Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to the Present

Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to the Present

Language: English

Pages: 816

ISBN: 0061661163

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


No country on earth has suffered a more bitter history in modern times than China. In the second half of the nineteenth century, it was viewed as doomed to extinction. Its imperial rulers, heading an anachronistic regime, were brought low by enormous revolts, shifting social power patterns, republican revolutionaries, Western incursions to "split the Chinese melon" and a disastrous defeat by Japan.

The presence of predatory foreigners has often been blamed for China's troubles, but the much greater cause came from within China itself. In the early twentieth century, the empire was succeeded by warlordism on a massive scale, internal divisions, incompetent rule, savage fighting between the government and the Communists, and a fourteen-year invasion from Japan. Four years of civil war after 1945 led to the Maoist era, with its purges and repression; the disastrous Great Leap Forward; a famine that killed tens of millions; and the Cultural Revolution.

Yet from this long trauma, China has emerged amazingly in the last three decades as an economic powerhouse set to play a major global political role, its future posing one of the great questions for the twenty-first century as it grapples with enormous internal challenges. Understanding how that transformation came about and what China constitutes today means understanding its epic journey since 1850 and recognizing how the past influences the present.

Jonathan Fenby tells this turbulent story with brilliance and insight, spanning a unique historical panorama, with an extraordinary cast of characters and a succession of huge events. As Confucius said, To see the future, one must grasp the past.

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foreigners. The critical censor was banished to the Far West to 'expiate his guilt and serve as a warning to others'. 44 a a n t o On 1 9 March 1 8 9 5 , as J P ° k the Pescadores Islands off Taiwan, Li arrived by steamer in the southern Japanese port of Shimonoseki with a delegation of more than 1 0 0 people, including his son. Tokyo had turned down a Chinese request to hold negotiations in Tianjin or Port Arthur, which would have enabled the empire to pretend that the enemy was coming as a

supplicant. The negotiations with the former prime minister, Ito Hirobumi, were conducted in English. Ito spoke the language after travelling to America to study constitutional affairs. Li, who towered over the diminutive Japanese, used an interpreter. According to the Japanese record, the Chinese proposed that his country and Japan should unite against the white races; Ito did not take this up. Then Li proposed an immediate armistice. 45 In keeping with the policy of 'getting the barbarians to

them are thought to stay abroad when they have finished their courses). The 'socialist market economy' has grown tenfold in three decades, buoyed by cheap labour, cheap capital and high productivity, which is reckoned to have increased by an average of 20 per cent a year from 1996 onwards. In 2007, China set itself the target of quadrupling per capita G D P by 2020. The huge corporate, personal and state savings pool has poured into investment and export industries, giving what is still a

that books could play an important part in modernization. One writer, Wu Woyao, devoted a 100-chapter work to describing social ills, official incompetence, cowardice and corruption. Another, Li Baojia, wrote satirically of officials, Chinese justice and ill-judged reforms. Groups in Tianjin, Guangdong, Hunan and Yunnan campaigned to improve the condition of women. In Beijing, a Manchu princess organ­ ized a calisthenics display by schoolgirls. In Changsha, a young woman who had studied in Japan

recovery movement came in the Middle Yangzi region in 1904, when it became evident that the construction of 106 FINAL ACT the track between Hankou and Canton by an American syndicate was disastrously behind schedule. It then emerged that, in contravention of their agreement with the court, the Americans had secretly sold the contract to a Belgian group, which was thought to be backed by the French. Since Russia was building railways in the north of China, and the Hankou-Canton line was to link

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