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About this book

The third edition of this concise core textbook offers students a comprehensive introduction to the politics, economy, culture and society of modern China, while grounding all of these areas in the context of China’s recent history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Fully up to date, this accessible text examines the key developments that are taking place in China and that are shaping its place in the world today, from relations with Trump’s United States and post-Brexit Britain, to the use of the internet to crack down on dissent and the establishment of ‘Xi Jinping thought’ at the 19th Party Congress. Authored by a highly-regarded expert on the topic, this is the essential guide to a country that is no longer just emerging but one which has, in many respects, already emerged as one of the leading powers of the twenty-first century.
The book is an ideal introductory text for undergraduate and postgraduate courses on China Studies and Contemporary China, regardless of whether students approach the topic from a political, historical, sociological, cultural or geographical viewpoint. It can also be used on modules focussing more specifically on Chinese Politics, Chinese History or Chinese Society.

Table of Contents

1. What Is China?

Abstract
The historic complexity of China is captured in its geography. Fundamentally, the current PRC is divided into a number of contrasting zones. One of the most striking includes the vast mountains to the west of the country, starting from the Tibetan plateau (which accounts for about a quarter of the current extent of China) and running eastwards towards the middle regions in a huge continuous slope. Here, the world’s highest mountain range, the Himalayas, dominates the western borders, with Everest being partly claimed by the PRC. In Tibet itself, the region’s capital, Lhasa, is the world’s highest city, some 3,650 metres (12,000 feet) above sea level. The landscape is arid, sparsely populated and has historically been dominated mainly by nomadic peoples. In the eastern areas, around the confluence of the two great rivers, the Yangtze and the Yellow River, the population density is among the highest in the world, the climate is temperate,with long, hot summers and mild winters, and the land, when irrigated, is fertile and perfect for rice plantations. In the south-western provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, there are remnants of jungles, the climate is semi-tropical, and the fauna and wildlife – were it not for the devastating impact of dense human habitation in recent decades – rich and varied. In central China, with cold winters and dry summers, crops range from maize to wheat. In the north, winter temperatures can fall to as low as −40ºC. Inner Mongolia, a vast region that abuts the northern border with the Mongolian People’s Republic and the Russian Federation, has immense grasslands, some of which have been overgrazed in the last century since the start of intense Han settlement in the late Qing era, creating a major desertification problem.
Kerry Brown

2. The Making of Modern China

Abstract
The two great overarching themes of Chinese history from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present day are the country’s efforts to modernize and attempts over this period by the various states, people, academics, cultural figures and others to articulate a cohesive sense of Chinese national identity. These two phenomena, of modernity and identity, were connected by the fact that they both, to varying extents, involved China’s relationship with the outside world. The first because modernization had largely risen from Western processes of scientific enquiry and industrialization, and the second because Chinese intellectuals and politicians often located themselves in opposition to Western models and posited a sense of ‘Chineseness’ which was in some way alternative or different from these – an aspiration to be like the West in some ways, but different to it in others.
Kerry Brown

3. The Communist Party and Politics

Abstract
The significance of the CCP as a unifying institution cannot be underestimated, even in an era in which society is becoming ever more complex and the space for political organization undergoing almost daily reconfigurement. Its influence can be felt in almost all areas of society, from the economy to the structure of political power. The CCP has also had an immense impact on the culture of the PRC, from the way in which language is used and decisions about the physical landscape of cities, to how literature, art and music have developed. Much of contemporary Chinese art is often interpreted as taking a position, either critical of or commenting on the powerful symbolic world that the CCP created during its rise to power, and subsequently supplemented and fortified.
Kerry Brown

4. How China Is Governed

Abstract
Governance of today’s prc is a complex, demanding process. in any week across the country there are protests and clashes between different groups, with people vying with each other to promote their businesses, family or political interests. in that sense, contemporary chinese society is in ferment. since 2001, this has only increased. in 2011, there were as many as 180,000 protests (orlik, 2011), two of which (concerning a high–speed rail crash in zhejiang and the treatment of land repossessions in a town in guangdong) attracted international attention. while no official figures are now issued, it seems likely that this level of unrest has been maintained, albeit with some moving into virtual space. whatever else it might be, the prc of the second decade of the twenty–first century was not a calm or relaxing place. the task of managing this complex, vast and rapidly developing society falls to the government under the guidance of the ccp. in some senses, the ccp takes a remote position above society, performing what one critic called an evaluative role and outsourcing the actual implementation of policy to the organs of government (wang, 2011). this chapter will look at how the prc is governed and who does the governing.
Kerry Brown

5. The Chinese Economy

Abstract
The Chinese economy is one of the wonders of the modern world. From constituting a tiny part of global GDP in 1978 at the start of the great transformation, China stood, in 2018, as the world’s second–largest economy (it had overtaken Japan in this position eight years earlier), making up over 15 per cent of the world’s economy. It was the world’s largest holder of foreign reserves, its largest exporter, second–largest importer and the largest user of all energy sources, apart from oil, where it stood a very close second to the USA. In terms of productivity, Chinese leaders were keen to say that, since the early 1980s, China’s economy had grown by 10 per cent per year, though since 2012 this had dipped to around 6.5–7 per cent. Even after the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008, China managed to add 40 per cent to its economy at a time when the rest of the developed world was stagnant.
Kerry Brown

6. Chinese Society

Abstract
The traditional image of Chinese society is of a rural one, based on the sort of ‘elastic links’ that the great sociologist Fei Xiaotong talked of in his classic and controversial study of Chinese society from 1947, translated as From the Soil (Fei, 1992). For Fei, Chinese social structure derived from a world in which everyone knew everyone else, a world in which contracts and legal niceties were unnecessary because people only did business with those they knew. Everyone in this world lived in an environment rich in trust. It was a world in which there were multiple layers of relationships in the centre of which each individual sat, practising a kind of sovereignty over his/her own realm, a society that was highly networked, but also very localized, and in which, according to Fei, people operated fundamentally selfishly. Gender relations were highly stratified, so that men hung out with men, and women with women, each working in their preserved domain, with the only contact between them being to produce children.
Kerry Brown

7. Chinese Culture

Abstract
In 2004, one of the country’s main liberal magazines, Southern Weekend, issued a list of the 50 most influential people in China. It included scientists, writers, political thinkers, artists and business people. The list led to a storm of debate online, with many disagreeing with who were included in the list, the reasons they were included or proposing other people instead. Within a few days of the list appearing, it was effectively censored and became unobtainable within China The question of who has the most profound influence in the PRC was not so easy to dismiss, however. Of course, the elite leadership of the CCP was in control on most levels, and yet, as previous chapters in this book have shown, there were whole areas of the key public agenda in this increasingly complex country where it no longer had such authority, and was, in all sorts of areas in life, simply not heeded.
Kerry Brown

8. China in the World

Abstract
In the three decades since 1978, China’s international role has become more important. As an importer, exporter, investor and geopolitical player, the PRC now ranks as one of the world’s key countries. It has emerged from the era of Maoist isolation to become a potential superpower. Since the beginning of the twenty–first century, as its economy has grown, more and more pressure has been put on the country’s leaders to speak out on the PRC’s main international objectives. A number of government statements have attempted to define these, talking reassuringly of a country that is rising peacefully and seeking win–win outcomes, avoiding the kind of hegemony that the world experienced under European and, latterly, American dominance.
Kerry Brown
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