951: Wealth and Power by Orville Schell and John Delury

by Gerard


951.05: Schell, Orville and John Delury. Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-First Century. New York: Random House, 2013. 496 pp. ISBN 978-0-679-64347-0.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 900: History and Geography
  • 950: History of Asia, the Orient, and the Far East
  • 951: History of China and adjacent areas
  • 951.05: 20th century

It’s mildly sad that the signing of the Unequal Treaties at the end of the First Opium War in 1842 signaled China’s entrance into the modern era. China’s cultural heritage had been one of self-sufficiency, technological innovation, and dynastic coherence. Rebellion after rebellion ended the 365-year rule of the Qing dynasty. After that the fledgling Republic of China struggled to become the power it once was, at least in the eyes of the West. Oliver Schell’s and John Delury Wealth and Power trace the cultural, political, and social history of China through the last two centuries to show how the nation has come to the stature it has today.

The author’s interesting strategy for chronicling the expansive history of China is through the eyes of various scholars, generals, and political leaders. They start with government secretary and scholar Wei Yuan, who identified China’s interactions with the West as a threat and wrote extensively on the Opium Wars. Then Feng Guifen argues for synthesizing Confucianism with Western industrialization ideals in the late 19th century. After the fall of the Qing and the death of the Empress Dowager Cixi, there are predictable forays into the ideals of General Chiang Kai-shek (leader of China through World War II), Mao Zedong (communist revolutionary), and Deng Xiaoping, who tried to move the country towards a more moderate market economy. The history ends with the human rights activism of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Liu Xiaobo.

There is almost no way to write a short history of any part of China’s history. The philosophical and political schools and the traditions which inform them are myriad. Sufficed to say, this book does a very good job of balancing Eastern and Western perspectives. If you’re looking for a crash course in modern Chinese history, then this one is a good place to start. The organization is pretty decent, and the flow optimal. All in all, a very good book.