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The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914 [Paperback]

Robert Bickers
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
RRP: £14.99
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Book Description

23 Feb 2012

In the early nineteenth century China remained almost untouched by British and European powers - but as new technology started to change this balance, foreigners gathered like wolves around the weakening Qing Empire. Would the Chinese suffer the fate of much of the rest of the world, carved into pieces by Europeans? Or could they adapt rapidly enough to maintain their independence?

This important and compelling book explains the roots of China's complex relationship with the West by illuminating a dramatic, colourful and sometimes shocking period of the country's history.

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The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914 + The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China + A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle That Shaped the Middle East
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Product details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Reprint edition (23 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141015853
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141015859
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.9 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 30,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Powerful, astute and readable ... meticulously researched in contemporary English-language records and journals, and written with flair and feeling, its rhetoric eschews rant and is never misplaced (John Keay Literary Review)

Compellingly erudite and clear-sighted history (Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times)

At every airport bookshop, the business traveller is offered shelves of volumes that purport to tell us how an emerging, powerful China will deal with the world, and how the rest of us should make the most of the commercial opportunities opened up by its rise. Those who wish to understand these issues more closely might be better advised to read this fair and fascinating account (Chris Patten Financial Times)

About the Author

Robert Bickers is the author of the highly-acclaimed Empire Made Me. He has written extensively on Chinese history and is currently Professor of History at the University of Bristol. To write The Scramble for China he has travelled extensively, visiting many of the haunting sites scattered across China that feature in the book.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, yet short of a bold thesis 15 Aug 2011
Meticulously researched, The Scramble for China
should be hugely informative in explaining to westerners the
treatment meted out to China in the nineteenth
century. Certainly, it does paint a vivid picture of the buccaneering
activities of the foreigners as they forced China to trade on terms
that they set unilaterally in the infamous "unequal treaties" so
humbling for the Chinese state. I hadn't grasped that China decreed
that all foreign powers had to acknowledge at least in a symbolic way
that they were subservient to it, something bound to offend the cocksure imperialists who boasted possession of
the Gatling gun.
There is fascinating detail about the interaction as
two cultures collide, and the accommodations made both diplomatically
and domestically; Chinese mistresses were acquired by many of the
Europeans. And there is the intriguing account of Robert Hart which
confounds expectations that there could be no middle way. Born in Northern Ireland, Hart was an acknowledged and loyal servant to China for decades ensuring the
smooth running of the customs and nudging China towards modernisation by
building grand strings of light houses and so on.
However the shortcomings of the book
are twofold. First it documents things most heavily from a western
perspective whereas a Chinese view would be far more refreshing and
frankly more useful if we are get an understanding of modern day China. Second it is long on narrative and short on overarching
analysis. Bickers seems apprehensive about
stating his wider views too baldly. He says wryly that China thinks it is different
from other countries, thereby proving that in this regard it is just
the same as them.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By Revon
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The title of this book seems to both evoke a mysterious, now lost, time, and condemn itself to obscurity as an irretrievably niche subject treatment. However, as another reviewer has commented, this seemingly super-specialist period of Chinese history is brutally relevant for understanding China today and the new generation of young Chinese professionals and politicians that will in all probability come to have a great effect on the world during our lifetime.

Bickers tells the history of the clash of two proud, arrogant and xenophobic civilisations both over-engaged with their own honour and grandeur. The main protagonists, Britain and China, are not considered in isolation, but with all the chaos that the international settlements and harrumphing diplomats of America, France, Germany and Japan brought with them. Bickers shows how the European civilisations argued, traded, bullied and brow-beat their way up China's coast and inland up her rivers, carving out national concessions and international settlements, such as that at Shanghai, along the way. He also describes the Chinese reaction, and the disownment of the Qing empire that had the misfortune to be in charge when these forces came to bear on China by the modern Communist Party. The constant contemporary re-invocation of this "century of national humiliation" is shown to colour the way young China thinks and interacts with the world today.
The story is told at both macro and micro levels, and Bickers regularly illustrates wider phenomena with telling personal tales of the post-modernist micro-history type which serve to bring the lost world of the Chinese treaty ports to life in a way which would be impossible for a purely political, high-level narrative.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Introduction to the BU 12 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent introduction to this fascinating subject. It is written in a fast-paced style quite unlike that which one might expect from an academic, so that it is very easy to read. As well as covering all the essential basics, it has some thought provoking things to say about the Chinese soldiers and their performance in the field. Highly recommended.
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2.0 out of 5 stars stay away 17 Aug 2014
I try to read factual books on my commute; I can't bear the thought of decades of 2 hours each working day reading free newspapers. Anyway, try as I might, morning and evening, skipping sections, I can not read this book. It is like walking through thickening mud. I missed out on history in 6th form and uni and I have read some great historical books over the last few years on the post Columbian world and hoped this would spark an interest in China. It was not to be.
Either there is something funny about me, or the positive reviews are unreliable - take your pick.
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