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 “A milestone in Western studies of China.” (John K. Fairbank)   In this masterful, highly original approach to modern Chinese history, Jonathan D. Spence shows us the Chinese revolution through the eyes of its most articulate participants—the writers, historians, philosophers, and insurrectionists who shaped and were shaped by the turbulent events of the twentieth century  “A milestone in Western studies of China.” (John K. Fairbank)   In this masterful, highly original approach to modern Chinese history, Jonathan D. Spence shows us the Chinese revolution through the eyes of its most articulate participants—the writers, historians, philosophers, and insurrectionists who shaped and were shaped by the turbulent events of the twentieth century. By skillfully combining literary materials with more conventional sources of political and social history, Spence provides an unparalleled look at China and her people and offers valuable insight into the continuing conflict between the implacable power of the state and the strivings of China's artists, writers, and thinkers.


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 “A milestone in Western studies of China.” (John K. Fairbank)   In this masterful, highly original approach to modern Chinese history, Jonathan D. Spence shows us the Chinese revolution through the eyes of its most articulate participants—the writers, historians, philosophers, and insurrectionists who shaped and were shaped by the turbulent events of the twentieth century  “A milestone in Western studies of China.” (John K. Fairbank)   In this masterful, highly original approach to modern Chinese history, Jonathan D. Spence shows us the Chinese revolution through the eyes of its most articulate participants—the writers, historians, philosophers, and insurrectionists who shaped and were shaped by the turbulent events of the twentieth century. By skillfully combining literary materials with more conventional sources of political and social history, Spence provides an unparalleled look at China and her people and offers valuable insight into the continuing conflict between the implacable power of the state and the strivings of China's artists, writers, and thinkers.

30 review for The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution 1895-1980

  1. 5 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    The always reliable Spence guides us through the short century of China's revolution, roughly 1898 up to 1980, using intellectuals and authors as guideposts through one of the most fascinating and tumultuous times in history. The outstanding Lu Xun, one of the most significant figures who ever walked on two legs for his acerbic wit, his poetic bent, and his unwavering attitude of FuckYou-ism to pretty much everybody--no one went unscathed in his estimation--is probably the most prominent figure The always reliable Spence guides us through the short century of China's revolution, roughly 1898 up to 1980, using intellectuals and authors as guideposts through one of the most fascinating and tumultuous times in history. The outstanding Lu Xun, one of the most significant figures who ever walked on two legs for his acerbic wit, his poetic bent, and his unwavering attitude of FuckYou-ism to pretty much everybody--no one went unscathed in his estimation--is probably the most prominent figure here. Ding Ling, Lao She, Kang Youwei, Xu Zhimo...many others, they dominate these pages with their struggles, their genius, and their stupidities. Mao and Chiang and their respective crews weave in and out, but are tangential. This is about the people who were able to articulate and elucidate on this bizarre period. The period from the Republic up to Deng is pretty brief. The meat of the work centers on the period of the warlords and the Japanese occupation. Just great stuff!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    Very ambitious intellectual history of modern China, from the dying days of the Qing Dynasty up to Deng Xioaping's era. Its kind of a telling of China's contemporary history through the lives of a number of writers and philosophers who tried to grapple with the incredible changes, challenges and ruptures that their society experienced during this period. Most of these people are lesser known in the West, and to me the only one who was previously familiar was Liang Qichao, thanks to the writings Very ambitious intellectual history of modern China, from the dying days of the Qing Dynasty up to Deng Xioaping's era. Its kind of a telling of China's contemporary history through the lives of a number of writers and philosophers who tried to grapple with the incredible changes, challenges and ruptures that their society experienced during this period. Most of these people are lesser known in the West, and to me the only one who was previously familiar was Liang Qichao, thanks to the writings of Pankaj Mishra. I was most moved by the writings and struggles of people like Lu Xun, Kang Youwei, Xu Zhimo, Qu Qiubai, Qiu Jin and Ding Ling over the course of the book. Their reflections upon the failings of their time and hopes for the future (which Spence provides here in translation) are at turns moving, sad, humorous and poignant. Many of them later died or were forced to endure incredible sufferings during the massive upheavals that effectively destroyed ancient China and remade it anew during this period, generally with great violence. Lu Xun in particular appealed to me as a caustic and funny writer, while Kang Youwei's earnest and gentle humanity was deeply moving. Qiu Jin and Ding Ling's groundbreaking and heroic revolutionary feminism was inspiring, and deserves a look from Western feminists today. Among so many of the writers their reflections on life and death, particularly their odes to the world upon soon departing, were priceless and sublime expressions of raw humanity. I wouldn't say this is an easy or accessible book. Its dense, and can even get close to drudgery at some points. However all in all it is a worthwhile, engaging and necessary look at how "China" as we know it today came to be, through the lives of many of those who strived through incredible suffering to help think and write it into existence. Looking at the sacrifices many of them made you can't help but feel a sense of awe. Wen Yiduo, (another great writer profiled here) who spoke out against the Kuomintang's crimes in his region despite being warned of the risk, was assassinated for the heroic act speaking truth to power. Lives such as these deserve to remembered. I'm glad they've been justly memorialized in the English language here.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Muntz

