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A stunning overview of a complex time,
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This review is from: The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 - 2009 (Kindle Edition)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. As with other leaders in other times and places, the picture emerges of Mao losing his mind and faculties but still bitterly self obsessed and quite unable to cope with the realities of an emerging superpower - despite his success in creating (at least the appearance of) an integrated nation in a way that Chang Kai-Shek was never able to do.
Prominent amongst the later scenarios are two chapters on the uprisings and arguments which led to the June 4th massacre in Tiannamen Square and beyond. The disruption and "turmoil" of this period extended from April 1979 to the final denoument in June, and was accompanied by similar unrest in major cities across the country. The book documents numerous behind the scenes meetings both within the Party and between the students and the Party, again identifying by name those closely involved. Passing reference at this stage is made to the "new guard" - in particular Hu Jintao, who was at this time earning his spurs by suppressing an uprising in Tibet.
In a later phase the reform of Deng Xiaoping is described as he tries to wrestle with bringing the country up to date and to incorporate the best ideas from around the world rather than exclude them on principle.
In the concluding chapters, the rise of the new technocrats is outlined with more biographical detail of Hu and Wen, and some the new generation.
The book includes numerous references, a useful list of the key players of the periods and a range of illustrations. Although clearly not designed for the purely casual reader, this book is an outstanding read for those with a real interest in the development of China.
Conversion to electronic form could be better with some instances of words run on together - sometimes for a whole line, but this doesn't really affect the enjoyment and educational value of this striking book.