A fresh, accessible take on a crucial turning point for the modern Chinese state.


A succinct revisiting of the turn-of-the-century uprising that pitted Chinese recalcitrance against “imperial buccaneering.”

There are still some important lessons to be learned in studying the Boxer Rebellion, as Silbey (History/Cornell Univ.; A War of Empire and Frontier: The Philippine-American War, 1899–1902, 2007, etc.) clearly points out—certainly as a way of understanding how the Chinese have traditionally met with chaos from outside. By 1900 the incursions of the imperialistic powers Britain, Russia and Germany had forced open China to foreign trade, especially opium, weakening further the Qing dynasty and hastening an internal collapse of a poor, overpopulated country. The catastrophic loss to Japan after the First Sino-Japanese War had shocked the Chinese into a need for reform; however, it was not forthcoming under the rule of Empress Dowager Cixi. Groups of illiterate peasants, unemployed and displaced by the coming of the railroads and resentful of the presence of meddling missionaries, acted out, attacking foreigners. From the secret societies, “the last refuge of the dispossessed,” emerged the Yi-he-quan, the Boxers, a kind of cult that caught on. They were steeped in martial arts and the role of being Robin Hoods, writes Silbey, and they disrupted society, catching the attention of the foreign press by the fall of 1899, and culminating in the murder of missionary Rev. Sidney Brooks. Drought and famine exacerbated local worries, spreading the movement across northern China, until finally the violence against Chinese Christians, railway workers and merchants exploded in 1900 and a combination of foreign legations fought their way to Beijing, battling for forts and arsenal, ultimately relieving the besieged embassies and breaking the Boxer resistance. Although the uprising ultimately failed, it would forge a generation of peasant resisters, whom Mao Zedong believed “did the hard and dirty work of preparing China for a true, Marxist revolution.”

A fresh, accessible take on a crucial turning point for the modern Chinese state.

Pub Date: March 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8090-9477-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...


A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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