(I posted this at the History SE and was directed to post it here.)

I'm studying Chinese history on my own and hope an expert in the field could recommend a/the leading, scholarly history covering from the Qing through at least the beginning of Deng Xiaopeng's reign. I've checked syllabi of college classes, Amazon reviews, and a few other sources; it is impossible to separate wheat and chaff without expertise.

While I want the best resource I can find, some readability would be appreciated too.

I found the following, for what it's worth:

  • The Search for Modern China (Third Edition) by Jonathan Spence: I read this through the Taiping Rebellion and stopped (which is why I'm now looking for a replacement). Spence writes exceptionally well and this book seems very highly regarded. I was surprised to find key questions often overlooked; important background frequently omitted; and an almost complete lack of footnotes, any other discussion of his sources, or discussion of their uncertainties -- we are given only his analysis to take at face value. He says this Third Edition has many edits; perhaps earlier editions were different?

  • A History of Chinese Civilization by Jacques Gernet, J. R. Foster, Charles Hartman (translated from French): This seems well-regarded, but I'm not sure if the Amazon reviewers know what they are talking about. Also, less than a third of it covers the period I'm interested in.

  • China: A History by Harold Tanner: Also seems well-regarded, but again it's hard to tell and it covers all of Chinese history.


  • I'm sorry, but this doesn't belong here either (voted to close). Meta is where we discuss the workings and policies of the site, and the software that drives it. It's not a place for history questions that somehow don't fit the main site. That said, what you can (and should) do is start a Meta discussion asking why your main site question was closed, and what can be done (if anything) to get it re-opened. – yannis Jul 10 '14 at 10:05
  • (regardless of the above, I hope the answers you got here were helpful. who knows, a couple more might sneak in before this gets closed) – yannis Jul 10 '14 at 10:17
  • Yannis: See my other post here. I appreciate your good will. Please consider that adding more rules and steps is a continuation of the problems I talk about there. – user5231 Jul 10 '14 at 18:39

I can recommend this book for a good basic introduction: Modern East Asia: A Brief History. It is not solely focused on China, but much of Chinese history is connected with the broader region.


I thought John King Fairbank’s The Great Chinese Revolution 1800-1985 was a good introduction, and it’s probably easier reading than a textbook. Harvard UP has a new series (“History of Imperial China”) covering Chinese dynasties which (at least in the ones I’ve read) present recent scholarship in interesting ways. The one on the Qing is by William Rowe (China's Last Empire: The Great Qing.) Books in this series have an introductory narrative chapter, but otherwise are organized thematically – a chapter on society, a chapter on religion and so on.

Your comments about Spence are interesting. Events like the Taiping Rebellion are open to multiple interpretations – why not ask a more specific question in this vein?

  • Thank you neubau. I came across Fairbank's book (and his The United States and China was the first book I ever read on the subject). I'm looking for more of a serious history, but if I don't find one the book you recommend was my plan C. Regarding Spence: Of course events are open to multiple interpretations; Spence often provides only one, often without sources or much background. I'm not focused on the Taiping Rebellion in particular, but the many events from the Qing through the beginning of Deng's rule. – user5231 Jul 10 '14 at 19:01