From humiliation to glory: A vigorous scouring of the historical record by two crack Chinese scholars fleshes out the troughs and triumphs of Chinese greatness.
It’s helpful to remember that the rise of China didn’t happen overnight, a fact that these elucidating essays demonstrate. Since China’s humiliation in the mid-19th century at the hands of the imperialist powers, it has embarked on a path of self-criticism and self-strengthening, which Asia Society Center fellows Schell (Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-La from the Himalayas to Hollywood, 2000, etc.) and Delury find strangely affirming. China’s Year 1 was the Treaty of Nanjing on August 11, 1842, signed with Britain after the disastrous three-year Opium War; Wei Yuan, a middle-ranking Qing official, found in its sad aftermath a need for reform of China’s defense and international relations, even if it meant learning from the “barbarian” enemy. He refashioned the Confucian motto for the country: “Humiliation stimulates effort; when the country is humiliated, its spirit will be aroused.” Feng Guifen, a scholarly administrator in the Qing dynasty based in Shanghai, similarly urged (in Dissenting Views from a Hut Near Bin) the need to “master the secrets of its new adversaries by admitting their superiority and adopting some of their ways, or perishing.” Self-strengthening would remain the rallying cry, from Empress Dowager Cixi, aka Dragon Lady, to important reformist leaders Liang Qichao, Sun Yat-sen, Chen Duxiu, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong. Their theme: The Chinese past was rotten, the failures needed to be exposed, and the future demanded new thinking. Deng Xiaoping’s bold economic retooling invited China’s later opening up by Zhu Rongji yet also unleashed democratic activism by such notable figures as Nobel Prize–winning writer Liu Xiaobo.
An astute, knowledgeable and nicely accessible history and assessment of China for all readers.