This, along with Wing-Tsit Chan's A SOURCE BOOK IN CHINESE PHILOSOPHY provided my first serious look at Chinese culture.
Fairbank's CHINA details the development of China from earliest times through the Tiananmen massacre: Xia & Shang, Zhou, the Spring and Autumn period, the Warring States period, the Qin Unification, the Han dynasty, disintegration, the subsequent rise of Sia and Tang dynasties, disintegration and the rise of the Song, the Northern and Southern Song along with the development of the kingdoms and empires of the Mongols who slowly conquered China, the Ming dynasty that expelled the Mongols, the Manchurian Qing dynasty that conquered all China and ruled until China became a Republic, Sun Yatsen, Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kaishek), fascism and communism, the rise of Mao and the Nationalist flight to Taiwan, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and Deng Xiaphing (Dong Zai-phong).
Of special interest are discussions on the rise of Confucianism, Daoism, Chinese Buddhism and Christian in-roads created by missionaries; the respective roles of Legalism, early imperial Confucianism and neo-Confucianism in the formation and evolution of the Chinese state; the horrors and extent of foot-binding among Chinese women; the influence of both communists and fascists in the Guomindang party and the open conflict between the "blue shirt" fascists (formed by Chiang Kaishek) and the Communist party; and the role of the USSR and Comintern in the development and organization of Communism in China (originally in the Guomindang and later in the Chinese Communist Party).
Thought-provoking and interesting, the book does suffer from infrequent flaws such as irrelevant personal attacks (e.g., Reaganesque = simple-minded) and giving too little details in some areas. Despite these (and the fact that the author once thought Maoisim the greatest thing to happen in China for centuries), anyone interested in Chinese history cannot afford to pass up this important work.
It should also be noted that the earlier edition's last chapter was replaced by essays from other authors in the revised addition.