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The Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 1987 : HISTORY PRIZE : On Nov. 6, The Times will award its annual Book Prizes in five categories--biography, history, fiction, poetry and current interest--along with the Robert Kirsch Award for a body of work by a writer living in or writing on the West. This week we publish excerpts from the books nominated in history. : THE GREAT CHINESE REVOLUTION, 1800-1985 (Perennial Library/Harper & Row) by John King Fairbank

October 18, 1987

An insightful and highly readable history of 185 turbulent years, comprising five wars of foreign aggression and five revolutionary civil wars, that brought about the modern transformation of China's ancient civilization.

The 40 years beginning in 1860 form a distinct era in the buildup of the Chinese Revolution--a time when the old system seemed to work again and some Western ways were adopted, yet China's progress was so comparatively slow that she became a sitting duck for greater foreign aggression. The imperialist rivalry of the powers came to a terrifying climax in the 1898 "scramble for concessions," and the period ended with troops of eight nations occupying Peking in 1900. Obviously these were the four decades when China missed the boat. While Japan ended her seclusion, adroitly began to Westernize, got rid of her unequal treaties and was prepared to become a world power, why did China fail to do the same?

This question has haunted Chinese patriots throughout the 20th Century. At first the explanation was found in Social Darwinism. China had simply lost out in the competition for survival among nations. Partly this was due to her tardiness in ceasing to be an ancient empire and becoming a modern nation. The fault lay within.

By 1920, however, a more satisfying explanation was offered by Marxism-Leninism. The fault lay with the capitalist imperialism of the foreign powers who invaded China, secured special privileges under the unequal treaties, exploited Chinese markets and resources, and suppressed the stirrings of Chinese capitalism. Since many foreigners announced loudly that they were going to do just that, all sides could agree. The same decades saw the triumph of colonialism all around China's periphery. Burma and Malaysia were taken over by Britain, Vietnam by France, Taiwan by Japan. Foreign aggression and exploitation were too plain to be denied.

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