The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914 Paperback – 23 Feb 2012
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which at 400 densely packed pages took me some considerable time to read. It is pity though that the impacts of imperialism by the European powers and Japan on China today is not explored in more detail - as it is this is covered only in the very last few pages.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a wide ranging and ambitious book. It covers foreign interventions, trade, "treaty port" life, and missionary activity in China in the 19th century, and - perhaps... Read morePublished 16 months ago by Graham Thompson
Really dull. There was a lot of information, paragraphs would wander on for ages and at the end I would be left wondering what the author actually wanted to tell me. Read morePublished 19 months ago by J Treen
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. Read morePublished 23 months ago by .couldn't sleep in same room
This excellent book deals with yhe multiple incursions and attacts on China during the period 1832-1912-the end othe Qing dynasty. Read morePublished on 23 Aug. 2013 by G.I.Forbes
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... Read morePublished on 8 Dec. 2012 by Mr. Matthew P. Jones
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