    Probably the best book of history I've ever read. Spence gives us an intellectual history of China in the 20th century--the life and thoughts of its writers, poets, and most vocal critics, and how the chaos of the revolution swept over all of them. It holds together surprisingly well, and (for me) its only real weakness is that it was written in the early 80s, so there's nearly 40 years of history missing between then and the present. Along the way it shows us the vibrant, aggressive intellectua Probably the best book of history I've ever read. Spence gives us an intellectual history of China in the 20th century--the life and thoughts of its writers, poets, and most vocal critics, and how the chaos of the revolution swept over all of them. It holds together surprisingly well, and (for me) its only real weakness is that it was written in the early 80s, so there's nearly 40 years of history missing between then and the present. Along the way it shows us the vibrant, aggressive intellectual culture of China in the early 20th century.... only to show how China's writers and artists were silenced during the cultural revolution. I especially like Spence's focus on the life of writers and intellectuals instead of the usual generals, political figures, etc--it makes the story much more human, but gives a strong sense of the difficulty and uncertainty of being human in the worst kind of times. Though it's an unconventional approach because certain very large events (the Long March, the Great Leap Forward, etc) are only covered very peripherially, and the real focus of the book is to reveal the effects of history on a few individual lives.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    a short history of China from the fall of the Qing to the Republic and Civil War, to the Revolution through the Mao era until Den Xiaoping. It focuses on three poets and their lives as they went through this tumultuous period of Chinese history. Some of the poetry is beautiful in translation.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Loring Wirbel

    Spence tried an odd, hybrid approach to recent Chinese history, focusing on little-known (in the West) poets, painters, fiction authors, and tracking their work, lives, and loves/relationships against the background of China from the Boxer Rebellion through Japanese occupation and on into the Maoist era. In the first few chapters, I had my doubts as to whether this hybrid would work, and was ready to give the book a 2 or 3. Did I really want to know the details of the philosophies of Kang Youwei Spence tried an odd, hybrid approach to recent Chinese history, focusing on little-known (in the West) poets, painters, fiction authors, and tracking their work, lives, and loves/relationships against the background of China from the Boxer Rebellion through Japanese occupation and on into the Maoist era. In the first few chapters, I had my doubts as to whether this hybrid would work, and was ready to give the book a 2 or 3. Did I really want to know the details of the philosophies of Kang Youwei or Liang Qichao, and how they both felt about Sun Yatsen? But as we got to the intricacies of the 1920s revolts and repressions, I was hooked. When we learned about the novels of Ding Ling and the poems of Lu Xun and Xu Zhimo, the era in which they lived came alive. All the elements of strange Comintern orders from Stalin and treacheries of the Guomindang came together. And by the time of Mao's victory and the eras of Hundred Flowers and Cultural Revolution that came after, the reader could care about these people, far more than the reader of a simple history of the Long March might have cared. An unusual but ultimately satisfying work.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Artur Olczyk

