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To Change China: Western Advisers in China

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  90 ratings  ·  13 reviews
From “the best known and most talented historian of China writing in English today” (Los Angeles Times), an examination of a diverse collection of Western foreigners who attempted “to change China”

"To change China" was the goal of foreign missionaries, soldiers, doctors, teachers, engineers, and revolutionaries for more than three hundred years. But the Chinese, while ea
Paperback, 352 pages
Published March 27th 1980 by Penguin Books (first published 1969)
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For starters, in 1644 a Jesuit missionary named Adman Schall was made director of the Chinese Bureau of Astronomy (appointed by the Emperor's grand secretary) and this was no ordinary appointment. Before this moment China had never dreamed that anything of value might be found in the West. What new techniques could be needed in a country that drew its wisdom from the Sages, controlled 150,000,000 subjects with a small and sophisticated bureaucracy, had touched perfection in art and poetry, and p ...more
From poor old Adam Schall to the Soviet advisers who helped the expansion of the nuclear arms race, this book tells in brief biographical sketches the stories of several Western advisers who came to China over the millennia in order to improve it. All, as Spence shrewdly shows, ended being used by China, and often left (or died there, alone) with a feeling of dissatisfaction at the failure of their ends (one exception being Norman Bethune, the Communist surgeon who, as Spence put it, used the Ch ...more
The chapter on the Yale in China program was extremely interesting. But what stands out is how many people believed that simply by showing up and exposing a 4,000-year old civilization to Western ideas of modernization, they could change that civilization immediately or necessarily for the better. This book is about arrogrance as much as it is about good intentions. And of course Spence once again writes with the flair and beauty that makes im such an unusual figure among srious historians.
Mandatory reading for those going to China in any capacity. Many of these men went to China pretending that they were doing so for noble ends, when what they really wanted was to realize dreams and ambitions unfulfilled at home. In turn the country used them back. Their spirit lives on in a thousand cynical laowais drinking their days away in Peking pubs.
Interesting story, but Spence is better when he's writing about a single subject and/or about the Chinese themselves than about Western interaction with China. Not sure why that is, as Spence is a great writer. This one didn't hold my interest as much as his other books have.
Anne Nelson
An important story, beautifully told. Spence takes us back in time to the various attempts of Western visitors "to change China." Jesuits, military, diplomats, academics -- all of them encounter a society that has an overwhelming ability to subsume their efforts.
This book chronicles the foreigners who have tried to change China, and the Chinese resistance and responses to influences from the outside world. Spence's accounts seem particularly relevant in understanding the root of modern Chinese attitudes towards the West.
Robert Bentley
Very good concise history of western influence in China. Spence writes for the ordinary person to understand the way in which westerners impacted the major cultural and political events in China during some of its most daring times.
Full of important lesson for any "old China hands" or anyone who interacts with China/Chinese on a regular basis. Surgical in its precision. I would have given five stars if it was less dry.
Rob Precht
Westerners are still deluding themselves that they can change China. A book as pertinent today as it was when first published at the time of Nixon's trip.
A collection real life stories about Western advisors in China during the opening of "diplomatic" relations between China and the Western world.
Christopher Hurtado
Jun 01, 2009 Christopher Hurtado marked it as to-read
To Change China: Western Advisers in China by Jonathan D. Spence (1980)
K. M.
A fun summer read.
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Jonathan D. Spence is a historian specializing in Chinese history. His self-selected Chinese name is Shǐ Jǐngqiān (simplified Chinese: 史景迁; traditional Chinese: 史景遷), which roughly translates to "A historian who admires Sima Qian."

He has been Sterling Professor of History at Yale University since 1993. His most famous book is The Search for Modern China, which has become one of the standard texts
More about Jonathan D. Spence...

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