Customer Reviews: The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution
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on March 16, 2000
This book by Spence is a remarkable and unique description of the Chinese political and social revolution that took place from the end days of the Empire until decades into the PRC. Instead of focusing on already well documented and researched historical figures such as Sun Yatsen and Mao Zedong, Spence provides us the opportunity to look at the "other" figures that greatly shaped the transformation of China yet never heard of by most people. Figures such as Lu Xun, Ding Ling, Hu Shi, Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao, etc...Spence does focus a lot on names and dates as the reviewer below notes, but it's not something people should cringe about. Spence's main goal was to focus on individual ideas and the transformation of intellectual thought and this, I thought, was acheived very well. One thing I have a problem with is that Spence focuses almost exclusively from the 1890's to the early 1930's. The last 50 years of intellectual thought which this book claim to cover is very sparse and almost non-existant, and I guess either the author overextended himself or probably because possessing intellectual thought during the PRC era was not very conducive to one's health. Anyway, this book is nevertheless an excellent source for understanding Chinese poltical and social thought during the early 20th century.
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on June 15, 2002
A brilliant evocation of 85 years of modern Chinese history. It has been said by some critics that this is a book to read for research and not for pleasure -- an opinion I would call a neat inversion of the true situation (as I saw it, anyway): I bought the book as a research tool and, though I soon found I couldn't use it for that purpose, became utterly engrossed in Spence's fascinating narrative all the same. If you're a lover of well-written biographical history, buy this book.
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on May 27, 1998
Contrary to its nomenclature, The Gate of Heavenly Peace is rather the proscenium for revolutionary dramas in the quest for that state of grace. Throughout this century it has been the stage for countless demonstrations, violent political struggles, bloodshed and victory parades. Jonathan Spence gives us a rare look at the political history of modern China from 1895 through the 20th century to 1980 through the eyes of scholars and philosophers. An extraordinary and interesting introduction to circumstances and conditions, revolutionary thought and actions evolving through the decades. From factors leading to the fall of the Qing dynasty, the restless struggles of leading revolutionary factions vying for cooperation of powerful warlords and foreign powers, and the inroads made by Japan into China--virtual industrial economic colonization with Japanese military support - to the eventual victory of Mao Zedong, the ingenious telling of China's turbulent history through the lives and thoughts of the leading philosophers and writers of the day makes for a refreshing initiation to Chinese history without being bombarded with political dogma and rhetoric. Well worth reading.
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on July 4, 2000
Spanning the years 1895-1980, this is a splendid study of some prominent members of China's intellectual elite during a turbulent period of the country's history. China of the early years of the century is portrayed as a Dostoevskian world of anarchists and nihilists, poets and novelists, philosophers and artists, whose ideas and art are inextricably entwined with the political fortunes of the nation- through the years of Manchu rule, the Hundred Days Reform, the period of the warlords, and later through the many movements instituted after the Communist Revolution. Through it all the Chinese intellectual struggles with the tensions of his political, artistic and individual identities, and the book - with generous quotations of poems, novels and essays, and also some haunting photographs - brings home this tension in a poignant manner. This is history ennobled by literature and philosophy.
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on October 30, 2003
This book is a brilliant examination of the lives of several key players in the Chinese Revolution. It is written in a narrative biographical style that is helped along (beautifully, I might add) with some of the contemporary literature of that time.
I think this book might be hard to use as a research tool, but I was completely engrossed in it as a wonderful book to enjoy to widen my understanding of the Chinese Revolution.
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on March 29, 2002
The struggle between conservatives and liberals is and has been universal. The Chinese revolutionaries are extremely radical even by Western standards. Dr. Spence captures the spirit of these people even though most of their words had to be translated from Chinese. The English version of the quoted writings, speeches, and casual conversations are accurate and present vividly the progressiveness of these liberal intellectuals. The author also ties one hundred years of history into one seamless flow of development. Issues regarding women, political reform, and marriage are discussed throughout the book, forming a coherent platform for the big cast of actors. Wonderful Writing!
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on July 5, 2015
I'm certainly not qualified to review a history book, so I'll just speak personally.

First I should say that I'm not finished with it, I'm about halfway through. Kindle version is good to go, though.

I'm a former Asian Studies major (about 8 years ago!) and have been teaching in China now for a little less than a year. I realized I was at a huge disservice not knowing the specific history of the past century and a half in this country. From my major (history was fairly cursory) I remember fragments of my bullet point outlines, but not nearly the depth needed to understand things like Xi Jinping's Chinese Dream ideology or how places like Chongqing can function as semi autonomous prefectures in a seemingly dominating authoritarian totalitarian state. I'm used to political deception in the US, but I've grown accustomed to the veneer of transparency. The complete lack of it here is mind boggling! Yet it is so easy to see its effects percolate to the average Zhou. So I emailed a venerable teacher for a read list and this was one of the books that made it.

This is not your 101 history book overview of 1895-1980. In fact, I recommend having that overview first, and you might enjoy getting it from here ([...]). This book takes a look at the century it covers primarily through the eyes of three individuals: Kang Youwei, Luxun, and Dingling. These characters are fascinating individuals through whom we can examine the cultural milieu of their times on a nearly year-by-year basis. They are excellent touch points for a Western audience, as they seem like heroes amidst the continuous chaos that characterized the country until fairly recently. And as you familiarize yourself with these B and C history stars among others like Qu Qiubai, Xu Zhimo, and so on, you will be much more conversationally fluent with your college-or-modern-high-school educated cohorts in China who at least have passing awareness of all of these individuals.

In providing the perspective of these intellectual's, Spence is also able to provide a history that is of the same spirit of Howard Zinn's "People's History", which I feel is a must for any serious history student. We Westerners have a tendency, according to Tagore, to be in "the servitude of the fetish of hugeness, the non-human", and this is true in our approach to history as well with our fascination of the most powerful armies (i.e., the History Channel), the most villainous villains and the most heroic heroes, the wins, the losses, the body counts. This book does not exclude the broad movements of history, but it is a backdrop - a disturbing din to the well intentions of these interesting players.

I didn't start this review with much of a plan, but I think this book is a must despite it not yet answering the questions I posed in the beginning of this review. Its ample presentation of primary sources, its narrative flow from player to player, and its tastefully injected humanity all make this an essential read for anyone who wants to try and truly get a grasp on what happened in this country oh so recently.
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on January 15, 2011
Please read the synopsis and introduction closely - this is a book about a period in Chinese history as seen through the writings of writers/intellectuals. It is useful mostly for people specifically interested in the lives and writings of the three writers featured by the author: Kang Youwei, Lu Xun, and Ding Ling. This book leaves out much background on historical events for understanding the context of the writings. There is little information on how the Guomindang and Communist revolutions affected the majority of the Chinese population and there is especially very, very little historical information about the Great Leap Forwards. This book is not a general history of the time period stated, and, due to its focus on tracing the lives of the three writers mentioned, gives the impression that the events of the last century were dominated by intellectuals, especially writers.
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on July 21, 2014
Could Mao and Putin be related? A thorough and immense task to undertake and a wealth of information offered.
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on April 20, 2013
The book's quality is very good although it's an used book and the price is so cheap. I love it overall.
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