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

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  323 Ratings  ·  30 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

Hardcover, 816 pages
Published July 1st 2008 by Ecco (first published 2008)
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(showing 1-30)
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Oct 07, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: random
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
Darran Mclaughlin
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, british, chinese
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.
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
Jan 04, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Jul 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china
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
Matthew Griffiths
Apr 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Dec 28, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Alastair Heffernan
This book was an excellent crash course in modern Chinese history, with the caveat that you really have to want to read it! It is long, exceptionally dry sometimes and (as is the nature of the topic) ruinously complicated; only with extreme dedication is it possible to get through it at all. Having said that, there were parts of the book, particularly on more well-known episodes of history, such as the 1949 communist victory or the Cultural Revolution, that were completely mesmerising. Of course ...more
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wished this book would be more analytical in terms of dissecting the events that happened and their wider implication, instead of providing a very detailed account of what happened but with no sufficient explanation. A good basic book if you want to understand China, and a good time period to choose from too, if you can get through the book without falling asleep on most days.
Jul 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Mar 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Too textbook style for me...there are hundreds of people mentioned in every chapter. Most disturbing stat: 30 MILLION people died during The Great Leap Forward!
Matt Mayevsky
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: macrohistory
Very detailed history of China until 1989. The last episode of history to 2007, is treated fairly general. The description of events has its pros and cons. Pros: accumulation of facts, interesting detail and accuracy. Con: lost the perspective.

In my opinion the book is not intended for beginners. It is essential reading for history enthusiasts.

159 years of recent history of China from 1850 to 2009

Among others:

Anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion (1899–1901)
End to the Qing dynasty and established the Rep
Feb 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Matt Bolton
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enormous cast of characters. Very readable, journalistic style (plus non-intrusive footnotes) but difficult to follow all of the threads. I guess that's the reality of this complex country. The author strikes me as a level-headed seeker of truth. Good set of maps for context, but not enough geographic references in the text to engage me totally. As a tourist, I've been to a few of these places, including randomly discovering memorials etc. The book probably warrants a second reading, there's so ...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
Aug 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Ahmed Assem
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Duncan M Simpson
May 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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!
Jun 04, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: china
Okay, I read about half. This book defeated me.
Ronald Dylan
May 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This took a while to finish but it's well worth the read, especially for those who deal with the Chinese.
Dec 22, 2008 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: political
from The Economist's China podcast
Aug 23, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't read much non fiction and hardly any history at all but this was beautifully written especially the first half!
Vanessa Toth
Mar 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While this is not the easiest book to read, it does provide a vast amount of information about such a powerful country.
David Bird
Dec 24, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Feb 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent overview, though I didn't think the Tiananmen Massacre required three whole chapters, almost the same amount given to the Cultural Revolution.
Phillip Donnelly
rated it it was ok
Apr 25, 2012
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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.
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