CHINA FROM THE OPIUM WARS TO THE 1911 REVOLUTION by Jean; Marianne Bastid & Marie-Claire Bergere Chesneaux


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The shift in 19th-century China from the traditionalist scholar-gentry society and the emergence of an indigenous capitalist class are generally obscured by historians' preoccupation with Western intrusion and Chinese subservience or rebellion. According to the authors, however, a native modernizing drive took hold with the Yangwu movement of the 1870s, which enjoyed Restoration government support; and as early as 1866, Chinese merchants were demanding that the government build naval shipyards to foster expanded trade. Attempts to develop mines and railroads during the Boxer era were made before the intelligentsia itself espoused industrial growth. What happened? The authors document in detail the obstacles--continued foreign exactions, currency devaluations, social and natural disasters, merchants' tendency to ally with colonialists--which precluded the internal capital formation and political stability required to ""take off"" the way Japan had. Nevertheless, the book suggests, the ultimate key to failure was a lack of leadership. The 1890s reform effort of Kang You-wei was offset by the Boxers' lack of any coherent economic program, and no development-minded group was able to deflect the government toward building broad-scale public works instead of armories. Superior to Roger Pelissier's Awakening of China (1967), which covers approximately the same period, this abundantly documented volume shakes up Chinese historiography as a whole by so pointedly phrasing the question of how the world's most populous nation was unable to join the industrial revolution.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1976
Publisher: Pantheon