• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 10:05am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 March, 2014, 4:35am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 March, 2014, 6:14am

Leading Hong Kong barrister Warren Chan Chee-hoi tackles world history

Real-life courtrooms have none of the drama you see on television. But when I was a court reporter, there were a few times when it was almost interesting to watch when a barrister showed both intellect and flair.

One of them is Warren Chan Chee-hoi, SC, one of the city's most senior barristers. It turns out he is also a scholar, a distinguished historian no less. He has now published a two-volume bilingual history of the world, from 4500BC to 1911.

Though highly idiosyncratic, All Kinds of Everything is the kind of book I wish I had when I first went to college as a teenager. It used to be that well-taught youngsters would have gone to university with significant cultural and linguistic competence. Now, in Hong Kong and elsewhere, many start with a clean slate. It's difficult to absorb subjects in the humanities if you don't know the history behind them. Chan's book would have armed a young person with that knowledge.

At a time when the teaching of Chinese history on the mainland has been profoundly nationalistic and Hong Kong people are worried it is being imported here, Chan offers a general history that is both uniquely Chinese and universal. And when countries in the region are making belligerent territorial claims and counterclaims, their citizens need a historical understanding of their relations to restrain their leaders. This book should help fill a myopic void.

The chapters in both volumes adopt the periodisation of China's dynastic history. The first volume follows 16 dynastic periods. But interestingly, the second volume on world history has the same table of contents, because Chan charts what happened around the world during each of those Chinese dynasties. In other words, it is written from a Chinese perspective, but with a global view. For example, he pairs the rise and fall of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates in Islam with the Tang dynasty.

There are many world history books, but to my knowledge, none was written this way. At a time when historians are as specialised as everyone in other academic fields, you really need to earn your living outside of academia to dare write what in the trade is derisively called "universal history".

Chan's book deserves a wide audience, in China and elsewhere.


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Dai Muff
This commercial brought to you by ....................
Maybe it's a good book but shouldn't your column be in the 'Lifestyle' section today. A book review/plug is a book review after all.
Yes, but it isn't a review you see. A review, mostly done by somebody who either has a lot of knowledge on the topic in question or by a literary critic, would critically assess the pros and cons of the work, placing it in its context and delivering a verdict on its value as a title to be read or not.

This is just a shameless PR-plug.
It is self-published. That should really tell you all you need to know. Even Amazon has certain standards of minimum quality a title has to meet before they will carry it. Probably rejected by every major and minor real publisher out there, Mr Chan then decided to part with some of his own (no doubt plentiful) barrister money to get a couple of hundred copies printed and the title added to an online catalogue. If nothing else, it makes one seem more interesting at dinner parties ('Remind me, have I given you a copy of my book?') and thanks to dimwits like Alex Lo, it is good for the PR.


From the blurb, we can see what kind of 'historical' approach Mr Chan likes to take. Let's take historical figures (mythical or real, take your pick) and events, take them completely out of context and then pass judgement on them using a contemporary perspective. History as a morality tale, cherry-picking left and right to prove whatever point you want. A lovely 372 pages of it for less than hundred dollars. And of course, colonialism and those Evil Western Powers are the root of all evil in the world. That is obvious, just look at the map. Oh the sweet taste of hindsight with tunnel vision.

In summary - revisionist, historically irresponsible, intellectually hollow nonsense. You will love it.

P.S. Please do not deface the lockers.
Cute that you include a photo that's ancient history, as well.
I am weighing to place Mr. Chan's book on my reading list. Well, I searched and so far turned up nothing. Amazon.com doesn't carry this title. So where is it?
I agree that the legal profession
is rife with swollen heads
of the prolix + ambivalent + pedantic + irrelevant type
(in scmp speak, c u m = **** = +)
that are actually bureaucrats cloaked in a profession
serving petrified regulations
Your promotion makes it seem like
here is one of the very rare exceptions
a source of many enjoyable hours
from this kind of books I’d expect
maps and bilingual proper nouns
that are necessary to sharpen images
when knitting historical understanding


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