The Great Chinese Revolution, 1800-1985

The Great Chinese Revolution, 1800-1985

Book - 1986
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Publisher: New York : Harper & Row, c1986.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780060390570
Branch Call Number: 951 Fairbank
Characteristics: xi, 396 p. :,map ;,24 cm.


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Dec 17, 2015

The author, now deceased, wrote this wonderful book after his retirement from Harvard, having taught the history of China there for over forty years. Although he authored a large number of scholarly works on that country, like other retired scholars, he aimed this book at non-scholars and so his text is lightened at times in a way that made me smile several times. For instance, he makes occasional statements summarizing preceding information in a whimsical but telling manner in an effort to help laymen Americans like me understand the Chinese way of doing things. My impression is that Professor King assembled his lecture notes on modern China and fashioned them into this very readable and important book.

His main effort is to explain how the Chinese people were pressed forward, by an array of leaders, all in succession, out of a pre-modern, feudal and internally focused imperial system, and into 20th century. The author naturally pays a lot of attention to politics and government and so I enjoyed his discussion of the difficult initiatives made by Chinese leaders in the early 1900s, including Sun Yat-sen, in favor of a western-oriented, republican form of government. The author gives due attention to the often times shameful interventionism of Europeans and Americans eager to make a fortune there in the late 1800s and otherwise impress their values on the Chinese.

The turmoil associated with the trials and errors associated in the search for a viable more up to date form of governing, pressed by enormous international forces, including world wars, encourages the rise of Mao Tse-tung. He takes the needs and aspirations of little people from the vast backlands into account as well as their ancient communal values and thereby fashions a soviet-styled government that later morphs into Chinese socialism led by him single-handedly. Although he helps create a single dominant party to help govern the country, Mao is unable to rise above the egocentrism of dictatorship and plunges the people of China into government programs that meet disastrous and practically genocidal ends in the 1970s.

With the passing on of Mao Tse-tung in 1976 and the arrival of his successors, including Deng Hsiao-p’ing, China lurches forward, in a steady and costly manner, to become a power house in the 21st century. Americans who read a book like this stand to gain a lot of appreciation about how the Chinese people got to where they are today.


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