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Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-first Century

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  700 ratings  ·  85 reviews
From two of today's foremost experts on China, a thought-provoking new history that helps us understand China's future by looking at its rise over the last 150 years.

Wealth and Power is a sweeping account of the key, iconic intellectual figures and political leaders of China since the mid-1800s. By examining what they thought and what they did through lively and absorbing
Hardcover, 478 pages
Published July 16th 2013 by Random House (first published January 1st 2013)
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Aug 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am in the process of immigrating to China as an expat for a 3 to 4 year assignment. I can say that, until now, I have not found any book about China to be very helpful. Most are negative, and view China through a western lens. None helped me to understand the people or culture. This book is different. First, it is readable and interesting. Secondly, I thought it was a very balanced and thought-provoking account of modern China from the Opium wars to the present, seen from the point of view of ...more
Nam Le
Jul 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
As a Vietnamese citizens, I am always interested to the history of China, a strong and irritable neighbour, especially how this nation could rise from the poor and backward country to one of the most powerful and influencing power on Earth. The book took an very unorthodox and interesting approach to Chinese history from the beginning of the Opium War to the rise of Xi Jinping in recent years, by focusing on the lives and works of major critical thinkers and political leaders such as Sun-Yatsen, ...more
H. P.
Apr 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Wealth and Power follows Chinese history from the Opium Wars to today. Modern Chinese history is generally considered to have begun with the Treaty of Nanjing at the close of the first Opium War. Schell and Delury see special significance is using that first great humiliation of China at the hands of the modern world as the starting point, central to a thesis they use to explore Chinese history through its intellectual history. Roughly, that thesis is that modern Chinese history is best understo ...more
Tom Shannon
Mar 02, 2020 rated it liked it
I learned some things about Chinese history and I followed the argument that the country tries to have wealth and power, which I think is fairly common to many countries.

It was fairly superficial in the explanations but overall I found it to be an interesting read.
JS Found
Apr 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a good history of China in the modern age told through the lives of its leaders and intellectuals. The aim of these people was to bring China, that traditional, classics bound kingdom, into the modern world, where it would not be so isolated, interact and profit from its neighbors and other countries, and improve the lives of its citizens. There were many ways this problem was thought out, and the authors take you pretty much into the thoughts and writings of the characters, one of whom ...more
Jim Puskas
Jan 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
An overarching theme of this book is China's long struggle to overcome its nearly two centuries of humiliation at the hands of foreign powers. Justifiably proud of an ancient and highly accomplished culture, China has been punished by a succession of invading armies, colonized by imperialist aggressors, exploited by foreign business interests, offended by proselytising missionaries. All of which has been so difficult for China to tolerate that despite their starkly conflicting political approach ...more
Amy Minh
Oct 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
In light of what is happening in HK, this book provides an excellent background to understand China's obsession with political stability. Since the opium wars, China had been bullied by foreign powers and forced to give up territories, paying war indemnity, and signing unfair treaties. Many reformers since then blame China's weakness on the feudal Confucianism values: husband over wife, father over son, master over student, family over individual, felial piety, past over future, and continuity o ...more
Zachery Tyson
Jun 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, china
I've read a lot of books about China during the last year, and this is one of the best. At once entertaining and educational, the authors rip through 150 years of modern Chinese history by focusing on the movers and shakers driven to restore China to wealth and power.
Jan 12, 2014 rated it liked it
A thorough and detailed overview of modern Chinese history, starting from the Opium War era to the present day. The authors focus on an influential Chinese figure for each chapter, each representing a different period in Chinese history. Although this approach was clean and gave me a fairly good analysis of what types of sentiments and events were present during the time period, powerful personages were sometimes not given as much attention as I would have liked-- for example, Zhou En-Lai was ha ...more
Kenny Smith
Feb 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
The book takes a "great men" approach to Chinese history, meaning that it discusses the subject through the lens of key historical and intellectual figures. Obviously, that strategy is problematic for a number of reasons - perhaps most importantly, it attempts to chart a linear narrative of progress, which can be seen most crucially in their decision to end with the democratic reformer Liu Xiaobo. Secondly, the discussion of the general population is mostly bare bones, with them mostly serving a ...more
Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
How does one begin to write the history of a country and manage to contain it all in one volume? I would daresay a task is impossible; especially for a country that has been in existence for thousands of years. Truth be told, this book is not an actual history of China, yet this isn’t really the authors’ intentions. The purpose of this book is to show how a once isolated, maligned country could rise from the depths of humiliation and subjugation and become, arguably, the most prosperous nation o ...more
Erez Davidi
Sep 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I've had a keen interest in China for the last several years. As anyone who reads the papers would know, China is gaining more and more media attention. This has also manifested itself in a major inflation of books about China. It has become quite hard to choose the "correct" books to read about China. "Wealth and Power" is by far one of the best books I have read about China's recent history in the past few years.

