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Dictionary of Chinese Biography: Prehistory to Xi Jiinping

Dictionary of Chinese Biography: Prehistory to Xi Jiinping


The Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography uses the life stories of 135 key individuals, to tell the story of China itself over the entire span of its history. This is the 3-volume set; Volume 4 can be purchased separately. For the complete 4 volumes, click here.

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The Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography, the first publication of its kind since 1898, is the work of more than one hundred internationally recognized experts from nearly a dozen countries. It has been designed to satisfy the growing thirst of students, researchers, professionals, and general readers for knowledge about China. It makes the entire span of Chinese history manageable by introducing the reader to emperors, politicians, poets, writers, artists, scientists, explorers, and philosophers who have shaped and transformed China over the course of five thousand years. In 135 entries, ranging from 1,000 to 8,000 words and written by some of the world’s leading China scholars, the Dictionary of Chinese Biography takes the reader from the important (even if possibly mythological) figures of ancient China to Communist leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. The in-depth essays provide rich historical context, and create a compelling narrative that weaves abstract concepts and disparate events into a coherent story. Cross-references between the articles show the connections between times, places, movements, events, and individuals. The three-volume set includes a range of appendices, including a timeline of key events, a pronunciation guide, a bibliography, lists of rulers and other prominent people, and other supplemental materials for students of Chinese history and culture. Volume Four (which is published separately) focuses on key individuals from the People’s Republic of China’s post-opening era, starting in 1979.

Dictionary of Chinese Biography V1, Prehistory to 907

Xia and Shang, Zhou, Qin, Southern & Northern, Sui, Tang

Dictionary of Chinese Biography V2, From 960 to 1644

Song, Jurchen Jin, Yuan, Ming

Dictionary of Chinese Biography V3, From 1644 to 1979

Qing, Republic of China, PRC

Dictionary of Chinese Biography V4, From 1979 to 2015

PRC, Greater China


Additional information

Editorial Board

Christopher Cullen, Needham Research Institute; Cambridge University, Julia Lovell, University of London, Guoxiang Peng, Zhejiang University, Chloe Starr, Yale University, Jan Stuart, The British Museum, John E. Wills, Jr., University of Southern California, Frances Wood, British Library




Kerry Brown, China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney

Associate Editor

Patrick G. Boehler, University of Hong Kong, Wai Tsui, The Chinese University of Hong Kong







Chinese Title

宝库山 中华传记字典 (第1-3卷)


  1. Against the Grain

    The Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography is a three-volume set structured using a chronological approach as it offers one hundred thirty-five biographies of influential figures in Chinese history. The set is edited by Kerry Brown of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and draws on the knowledge and expertise of an international list of more than one hundred contributors. Coverage spans the time periods from the early Xia Dynasty (2100 BCE) through the Tang (618-907 CE); the Song Dynasty (960-1279) through the Ming (1368-1644); and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) up to People’s Republic and the modern opening of China in 1979. There is also a Volume 4 (2014, 9781614729006, $175, pre-publication price) set for release later this year that will bring coverage to the present.

    While this is a biographical reference, the focus is on more than biography. The goal of the set is not only to provide facts about the lives of leading figures. The attempt here is to use these biographies to provide readers an understandable context from which to view the whole of Chinese history.

    The entries are substantial and range from shorter sketches of 1,000 words to full-blown essays that come in at close to 8,000 words. Coverage includes both well- and lesser-known figures and features scientists and inventors, philosophers and religious figures, dynastic rulers, statesmen and military leaders, as well as poets, authors, artists, and scholars. As one might expect, the vast majority are men but some prominent women are covered. Each entry has a similar structure that provides the subjects dates, their role, and a brief summary of the person’s life and importance. This is followed by the text of the article enhanced by relevant sidebars and visuals including maps and a portrait of the subject. All articles end with a list of primary and secondary sources for further reading and exploration.

    The articles are written in an accessible, reader-friendly style but grounded in academic scholarship. The biographies are both factual and evaluative including accounts of the life and achievements of the subject while at the same time offering assessments of their influence. But perhaps more importantly, reading these entries gives a sense of the historical context within which the person lived. References are continually made to the time periods being discussed and readers can use the chronological table of contents and list of articles to place each time period within an overall historical framework. Added to this is a helpful chronology of events for all time periods covered. Other aids and appendices include a listing of entries by subject, a short pronunciation guide to Mandarin Chinese, and a conversion table between pinyin and Wade-Giles transcription systems, an index of Kings, Emperors, an index of geographical locations and other rulers, and a general index. In addition, there is a glossary of pinyin terms, a bibliography of standard references and resources, and a list of all of the prominent people mentioned in the set with those having articles devoted to them in bold.

    The Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography reflects a rich but complicated history stretching back to 2100 BCE and does so in a way that enables the non-specialist to locate not only the biographical facts but grasp the broader context of the lives being discussed. While there have been other biographical works on specific dynasties and time periods, this set is unique in that it provides life accounts from all eras of Chinese history while simultaneously offering a framework from which to view the overall history.

    With its scholarly approach, the Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography is a natural fit for academic libraries but it will also appeal to larger public libraries where there is patron interest. Libraries that already have the publisher’s well-received five-volume Berkshire Encyclopedia of China (2009, 978-0977015948, $675) will definitely want to consider this new set. It will prove a valuable companion and supplement to the older, well-established reference.

    Digital editions are available via major eBook and database services and a print/digital bundle is being offered in cooperation with Credo Reference.

  2. Benjamin A. Elman, Princeton University and Fudan University

    We have long needed a new, comprehensive dictionary of Chinese biography that satisfies both China specialists and teachers/students interested in famous Chinese across the ages…. No comprehensive biographical dictionary of China has successfully replaced Herbert Giles’s [1898] work until the new DCB. It’s about time!

  3. Alice Miller, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

    Taken together, the carefully selected and authoritatively written biographies in these volumes offer general readers and specialists alike an engrossing pathway into the broad sweep of China’s long past. I found it hard to dip into any one of these biographies without wishing to read several more just to continue the story.

  4. ProtoView (formerly Book News)

    This three-volume reference has been designed to make available to students and the general public a resource for enhanced understanding of Chinese history, and to support further research.

  5. Alexander Pantsov, Capital University

    Finally all major historical figures in the long history of China have found their biographers in this outstanding contribution to our understanding of Chinese culture and history. This is a must-have book that belongs in the personal library of all students of China.

  6. Rana Mitter, University of Oxford

    Chinese history is enriched by the lives of distinguished men and women, and finally their lives are made accessible in a concise and accurate way in these volumes. This magnificent work will surely be a must-have for serious libraries around the world.

  7. Philip J. Ivanhoe, Center for East Asian and Comparative Philosophy

    This accessible invitation to get to know some of the most interesting and significant figures in Chinese history will be appreciated by a wide and enthusiastic range of readers.

  8. Wm. Theodore de Bary, Columbia University

    All students of China and indeed of East Asia and world history will be greatly aided in their studies by this comprehensive reference work, a true milestone in collaborative historical research.

  9. Midwest Book Review

    Deftly written in-depth essays present a complex historical context, providing readers with a compelling narrative that weaves abstract concepts and disparate events into a coherent story…. The Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography is an impressive and seminal work of outstanding scholarship and a critically important addition to academic library biographical reference collections in general and Chinese history studies supplemental reading lists in particular.

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