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Examines the transformation of Imperial China to Communist China, discusses the social and cultural changes that have occurred, and looks at modern economic development in China.
Understanding China's Revolution
Flying into China from Shanghai these days, one can see how close to nature the people live. The whole Yangtze delta, intricately dotted with lakes and crisscrossed by canals, is green cropland. Even its towns and villages are green with trees and household crops, and in place of motor roads the canals are silver thoroughfares of irrigation water. This delta has been the world's biggest food producer for at least seven hundred years. Until a century ago its "tribute rice," towed and poled in narrow barges eleven hundred miles up the Grand Canal, fed Peking. Today it feeds one of the world's most crowded cities, Shanghai.
Flying southwest from the gray metropolis one soon crosses hills that have been leveled piecemeal by terracing, so level that water can stand in the rice fields cut into their sides. Here man has rebuilt nature just as permanently as American roadbuilders in the Rockies, but without machines. The terraces are monuments to what muscles can do. The broad lakes south of the Yangtze that fill up every year when it floods are the inland seas that appear in Chinese landscapes. Though remote from the ocean, they make Central China truly a region of "mountains and waters" (shan-shui, the name for landscape paintings). Cloudbanks and haze make the lakes and mountains seem larger, limitless, and mysterious to the traveler privileged nowadays to see China from the air.
If on the other hand you fly northwest from Shanghai toward Peking you are soon traversing the dry North China plain. It is dotted with villages at roughly half-mile intervals much as our Middle Western wheatfields used to be punctuated by familyfarmsteads, each typically consisting of a white house and big red barn surrounded by a windbreak of trees. China's earth-walled villages also have clumps of trees, at roughly half-mile intervals. But, while the family farmsteads of Iowa and Kansas have been disappearing in recent years, the similarly spaced North China villages have had a demographic explosion. A village that used to have two hundred mouths to feed by intensive hand cultivation now may have three hundred or so. No scene can more poignantly suggest the overpopulation that keeps the Chinese people in poverty.
How are we to get an image of this China of a billion people? Superimpose it on a map of the U.S.A. and the two countries are roughly the same size. But, whereas the Mississippi drains our Middle West to the south, the Yangtze, a bigger river system, drains Central China to the east into the Pacific. Whereas our north-central prairie states in the last hundred years have become a new international breadbasket, the Chinese have trouble even feeding themselves. Much more of China is dry desert and jagged mountains. The cultivable land area is only about half what we have, yet the population is four times as large. China's poverty per capita is a first big difference.
The second difference is more subtle—China's continuity in the same place. The Atlantic civilization of Western Europe and the Americas has seen its political-cultural center move westward from Athens to Rome, then to Madrid, Paris, London, and New York. The corresponding movement in China has been only a few hundred miles, from Sian near the lower bend of the Yellow River south to Hangchow-Nanking, and north to Peking. All the historic sites of four thousand years of Chinese history lie close together. For us it would be as though Moses had received the tablets on Mt. Washington, the Parthenon stood on Bunker Hill, Hannibal had crossed the Alleghenies, Caesar had conquered Ohio, Charlemagne's crowning in the year 800 was in Chicago, and the Vatican overlooked Central Park. In other words, China's landscape is loaded with history in a way that ours is not.
American cultural roots, of course, go back equally far, to the classical antiquity of the Mediterranean, contemporary with China's classical antiquity. But Americans descend from immigrants of recent times who brought their cultures selectively with them into a new land and so acquired two great advantages—a better ratio of people to resources, and a greater freedom from the hold of tradition. This let us develop our forms of individualism. It also inspired us to invent machines just at the dawn of the great age of technology. The Chinese, whose technology had once been ahead of medieval Europe, suddenly found themselves left behind. They are struggling to catch up.
But here a third difference handicaps them, for they have been obliged to modernize from within their own cultural tradition, which resists change. The new technology of transport, industry, and communications has been native grown in the West but a foreign import into China. The railway age of the late nineteenth century, for example, knit the American nation together; whereas China's age-old network of lakes, rivers, and canals made railways less essential in South China, while conservative fear of foreign encroachment delayed the railway in North China. Again, our empty Middle West became the world's breadbasket by mechanizing agriculture; whereas the crowded Chinese had to keep on feeding themselves by hand, every year transplanting the world's biggest rice crop from seedbeds into paddy fields.
Meanwhile, the two great institutions that have held the Chinese state together—the ruling elite and the writing system—have coexisted in mutual support for three thousand years. As early as 1850 B.C. a military-priestly ruling class making records in an ideographic script directed mass labor to build walls of tamped earth at the ancient Shang dynasty capitals of Chengchow and Anyang (in present-day Honan province). Hoe agriculture by the masses and the collection of rents and taxes by the elite have typified China's villages ever since.
A hundred years ago when the railroad and the McCormick reaper were building our Middle West, they found no takers in Honan province. The official class and their colleagues the local gentry, all trained in the Confucian classics, found no mention there of steam power and mechanical reapers. How would the peasants occupy their time if they were not to hoe and sickle their crops? This is still a fair question even for Marxist bureaucrats today in Honan.
|1||Understanding China's Revolution||1|
|Part I||Late Imperial China: Growth and Change, 1800-1895||13|
|2||The Manchu Rulers' Outlook from Peking||15|
|3||Some Theoretical Approaches||39|
|4||The Growth of Commerce Before the Treaty Period||46|
|5||Problems Within Chinese Society||63|
|6||The Western Intrusion||84|
|7||Efforts at Modernization||100|
|Part II||The Transformation of the Late Imperial Order, 1895-1911||123|
|8||Reform and Reaction||125|
|9||The Genesis of the Revolution of 1911||141|
|Part III||The Era of the First Chinese Republic, 1912-1949||165|
|10||The Early Chinese Republic and Its Problems||167|
|11||The New Culture and Sino-Liberal Education||182|
|12||The Nationalist Revolution and the First KMT-CCP United Front||204|
|13||Nationalists and Communists, 1927-1937||217|
|14||The War of Resistance and Civil War, 1937-1949||240|
|Part IV||The Chinese People's Republic, 1949-1985||271|
|15||Creating the New State||273|
|16||The Great Leap Forward and Its Consequences||296|
|17||Mao's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution||316|
|18||New Directions: Deng Hsiao-p'ing's Reforms||342|
|Appendix||The Cambridge History of China, Contents, Volume 10-15||371|
|Sources of Quotations||377|
|Late Imperial China||16|
|Railways of China||206|
|People's Republic of China||274|