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Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to the Present

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  223 ratings  ·  23 reviews
No country on earth has suffered a more bitter history in modern times than China. In the second half of the nineteenth century, it was viewed as doomed to extinction. Its imperial rulers, heading an anachronistic regime, were brought low by enormous revolts, shifting social power patterns, republican revolutionaries, Western incursions to "split the Chinese melon" and a d ...more
Hardcover, 816 pages
Published June 24th 2008 by Ecco (first published January 1st 2008)
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I spent at least three months reading this fat volume and about the same time answering questions from my friends as to why I was doing this. Why in hell am I reading the History of Modern China? Of course, the simple answer is that I compulsively read anything l lay my hands on but then I’m also on the mission to become the most knowledgeable person in the world, so that my arrogance is backed up with some erudition. Sadly, I’m no Mike Ross and I have retained at best 10% of the facts in this b ...more
Not an easy read but very informative, at least for someone like me who started off with very limited knowledge about the history of China.

Jonathan Fenby's "Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850-2009" helped me to begin to comprehend the amazing metamorphosis which China underwent in about one and a half century: from a disintegrating empire, through a turbulent warlord era, through crippling Japanese occupation, civil war, sweeping early communism, excruciat
Jonathan Fenby's overview of modern Chinese history emphasises the continuities with the late imperial period that belie the Communist revolution of 1949. Two key tensions inform the book. The first is that between the centripetal forces which drew power towards the emperor in Beijing (an emperor in peasant's garb, in the case of Mao), and the centrifugal forces which periodically plunged the Middle Kingdom into civil war. The second is that between the struggles for power at the top of the syst ...more
I had second thoughts when I first picked this one up. I knew I would be in for a slog... Yet 3 weeks later it was well worth the investment. It gave me insights into a country's history I knew rather little about. Never had I imagined China's modern history would be akin to that of an epic period drama. It's hard to think of a nation who has endured as much struggle as that of China. From war to natural disasters and dictatorship, this country has experienced it all and on unprecedented levels. ...more
Matthew Griffiths
An excellent summary of the history of Modern China that highlights clearly the issues that led to China's downfall and its rebirth. Having not read a great deal on this topic before I can safely report that this was a very good starting point to get a good grasp on the topic as it was written very concisely without being too verbose. In picking up this book I was particularly interested in finding out more about the Great Leap Forward and the resulting famine and this book dealt succinctly with ...more
Darran Mclaughlin
Interesting, well written and, given the scale of the task, pacey. It's time we all learned more about China. I for one welcome our new overlords.

Seriously though, China's modern history is a horrifying catalogue of disasters. Mao was a psychopathic maniac and it's unbelievable that he had the support of so many western intellectuals. It's really quite impressive that the CCP have managed to stear China in the direction it's heading in without collapsing as the Soviet Union did.
set reading for school. lots of names and anecdotes, not really enough attention to economic and geographic context for my liking. it's hard to keep track of everything. plus the general critique I would level at any book The Economist likes, i.e. fundamentally conservative idea of the proper subjects of "history". having said all that: it was pretty readable and I learnt some things and I don't know enough to mouth off about Chinese history.
Tey Shi
I would recommend watching the documentary "china a century of revolution" before embarking on this book for readers who do not have much background in modern china's history. The details of the stories while helped one to imagine what it was liked then, at certain times it feels overwhelming especially for chapters on the civil war period. Fenby's point of view seemed to be that a democracy is the ultimate political stable development for any country. I can't agree totally with his perspective ...more
A staggering, vast volume, chronicling a decisive era of not only Chinese, but also, world history, Fenby's History delivers a detailed, enlightening, and thoroughly readable study.
Beginning in the mid 1850s with China's unequal treaties, and the subsequent foreign intervention and humiliation, Fenby proceeds to describe everything that constitutes the fall described in the title. We learn of the details of the Opium War, the rise of the real power behind the throne, Dowager Empress Cixi, the su
This is a very good general history of China's tumultuous rise from a feudal state kowtowing the imperial powers who held concessions on its territory to the 21st century state-capitalist superpower. The writing is fairly journalistic and impressionistic in tone, full of fairly irrelevant 'colour' and too little analysis, for my taste, and the first two hundred pages were slightly hard going, as I struggled with the byzantine political structures and my lack of knowledge of the period. The book ...more
Martin Middleton
This book was ok but I felt there is a bit too much information being thrown at the reader constantly, and it is quite hard to follow. I can definately see that Fenby is more of a journalist than an academic historian. That is evident in the way he writes. By that I mean, the focus is sometimes a little more on people and anecdotes, as opposed to social/political and other structures if you like. It was hard for me to make sense of how Chinese society has evolved from his writing. I think a litt ...more
Mark Nichols
A comprehensive insight into a fascinating history. Not perfectly written, with many obscure terms used and some odd points of trivia included from time to time. I also found it difficult to keep the various historical characters in place. That said, well worth the read. I finished the book while in China, and read the account of Tiananmen Square while actually at the Square. The account in the book pretty much matches the brief history provided in the Museum of China, though the latter is actua ...more
Duncan Simpson
Brilliant, well written and engaging history of modern China. Reads as well as a novel and gives a great understanding of the country as it is today. I might never read another book about China but, because of reading this one, I might read a lot more!
this book is truly amazing for the sheer vastness of the subject it covers. as an indian, I was curious to know about our neighbouring country better. and this book truly helped me in doing that. the parts regarding mao, especially the cultural revolution, can bring shivers down your spine since it shows vividly how mao sysmtematically tried to destroy his real or perceived enemies. on the whole a truly great book.
Ahmed Assem
Here is a very good go-to book about modern china. Starting with the Taiping revolution, passing by the boxer revolution, the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party. While it contains some economical points that I couldn't really good but otherwise the athor did really good job
A comprehensive account of modern Chinese history. This is how a history book should get written for laymen. A racy account of a broad sweep of Chinese history from the 19th century to the current times unburdened with either too many cumbersome details or scholarly pontifications.
Excllent general history on 150 years of the oldest civilization on the planet and shows how despite all the upheavals little has in fact changed. The book is detailed but not too heavy, an excellent primer for the uninitiated.
Very hard to follow at first, but from World War II onwards became compelling. It's a bleak read though and feels at times like an unrelenting catalogue of human suffering.
David Bird
I approached this book with a fairly profound ignorance of the subject, and so am not qualified to judge its accuracy or its bias. As a piece of writing, it was workmanlike.
Dave Hazzan
An excellent overview, though I didn't think the Tiananmen Massacre required three whole chapters, almost the same amount given to the Cultural Revolution.
I don't read much non fiction and hardly any history at all but this was beautifully written especially the first half!
Mar 25, 2009 Meri rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: china
Okay, I read about half. This book defeated me.
Mar 31, 2009 April marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: political
from The Economist's China podcast
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Jonathan Fenby, CBE, has been the editor of The Observer and the South China Morning Post. He is currently China Director at the research service Trusted Sources.
More about Jonathan Fenby...
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