Treason by the Book

by Jonathan D. Spence

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The following is a list of quotes from the book Treason by the Book: Traitors, Conspirators and Guardians of an Emperor by Jonathan D. Spence. The author was a historian of Chinese history and wrote fourteen books during his lifetime. Treason by the Book was his last. The story focuses on Zeng Jing, the real-life Chinese official who attempted to overthrow the Qing government in the early 1700s. In his introduction, Spence explains that on a deeper level, the book is about the inevitability of change and the experience of loss that most people have. Equally, as you read the quotes, consider that Spence was hoping to give insight into the mindsets of the real people behind his fictional account.

  • “The man holding the letter stands by the side of the road, at the foot of the Drum Tower, gazing down the long avenue that stretches straight through the city of Xi’an to the closely guarded West Gate, a mile away.”
  • “As to the letter itself, everything is as General Yue has guessed and feared: a few lines suffice to show him that the contents are undiluted treason.”
  • “He carried a stone in each hand, and shouted out for all to hear that a great upheaval was coming, that ‘Old Yue’ would rise up with his cavalry and troops in Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces to overthrow the government.”
  • “If there was any calculation behind his words and actions, it was that he had been driven to a state approaching madness even earlier, during a protracted struggle with the authorities to regain some land he had sold, under duress, to a brutal neighbor.”
  • “But even when the torture instruments are used on Zhang, strong wooden presses that constrict hands and fingers or ankles and leg bones even tighter, until they reach or pass the breaking point, he refuses to give the information the general demands.”
  • “Because you are all so filled with bravado, you think you can change the world.”

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