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The Search for Modern China by Jonathan D.…
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The Search for Modern China (1990)

by Jonathan D. Spence

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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.

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  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 |
I first read about this topic in a college textbook and have found it fascinating ever since. I have always felt that because the history of China is so different from the U.S. it had a lot to tell me. Now that I have got around to reading this book it is one of my favorites on this subject. The book covers the history of China from about 1600-1989. During that time China changed from an Imperial state to a totalitarian bureaucracy. The book begins with the conquest of China by the Manchus and ends just after TiananMen Square, which I consider to be the end of the Chinese Revolution and the beginning of modern China. Along the way China underwent great changes brought on by it's conflict with the Western powers in the 19th century and internal changes which ended with the fall of the Imperial system. The 20th century saw the Chinese Civil War and the growth of China into a modern nation shaped by the Chinese Revolution. After 1949 Mao Zedong oversaw the modernization of China with a series of destructive movements that ended with his death. Deng Xioaping fashioned a series of economic reforms which created the economic powerhouse which is modern day China. This is a series of generalizations about an era of history which Jonathan D. Spence has set forth in detail in his wonderful book.
I must begin with what I most like about the book and one item I really dislike. The book is filled with pictures and maps that provided a big plus to my understanding of what was happening. There is a great variety of illustrations from the Imperial age to Tiananmen Square that greatly enrich the story. Almost 50 maps made sure that I always knew where the events described in the text were happening. Maps are very important to me in reading history and this book definitely met my needs. All of the maps and pictures made the book a good cross between a seminar text and a coffee table book. I didn't like or understand the fact that all the way through to the end of the book the author referred to the capital of China as Peking. In my mind the city became Beijing in 1949 and I don't know why the author refused to change. It bothered me a little every time I read it.
Jonathan Spence is one of my favorite Chinese history authors and in this book he tells the complete story of the rise of modern China. He uses 750 pages to write a thorough and detailed story of the changes which took place in China during this time. He concentrates on the events more than the personalities of the people making the book read a lot like a textbook. My interest in the numerous events and the great changes that took place during this time and kept the reading from being dull and dry.
A few items that made an impact on me. I have never felt the same about the British since reading about their actions in the Opium Wars. Purely for the love of money they made drug addicts out of a vast segment of the Chinese and killed people for the right to do so. The Manchus who ruled China during this time were the conquerors of China and Westerners always seemed to think of them as the Chinese. I don't believe that Mao Zedong cared for any body in the world except for himself. From the Great Leap Forward to the Cultural Revolution he ruined the lives of the Chinese people to stay in power and because he wanted to and he could. Tiananmen proved to me that the attitude of the Chinese leadership is the same it has been since 216 b.c.e. when the First Emperor burned all the books so that no one could have any ideas contrary to his. I thank Jonathan Spence for reawakening my interest in this subject. I look forward to digging out some of my other books on the subject that have been gathering dust since college. ( )
  wildbill | Jan 19, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393307808, Paperback)

"A remarkable achievement...vivid...fluent, graceful.... A publishing event."—Boston Globe

In this widely acclaimed history of modern China, Jonathan Spence achieves a fine blend of narrative richness and efficiency. Praised as "a miracle of readability and scholarly authority," (Jonathan Mirsky) The Search for Modern China offers a matchless introduction to China's history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:05 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

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.

» see all 6 descriptions

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W.W. Norton

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