    The Gate of Heavenly Peace by Jonathan Spence is an extraordinary account of what may roughly be called China's road from a feudal state to a (relative) modernity. What makes this book interesting is its focus on historical characters that, normally, historians do not pay much attention to. Thus, the country's leading political figures of the period, 1895-1980, are not the main actors on the stage, though Sun Yatsen, Chiang Kaishek or Mao Zedong, among many others, do obviously appear on the pag The Gate of Heavenly Peace by Jonathan Spence is an extraordinary account of what may roughly be called China's road from a feudal state to a (relative) modernity. What makes this book interesting is its focus on historical characters that, normally, historians do not pay much attention to. Thus, the country's leading political figures of the period, 1895-1980, are not the main actors on the stage, though Sun Yatsen, Chiang Kaishek or Mao Zedong, among many others, do obviously appear on the pages of the book. Instead, Spence introduces Kang Youwei, Lu Xun and Ding Ling as our guides for this turbulent period in China's history. Each of these characters, unfamiliar though they may be for a humble enthusiast of the history of China such as myself, were prominent figures of their age and had a noticeable impact on philosophy, political thought and country's modernization of the time. What's more, it is a riveting description of different strata of Chinese society, and due to the trio of our guides, a portrait that follows feels more authentic and intimate than it would've probably been, had the author opted for describing China's leading, and sometimes ephemeral, figures. Even though they were educated intellectuals, they don't seem to have been disconnected from the lower ranks of the society. What follows, then, is a long (but not tiresome!) march of political reformist manifestos, revolutionary ideas, philosophico-poetical tracts--all intermingled with then-current political situations, from the crumbling feudalism of the last Chinese emperors, through a nationalist policy of Guomindang, to the well-known communist regime of Mao Zedong and his political successors. In a nutshell, the course that the Chinese then took, or were forced to take at one point or another, brought them where they are today. Humiliated first by the Western powers in the 19th century, the Chinese had to struggle for their very independence against the Imperial Japan. Spence notes that, directly or indirectly, every citizen was affected by the seemingly never-ending strife, but what strikes me the most, is the discrepancy of that impact. It's hard to talk about some universal Chinese identity that every citizen could've felt to be a part of at the time. Vast territory and different geographical terrains were one thing that successfully impeded it. Also, inhabitants of each province, traditionally, used different dialects and differed culturally. Of course, they had some vague notion of the common glorious past, but as those events grew more and more distant in the time, the Chinese began to feel more and more disconnected from one another. As a matter of fact, I think it would be more appropriate to talk of 'several Chinas.' There is an anecdote that when during the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945 the Chinese had to retreat before the Japanese, the Guomindang government, with all of its political and military establishment, seeked refuge in of the more secluded and backward provinces in the interior. A warlord in charge of the province is said to have lost his mind because he noticed so advanced a machine as a tank. That brings me to my general thoughts on nationalism in general and Guomindang's Chinese nationalism in particular. Feel free to skip this part. Being really far from affiliating myself with any nationalist movement, I will argue that the Chinese needed a nationalist and authoritarian (?) regime. First of all, Chinese nationalism as represented by Guomindang bore different cultural and political connotations, as juxtaposed with European nationalist movements. We, the Europeans (and the Westerners in general), are used to seeing nationalism as a destructive force that swept over Europe and which still resonates in modern days. This is a fair notion but it's not universally correct. In Europe, nationalism, coupled with xenophobic and racist inputs, and delicately sprinkled with a shovelful of romanticism, produced totalitarian regimes. In China, however, where people, communally, felt, and, in fact, geographically were, alienated, nationalism built a coherent society. There weren't any exogenous or endogenous racist or xenophobic ideas because the Chinese weren't even sure of their own identity. In fact, Guomindang's policy was very inclusivist. Of course, the government had certain strains of such regimes, such as censorship present in almost every corner of the society, but so did the United States under Senator McCarthy's witch-hunting commission. That being said, I'd go so far as to say that Guomindang's policy-making resembled that of other countries of the time, and thus can be called only quasi-authoritarian.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kes

