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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2003
This, along with Wing-Tsit Chan's A SOURCE BOOK IN CHINESE PHILOSOPHY provided my first serious look at Chinese culture.
Fairbank's CHINA details the development of China from earliest times through the Tiananmen massacre: Xia & Shang, Zhou, the Spring and Autumn period, the Warring States period, the Qin Unification, the Han dynasty, disintegration, the subsequent rise of Sia and Tang dynasties, disintegration and the rise of the Song, the Northern and Southern Song along with the development of the kingdoms and empires of the Mongols who slowly conquered China, the Ming dynasty that expelled the Mongols, the Manchurian Qing dynasty that conquered all China and ruled until China became a Republic, Sun Yatsen, Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kaishek), fascism and communism, the rise of Mao and the Nationalist flight to Taiwan, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and Deng Xiaphing (Dong Zai-phong).
Of special interest are discussions on the rise of Confucianism, Daoism, Chinese Buddhism and Christian in-roads created by missionaries; the respective roles of Legalism, early imperial Confucianism and neo-Confucianism in the formation and evolution of the Chinese state; the horrors and extent of foot-binding among Chinese women; the influence of both communists and fascists in the Guomindang party and the open conflict between the "blue shirt" fascists (formed by Chiang Kaishek) and the Communist party; and the role of the USSR and Comintern in the development and organization of Communism in China (originally in the Guomindang and later in the Chinese Communist Party).
Thought-provoking and interesting, the book does suffer from infrequent flaws such as irrelevant personal attacks (e.g., Reaganesque = simple-minded) and giving too little details in some areas. Despite these (and the fact that the author once thought Maoisim the greatest thing to happen in China for centuries), anyone interested in Chinese history cannot afford to pass up this important work.
It should also be noted that the earlier edition's last chapter was replaced by essays from other authors in the revised addition.
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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2001
I am not a scholar of Chinese history. I just wanted to know more about the culture. I found the book to be very enjoyable. The topic was too broad for the book to spend much time in any detail of the subject. The book is well reasoned and excellent for those of us that want to know the basics about Chinese history. For those that read the other reviewer comments, bear in mind that the book covers Chinese history for prehistoric time to present day. Any commentary about US policy occurs in the very tail end. The book does do a good job contrasting the Chinese outlook to the western viewpoint.
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94 of 115 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2001
You can get a lot out of this book as a basic introduction to Chinese civilization if you are willing to slog through it. It is clearly written and covers the essential facts, but it lacks taste and deep interpretation. In others words, it can be studied but should not be read for pleasure or even intellectual stimulation. I used it to complete certain gaps in my knowledge of Chinese history, which was necessary and useful, but it just feels so academic and pedantic. Maybe that is what must happen in most general survey introductions like this one: it is stripped down so far that it cut not just fat but muscle and bone. In contrast, "The Search for Modern China" by J. Spence is a work of art as well as history, and constantly stimulates the reader to probe deeper, farther, opening a world. Unfortunately, Fairbank and Goldman accomplished none of that.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2000
This book certainly provides a complete chronology of China's political, military, and economic history, but it is like dry wheat toast - good for you, but not very enjoyable. In places, the authors themselves seem uninterested in the subject. For example, the end of thousands of years of imperial rule is dispensed in one paragraph - no discussion. Personally, I wish I had bought a different book.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2000
I agree with the many different comments people have had for this book. It contains a lot of information, its very dull at times, and it does not go into great depth all the time.
The bottom line is that is exactly what this book is. Its a short basic history of China. This is more of a reference book than a specific look at a very specific event.
No, China experts will not be in love with this book. But anyone looking for a survey of Chinese History or looking for a decent desk/bookcase reference book on China will find this book useful.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2001
Specialists in Chinese history and culture will not learn anything from this book. But that's not why it was written. Westerners are very ignorant of Chinese history, and this book is a good introduction to the big themes in China--government and protest, economic development and poverty, the influence of the West, education, and more. For example, the mistrust of China's government of Falun Gong is much more understandable when you know about the earlier religion-based revolutions and civil wars in Chinese history, which I'm sure the President of the United States is not aware of, despite his well-meaning platitudes about freedom of religion. I enjoyed this book greatly and reread portions often.
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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2003
Most fascinating for me in this history of China was the discussion of the recent economic opening that this huge and populous nation has undertaken. The reasons given for why they have been becoming capitalistic, (in fear of becoming like the USSR and to try to modernize their society) were intriguing. I must admit that I had a long prejudice against Chinese politics, as I considered it a state run by thugs. But after reading this book, I realized the long tradition of Confucian thought, and its effects on governance over the history of China. Also interesting was the role the US had in the Nationalist cause at the turn of the last Century. The tragic situation of women in the society, which was not elaborated on very much, but still fascinating and disturbing was also explored. I also enjoyed the stories of the dynasties, although I still don't have them all straight in my mind. But I did get a feel for why the dynasties rose and fell, and how they interacted with the rest of the world. The rise of the Communist party in China was very interesting, and I am very curious to see where things go now. The civic traditions and endemic corruptions inherent in the social structure could be seen in their interrelated complexities rising over the millennia as governance of this vast and diverse land was figured out. Mostly this book opened my mind to a society and culture I knew little about, and helped me to begin to appreciate it much more. Compared to the ever-present violence and destruction, religious persecution and conflict, and social disruption and seemingly unending tales of power-drunk warlords conniving to divvy up and consume land and influence that I gleaned reading the history of Europe, the history of China seems almost stable and consistent.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2014
I hated this book. I was a Chinese history major in college and wanted a refresher before I took a trip there. Remembering Fairbank as a big name in the field, I thought this was a good start. It is not. Setting aside the consistent bias against anything Western (can you give a little credit to Plato or Aquinas?) and jabs at contemporary American politics (staring in paragraph 1--is that really necessary when discussing a history starting 2500 BC??), there is no clear understanding provided of the simple progress of events.
For example, how did the first Yuan emperror come to the throne, when based on the dates, ascended at age 14? Did he really conquer China as a teenager? Looking at Wikipedia (read the book and you'll see why resorting to Wikipedia isn't such a stretch), it says he inherited the throne. Ok, so he's the first emperor, how did all that come about? No clue from this book.
It does provide a lot of cultural background, in episodic snippets. Fairbank is most comfortable lecturing to his old colleagues who already know all the details and don't need them laid out. If you're one of those, you might like this. If you're just starting the study of China, Fodor's would be a better bet.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2013
The only reason this isn't five stars is that I would have liked more detail about the earlier Chinese dynasties, but all in all, this gave me just what I wanted: An overall background in Chinese history.

John King Fairbank, who wrote all but the last two chapters, is more than a competent writer, and the chapters are broken up into short, easily digestible sections that allow readers many options for stopping points. Fairbanks' command of the material is obvious, and though this is clearly a work that could be used as a college textbook, it was more than fine for outside of class.

The last two chapters, by Merle Goodman, though written several years ago, still illuminate aspects of modern China that are generally unmentioned in journalistic coverage of the country, and like the book as a whole, enlighten the reader about the realities of one of the most powerful nations on the planet.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2013
Fairbank's love for China shows through this book but he simply does not provide enough factual information. He provides his own insights from years of study but seldom supports those conclusions with examples or at least a few anecdotes. The two volume history by Tanner is much better.
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