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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing blend of macro- and micro-history that enhances our understanding of modern day China
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...
Published on 15 Mar 2012 by Revon

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, yet short of a bold thesis
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...
Published on 15 Aug 2011 by Victor Smart


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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. And in the closing sentences suggests he is not
optimistic about the future. "Chinese youth come out into the world
equipped for instinctive indignation at China's past humiliations,
something that might make a very awkward world for all of us". Perhaps
if Prof Bickers was willing to risk expanding on this we might be able
to do more to avoid this fate.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing blend of macro- and micro-history that enhances our understanding of modern day China, 15 Mar 2012
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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. A good example of this is the adventures of Hugh Hamilton Lindsay and Karl Gützlaff in Chapter 1, `Unwelcome Guests', along with the grumbles of the Canton traders, which illustrate the patronising mystique with which the Chinese, and the Qing, were viewed and portrayed, the conflation of personal with national honour, and the frustration with restrictive trade laws and yearning for more. His portrayal of the microcosmic worlds of the isolated European lighthouse overseers should also be noted for his ability to make a seemingly dry subject both interesting and shocking.

The Scramble for China also deserves attention for its cool, incisive treatment of some enduring issues. For example, Bickers' treatment of the Qing court does not attempt to conceal, indeed brings out the subtlety of its position as both Manchu in its internal identity and Chinese on an international level. It also shows the irony of the contrast of the Qing Emperor at the beginning of the period, both China embodied and more than China, painted as a powerful tyrant by the European press, and a cunning player in the Great Game who cannily played off one European power against another, with its failing position towards the close of the period, its popular support eroded by anti-Manchu, anti-foreign nationalists, and forced to rely on foreign support to survive, eventually becoming the rulers of a powerless Japanese puppet state, Manchukuo.

There are two major criticisms I have with this interesting work which adds greatly to the recent cull of books on China which in the main focus solely on the nation post-Communist revolution. The first is that the book has a very heavy preponderance of the Western viewpoint, and it would be greatly enhanced by looking at the contentious issues considered through Chinese as well as European eyes. This isn't to say that the book is wholly without Chinese perspective, but there is definitely a much greater focus on Western perceptions, and there is nothing to match the many European micro-histories weaved into the narrative.

My second criticism is that one of the most interesting instances in which Bickers does consider the Chinese perspective - viz. the modern day colouring of Chinese attitudes as a result of the scramble for China - receives only a modicum of discussion, consisting of a couple of pages in the Introduction and the final chapter. I can't help feeling that there is a lot more Bickers could have expanded on here, as it is evident that he is extremely well-informed as far as Sino-European relations are concerned.

Having said this, I would definitely recommend this to anyone wanting to get a better understanding of modern China. The Scramble for China deserves a place on the shelf next to Kissinger's On China and McGregor's The Party.
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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
By 
Mike Blake (Deepest Debyshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914 (Paperback)
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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20 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too Scrambled, 14 Jun 2011
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
"The scramble for China" must be culled from "the scramble for Africa" but seems less apt since the British, French and American officials were sent to nineteenth century China not to colonise a disparate group of kingdoms and tribal areas, but to infiltrate the coastal regions of a vast area under the centralised if sclerotic control of the Qing dynasty.

This book contains a good deal of social history which seems fairly unremarkable and so of limited interest. For instance, it seems only natural that British workers sent to China should send for familiar products from home. The author's tendency to switch backwards and forwards in time with frequent digressions makes for a confusing read.

I was most interested in the major historical events - the Opium Wars or Taiping Rebellion - for the issues they raised. How could the upstanding Victorians possibly think it was in order to purchase Chinese goods with opium? To what extent did exposure to Christian missionaries trigger rebellion that was so troublesome to the Qing? However, too many very condensed sentences, weighed down with detail, in which it is at times hard to work out who or which settlement is being referred to tried my patience too far, and I have reluctantly set this book aside. The subject matter is potentially fascinating and the author clearly very knowledgeable and unpretentious, but the tortuous written style is hard going.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars china, 23 Aug 2013
By 
G. I. Forbes (edinburgh) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This excellent book deals with yhe multiple incursions and attacts on China during the period 1832-1912-the end othe Qing dynasty.
Described in fine detail are the setting up of free ports,wars,nonwars and massacers that occured during the period including the Anglo China wars of 1839-42 and 1852-60,the Sino French war of1884-5,Sino Japanese war of1894-5,the Boxer Rebellion of 1900-01 and many punishment actions.
A major fault of the book is that it has no bibliography.Unreferanced books by European,American and Japanese authors are scattered throughout the text and notes section but none are properly referenced.This should not happen when a reputable publisher is involved.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting read, 8 Dec 2012
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This review is from: The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914 (Paperback)
I very much enjoyed reading this book, it is very readable which when considering the potentially dull (especially to non-historians/history lovers) subject matter this is quite an achievement!
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8 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Who cares, 2 July 2011
By 
Timeoff (Northumberland) - See all my reviews
Dry. Badly written and with anecdotes plucked from no where. Laborious and with no break in the narrative. Not recomended
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