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Contemporary Chinese Societies: Continuity and Change, 2nd edition

2007
Distributed by Columbia University Press, 61 W 62nd St., New York, NY 10023
Produced by University of Pittsburgh
Director n/a
CD-ROM, color
Sr. High - Adult
Asian Studies, Area Studies, China


Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 8/3/2007

An excellent, though brief, compilation of text, photographs, maps, and brief video and musical segments, Contemporary Chinese Societies can be used to supplement books and lectures for students studying China. Random access to numerous topics allows users cut and paste excerpts, add original notations, and assemble individual files tailored to fit their needs.

Though computer driven, the best material here is textual. Photographs and maps are interesting and useful, but function like good color illustrations in a book. Musical excerpts are too brief to do more than introduce the text (much like the photographs), but if this were a book, not a CD-ROM, one could not hear anything. Approaches to the material are through four “pathways” (Life and Society, Economy, Power and Politics, Chinese Perspectives) and six “units” (Unity in Diversity, Views of Time and Space, The Individual and the Collectivity, Adapting to a Changing World, Shaping Conformity and Dissent, Political Culture).

The artistic aspects of Contemporary Chinese Societies are outstanding. It has well-performed music, attractive screen arrangements, excellent maps, lovely photographs, and smoothly written text. The material is effectively edited. CD-ROM format allows users to jump from the narrative to illustrations, enlarge the text box for easier reading, and click on links for definitions and similar information--all more attractive than reading the same things in a book. On the other hand, while it is nice to be able to link to information in a variety of entertaining media, what appears in the links only whetted this reviewer’s appetite without satisfying it. The links provide too little--a single photograph, definition, or map--without more explanation. It seems that following up with the books cited in topical bibliographies still is the best way to get added meat and potatoes, not just tiny morsels.

Loading the program on a PC took two tries, for no apparent reason. Instructions on the jewel case liner did not suggest opening the disk drive door and reloading the disk if it failed the first time, but offered a strategy that did not work (go to “My Computer” and the CD drive icon, and double-click on it). The disk loaded immediately on an iMac. An introductory “Overview” section instructs users on the features of the disk; however, the narrator reads through her script too quickly and her voice lacked expression.

The most annoying thing, in this reviewer’s opinion, is omission of an easy way to get to the credits for individual articles, photographs, etc. Editors’ and photographers’ initials follow original material, but one must exit the program to see credits that identify the people being represented. Viewers must trust that the material is as accurate and credible as it is right to expect from a university.

Recommended for senior high school and above.