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The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 - 2009 [Paperback]

Jonathan Fenby
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to the Present, Second Edition The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to the Present, Second Edition 4.6 out of 5 stars (5)
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Book Description

26 Mar 2009 Penguin History

In 1850, China was the 'sick man of Asia'. Now it is set to become the most powerful nation on earth.

The Penguin History of Modern China shows how turbulent that journey has been. For 150 years China has endured as victim to brutality on an unmatched scale, to oppression, to war and to famine. This makes its current position as the newest and, arguably, most important global superpower all the more extraordinary. Jonathan Fenby's clear and comprehensive account of China's recent past is the definitive guide to this remarkable transformation.

Product details

  • Paperback: 816 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (26 Mar 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141020091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141020099
  • Product Dimensions: 3.5 x 12.8 x 19.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 54,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'His book is a miracle of thoroughness, truthfulness and readability - the perfect primer for a time when China is about to enter all our lives' Sunday Telegraph 'Jonathan Fenby's ... illuminating book [is] the first major history that looks at the country with the eyes of the 21st century rather than the 20th' - Rana Mitter, FT '[It] reads like a novel and is never less than thoughtful and compassionate for the fate of a much-abused people ! [Fenby has] a journalist's eye for telling detail' Herald 'Taut, anecdote-studded ! a great introduction for a general audience, with vivid scene setting and character sketches' - Michel Sheridan, Sunday Times 'For an accessible, authoritative, fair and comprehensive and well written account, this would be hard to better' BBC History 'A wonderful history of modern China and a cracking good read' Chris Patten

From the Publisher

An FT Book of the Year
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
You know what you are getting when you sit down to read a Penguin history - something with depth, a huge amount of information, but also a book that can try to fit too much into a one volume history.

Modern China was no exception to this. It's a fascinating book on a country that we all should know more about, but it suffers in places from too many names and too many places, making it difficult to keep up with who was doing what to whom, particularly in the period between the two World Wars when sides seemingly kept changing.

This book does do a marvellous job of taking you from the end of the imperial era right up to the present day, outlining the evolution of Chinese Communism and the characters that shaped it. The author does an excellent job of sifting through the sources with their various biases and presents a balanced history, pointing out the gains that China has made under it's current systems as well as the usual flaws that commentators in the West like to point out.

If you're a history fan and want a primer for modern China, this is definitely the book to read, but be prepared for it to take a while to get throu
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning overview of a complex time 26 Jan 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This substantial book is an impressive and detailed history of modern China from the last days of the Qing dynasty in the late 1800's to the present day (2009) under Hu Jintao and Wen Jibao.
It paints a detailed picture of each phase, with periodic references back which contrast and compare each movement with earlier incidents or periods. It describes the influences of the various foreign powers who had designs on China - notably Britain and France (Britain's insistence on the Opium trade being a notable shameful incident), and later the Japanese who sought to conquer the country, but only managed to control Manchuria despite forays further south and west. The story continues with the parallel development of the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-Shek and the slow growth of the communist party philosophy and apparatus under Mao Zedong and his various lieutenants - most notably, Zhou Enlai. Again China learns to deal with external powers - but now mainly perhaps Russia and the United States.
Each period is described in quite impressive detail with much reference to the key protagonists of each phase and philosophy - drawing on numerous references and newspaper articles. Perhaps this mass of researched detail of the people involved and their power manoeuvrings is one of the major strengths of this book.
The Cultural Revolution and the conflicts behind it are dispassionately recounted - and the story of the cruelty of Mao unfolds to reveal abuses and inhumanity easily the equal of that displayed by the Japanese in the Rape of Nanjing. This shows, as in earlier periods, but perhaps on a greater scale, how lowly was human life valued in the march to the "ideal" of the Nation and the party.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic read! 29 Sep 2008
I wanted to learn about China's modern political history in light of the fact that Beijing was hosting the Olympic Games this year. I stumbled across this book by Johnathan Fenby at my local library and was really quite impressed with what I read. Fenby has written the book in such a way that you can't put it down until you've read an entire chapter! I feel this book has a number of attributes which i'll speak of below:

