A panoramic survey of China’s rise and resilience through war and rebellion, disease and famine, that rewrites China’s history for a new generation.
It is tempting to attribute China’s recent ascendance to changes in political leadership and economic policy. Making China Modern teaches otherwise. Moving beyond the standard framework of Cold War competition and national resurgence, Klaus Mühlhahn situates twenty-first-century China in the nation’s long history of creative adaptation.
In the mid-eighteenth century, when the Qing Empire reached the height of its power, China dominated a third of the world’s population and managed its largest economy. But as the Opium Wars threatened the nation’s sovereignty from without and the Taiping Rebellion ripped apart its social fabric from within, China found itself verging on free fall. A network of family relations, economic interdependence, institutional innovation, and structures of governance allowed citizens to regain their footing in a convulsing world. In China’s drive to reclaim regional centrality, its leaders looked outward as well as inward, at industrial developments and international markets offering new ways to thrive.
This dynamic legacy of overcoming adversity and weakness is apparent today in China’s triumphs—but also in its most worrisome trends. Telling a story of crisis and recovery, Making China Modern explores the versatility and resourcefulness that matters most to China’s survival, and to its future possibilities.
Mühlhahn chronicles reforms, revolutions, and wars through the lens of institutions, often rebutting Western impressions, such as the view of Chinese bureaucracy as monolithic. He also warns against thinking of China’s economic success as proof of a unique path without contextualizing it in historical specifics.
A major achievement…It is written with clarity and humanity, and draws clearly on a wide range of recent scholarship…Mühlhahn’s book can be recommended in the highest terms.
Innovative and fresh…Mühlhahn’s skillful presentation will make this book a highly popular one.
Mühlhahn offers a detailed, balanced survey of the history of modern China, from the rise of the Qing in the early 17th century to the dawn of the Xi administration in 2012… A masterful synthesis.
A truly important book. Not since Fairbank have we seen such a masterful sweep of traditional, modern, and contemporary history of China thoroughly grounded in Chinese materials and perspectives but eloquently addressed to the interests and concerns of an English-reading public. Mühlhahn’s narrative will help people anywhere in the world make sense of the China they must deal with today.
Mühlhahn is one of the world’s leading historians of modern China. A scholar of breadth and depth across disciplines, he has written a compelling narrative of China’s great last empire, the Qing, and of the revolutions and republics that have struggled to succeed it. This thoughtful, probing interpretation is a worthy successor to the famous histories of Fairbank and Spence and will be read by all students and scholars of modern China.
A remarkable accomplishment. Unlike an earlier generation of scholarship, Making China Modern does not treat China’s contemporary transformation as a postscript. It accepts China as a major and active player in the world, places China at the center of an interconnected and global network of engagement, links domestic politics to international dynamics, and seeks to approach China on its own terms.
At last we have a serious introduction to modern China in which the Chinese are the principal architects of their history, drawing upon the ideas and symbols embedded in their own cultural contexts and normative traditions to create distinctive institutions responsive to the crises and opportunities they have encountered. Anyone wanting to understand the importance of contemporary China for our global future should read this important book.
- 736 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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