The Penguin History of Modern China: : The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850-2008
Jonathan Fenby

The Penguin History of Modern China: : The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850-2008

In the second half of the 19th century, China appeared as the sick man of Asia, rocked by recurrent revolts and huge natural disasters, ruled by an anachronistic imperial system and humiliated by foreign invasions. Karl Marx saw it as bound to disintegrate, like ‘any mummy carefully preserved in a hermetically sealed coffin’.

The first half of the 20th century was even worse, culminating in fourteen years of invasion by Japan, four years of civil war and three decades of chaotic, oppressive rule by Mao Zedong that killed tens of millions.

Now, at the start of the 21st century, China is a major global force, booming economically and confident that it holds the keys to a future in which it will rival the United States.

It is impossible to understand modern China without understanding the country’s terrible recent past and Jonathan Fenby’s magnificent new book is the essential work. The Penguin History of Modern China is both a brilliant narrative, crammed with surprising and interesting stories, and a profound study of the nature of political power and its abuse.

Book Details:

  • Author: Jonathan Fenby
  • Published Year: 2008
  • Rights Sold
    • UK: Penguin
    • US: Penguin
Jonathan Fenby

Jonathan Fenby

Jonathan Fenby has published twenty books, mainly on modern global history, China and France. In a journalistic career spanning four decades, he was Editor of The Observer, the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong (during the handover from Britain to China) and Reuters World Service. He also held senior editorial posts at The Economist, The Independent and The Guardian and has been a foreign correspondent in Vietnam, Germany and France where he spent twelve years working for Reuters, The Economist and The Times. After returning to the UK from Hong Kong in 2000, he was a founding partner of...
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Book Reviews

  • "A great introduction for a general audience, well-paced with vivid scene-setting and character sketches."
    Sunday Times
  • "'Fenby excels at weaving the strands of his complex narrative into heroic and more often harrowing tales. There are sharp pen portraits of the heroes and (mostly) villains of the piece ... Fenby's enthusiasm is infectious."
  • "'Magisterial ... it's everything you need to know about one of the world's fastest-growing superpowers."
    Telegraph, Summer Books Choice
  • "Overlook this book at your peril, because it is far more than a mere recapitulation of the horrors of the last century: it's everything you need to know about one of the world's fastest-growing superpowers, from the days of the Dowager Empress Cixi to the forward-thinking country it is today.'"
    Daily Telegraph
  • "Reads like a novel and is never less than thoughtful and compassionate for the fate of a much-abused people ... [Fenby has] a journalist's eye for telling detail."
  • "The Cultural Revolution has spawned a book industry of its own, yet still Fenby finds facts that jolt and surprise."
    David Rennie, Daily Telegraph
  • "The book's ... key virtue is its fund of wonderful stories and personal descriptions. China's has been an often excruciating story, but one enlivened by extraordinary characters."
    The Australian
  • "A century ago ... China was opening up to the outside world, torn between willingness to participate in the international system, and fear that greater openness would undermine the regime. That century-old dilemma of how to create a strong China in a world buffeted by global forces is painfully relevant today. Jonathan Fenby's account of how China has coped with that dilemma makes his illuminating book the first major history that looks at the country with the eyes of the 21st century rather than the 20th."
    Rana Mitter, Financial Times
  • "`[Fenby's] book is a miracle of thoroughness, truthfulness and readability - the perfect primer for a time when China is about to enter all our lives."
    Sunday Telegraph
  • "A wonderful history of modern China and a cracking good read."
    Chris Patten, The Spectator.
  • "Blockbuster packed with facts and breathless drama."
  • "The most compelling and judicious account of China’s phoenix years currently available...Eye for detail, undemanding prose and a thunderous sense of narrative assure Jonathan Fenby of a triumph."
    Times Literary Supplement
  • "For an accessible, authoritative, fair, comprehensive and well written account, this would be hard to better."
    BBC History Magazine