Urbanization in Early and Medieval China: Gazetteers for the City of Suzhou. Translated and introduced by OLIVIA MILBURN. Seattle: UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON PRESS, 2015. Pp. xx + 360. $50 (cloth); $30 (paper).
In Urbanization in Early and Medieval China, Olivia Milburn provides a scholarly translation of three local gazetteers, each of which describes the city of Suzhou and its surrounding areas during the Warring States, Tang, and Song periods, respectively. The translation of these often-overlooked local texts makes accessible "the full range of information offered by these ancient resources" to students and scholars alike (p. xiv). Besides the translations, Milburn also presents some limited analysis and comparisons of these texts. Her primary historiographic intervention is that past scholarship on the city-planning of Suzhou has been far too speculative, unduly focusing on elements that aligned with canonical standards of Chinese urban planning. To the contrary, Milburn argues that the little available textual and archaeological evidence suggests that the original city displayed a blending of Zhou and local Gouwu traditions.
This work is a natural outgrowth of Milburn's previous translation of the Yue jue shu in The Glory of Yue, published in 2010 (Brill). She extracts the geographical chapter from the Yue jue shu on the kingdom of Wu, and then combines it with two later gazetteers on the same region. Therefore, where The Glory of Yue presents a broad array of information on the Warring States kingdoms of Wu and Yue, Urbanization in Early and Medieval China presents information on a more narrowly defined scope (geography, archeology, urban planning), but then traces the historical developments of these across one and a half millennia.
Urbanization in Early and Medieval China is organized into three parts. The first is an introduction that begins by tracing the development of gazetteer writing, and then concisely explains in three separate narratives the political, administrative, and social history of Suzhou from the Warring States to Song period. While this organization builds in redundancies in the information, it is hard to imagine how the unique details of each narrative could have been fit into a single narrative. The most interesting of these three narratives, for this reviewer, is on the social development of Suzhou, which explores the "difficulties of governing a large, ethnically diverse, and restive population" (p. 30). The...