SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2018 WOLFSON HISTORY PRIZE
The extraordinary and essential story of how China became the powerful country it is today.
Even at the high noon of Europe's empires China managed to be one of the handful of countries not to succumb. Invaded, humiliated and looted, China nonetheless kept its sovereignty. Robert Bickers' major new book is the first to describe fully what has proved to be one of the modern era's most important stories: the long, often agonising process by which the Chinese had by the end of the 20th century regained control of their own country.
Out of China uses a brilliant array of unusual, strange and vivid sources to recreate a now fantastically remote world: the corrupt, lurid modernity of pre-War Shanghai, the often tiny patches of 'extra-territorial' land controlled by European powers (one of which, unnoticed, had mostly toppled into a river), the entrepôts of Hong Kong and Macao, and the myriad means, through armed threats, technology and legal chicanery, by which China was kept subservient.
Today Chinese nationalism stays firmly rooted in memories of its degraded past - the quest for self-sufficiency, a determination both to assert China's standing in the world and its outstanding territorial claims, and never to be vulnerable to renewed attack. History matters deeply to Beijing's current rulers - and Out of China explains why.
In the early nineteenth century China remained almost untouched by British and European powers - but as new technology started to change this balance, foreigners gathered like wolves around the weakening Qing Empire. Would the Chinese suffer the fate of much of the rest of the world, carved into pieces by Europeans? Or could they adapt rapidly enough to maintain their independence?
This important and compelling book explains the roots of China's complex relationship with the West by illuminating a dramatic, colourful and sometimes shocking period of the country's history.
'This is a biography of a nobody that offers a window into an otherwise closed world. It is a life which manages to touch us all...' Empire Made Me
Shanghai in the wake of the First World War was one of the world's most dynamic, brutal and exciting cities - an incredible panorama of nightclubs, opium-dens, gambling and murder. Threatened from within by communist workers and from without by Chinese warlords and Japanese troops, and governed by an ever more desperate British-dominated administration, Shanghai was both mesmerising and terrible.Into this maelstrom stepped a tough and resourceful ex-veteran Englishman to join the police. It is his story, told in part through his rediscovered photo-albums and letters, that Robert Bickers has uncovered in this remarkable, moving book.