Rana Mitter on 100 Years of Modern China
For the latest installment of its Five Books series, The Browser interviews Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at Oxford University and gets his recommendations for five books about the past 100 years of Chinese history:
In October we saw the 100th anniversary of the 1911 revolution that overthrew China’s imperial dynasty. Today we’re taking a “book tour”, if you will, through the last century of Chinese history. What legacy of the 1911 revolution and its vision for a modern nation can we see in China today, or have the changes of the 20th century been so dramatic that there is none?
One of the ironies a century on from the revolution of 1911 is that in some ways China is a completely different country from what it was a century ago – everything from the skyscrapers of Shanghai to the massive development of rural areas in western China – and yet many of the problems that the revolutionaries of 1911 were trying to solve are still very relevant to China today.
The questions of what is the Chinese nation state – is it an empire, a republic? – and how does the government relate to its people are questions that are very pressing at the present day, and were in the minds of the 1911 revolutionaries as well. The sense of social crisis is very real [today]. If you go out into the countryside, the growing economy has kept people at least reasonably happy in some parts of the country, but more broadly speaking it’s clear that there is a lot of social discontent and perhaps a downturn in the economy could create another social crisis for today’s government.