same thing, and though seeing it for oneself is obviously the best thing, I’m hoping that the encyclopedia will provide much new perspective, and new vistas.

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