Saturday, November 9, 2019

Book Review - 近代中國史綱(下) (A Short History of Modern China, Vol. 2)

I had read Vol. 1 about a year ago (review here).

Vol. 2 covers the period from the establishment of the Nationalist Party under Sun Yat-sen’s leadership in 1912, through the brief Yuan Shikai autocratic reign, then the Warlords Era, the Japanese invasion and occupation of China, right up to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Having gone through annihilating tumults of the 1800s that various foreign powers incited to gain control over Chinese territories and reap economic concessions, by 1912, China was already a very sick nation with deep internal wounds. European aggression showed brief signs of let-up with the outbreak of First World War, but Japan and Russia immediately jumped at the chance to encroach on Chinese territories and seize other privileges. After declaring war on Germany, Japan seized the moment to impose its so-called “Twenty-One Demands” (i.e. territorial and economic concessions) on China.

Yuan Shikai was never a believer in Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People (i.e. democracy) and was always looking for a chance to become the emperor, even at the cost of selling out to Japan. When his schemes were debunked, other factions rose against him. Thus began the Warlords Era which lasted until the establishment of the Communist Party in 1920 and beyond.

In 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference, the major Allied Powers approved the transfer of Germany’s concessions in Shandong Province to Japan instead of reverting them back to China, and this ignited the nationalist and anti-imperialist May Fourth student movement, which demanded the government to abstain from signing the Paris Treaty and to refute Japan’s Twenty-One Demands.

From 1925, the year Sun died from sickness, China became the battlefield between Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party and Mao Tse-tung’s Communist Party and the remnant warlords. Chiang was repeatedly criticized for his dictatorial ways within his own Party, while Mao firmly believed that using armed force was the only solution to end his contest with Chiang.

In 1937, Japan, who had already seized and occupied Manchuria in 1932 and had tried to take over five northern Chinese provinces, started an all-out war with China (known as the Second Sino-Japanese War) in Shanghai and Nanjing, using some flimsy excuse. In December that year, Japanese soldiers subjected Nanjing to a brutal massacre and mass rape for six days. This bloody war lasted until Japan was defeated by the Allied Forces in 1945. Meanwhile, Russia was eyeing Outer Mongolia and Xinjiang, and sought to continue its influence on the Communist Party.

After this war, China was again plunged into civil war until the Communist Party finally won out in 1949 and set up the People’s Republic of China, forcing Chiang and his Nationalist Party to flee to Taiwan. Unfortunately, both Mao and Chiang imposed despotic rule and inflicted more sufferings on those under their rule.

These two Volumes of Modern China history are a result of painstaking research by the author, which was supported, apart from Chinese-language sources, by research materials found at the University of Hawaii East-West Centre, Harvard University East Asia Centre and Columbia University East Asian National Resource Center. But the author has also stated that the books are not an academician’s work and are meant for a general readership.

Both volumes chronicle a mind-boggling amount of historical account minutiae. They have helped me understand a lot better Modern China's history. I’m glad that I’ve read the books. This Volume warrants 4.5 stars.


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