A Bitter Revolution: China's Struggle with the Modern World

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In this powerful new look at modern China, Rana Mitter goes back to a pivotal moment in Chinese history to uncover the origins of the painful transition from pre-modern to modern. Mitter identifies May 4, 1919, as the defining moment of China's twentieth-century history. On that day, outrage over the Paris peace conference triggered a vast student protest that led in turn to "the May Fourth Movement." Just seven years before, the 2,000-year-old imperial system had collapsed. Now a new group of urban, modernizing thinkers began to reject Confucianism and traditional culture in general as hindrances in the fight against imperialism, warlordism, and the oppression of women and the poor. Forward-looking, individualistic, and embracing youth, this "New Culture movement" made a lasting impact on the critical decades that followed. Throughout each of the dramatically different eras that followed, the May 4 themes persisted, from the insanity of the Cultural Revolution to China's recent romance with space-age technology.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Rana Mitter's A Biiter Revolution is an ambitious and thoughtful study of China in the 20th century through the light of the modernising, anti-foreigner movement known as the May 4th movement, which draws illuminating parallels between China and Japan, Weimar Germany and much else."—History Today "A fascinating look at a pivotal time in the formation of the culture of modern China.... What is most intriguing about Mitters account is not what was lost in the dark decades that followed, but how much endured."—Publishers Weekly

"Fresh and interesting."—Library Journal

"In his impressive and inventively researched book, Rana Mitter uses the May Fourth movement as a theme around which to explore China's bitter 20th century, with its repeated upheavals, foreign invasion and the death of more than 100 million people from man-made and natural disasters. He brings alive the promise felt by the intellectuals, journalists, writers and entrepreneurs who subscribed to the movement."—Financial Times

Publishers Weekly
This is a fascinating look at a pivotal time in the formation of the culture of modern China. The "Bitter Revolution" of the title is not the Communist Revolution of 1949 or the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, but the revolution of ideas that climaxed in the mass anti-imperialist protests of May 4, 1919. Known as the May Fourth Movement, these student-led protests engendered tumultuous cultural eddies that disturbed all aspects of Chinese life. Mitter's focus on this underappreciated fulcrum of modern Chinese history is refreshing. Chinese Communist historiography has mythologized the May Fourth Movement as the youthful harbinger of the 1949 revolution. Mitter goes beyond such teleological myths to recapture the often desperate and heady atmosphere of the "New Culture Movement," which paralleled the political tumult. She reveals antecedents to later events, including developments as disparate as the Cultural Revolution and the recent decades of economic and cultural liberalization. Especially interesting were new attitudes toward gender relations, sexuality, marriage and family. In many ways, the individualism and experimentation of that era have more in common with contemporary China than the intervening decades of wartime and Communist collectivism and conformity-a compelling reason why this history of early 20th-century China is so relevant today. What is most intriguing about Mitter's account is not what was lost in the dark decades that followed, but how much endured. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This book discusses how the fundamental narrative of the May Fourth Movement of 1919 was framed, changed, and transmitted during the 20th century in the Chinese civil war, Great Leap Forward, Chinese Cultural Revolution, and Tiananmen Democracy Movement. Mitter (history of modern China, Oxford Univ.; The Manchurian Myth) identifies May Fourth as a time of "transformative change" in which Chinese intellectuals self-consciously promoted the adoption of international ideas and sought, wholesale, to abandon Confucianism. Among Mitter's observations are that the rise of communism was not the most important story of mid-20th-century China and that while Mao Zedong, Chen Duxiu, and other intellectuals rejected Confucianism for its oppression of women and the poor, they were ignoring the Confucian obsession with ethics and mutual obligation. Mitter's fresh and interesting analysis effectively demonstrates how the May Fourth Movement was reframed, but it tends to force political and cultural development in China into a rigid comparison with the ideals of May Fourth and the accompanying New Culture movement. Recommended only for specialized collections in Asian studies.-Peggy Spitzer Christoff, Rockville, MD Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780192806055
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 8/25/2005
  • Series: Making of the Modern World Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 378
  • Sales rank: 756,236
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Rana Mitter is Lecturer in the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of St. Cross College. In addition to many books and journal articles, Mitter has contributed to documentaries on the History Channel and is involved in a forthcoming documentary on Kublai Khan.

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Table of Contents

Tian'anmen Square, 1989
1. Flashpoint - Beijing, May Fourth, 1919
2. Saving the Nation: the era of the May Fourth Movement
3. Erasing the past: iconoclasm and the destruction of tradition
4. Ugly Chinamen and Dead Rivers
5. Making a stand: the lure and limits of democracy
The Legacy of May Fourth

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