By Edward J. Lazzerini
WESTPORT, CT: GREENWOOD PRESS, 1999
GREENWOOD PRESS GUIDES TO HISTORIC EVENTS
OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
197 + xix PAGES
Reviewed by Narasingha P. Sil
Edward Lazzerini’s book is an important addition to the Guides to Historic Events of the Twentieth Century series published by the Greenwood Press. It provides a succinct overview of Chinese political history from the last decade of the nineteenth century to the present in a clear and crisp language which will be helpful to both students and non-specialist instructors. The author is particularly and refreshingly unorthodox in explaining Confucian China’s struggle for modernization and industrialization from the perspectives of the country’s internal dynamics. This indeed is a fresh interpretation of the history of the making of modern China in place of the stereotypical explanation emphasizing a cultural confrontation between the agrarian Orient and the technical industrial West.
Lazzerini studies the history of the Chinese Revolution in three phases: (1) the republican revolution (l890s to 1920s) of Sun Yat-sen, Chen Duxiu, Cai Yuanpei, and Hu Shi leading to the May Fourth Movement of 1919 and the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1921; (2) the nationalist revolution, largely carried out by the Guomindang Party (GMD) founded by Sun and refined and vitalized by his protégé Chiang Kai-shek (1920s to 1949); and (3) the communist revolution of Mao Zedong followed by the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on October 1, 1949.
While much of what the author observes on classical Marxism in general, and the Sino-Soviet distortions of it in particular, is interesting and innovative, the tone of his language betrays his skewed vision of communist world order. He dismisses Mao’s Great Leap Forward program of 1957 as the product of a benighted and bigoted revolutionary whose initial success was predicated on his skill at mass mobilization and manipulation through a forceful imposition of personal will (voluntarism).
The author’s decision to omit discussion of such events as the Taiping Rebellion or the Boxer uprising is unfortunate. The point that needed to be made was China’s tragedy in her struggle for Westernization and modernization (partly caused by her political leaders’ arrogance and ignorance and partly by the humiliation of the Heavenly Kingdom)—the Center of the World, Changuo—by drug-dealing elements from the imperialist West. This national trauma so thoroughly corrupted the soul of the Chinese that a mostly generous and gregarious people perpetrated quite “un-Chinese” murder and mayhem on innocent people during the Boxer Rebellion.
Lazzerini also neglects the moot point of how, under the circumstances, Mao’s CCP was perceived by the people as honest, sincere, patriotic, and pragmatic as compared to the bullying and bungling GMD. Finally, the author is somewhat overly harsh on the communists. He would have done better by consulting a few specialist works showing MarxismCommunism in the non-Western World (for example, articles by Goran Hyden).
All in all, a few shortcomings notwithstanding, Lazzerini’s book may be recommended for classroom use.