Thursday, April 29, 2021

Book Review - "The Search for Modern China" by Jonathan D. Spence

This is a must-read for anyone who wishes to make sense of present-day international relations.

This well-written and excellent piece of academic work is a concise and comprehensive history of China spanning 3-1/2 centuries from the end of the Ming Dynasty (1644) right through to the June 4th 1989 Tiananmen Square tragedy.

Included in it is an honest and neutral account of how 19th century Western imperialism and the imposition on China of opium trade, extraterritoriality and exorbitant financial penalties irreversibly debilitated the country. Juxtaposed with such account is a sweeping depiction of China's own encompassing domestic woes, including but not limited to the Qing government's incompetent rule, abject rural poverty, backwardness of society, ceaseless rebellions and warlords' power struggles. Against such backdrop and in face of 20th century Japanese (and European & Russian) aggression on Chinese soil surged civil wars between the Nationalists and the Communists. After the 1945 Japanese surrender, the Communists drove the Nationalists off to Taiwan and established the People's Republic of China. But the country continued to suffer atrocious political upheavals, often incited in the name of dogmatic ideology.

I like the way the author humanizes chronicles by invoking the works of writers, artists, activists and politicians to illustrate a point.

This last sentence in the book perhaps delivers a sobering statement:

There would be no truly modern China, until the people were given back their voices.

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