    I loved this book - the situation described still feels relevant today. Basically, it's a dense book that describes the Chinese Revolutions through the lens of its intellectuals. I don't have much of an understanding of Chinese history before this, but it did a good job on focusing on the main writers in the various revolutions. I'm going to start with dismay about how bloody Chinese revolutions were. The numbers of people killed and the sheer amount of violence in killing them are stunning. The I loved this book - the situation described still feels relevant today. Basically, it's a dense book that describes the Chinese Revolutions through the lens of its intellectuals. I don't have much of an understanding of Chinese history before this, but it did a good job on focusing on the main writers in the various revolutions. I'm going to start with dismay about how bloody Chinese revolutions were. The numbers of people killed and the sheer amount of violence in killing them are stunning. The book quotes Shen Congwen calmly describing "Now there were so many heads in such a big heap, and every one of them dripping blood, freshly cut from human necks. I was not afraid, but I didn't understand why these people had let the soldiers behead them." As the book says: "Kang Youwei assessed the death toll of the first two years of China's revolution at twenty million... [the] cumulative evidence of violence and death that had moved beyond any rational justification, even in the grandiose terms of a final attainment of national order". And there's a lot of talk about cultural movements in which people are caught up in - it really brings home how society functions as a character in Cixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem trilogy. I appreciated several themes: 1) The variation within similar intellectual social circles. We start with Kang Youwei, but we also talk about how he and Sun Yatsen represented different ideologies (and "competed" for funds and recruits - similar to modern day politicians). I loved the Kang Youwei quote: "When objects get old, they break. When institutions get old, they are corrupted." There's a lot of talk about Kang in general - we learn that: He reinterpreted Confucius to suggest that the developments he presented lay in the future: China had come through the Age of Disorder, in this interpretation, but could not simply leap into the Age of Universal Peace without first joining the Western powers and Japan in the slow move through the Age of Ascending Peace. Ther were thus no shortcuts to the Great Community, although in reflecting on that Great Community one could begin to plan the future of a better and happier world. 2) The continued discussion on what an ideal society should look like. We see this tension between Kang Youwei (who believed in a constitutional monarchy as the surest road to modernisation) and Sun Yat-sen. We also see Kang's student, Liang Qichiao, be disillusioned by democracy ("he saw the system there are dominated by corruption and spoils: elections were too frequent, too corrupt, too focused on short-run aspects of popularity to bring forth leaders who could handle the crucial long-range problems. Men of high caliber tended to shun political life, and most presidents were mediocre people."), convinced that the Chinese were unready for it ("they needed the strong hand of the state to dominate and guide them") and turn to Russian autocracy. Liang then wrote that the reforms in Russia "showed the effectiveness of autocracy" and "that social Darwinist ideas supported the national centralisation of power. 'It is not the obscurantists who will be the ruin of China,' he wrote at this time, but the progressives.'" Even Zou Rong complains that his countrymen were docile and cattle-like, and Lu Xun opined that "'right and wrong cannot be decided by the People'; they could offer no more than the pressure to conform, though in the simple riches of their folk tradition there lay some hope for a purer understanding of nature and a deeper aspiration toward the absolute". 3) Foreign influence on China - we see how Chinese intellectuals studied in Japan, England and America. Kang Youwei embarked on a world tour and lived in India for some time. They turned to Russia for information, and there was a Russian Language Institute in Beijing. The Chinese government relied financially on Japan - and this, too, was a point of political contention. As the book describes: Liang Shuming advanced an idea that the three varying civilizations had been quite different in their growth, and that each represented a different stage of the will's adaptation to the natural environment. If the Western mode was currently dominant, through its mastery of struggle and its demand for conquest over environment, that did not mean there was no value or potential to Chinese ideas of harmony and adjustment; indeed, these would eventually triumph over the Western ways and blend material strength with a deeper understanding of nature and man's ethical nature. An Indian vision of the futility of all desires would, long after that, mark the final transformation of human civilization, as the will turned back into itself and sought its own negation. Liang Shuming spelled this out in simplified form: if one took the will's demand for shelter as one aspect of experience and the fact of a dilapidated house as the other, then the Western answer had been (and was) to demolish the old house and build a new one; the Chinese answer in similar circumstances would be to repair carefully the wold house; while the Indian answer would be to extinguish the desire for housing. The presence of foreigners in China also provided local support. The Qing police could not make arrests inside foreign concession areas without consulting with foreign consular staff and the Shanghai Municipal Council. This meant that the foreign concession areas became a popular place to write anti-Manchu screeds, and it was from here that in 1903, Zou Rong issued his book-length manifesto entitled The Revolutionary Army. Zou Rong was eighteen. A shoutout also to how foreigners