1) This book is accessible to all: to academics and readers with a general interest in China. This is only the case because Fenby has got the balance right: key events in China's history haven't been talked about in vast amounts of detail to bore the reader, but at the same time the book isn't oversimplified (and in fact is highly informative, as Fenby employs a wide range of resources and statistics).
2) The book is up-to-date. Fenby talks about modern issues in China such as Hu Jintao's vision of a "Peaceful rise in a harmonious world" and China's absorption of huge quantites of metals and oil which is leading to price rises in these commodities. Up-to-date statistics from 2007 and 2008 are included.
3) I think the book is balanced: Fenby doesn't shy away from recounting the full extent of the horrors of the Great Leap Forward, but at the same time puts across clearly how proud Chinese people are today of their country's achievements which have come through economic reform with the CCP at the helm.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good introduction to modern chinese history 23 Jun 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a Chinese born in the 80s Beijing and lived under the state propaganda until 16, I have only recently realized that I probably have a skewed view of China from the indoctrination in my childhood. Thus I was quite eager to find out the 'truth', so to speak. As my American friends have pointed out, all historians have agendas, so I'm sure this one has some agenda too, but overall I thought it was pretty factual and at least tried not to be too biased or giving too much opinion. Definitely more balanced than most American newspaper articles about China I've encountered over the years.

I cannot comment on the historical accuracy or style since I'm no expert in either, but I did feel that most of the time it is a good read, and it gave me a pretty good overall of modern China, though not much in-depth. I would have appreciated a bit more details in the period post-1989 and 2009, since it's the era I grew up in and China experienced a great deal of social changes during this period of time.

Overall I recommend it to anyone interested in China and I'd particularly recommend fellow Chinese people to read it, though I doubt many would be open to accept some of the facts that are different from the Chinese government's official line...
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Broad but not deep
This is an ambitious book that manages to cover a lot of ground and is for the most part readable and engaging history of China since 1850. Read more
Published 16 months ago by F Henwood
3.0 out of 5 stars china
This book is all right as far as it goes but it does not go far enough as it only cover Chinese history from 1880-2008 a matter of 128 years. Read more
Published 22 months ago by G. I. Forbes
5.0 out of 5 stars feekie's review
This book is very impressive, it is such a long and difficult subject to write about but from the small amount I have yet read Jonathan Fenby has made a very good job.
Published on 21 April 2012 by feekie
1.0 out of 5 stars Unreadable
I was attracted to this book because of its excellent reviews in the press. But I'm afraid, this book is unreadable and written in a rushed, hasty way. Read more
Published on 25 Jan 2012 by Gertrude
4.0 out of 5 stars A chronicle of seriously cruel politics
This is a huge book, describing almost every major twist and turn in Chinese politics for the past 150 years. Read more
Published on 12 Sep 2011 by Brian Griffith
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well-written introduction to modern Chinese history
Fenby is a journalist,not a historian,so that accounts for this book being an easy read for the non-Sinologist. Read more
Published on 20 July 2011 by Franz Bieberkopf
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the best volume on Modern China money can buy!
A staggering, vast volume, chronicling a decisive era of not only Chinese, but also, world history, Fenby's History delivers a detailed, enlightening, and thoroughly readable... Read more
Published on 21 Feb 2011 by A. J. Smith
2.0 out of 5 stars Dense and Dull
I have yet to read a book that convincingly explains how the teetering Manchu-dominated empire of the mid-19th century was eventually transformed into a republic, a Communist... Read more
Published on 14 Oct 2010 by John Fitzpatrick
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, informative and detailed
Jonathan Fenby has produced a reliable and detailed text on an incredibly broad area of history. I am currently studying China in the 20th Century as part of my A Level History... Read more
Published on 22 Jan 2010 by E. Love
4.0 out of 5 stars The Penguin History of Modern China
Replete with information, this superb account of China's rise will find a wide readership. Beginners should read the book in parts as they may find the wealth of facts... Read more
Published on 9 Nov 2009 by Dr. Martin McCauley
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