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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Times Literary Supplement (London)
The best one-volume account of what has happened in China and to China during the past two centuries.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060390761
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/28/1987
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 1,251,887
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

John K. Fairbank and his wife, Wilma Fairbank, got their first impressions of Chinese life by living in Peking for four years in the early 1930s. In 1936 he began to develop instruction and research on Modern China at Harvard University. During World War II he spent the five years 1941 to 1946 in Washington and in China in government service. After he resumed teaching, his first book, The United States and China, in 1948 reflected his impressions of the revolutionary ferment among the Chinese people. (The fourth edition of this book, revised and updated, was published by Harvard University Press in 1983.)

Professor Fairbank was one of the small number of Americans whose pioneer work in Modern Chinese History gave necessary shape to the field. Surveys and more specialized courses of lectures, syllabi and bibliographies for use in research seminars, conferences on major topics leading to publication of symposia, all contributed to M.A. and Ph.D. training that launched many of today's professors of Chinese history on their careers.

This development also involved the organization of national committees and conferences to meet the many problems of Chinese studies in America. Professor Fairbank has been president of the Association for Asian Studies and of the American Historical Association and has received numerous honorary degrees. He and his wife live according to the season in New Hampshire and in Cambridge, Mass.

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Read an Excerpt

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.

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Table of Contents

Foreword ix
Chronology xii
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
19 Perspectives 361
Anti-Bibliographic note 369
Appendix The Cambridge History of China, Contents, Volume 10-15 371
Sources of Quotations 377
Index 381
China xiv
Late Imperial China 16
Railways of China 206
People's Republic of China 274
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