"Wealth and Power" examines China's recent history dating from the first Opium War
Derek Sutter
Sep 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I would recommend this book to anyone. Of course, it is great for history buffs, but, beyond chronologically-delivered information, it contains political power plays, the stories of individual heroes, the exploration of ideas, differing techniques of governance, tales of economic successes and economic failures, and personal tragedies. Indeed, I think this book can offer an enjoyable and enlightening read to for any person's leisure or study.
Aug 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Great historical overview, but falls short in conveying how undying, pervasive Confucian values will continue to guide the nation -- democratized or not. (Henry Kissinger's work "On China" highly recommended.)
Patrick Dees
Dec 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Great read on the modern history of China and the intellectuals and leaders that molded her course.
I'd originally gone into the field of International Studies to become a diplomat in the Foreign Service; while I subsequently lost that professional desire for various reasons, (though the intellectual desire only continued to grow) a brief revisitation of that desire led me to randomly acquire a few Global Affairs related books, including this one. Many of the big questions my fellow colleagues and I discussed continue to be interests of mine - "How will the world change as the developing world ...more
Dec 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent rundown of China's road to national rejuvenation through the lens of some of well-known characters and some lesser known ones.

It was interesting to read on various different angles on China's struggle for growth over the last two centuries, including Confucian, Legalist, Maoist, and cryptocapitalist perspectives. The structure of the book makes it very accessible even to those not entirely acquainted with the sinuous trajectory of modern Chinese history. I have to commend the authors
Aadhaar Verma
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is similar to an Indian book I read a few years ago called "Makers of Modern India". Like this book, Orville Schell and John Delury chronicle the life of 10 men and 1 woman who tried to modernize and evolve China into a the Westphalian Nation State. The book starts with the writings of Wei Yuan in the late 18th century and ends with Liu Xiaobo in the 20th/21st century. Through the lives of these people, various incidents such as the Opium Wars, Taiping Rebellion, May 4th Movement, Cult ...more
João Nunes
Overrated. I thought about giving it a 2/5, but the book is very well written, it's very pleasant to read, and it has some very good moments. Specifically, the understanding of the concept of "Shame" that China went through after the Opium Wars.
Why have I thought about giving it a 2/5? I disliked the Republican era chapters and the way issues like the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen Square are described as absolutely uncritical factually understood thematics when they're not...
In the end, ther
Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-first Century, by Orville Schell and John Delury is a book about China's progression through the slow decline of the Qing Empire in the late 19th and early 20th century. The book chronicles this progression by examining the efforts of 11 of China's most important thinkers, leaders, politicians and activists. These figures are as follows:

1: Wei Yuan: political scholar in the Qing Empire
2: Feng Guifen: self-strengthener during the Qing decline
3: E
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Wealth and Power was an excellent primer on Chinese political thought over the last one hundred and fifty years. From the declining fortunes and humiliation of the Qing Dynasty to the emerging superpower that is today's China, Schell traces through the biographies of key figures their struggle to restore China's wealth and power. The question of relative priorities -- the need for a strong China that is wealthy and cannot be bullied against demands for democracy and human rights is a persistent ...more
“When the country is humiliated, its spirit will be aroused.” Wei Yuan, 1842