interpreted China - in 1945, a translation of Lao She's Rickshaw was published in New York and became a bestseller. However, the entire shape of the novel was altered, and the ending transformed into a happy ending. This contributed to Lao She's irritation with America in general. However, the tide seems to have slowly changed - in 1949, Mao Dun gave a speech where he said: Compradore culture, which might as well be termed the god-child of imperialism, has relied on our big cities as its base camps and has sent out its probing attacks from there. The petty bourgeoisie is the hothouse soil most conducive to compradore culture, a soil in which it will always take root. The worshiping of Western people, the intoxication with European and American life, the notion that "the moon shines bright abroad than here at home" - or, to put it more succinctly, the sowing of the seeds of an inferiority complex in the minds of our people - this is the speciality of comprdore culture. 4) The part played by youth in the revolutions - it seems that most of these intellectuals started early. The students demonstrated often. On March 18, 1926, a demonstration in Beijing resulted in 47 marchers (mainly young students) were killed nearly the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Wen Yiduo later described this as "Those worthies who died on March 18 were not just patriots, they were the grandest of poems." Lu Xun was unimpressed - in a letter to his student, Xu Guangping, he "replied that even though revolutionary change was obviously needed in a China that was 'shut outside the gates of the Great Community,' nevertheless overhasty change led only to 'fire and sword,' and neither Sun Yatsen nor Qiu Jin had been able to bring constructive change to the country." His view struck me as more realistic. And at the same time, while this disruption to history is going on, we have Wen Yiduo writing in 1943 that "I never forget that as well as our todays we are the possessors of those two or three thousand years of yesterdays". 5) The use of art/literature and its connection to society is another theme that came up across the generations. For example, Liang Ji "had been a passionate amateur of Beijing opera, and he used the decline in the opera's standards as his index to what had gone wrong with the world: moral and aesthetic standards of performance had fallen because society was in decline, and the audience could not even see that the standards had deteriorated." Lu Xun famously used literature as a means of communication, and Xu Zhimo used poetry. Ding Ling's writing was also her claim to fame. 6) The distance between the urban poor and the intellectuals - this book focuses on the intellectuals, who largely lived in cities. It's a phenomenon that continues to happen today - and this is before we even get into the rural/urban divide. This is not even getting into the rich-poor divide, to which Kang presciently says: "the disparity between poor and rich will be like the distance between sky and sea. ... Those who are unequal cry out. This is a natural consequence, and hence recently there have been increasing battles between labor unions and capitalists in Europe and America. Only the sprouts have appeared as yet, but soon more and more unions will be formed, and I fear we will have tragedies of blood and iron. This struggle will not be one of strong states confronting the weak, but between those who are poor and those who are rich. A hundred years hence this will be the problem demanding the whole world's attention." 7) Women during this period - Lu Xun talks about the role women have to play in a society, premised on the value of equality. We deal with Qiu Jin and Ding Ling, both Chinese revolutionaries. Things like arranged marriages and footbinding were decried. But human relationships get their own focus - the book spares a moment to list "Chinag Kaishek's first wife, abandoned so that he could marry Meiling Soong; Lu Xun's first wife, still living with her mother-in-law in Beijing while Xu Guangping looked after Lu Xun's baby and saw to his literary estate; Xu Zhimo's ex-wife, Zhang, living with their only son while Xu's second wife, Lu Xiaoman, edited his diaries..." 8) Lastly, a shoutout that Qu Qiubai's last sentences in his farewell note were: "The Chinese beancurd is the most delicious food in the whole world. Good-bye and farewell!" There are so many themes that bear relevance to today - the degree of foreign influence, the idea of the Great Community (globalisation?), the tension between rich and poor.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    Even when you are fairly familiar with certain episodes and figures in modern/contemporary Chinese history, you would not find this a humdrum of repetitive facts and stories. Rather, Spence recounts the myriad (and honestly, confusingly twisted) chapters and incidents of recent Chinese history with amazing fluidity. His writing is engaging, and the book is fascinating in terms of unveiling rarely publicized historical vignettes. Spence provides a clear recounting of China's past century up to th Even when you are fairly familiar with certain episodes and figures in modern/contemporary Chinese history, you would not find this a humdrum of repetitive facts and stories. Rather, Spence recounts the myriad (and honestly, confusingly twisted) chapters and incidents of recent Chinese history with amazing fluidity. His writing is engaging, and the book is fascinating in terms of unveiling rarely publicized historical vignettes. Spence provides a clear recounting of China's past century up to the closing pages, where he finally unloads his opinions and asks the important questions: what was to happen to love, to art and poetry, to so many spheres of life of the ordinary Chinese people after a century of torment, struggle, and fervent idealism? From my perspective, The Gate of Heavenly Peace is a thought-provoking piece for some serious thinking on law and democracy, and the dimensions and repercussions of social movements and revolutions.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Sabroski

