Education About Asia: Online Archives

Modern Chinese History

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In addition to being the most populous country, China is projected to surpass the United States in gross domestic product within a few years. It has a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and wields tremendous “soft power” throughout the world. For these and other reasons, Americans are fascinated with China. Yet this fascination remains tempered by fear and ignorance. Modern Chinese History is not designed specifically to alter American attitudes toward China, but it does provide English-reading students with the background information necessary for them to approach China from a position of greater understanding. Though many notable historians have added to our general knowledge of Chinese history, their texts are often too weighty for nonspecialists. Modern Chinese History provides a concise, accessible introduction to the topic designed specifically for high school and lower division college students, as well as for general readers.

Two main themes run throughout Modern Chinese History. First, it emphasizes the role of foreign actors in China’s past. Cross-cultural contacts have deeply influenced the shape and trajectory of modern China. However, this text moves beyond the “impact-response” narrative, which outlines repeated conflicts with the superior West followed by China’s belated, inadequate responses. Not only is this narrative inaccurate and Eurocentric, it is also incomplete. Modern Chinese History emphasizes the importance of cross-cultural contacts but provides a more balanced approach to the topic. It includes encounters with the West, as well as interactions with China’s Asian neighbors. Second, this volume highlights the roles of domestic actors in China’s history, recognizing that these include far more than simply political and military elites. Modern Chinese History provides room for both men and women peasants, soldiers, and intellectuals to enter the stage of history.

Modern Chinese History provides room for both men and women peasants, soldiers, and intellectuals to enter the stage of history.

Whereas many scholars suggest modern China began during the mid-Qing period in 1840—the date of the Opium War and the beginning of the impact-response cycle—this work begins with the Qing dynasty (1644) and continues to the present day. Furthermore, rather than focusing primarily on twentieth-century events at the expense of earlier eras, roughly half the text covers the Qing period with the other half covering the Republican and Communist eras.

Several individuals will benefit from Modern Chinese History. Teachers of history, international studies, cultural studies, and Asian studies will find this text useful. Most notably, it will supplement the world history survey, which is becoming increasingly common on high school and college campuses. Even those colleges that have maintained the Western
civilization survey will find this an appealing option, as instructors are emphasizing the West’s interaction with the larger world. Naturally, all types of Asian history classes will profit from this volume.

Modern Chinese History offers a succinct introduction to the political, economic, cultural, and social heritage of this powerful and influential nation. Because our students will increasingly interact with this region of the world, it is imperative they have a basic understanding of China.

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