Nationalism matters in China, and what matters in China matters to everyone. China’s new nationalism, Robert Bickers shows, is rooted not in its present power but in shameful memories of its former weaknesses. Invaded, humiliated, and looted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by foreign powers, China looks out at the twenty-first century through the lens of the past. History matters deeply to Beijing’s current rulers, and Out of China explains why.
Bickers tracks the long, often agonizing process by which the Chinese regained control of their own country. He describes the corrupt, lurid modernity of prewar Shanghai, the often tiny patches of extraterritorial land controlled by foreign powers, the entrepôts of Hong Kong and Macao, and the myriad means—through armed threats, technology, and legal chicanery—by which China was kept subservient until, gradually, it emerged from Western control. This plural and partial subjugation of China is a story that involves not only European powers and Japan but also the United States.
This complex history must be grasped not to atone for the sins of the past but to recognize China’s internationalized landscapes with all their contradictions, violence, cosmopolitanism, and ambitions. The story of the foreign presence in China in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is too important to be left in the hands of the Chinese party-state and its approved script. Out of China is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand what shapes China’s view of the world in the twenty-first century.
A beautifully written history of China’s 20th-century interactions with the outside world. But instead of the narrow, legitimacy-enhancing story peddled by the Chinese Communist party, Bickers tells a far more complex tale of the forces of attraction, rejection and interdependence that have consistently defined China’s varied dealings with the world…Out of China demolishes many favorite motifs of official history in China…Interweaving political and cultural history, the detailed narratives of this book are essential correctives to the tale spun by Beijing’s current rulers. Each regime chronicled in this book sought to contort history to serve its purposes, and Xi’s today is no exception…Teeming with nuances while assailing the Communist party’s nationalistic narrative, Bickers’ book is a reminder of the importance of uncovering the past’s messy, contradictory truths.
[A] superb history of foreign power in China.
We have badly needed a comprehensive account of how Chinese nationalism was formed in interaction with foreign presence in the long twentieth century, and this book admirably fills that gap. Written with great verve and style, Out of China will appeal to a broad audience.
Robert Bickers is a pre-eminent chronicler of China...a great story told with splashes of color and sharp wit.
[Bickers’s] thoughtful, engaging, and well-written analysis helps to separate fact from myth when it comes to understanding the nature of Chinese nationalism…Out of China is a panoramic examination of the increasingly powerful articulation of China’s national identity in the twentieth century and the country’s painful encounter with Western imperialism…Out of China, underpinned by extensive research in archives and written in warm and often witty prose, seeks neither to condemn nor celebrate the Western presence in China. Instead, it is an important reminder that even when our shared history is forgotten in the West, it is very much remembered—and sometimes resented—in Beijing and Shanghai today.
This is a bold endeavor to try to cover an entire century in one volume, yet Bickers does a good job providing detailed narratives which reveal that Chinese nationalism was a corollary of foreign intervention, invasion, and atrocities…An all-embracing and fascinating tale.
- 576 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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