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The Age of Openness

The Age of Openness: China before Mao

Frank Dikötter
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 140
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  • Book Info
    The Age of Openness
    Book Description:

    The era between empire and communism is routinely portrayed as a catastrophic interlude in China's modern history, but this engagingly written book shows instead that the first half of the twentieth century witnessed a qualitatively unprecedented trend towards openness. Frank Dikötter argues that the years from 1900 to 1949 were characterised at all levels of society by engagement with the world, and that the pursuit of openness was particularly evident in four areas: in governance and the advance of the rule of law and of newly acquired liberties; in freedom of movement in and out of the country; in open minds thriving on ideas from the humanities and sciences; and in open markets and sustained growth in the economy. Freedom of association, freedom to travel, freedom of religion, freedom to trade and relative freedom of speech wrought profound changes in the texture of everyday life. While globalisation itself was a vector of cultural diversification, pre-existing constellations of ideas, practices and institutions did not simply vanish on contact with the rest of the world, but on the contrary expanded even further, just as much as local industries diversified thanks to their inclusion into a much larger global market. Arguably the country was at its most diverse in its entire history on the eve of World War II – in terms of politics, society, culture and the economy. Accessible to general readers, while providing an integration of ideas that will be valuable for specialists, this book presents a fresh way of approaching the history of modern China.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-564-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
    F. D.
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Sir John Plumb, one of the great social historians of the eighteenth century, once said that bland consensus does not do much to advance historical knowledge, and consequently that there is little point in accumulating facts within agreed frameworks of explanation. When we turn to the history of modern China, one of the most pervasive approaches in popular and scholarly accounts written during the Cold War was to take revolution as the key to historical change, so much so that ‘revolutionary China’ and modern China were often synonymous.¹ ‘Opium Wars’, ‘Unequal Treaties’ and ‘Peasant Rebellions’, seen from such a perspective,...

  5. 2 Open Governance
    (pp. 7-30)

    The conventional wisdom sometimes makes two mutually exclusive claims about government in the republican period: first it is portrayed as hopelessly corrupt, fractured and weak, unable to hold the country together, to stand up to imperialist aggression and to provide a measure of stability; second, it is described as oppressive, militarist if not outright fascist, ruthlessly exploiting a weak peasantry, seizing private property, damaging trade, manipulating the currency and silencing opposition. Both views attempt to interpret the era in terms of the communist takeover in 1949. By contrast this chapter indicates that while the central government was relatively weak throughout...

  6. 3 Open Borders
    (pp. 31-52)

    Browsing through some of the secondary sources on modern China written during the Cold War one gets the impression that only a few privileged individuals, mainly students and merchants, travelled abroad in the republican era, generally to return as ‘alienated’ or ‘rootless cosmopolitans’.¹ Recent scholarship, presented in the first half of this chapter, demonstrates instead how people from all walks of life, across the social divide, were keenly interested in the world beyond their community, and many travelled in and out of the country, acquiring a distinctly global outlook, from the emigrant returning to his village after decades of hard...

  7. 4 Open Minds
    (pp. 53-80)

    As the last chapter has shown, borders in the first half of the twentieth century were open as never before. This openness resulted not only in large flows of people moving in and out of the country, but also in China developing a remarkable degree of international engagement, from regular participation in international conferences to eager contribution to international bodies like the League of Nations. China was not merely a follower, however keen, of foreign trends: for example, several top lawyers, flawlessly bilingual and trained in the very best law schools in Europe, became judges at the International Court of...

  8. 5 Open Markets
    (pp. 81-98)

    A popular image, found for instance in John K. Fairbank’s assertion that ‘hostility toward alien things’ characterised the Qing,¹ has it that foreign commodities were rejected by a xenophobic and self-sufficient empire. This is not the place to review the literature on the economic links forged with the rest of the world under the Qing: suffice it to say that the empire was not hermetically closed from the outside world, as a thriving maritime commerce allowed a range of goods, from cheap flints to expensive watches, to be imported, some of them being made available to large sections of the...

  9. 6 Conclusion
    (pp. 99-102)

    Glasnost in the Soviet Union, kaifang in China or doi moi in Vietnam: ‘openness’ in socialist states has become such an inflated term of political propaganda that one tends to forget that prerevolutionary regimes were often marked by a much higher degree of cosmopolitanism. In Russia, as Jeffrey Brooks reminds us, the Bolsheviks inherited an empire in which not only political elites were in tune with the rest of Europe and the United States, but the newly literate farmers sought out an increasingly cosmopolitan culture in film and fiction, while foreign models dominated in politics, the economy was open to...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 103-120)
  11. A Note on Further Reading for the Non-Chinese Reader
    (pp. 121-126)
  12. Index
    (pp. 127-131)