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Out of China

Out of China

How the Chinese Ended the Era of Western Domination

Robert Bickers

ISBN 9780674982314

Publication date: 08/07/2017

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.

    —Julian Gewirtz, Financial Times


  • Robert Bickers is Professor of History at the University of Bristol.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press