“From ‘Our technology is not as good as other people’s,’ to ‘Our political system is not as good as other people’s,’ and on to ‘Our culture is not as good as other people’s,’ Chinese reflections on our own defects probed ever deeper. But the primary mind-set that guided the probing was neither ‘liberation of humanity,’ nor even ‘enriching people,’ but rather a sense of shame at China’s loss of sovereignty and other natio
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great insight into contemporary China! I really liked the structure, dedicating each chapter (sometimes 2) to a key figure in China's policies or thought, and in this way exploring also also key events. This book covers what was going on when the Qing Dinasty crumbled, why Mao happened, why Deng Xiaoping happened, and some other things that have happened ever since, both economically and socially (I think the latest events in the book are from 2007-2010, can't remember). The long, winding road C ...more
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
As an introduction to modern Chinese history, it's difficult to imagine how Schell and Delury could have done a better job. I am not really in a position to critique the scholarship, but the ringing endorsements on the back cover from top authorities as well as the authors' own credentials put me at ease. Beginning with the Opium Wars, the author is walked through a century and a half of Chinese political history. As a reader with no knowledge at the book's opening, I now feel prepared to intell ...more
Peter Young
Oct 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good read and a must for those who don't know modern Chinese history. Describes what really propels the current Chinese state, and it is not ideology. On fault I can find is that in the end it still pushes the Western idea of a liberal democracy as the panacea for all the ills of society. As the recent elections in the West shows this is NOT the case. A democracy is only so strong as the participants in that democracy, this requires education and free time.
Jun 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I'm giving this book five stars because it ticked every box that I wanted it to; it gives a relatively objective view of China's political system, describing the years of history that fueled their drive to regain lost honor and protect their culture, while also not shying away from difficult topics.

As trade and historical ties with China become more and more relevant with every passing day, this is a book you shouldn't ignore.

Amirul Neezam
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
In dept analysis on China reformers struggle to make their country achieving the ‘wealth and power’ status. Beautifully written and consistent on the emotion and feeling of ‘humiliation’ by the Chinese that drive their struggle.

Now, China is on the verge to become the economic leaders of the world. And nobody is stopping them.
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Good book. Slightly biased on some topics with a strong voice given to the legalists and somewhat from a western perspective. Very critical of a lot of the old Chinese views and traditional Chinese don't get much of a voice but this is hard to avoid. Was good to explore the minds of the thought and political leaders that changed Chinese history.
Apr 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, political, china
As close as you can get to an unbiased look at modern Chinese history. The authors do their best to present all sides as fairly as possible. The book is a few years old, however, and doesn't have much about Xi Jinping. This is to be expected, but I still think that somebody in 2019 might want to try to find a more recent book than rely on this one.
Jeff Doquesa
May 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The book was surely a roller-coaster ride as the reader gets introduced to a new political thinker with a different perspective on how to achieve wealth and prosperity for China. The book can get boring especially with familiar faces like Mao and Deng. Nonetheless, the majority of the book has given me a new insight on how to understand contemporary China.
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52 likes · 18 comments
“In an ancient Confucian classical text, Wei found the perfect motto for the Qing’s nineteenth-century predicament—indeed, for modern China’s struggle as a whole—which he used prominently in the preface to Records of Conquest: “Humiliation stimulates effort; when the country is humiliated, its spirit will be aroused.”40 This idea would be expressed again and again by others for the next century and a half. In fact, it remains the inspiration for the phrase inscribed today in the museum at the Temple of the Tranquil Seas: “To feel shame is to approach courage.” 1 likes
“For much of the Communist era, scholars tended to look back on Sun as one more unsuccessful, reform-minded leader, and his Three People’s Principles as just another of modern China’s many dead-end political experiments. As one biographer wrote: “If Sun Yat-sen had one consistent talent, it was for failure.” 0 likes
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