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The Search for Modern China Paperback – 17 Oct 2001


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Product details

  • Paperback: 912 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New Ed edition (17 Oct. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393307808
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393307801
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 0.5 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description

Review

"Monumental... History that is always lively, always concrete, always comprehensible." "History at its best...all in the vivid, accessible style for which the author is well known."

About the Author

Jonathan D. Spence is Sterling Professor of History at Yale University, where he has taught for thirty years. He has been awarded MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award. The Search for Modern China won the Lionel Gelber Award and the Kiriyama Book Prize.

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In the year A.D. 1600, the empire of China was the largest and most sophisticated of all the unified realms on earth. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 13 Nov. 1998
Format: Paperback
Older readers may recall those Walter Kronkite-narrated documentaries where Kronkite kept saying "And you were there!", even though the documentaries themselves were stripped-down butcherings. This book does take you there. Spence accomplishes what so few historians do--he approaches his subject on its own terms, and within the narrative seeks to immerse the reader in the temporal and geographic subject matter. This is one of the few--perhaps the only--narrative surveys where readers might root for protagonists and feel anger toward villains. In reading this book, you feel as if you _are_ China; the turmoils of the late 1800s and 1900s strike you physically, at the gut. Each chapter conveys not only the happenings, but also the mood of the period--you feel tranquil and arrogant as you read about the Qing Dynasty at the height of its power, you begin to feel anxious as the Western world arrives, and you feel helpless as internal strife and Western demands eat away at the Empire. If you have near-zero interest in history books and will read only ten in your lifetime, this should be one of them. (PS--If you are ever in New Haven during school terms, make sure to sit in on a Spence lecture.)
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Peter on 27 Jan. 2004
Format: Paperback
I bought this book to supplement other books on Chinese history. It really brings the whole thing to life. Spence is such a good writer; I was so impressed I ended up buying other books by him.
He made a source book which accompanies this book, which has extra documents and pictures.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER on 31 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent history of modern China, very readable despite the small print and thin pages. Admittedly, it requires a good deal of time and dedication, but repays the effort. Clearly very knowledgeable but modest with it, Spence knows what points to select from a mass of detail to convey a clear understanding of how and why China evolved from a vast empire, which had turned its face inward against western-style development, to the world's largest communist state, now rapidly embracing economic growth.

He starts with the decline of the late Ming dynasty in the late C17, enough to capture the flavour of a highly centralised, bureaucratic, top-down society which has been the nature of China since the first unified Qin dynasty of 221BC, but he doesn't make the mistake of getting bogged down in detail that far back.

In the subsequent Qing dynasty, we see the first painful enforced contacts with the west, including the shameful role of the British, in flogging opium to save having to spend silver on purchasing Chinese goods. In addition to the usual problems of natural disasters and the difficulty of collecting taxes in such a vast area, the Qing had to contend with major rebellions but managed to survive for a surprisingly long time up to 1912, partly owing to the effectiveness of some impressive campaigns under remarkable Confucian-trained leaders, motivated by their loyalty to traditional Chinese values. Despite this, and a belated willingness to reform, the Qing eventually fell, leading to a prolonged period of chaotic civil war between a succession of warlords.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By George Norris on 10 Jan. 2013
Format: Paperback
A fabulous history book, but he leaves it up to the reader to search for modern China. In his book, I found three themes which form part of China's DNA today.

DISTRUST OF FOREIGNERS

In 728 pages and 369 years covered, barely a single positive thing came from abroad. If bad foreigners were a pack of cards then;
- The "King" is Japan: invaded China in 1931, conquered most of the Eastern Seaboard over the following decade, with the 1937 Nanjing Massacre the low point (40,000 - 400,000 killed, depending on who you believe). The Chinese didn't even have the satisfaction of beating them in a war; the chip remains well off the shoulder.
- The "Queen" is the USA. Their anti-communist stance and leading role in keeping China out of the UN made them a natural enemy. As Taiwan's firmest supporter, they at least once (in the 50s) and perhaps twice (in the 90s) prevented a Chinese invasion of the island which served as a US missile base too. US troops gave Chinese troops a trashing in the Korean war (China lost nearly a million troops against the US's 160,000) - and this hasn't been forgotten.
- The "Jack" is Britain. Accustomed to getting their own way in the 1800s, Chinese refusal to buy anything from Britain was solved, militarily, by forcing them to buy British -empire grown opium. A series of military defeats (and the sacking of the Summer Palace) throughout the 1800s delivered more ports (e.g. HK) and rights to British merchants, and created lasting resentment (e.g. treaty of Nanjing, 1842). A few scores were settled since; 1949, the Chinese killed 17 Britons trying to evacuate the Embassy in Nanjing, and the British Embassy in Beijing was torched (and one killed) during the cultural revolution.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By "tinybiker" on 28 May 2003
Format: Hardcover
Wow! Ever so big, yet so very readable. An exhaustive history of China from then till now, it covers every aspect of chinese civilization. Spence uses an incredible amount of detail to make four centuries+ of chinese history come alive and draw the reader ever deeper, rather than bore him to tears as so many authors seem to do with this kind of work. Need I say more? Get it.
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