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English books on society and politics of modern China

Jan Finster

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What are good English books you can recommend on society and/or politics of modern China.


Ideally, I am looking for "balanced" books, so neither written by panda huggers, nor by China-haters.



(I just started "The Hundred-Year Marathon" and cannot say if it falls into any of those extremes)

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If by modern you mean to include Ming and Qing dynasties, have a look at "The Search for Modern China" by Jonathan Spence.

It's a history book that goes up to the 1980s, but it reads like a novel, I really loved it and it sparked my interest in China when in read it 5 years ago.

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I honestly think it would be difficult to find a book that could articulate modern Chinese politics very well. Ultimately, noone really has access at any level to policy making over the last 7 years or so. The Party by Richard Mcgregor is always held up as the standard bearer, but when i read it a few years ago it felt DEEPLY outdated.


Any Western journalist writing a book about Chinese politics under Xi Jinping I think is kinda selling snake oil. They have literally zero access, and are themselves going on hearsay, rumour, and other peoples reporting.

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I liked this one: "The Search for Modern China" by Johnathan D. Spence. Several years since I read it, and it is slightly dated (1990.) Admittedly, a whole lot has happened since then.


Here's a link to a description: https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/98/12/06/specials/spence-search.html 


Amazon carries it: https://www.amazon.com/Search-Modern-China-Jonathan-Spence/dp/0393307808 


From a review: 



To understand the burdens and opportunities embedded in China's past there is no better place to start than Jonathan D. Spence's excellent new book. ''The Search for Modern China,'' a comprehensive explanation of four centuries from the decline of the Ming dynasty in 1600 through the demise of the democracy movement in June 1989, will enlighten both general readers and students of Chinese history. Other books have attempted to cover the political and social history of China from imperial to Communist times. But they lack the narrative technique, the wealth of illustrations and the thematic focus of this work.


Oops! Sorry. I see @jannesanalready recommended this one, above. 

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Another way of understanding politics and society of China is to read books about famous Chinese people. I recommend to start with

Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China  (By Ezra F. Vogel)

This book is well written, and touches upon so many sensitive spots.


A couple of other recommendations are listed here.


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On 11/22/2021 at 9:29 PM, aprilz said:

I recommend to start with Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China  (By Ezra F. Vogel)

This book is well written, and touches upon so many sensitive spots.


Thanks. Reviews of this one are very positive. I have ordered a copy.

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