The following narrative offers a chronological overview of key arenas of Chinese history since about 1780: each of the four chapters discusses domestic politics, social and economic developments, the worlds of thought and culture, and relations with the outside world, though historical development, trends, and themes determine the extent of particular coverage in each. Trends and themes from the saga of Chinese history also shape the length of each of the four chronological periods as well as the chapters that discuss them.
Chapter 1 studies the decline and collapse of the traditional Chinese state from its acme of power and wealth in the late eighteenth century to the humiliating 1901 Boxer Protocol. Chapter 2 charts the efforts of various political groups from 1901 to 1928 to reconstruct the polity and erect a nation amid the turmoil of warlordism and both cultural and political revolution. Chapter 3 analyzes the differing policies established for the structuring of state and society by the Nationalist and Communist Parties from 1928 to 1960, a period that saw war between China and Japan, civil war, and one of history's most violent revolutions. Chapter 4 brings the narrative from 1960 to the present, focusing first on the tragedy of ideology run amok in the disasters of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution and then on the economic revolution that at century's end has raised national hopes but also many questions about future directions and policies.
Readers wanting an overview of the key elements of Chinese history should read the entire narrative. A reader interested in a particular theme or topic, like the role of nationalism or the treatment of intellectuals by the state, may use the index to mine each chapter for the relevant material. If interested in a particular event (say, the May Fourth Period) the reader can go directly to the indicated chapter (in this case, chapter 2) for detailed coverage.
Boldface type in the narrative indicates that the names and terms so marked are included in part II, the Compendium.