    I was about a quarter of the way through this book before embarking on my first trip to mainland China, armed with a little knowledge of the years between the final and decaying days of the Qing dynasty amid the Hundred Days Reform of 1898 to the Xinhai Revolution of 1911. Having never taken an interest in China before, I found this book to be a challenging yet rewarding introduction to its political history over the last century. When I returned from my trip, I continued on, becoming acquainted I was about a quarter of the way through this book before embarking on my first trip to mainland China, armed with a little knowledge of the years between the final and decaying days of the Qing dynasty amid the Hundred Days Reform of 1898 to the Xinhai Revolution of 1911. Having never taken an interest in China before, I found this book to be a challenging yet rewarding introduction to its political history over the last century. When I returned from my trip, I continued on, becoming acquainted with a lot of figures in China’s history whose names weren’t Mao Zedong, a man we all know of who, I think appropriately, was not the major focus of this book. I think what is most important to say about this novel and its vast trove of details, and what I will remember most about it is that I walked away feeling truly moved, inspired and humbled by the beauty and tragedy innate to the lives of the women and men who dared to have a say in the future of China amidst a turbulence the likes of which I could never comprehend. And finally, having only ever been familiar with Mao’s China onward based on what little I read in high school, the wonderment of slowly uncovering the context leading up to my own frame of reference was especially exciting because it impressed upon me just how unlikely a Communist victory once seemed.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    A stunningly well-written and well researched history of China's emergence in the modern world, up until when he is writing, in the 1980's. Spence again demonstrates that he is the anglophonic world's China historian to beat. It is hard to say exactly what this book is about, exactly. It is not about Tiananmen (The Gate of Heavenly Peace), something only briefly mentioned at the book's beginning. He says that he wants to push back against the notion, prevalent at the time he is writing, that Chi A stunningly well-written and well researched history of China's emergence in the modern world, up until when he is writing, in the 1980's. Spence again demonstrates that he is the anglophonic world's China historian to beat. It is hard to say exactly what this book is about, exactly. It is not about Tiananmen (The Gate of Heavenly Peace), something only briefly mentioned at the book's beginning. He says that he wants to push back against the notion, prevalent at the time he is writing, that Chinese thinkers are rigid and uncreative. But the book is not biographical really, or, if it is biographical, it is only partially. The book is not the story of China's political leaders but rather it is the story of China's writers and the role that they played in politics. At the beginning, he says he will focus on Kang Youwei, Lu Xun and Ding Ling, but the book is really a beautiful hotmess with almost all China's important writers over the last century making an apparent. Beside the three mentioned above, Xu Zhimo, Shen Congwen, Liang Qichao, Mao Dun, Guo Morou, Lao She and others all play important roles as Spence weaves their lives into the broader story of political change from the 1890's to the 1980's. A slightly less skilled historian would have allowed this hotmess to degenerate into a clusterfuck. But under Spence's guiding hand, this text becomes a fantastic tapestry of modern Chinese history told from the perspective not of those who were in charge, but rather the elite writers who provided the ideological basis for many of the political changes occurring.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sofia

