He quotes this short verse:
I'll pick up my skirts and cross the ford,
But if from your heart you turn me out --
Well, you' re not the only man about,
You silly, silly silliest lout!
Question: what is this, where is it from? (No Web-digging until you've made at least a guess).
What does it mean?
Postscript: Nope, no Dorothy Parker here (see comments). Instead, this is, as Cromer writes, "an example of one of the 305 Odes that every Confucian scholar had to memorize" in medieval China. Especially important because such knowledge was a help in getting into the bureaucracy.
Worth reading the book to find out why he quotes the verse, but in the meantime here's an attempt at the gist of the argument.
This is part of a chapter in which Cromer makes the case that China's mandarinate, its government through its medieval history, came in the way of the country's abilities in science -- despite its great technological innovations. In particular, there was an emphasis on studying works dating to before Confucius that had lost all meaning anyway.
Thus, says Cromer, "Much of what passed for history was legend, and what passed for deep literature was country doggerel." Damning, but case in point, this verse.
He also says these Odes were "interpreted past recognition". This one "was thought to express the wish of the people of a certain small state that some great state would intervene and end an existing feud in the ruling family. Thus did a rational and democratic system for the selection of government officials degenerate into mind-numbing pedantry."