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The Search for Modern China (1990)

by Jonathan D. Spence

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1,0411413,941 (4.25)34
This text, the classic introduction to modern China for students and general readers, emerged from the author's introductory course at Yale, in which he traced the beginnings of modern China to internal developments beginning in the early 17th century. Strong on social and political history, as well as Chinese culture and its intersections with politics, this work is a longstanding leader in the survey course on modern China.… (more)
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The classic modern history textbook. ( )
  richardSprague | Mar 22, 2020 |
This book shows how China's efforts to respond to her encounter with the imperial industrial powers from the 1840s to the 1970s were an unmitigated disaster. The Qing state made efforts to modernise the economy and military, sending students abroad, recruiting Western armaments experts, building railways, and so on. But the circumstances were impossible. Rapacious predations by foreign forces and devastating internal civil wars denied China time and space to carry out the needed development. In one pathetic incident, a new Chinese fleet was entirely and ignominiously sunk by French ships within minutes. Resistance to westernisation from inside the regime, which as a foreign conquest state was anxious about its own legitimacy, made a stark contrast with the unified determination of Japan's Meiji state-led industrialisation and military reforms. Japan went on to abuse China for decades herself. In a further disastrous outcome, China was taken over by a Stalinist psychopath whose catastrophic policies turned the mid-20th century into a waking nightmare, a man who even today is held in official honour by a regime too frightened by its own failures to permit honest discussion of the past. Only after Mao's death has China combined an era of peace with competent leadership and successful state-guided industrialisation policies. But her traumatic encounter with the imperial powers between the Opium Wars and the Japanese occupation still defines her approach to the world today: a determination to overcome the "Century of Humiliation" and maximise her power to address the world on her own terms.

Some essential books on modern and contemporary China:

[b:Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China|1848|Wild Swans Three Daughters of China|Jung Chang|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1440643710s/1848.jpg|2969000]

[b:Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China|18490568|Age of Ambition Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China|Evan Osnos|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1418113377s/18490568.jpg|26174286]

[b:The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers|7822182|The Party The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers|Richard McGregor|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1348918012s/7822182.jpg|10863112] ( )
  wa233 | Oct 26, 2018 |
All around, this serves as a non-offensive (for scholarly standards) and well-encompassed history of China, with particular emphasis on China's encounter with the west in the 19th century, and the 20th century.

I was assigned this book as the primary text for my college Modern China course, and it served well for that purpose, and I would recommend it to anyone who is seeking to self-teach the history encompassed within the pages. It is well-written (for a textbook), and my only critique is that I could have hoped for more maps and more sub-headings and boldings. Regardless of these formatting "shortcomings," I was extraordinarily satisfied with "The Search for Modern China." ( )
  MarchingBandMan | Aug 25, 2017 |
A scholarly and detailed history of the twentieth century in China. Well-written and well-researched, it has been a useful tool for personal study and academic work. ( )
  xuebi | May 30, 2014 |
Only a book about China could define the modern era in the 17th century. A grand sweeping history, covering all facets of China. History, economics, politics, military events, society, the arts - a good encyclopedic overview, in a very readable style.

Unfortunately, my edition seems to end at the events of Tiananmen Square. A lot has happened since then, and I would have loved for the author to expound on the present China as lucidly as he did for the ages past.

It is also amusing to note that Deng Xiaopeng, the founder of modern Chinese state capitalism, modestly hoped for a 2% growth rate until the year 2050, with the aim of making China a moderately developed nation. Not even he, it seems, could have foreseen the tidal wave that his nation has unleashed upon world history yet again. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
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This text, the classic introduction to modern China for students and general readers, emerged from the author's introductory course at Yale, in which he traced the beginnings of modern China to internal developments beginning in the early 17th century. Strong on social and political history, as well as Chinese culture and its intersections with politics, this work is a longstanding leader in the survey course on modern China.

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