China: A New History

Front Cover
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998 - History - 546 pages
15 Reviews
Recognized for decades as the West's doyen on China, John King Fairbank here offers the full and final expression of his lifelong engagement with this vast, ancient civilization. Fairbank's masterwork, China: A New History is without parallel as a concise, comprehensive, and authoritative account of China and its people over four millennia. Bringing to bear sixty years of research, travel, and teaching, Fairbank weaves a richly detailed history that reaches from China's neolithic days to its troubled present. With a deft hand, he depicts a country ever-changing and yet constant in its effort to achieve a cohesive identity, an enormous and enormously complex nation perpetually balancing between the imperatives of force and the power of ideas. Here are the Chinese autocrats in their various times and guises, maintaining Confucian civility and order through--paradoxically--the perpetual threat of irrational imperial violence. Here is the intellectual class, revered for its wisdom and counsel and yet--as events from the Cultural Revolution to the massacre in Tiananmen Square demonstrate--eminently expendable. And here are China's farmers engaged in a never-ending, backbreaking attempt to tame their temperamental countryside only to face repeated famine as China's agrarian-based economy fails to develop. At the center of all stands the Chinese family, until recently the model for both obedience and tyranny in society at large. Fairbank traces the growth of a civilization that could embrace so many contradictions and disruptions and yet retain a strong sense of its identity. Following China's ambivalent relations with the West and with the forces of modernization, he identifies, even in thegreat leap forward signaled by the Communist Revolution, the assumptions that have informed Chinese society for thousands of years. From the influences of Buddhism through the flowering of Song China to the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, this richly illustrated history unfolds in the w

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4
4 stars
6
3 stars
2
2 stars
1
1 star
2

Review: China: A New History

User Review  - Matt - Goodreads

About as good of an overview of China's "5000 year history" as you're going to get in 500 pages. Just be aware that it reads like a textbook with an overwhelming barrage of names and dates, although ... Read full review

Review: China: A New History

User Review  - James Violand - Goodreads

Quintessential book of the history of the Chinese people and culture. Written without the prejudice born during the Red Scare. Factual and seemingly unbiased. Wonderful read. Read full review

References to this book

All Book Search results »

About the author (1998)

Born in South Dakota, John King Fairbank attended local public schools for his early education. From there he went on first to Exeter, then the University of Wisconsin, and ultimately to Harvard, from which he received his B.A. degree summa cum laude in 1929. That year he traveled to Britain as a Rhodes Scholar. In 1932 he went to China as a teacher and after extensive travel there received his Ph.D. from Oxford University in 1936. Between 1941 and 1946, he was in government service---as a member of the Office of Strategic Services, as special assistant to the U.S. ambassador to China, and finally as director of the U.S. Information Service in China. Excepting those years, beginning in 1936, Fairbank spent his entire career at Harvard University, where he served in many positions, including Francis Lee Higginson Professor of History and director of Harvard's East Asian Research Center. Fairbank, who came to be considered one of the world's foremost authorities on modern Chinese history and Asian-West relations, was committed to reestablishing diplomatic and cultural relations with China. He was also committed to the idea that Americans had to become more conversant with Asian cultures and languages. In his leadership positions at Harvard and as president of the Association for Asian Studies and the American Historical Association, he sought to broaden the bases of expertise about Asia. At the same time, he wrote fluidly and accessibly, concentrating his work on the nineteenth century and emphasizing the relationship between China and the West. At the same time, his writings placed twentieth-century China within the context of a changed and changing global order. It was precisely this understanding that led him to emphasize the reestablishment of American links with China. More than anyone else, Fairbank helped create the modern fields of Chinese and Asian studies in America. His influence on American understanding of China and Asia has been profound.

Merle Goldman is Professor of History, Emerita, at Boston University and Associate of the John K. Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Harvard University.

Bibliographic information