Cover image for A bitter revolution : China's struggle with the modern world
A bitter revolution : China's struggle with the modern world
Mitter, Rana, 1969-
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Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2004.
Physical Description:
xix, 357 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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DS774 .M55 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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China is now poised to take a key role on the world stage, but in the early twentieth century the situation could not have been more different. Rana Mitter goes back to this pivotal moment in Chinese history to uncover the origins of the painful transition from a premodern past into a modernworld. By the 1920s the seemingly civilized world shaped over the last two thousand years by the legacy of the great philosopher Confucius was falling apart in the face of western imperialism and internal warfare. Chinese cities still bore the imprints of its ancient past with narrow, lanes and temples tolong-worshipped gods, but these were starting to change with the influx of foreign traders, teachers, and missionaries, all eager to shape China's ancient past into a modern present.Mitter takes us through the resulting social turmoil and political promise, the devastating war against Japan in the 1940s, Communism and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, and the new era of hope in the 1980s ended by the Tian'anmen uprising. He reveals the impetus behind the dramatic changes inChinese culture and politics as being China's "New Culture" - a strain of thought which celebrated youth, individualism, and the heady mixture of strange and seductive new cultures from places as far apart as America, India, and Japan.

Author Notes

Rana Mitter is University Lecturer in the History and Politics of Modern China at Oxford University, and a Fellow of St. Cross College.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

This is a fascinating look at a pivotal time in the formation of the culture of modern China. The "Bitter Revolution" of the title is not the Communist Revolution of 1949 or the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, but the revolution of ideas that climaxed in the mass anti-imperialist protests of May 4, 1919. Known as the May Fourth Movement, these student-led protests engendered tumultuous cultural eddies that disturbed all aspects of Chinese life. Mitter's focus on this underappreciated fulcrum of modern Chinese history is refreshing. Chinese Communist historiography has mythologized the May Fourth Movement as the youthful harbinger of the 1949 revolution. Mitter goes beyond such teleological myths to recapture the often desperate and heady atmosphere of the "New Culture Movement," which paralleled the political tumult. She reveals antecedents to later events, including developments as disparate as the Cultural Revolution and the recent decades of economic and cultural liberalization. Especially interesting were new attitudes toward gender relations, sexuality, marriage and family. In many ways, the individualism and experimentation of that era have more in common with contemporary China than the intervening decades of wartime and Communist collectivism and conformity-a compelling reason why this history of early 20th-century China is so relevant today. What is most intriguing about Mitter's account is not what was lost in the dark decades that followed, but how much endured. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This book discusses how the fundamental narrative of the May Fourth Movement of 1919 was framed, changed, and transmitted during the 20th century in the Chinese civil war, Great Leap Forward, Chinese Cultural Revolution, and Tiananmen Democracy Movement. Mitter (history of modern China, Oxford Univ.; The Manchurian Myth) identifies May Fourth as a time of "transformative change" in which Chinese intellectuals self-consciously promoted the adoption of international ideas and sought, wholesale, to abandon Confucianism. Among Mitter's observations are that the rise of communism was not the most important story of mid-20th-century China and that while Mao Zedong, Chen Duxiu, and other intellectuals rejected Confucianism for its oppression of women and the poor, they were ignoring the Confucian obsession with ethics and mutual obligation. Mitter's fresh and interesting analysis effectively demonstrates how the May Fourth Movement was reframed, but it tends to force political and cultural development in China into a rigid comparison with the ideals of May Fourth and the accompanying New Culture movement. Recommended only for specialized collections in Asian studies.-Peggy Spitzer Christoff, Rockville, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. x
List of Illustrationsp. xiii
Chronologyp. xv
Pronunciation, Transliterations, and Namesp. xviii
Part I Shock
1. Flashpoint: 4 May 1919: The Making of a New Chinap. 3
Why was May Fourth Important?p. 12
The Fall of the Chinese Empirep. 26
Uneasy Birth: The Chinese Republicp. 35
2. A Tale of Two Cities: Beijing, Shanghai, and the May Fourth Generationp. 41
Beijing: Intellectual Centre of the Movementp. 43
Shanghai: China's Modern Challengep. 49
People: The May Fourth Generationp. 54
Subculturesp. 65
3. Experiments in Happiness: Life and Love in New Culture Chinap. 69
New Classes, New Opportunitiesp. 70
Print, Commerce, and Culturep. 76
Love, Labour, and Libertyp. 77
Ask Taofen!p. 80
The May Fourth Entrepreneurp. 90
Saving the Nation, Making a Profitp. 93
End of an Era?p. 99
4. Goodbye Confucius: New Culture, New Politicsp. 102
Iconoclasmp. 108
Goodbye Confucius?p. 110
China's Road to Nationalismp. 117
Internationalism, Cosmopolitism, and Nationalismp. 123
Looking East in Europep. 127
Not Just West and East: Thinking Beyond Europep. 129
Japan's Promise, Japan's Menacep. 133
Party Politicsp. 134
The Communistsp. 135
The Nationalistsp. 138
Nationalists and Communists, United and Dividedp. 142
The Question of Womanp. 146
Conclusion: Goodbye May Fourth?p. 149
Part II Aftershock
5. A Land of Death: Darkness over Chinap. 155
China Changes Shape, 1931-7p. 157
The Choices of the May Fourth Generationp. 163
China Falls Apart, 1937-45p. 167
War and Confrontationp. 178
The New Worldp. 181
The Cold Warp. 190
The Great Leap Forwardp. 194
Conclusion: May Fourth in Abeyancep. 198
6. Tomorrow the Whole World Will Be Red: The Cultural Revolution and the Distortions of May Fourthp. 200
Considering the Cultural Revolutionp. 207
What was the Cultural Revolution?p. 210
The Cold War and the Cultural Revolutionp. 214
Life and Death during the Red Guard Periodp. 217
Changing the Guardp. 226
May Fourth or Not?p. 230
The Cold War and the Romance of Technologyp. 233
Divisions: Red, Black, Men, Womenp. 238
Conclusion: A Strange May Fourthp. 240
7. Ugly Chinamen and Dead Rivers: Reform and the 'New May Fourth'p. 244
The Late Cold Warp. 246
Life and Liberty in the 'New Era'p. 248
Xiahai: 'Jumping into the Sea' of the New Societyp. 255
What Sort of Crisis?p. 258
The Culture Fever Debatesp. 260
The Ugly Chinaman and Heshangp. 262
Echoes of May Fourth: The Different Crisesp. 269
Tian'anmen and the End of an Erap. 272
The Nature of the New Era: Towards Chinese Democracy?p. 280
8. Learning to Let Go: The May Fourth Legacy in the New Millenniump. 285
The Two Cities Revisitedp. 289
Coping with the Pastp. 295
New Thinkingp. 301
Across the Straitsp. 305
Searching for a New Storyp. 308
Guide to Further Readingp. 315
Notesp. 325
Indexp. 345