There are some books that are so fundamental to work in an academic field that practitioners refer to them simply by the author's last name. Many of us had respectfully and affectionately referred to Endymion Wilkinson
's Chinese History: A Manual
, Revised and Enlarged (2000) simply as "Wilkinson" (or, "The Yellow Book," as opposed to an earlier blue-covered version of the text), and have had well-worn and dog-eared copies of it on hand at all times. I purchased my own copy shortly after beginning my doctoral program, and immediately understood why the encyclopedic guide to research in Chinese history had been so formative and so indispensible for so many people. It was in every way an essential text for anyone studying or practicing the history of China.
The recent publication of Wilkinson's Chinese History: A New Manual
(Harvard University Asia Center, 2012) was and remains a major event. The manual quickly sold out (within a month of its publication!), and Wilkinson has already submitted revisions for a second printing. Chinese History: A New Manual is in many ways an entirely new organism that is quite different from its predecessors. It incorporates a million new words of text and substantially new material on everything from Chinese archaeology to environmental history. Its seventy-six chapters range from the basics of the Chinese language to the nuances of historical bibliography, incorporating detailed accounts of topics that are fundamental to understanding China and its culture (geography, literature, food and drink, etc.), as well as chronologically-organized research guides to individual periods of Chinese history. Scattered throughout the text are insets on a wide range of material, from nonverbal salutations to the mariner's compass, that together comprise a wonderful kind of miscellany. The book is, in every way, absolutely indispensible to work in Chinese history.
In the course of our conversation, we talked about many aspects of the genesis of and research strategies that produced Wilkinson's project. We also talked about the present state and possible futures of Chinese history, and the qualities that might make a work into a lasting contribution to that field. Enjoy!