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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About the Author
Jonathan Fenby has edited the Observer, the South China Morning Post and Reuters World Service as well as held senior positions at the Economist, the Independent and the Guardian. His books include Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the China He Lost; Dealing with the Dragon: A Year in the New Hong Kong; Seventy Wonders of China; Dragon Throne; and Alliance: How Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill Won One War and Began Another. He is the China Director of Trusted Sources. He has been made a Commander of the British Empire and a Knight of the French Order of Merit for services to journalism.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a huge book, describing almost every major twist and turn in Chinese politics for the past 150 years. The focus is mostly on the top leaders, and their generally murderous tactics for getting or staying on top. Many of the details Fenby documents are not things that the leaders concerned ever wanted you to know. Overall, the story is ugly and cruel. We don't hear too much about ordinary people, their struggles, their ideals, or their heroism. Mostly it's politics so calculatingly brutal, that it seems surprising that 100 years of war finally gave way to a general peace, with somewhat rising prosperity. --author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization