A fact-filled, balanced, eminently readable social, cultural and political survey as one of America's leading Sinologists explains today's China in terms of the country's past two centuries. Fairbank's is a smoothly-written, intelligently organized chronicle of imperial repression; peasant revolts; foreign commercial, religious and military intervention; reform movements and civil war; it explains the forces that shaped the Communist-led revolution of 1949. Fairbank's work will prove a boon to any reader interested in understanding the pressures and prejudices, frustrations and factionalisms, ideological strengths and weaknesses that led to the Red takeover. While Fairbank treats the larger issues involved with a thoroughness that could, in less accomplished hands, become tedious, he avoids the problem by leavening his account with anecdotal asides that bring the more abstract considerations to vivid life. He is, for example, able to utilize the mind-boggling complexities of the classic Chinese examination system to illustrate the divisions within the society as a whole. It is when he turns his attention to more recent matters that the author truly shines, however. His analyses of the Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-shek and its Communist Party opponents are cogent and his arguments buttressed with impressive research. Fairbank makes a good case for the position that rather than a ""sell-out,"" as was widely maintained at the time, the Communist rise to power was the result of Nationalist mismanagement. ""For Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists to lose the Civil War was a remarkable achievement,"" Fairbank points out. ""The reasons they lost were not only stupidity on the battlefield but incompetence behind the lines."" Inflation, profiteering and the suppression of students' and intellectuals' peace movements all contributed to the debacle when coupled with an inability to Conduct what was essentially a ""guerrilla war."" In tracing the origins of one of the major events of our time as well as in offering insights into the probable future of the Communist state, Fairbank has produced a valuable and long-overdue guide to understanding the Middle Kingdom.