    i aspire to the extraness of some of these deaths. "Beancurd is the best food in the universe." Truth.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Adrian

    Jonathan Spence’s Gate of Heavenly Peace is a remarkable achievement in scope, scale, style and most of all, perspective. A sweeping history of the 20th Century told through the eyes of the writers, poets and intellectuals who tried, laboured and struggled to construct a new China. At times this reads almost like a literary review, with many interludes into poetry, analysis of classics such as The True Story of Ah Q, and many deep reflections on the nature of life and the world itself, Spence’s Jonathan Spence’s Gate of Heavenly Peace is a remarkable achievement in scope, scale, style and most of all, perspective. A sweeping history of the 20th Century told through the eyes of the writers, poets and intellectuals who tried, laboured and struggled to construct a new China. At times this reads almost like a literary review, with many interludes into poetry, analysis of classics such as The True Story of Ah Q, and many deep reflections on the nature of life and the world itself, Spence’s work is a book that appeals to the senses as much as it appeals to the curious mind. Spence assembles a cast of real life intellectuals and revolutionaries, namely Lu Xun, Kang Youwei, Xu Zhimo, Qu Qiubai and Ding Ling, people who in their own way, struggled for China's Revolution, a Revolution of hearts and minds. This is a perspective on the making of China throughout the 20th Century through the eyes of the most thoughtful, those who could commit what they had seen with their own eyes to written prose, those who could provide analogy to the nature of the events, to put the reality into an analogous form that the layman can understand and appreciate. Despite the fact that this book is over 30 years old, written at the time when China was only just beginning to emerge from it’s Maoist past and cast off the rigid nature of state planning and politics based purely on ideology, the book still carries new insights that are worthy of the most learned China enthusiast. I can think of no other book to profile, at length, the lives and musings of China’s literary figures, and provide a history of the 20th Century. The modern Chinese intellectuals are often overlooked, at the expense of political figures and accounts of turmoil and disorder. For a history of China that is not leader centric, as many volumes often are, then this is the book to read. Regardless of perspective, accounts, or the historical focus one desires, The Gate of Heavenly Peace is a masterfully written piece of history, a pleasure for the mind and soul, enjoyable for China enthusiasts, and for those unfamiliar with China, a true eye opener.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Qmmayer

    Spence profiles a number of important (but often lesser known) figures from recent Chinese history. They are collectively described as the revolutionaries, writers, and philosophers of the time. Spence frequently quotes from their original works, and it seems clear that he chose people in large part because of the extensive written record each left behind. The book's introduction notes that three individuals form the backbone of the story, but there is an extensive cast of characters to keep tra Spence profiles a number of important (but often lesser known) figures from recent Chinese history. They are collectively described as the revolutionaries, writers, and philosophers of the time. Spence frequently quotes from their original works, and it seems clear that he chose people in large part because of the extensive written record each left behind. The book's introduction notes that three individuals form the backbone of the story, but there is an extensive cast of characters to keep track of. Still, while I occasionally found myself backtracking to recall particular names and events, the book held my interest. But in the end I think the book is probably not for someone with no more than a casual interest in modern-day China.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sandra Wagner-Wright

