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A Bitter Revolution

China's Struggle with the Modern World

Rana Mitter

Publication Date - 25 August 2005

ISBN: 9780192806055

378 pages

A powerful history of China's transformation in the twentieth century from a pre-modern culture to a leader of the modern world


In this powerful new look at modern China, Rana Mitter goes back to a pivotal moment in Chinese history to uncover the origins of the painful transition from pre-modern to modern. Mitter identifies May 4, 1919, as the defining moment of China's twentieth-century history. On that day, outrage over the Paris peace conference triggered a vast student protest that led in turn to "the May Fourth Movement." Just seven years before, the 2,000-year-old imperial system had collapsed. Now a new group of urban, modernizing thinkers began to reject Confucianism and traditional culture in general as hindrances in the fight against imperialism, warlordism, and the oppression of women and the poor. Forward-looking, individualistic, and embracing youth, this "New Culture movement" made a lasting impact on the critical decades that followed. Throughout each of the dramatically different eras that followed, the May 4 themes persisted, from the insanity of the Cultural Revolution to China's recent romance with space-age technology.

About the Author(s)

Rana Mitter is Lecturer in the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of St. Cross College. In addition to many books and journal articles, Mitter has contributed to documentaries on the History Channel and is involved in a forthcoming documentary on Kublai Khan.


"A fascinating look at a pivotal time in the formation of the culture of modern China...What is most intriguing about Mitters account is not what was lost in the dark decades that followed, but how much endured."--Publishers Weekly

"Rana Mitter's A Bitter Revolution is an ambitious and thoughtful study of China in the 20th century through the light of the modernising, anti-foreigner movement known as the May 4th movement, which draws illuminating parallels between China and Japan, Weimar Germany and much else."--History Today

"Fresh and interesting."--Library Journal

"In his impressive and inventively researched book, Rana Mitter uses the May Fourth movement as a theme around which to explore China's bitter 20th century, with its repeated upheavals, foreign invasion and the death of more than 100 million people from man-made and natural disasters. He brings alive the promise felt by the intellectuals, journalists, writers and entrepreneurs who subscribed to the movement."--Financial Times

"More novel insights and findings than...most general histories of modern China, illustrating the complexity and intractability of the difficulties China has faced in its struggle with the modern world."--Foreign Affairs

"Well-written and impressively argued, A Bitter Revolution is essential for anyone interested in understanding China and its place in our world."--History Book Club

"Imaginative and interesting...[A] very useful book."--New York Sun

Table of Contents

    Tian'anmen Square, 1989
    1. Flashpoint - Beijing, May Fourth, 1919
    2. Saving the Nation: the era of the May Fourth Movement
    3. Erasing the past: iconoclasm and the destruction of tradition
    4. Ugly Chinamen and Dead Rivers
    5. Making a stand: the lure and limits of democracy
    The Legacy of May Fourth