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A History of Modern China

Wealth and Power ( 富强 ): China’s Long March to the Twenty-first Century

Wealth and Power is a fascinating book, covering the philosophies of 11 leading thinkers and spanning from the Opium Wars in the 1800s through to modern times.

As the dramatis personae of this book abundantly illustrate, China’s modern thinkers and leaders, smarting from the humiliation of precipitous decline and foreign incursion, had their own more immediate and urgent goal, namely, the restoration of national wealth, power and greatness.

This book requires that you have a reasonable knowledge of Chinese history, and is stronger for assuming familiarity.

The people covered include:

For a people possessed of such an abiding sense of pride and face, China’s fall in the nineteenth century from a place of such centrality and dominance was a special ignominy, and it engendered a very strong and enduring counterreaction.

Many of the ideas were brought in from tours of either Japan or the West, as well as being informed by China’s long history. By taking a long view, you also get to see how people’s ideas shift over time. I found the two chapters on Deng particularly interesting.

If you are looking for a deeper understanding of how China thinks about the world, and where their trajectory is taking them, this is a great book.

Highly recommended.

The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers

The Party provides a comprehensive look at how the party maintains influence and control across all levels of Chinese society.

Comprised of distinct articles, covering various areas of the Party, it can be a bit tiring to read. That said, each chapter contains numerous insights into modern China. It is left to the reader to pick them out of the interviews.

The author, Richard McGregor, spent many years living in China as a correspondant for the Financial Times.


Country Driving

Peter Hessler is not likely to be a new name to you, if you are interested in China.

Country Driving continues his brilliant narratives on modern China with three stories. The first covers driving along remote parts of the Great Wall, the second a story of life of a single family in a small town near Beijing, and the third is in a development zone and covers the rise of a new factory.

Each story is beautiful by itself. Combined, you get the feeling of living through different aspects of China’s recent modernisation.

Highly recommended.