    Spence published Gate of Heavenly Peace in 1981. At the time, his concept of personalizing history through the people who lived it was innovative. But which people. Spence used Chinese intellectuals as the focus of his discussion of revolutionary China from 1895 to 1980. Given the level of upheaval during those years, a person could hold the same opinions throughout and be categorized from extreme revolutionary to extreme reactionary. Interesting construct, but hard going for the reader who lack Spence published Gate of Heavenly Peace in 1981. At the time, his concept of personalizing history through the people who lived it was innovative. But which people. Spence used Chinese intellectuals as the focus of his discussion of revolutionary China from 1895 to 1980. Given the level of upheaval during those years, a person could hold the same opinions throughout and be categorized from extreme revolutionary to extreme reactionary. Interesting construct, but hard going for the reader who lacks familiarity with recent Chinese history. It's not an easy read, and I'm not entirely sure it's worth the effort. Nevertheless, Spence's impeccable research and sympathy for his subjects makes the project worthwhile.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jeffong Gol

    I can't believe Spence quoted so much texts,and more important the quotation was appropriate.He really has the ability to abstract the key points among thousands of materials.Then expressed it in an unique angle by telling several famous persons' stories.Historian,when narrating the history,should be rational,and value it with the comprehension based on sympathy.Spence did it very well.However,it sometimes will be boring,that's why I put it aside after reading 50 pages and days later picked it u I can't believe Spence quoted so much texts,and more important the quotation was appropriate.He really has the ability to abstract the key points among thousands of materials.Then expressed it in an unique angle by telling several famous persons' stories.Historian,when narrating the history,should be rational,and value it with the comprehension based on sympathy.Spence did it very well.However,it sometimes will be boring,that's why I put it aside after reading 50 pages and days later picked it up again and thus circulated till finished.In this way I favor T.K.Tong's historical series much more.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I didn't finish this book because everyone else that read it said 'Bleh! It is very confusing and hard to follow.' So it will go back to live at the library until I decide that I want a challenge. Technically speaking, I can say that I read part of the book because I did read the first page-3 times.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Karlo Mikhail

    While the author is critical of the Chinese communists, this book gives a panoramic overview of the Chinese revolution from the vantage point of its intellectuals and writers like Lu Xun rather than from the main protagonists like Mao and Sun Yat Sen. Incredible introduction to the literary debates of the time alongside the larger socio-political and historical context.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Ultimately a little slower to unfold than I would have liked—it kind of floats in an unsatisfying space between conventional and narrative history, periodically lurching toward either side—but the material's fascinating. For $1 at a thrift store in Tucson while Lindsay was looking for furniture, I consider that a win.

  19. 5 out of 5

    灏 陈

    One of the best narratives of Chinese intellectuals and their making of modern nation-state in the twentieth century, a book which influences generations of modern China historians in both the East and the West.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mariannalynn11

    Follows modern history of Chinese politics (from a somewhat revolutionary stance) from the early 20th century to the 1980's and the incident at Tinanamen Square. Lots to absorb, but fascinating!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sundee

    I have shelved this book for a while as it was not the easiest read during a move. I am planning on coming back to it though as life settles down.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    A great review of the history that led up to the current political situation in China.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    This mix of non-fiction and kind of novel is not meant for me. I agree that there's a lot of information, I just don't like how it is put. So I can't be a fair judge of it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    T.l. Harris

    A compelling read that humanizes one of the most important periods in Chinese history and world history by focusing on some of its most important and over looked participants.

  25. 4 out of 5

    James

    His best book on China

  26. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Account of several revolutionary figures in Chinese history, beginning with the end of the Sino-Japanese War and ending in 1980.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    Only read this book if your professor assigns it or if you are going to tour China.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Mishap

    Oh,man, I read this so long ago I don't remember.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Interesting insight on Chinese government and culture

  30. 5 out of 5

    Madeleine O'Dea

    This book puts the lie to lazy assumptions about China and the supposed inevitably of autocratic rule in the country. A masterpiece that brings alive the many writers and thinkers who have imagined a different path

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