To change China;: Western advisers in China, 1620-1960, Review

To change China;: Western advisers in China, 1620-1960,
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To change China;: Western advisers in China, 1620-1960, ReviewIn spite of this book's promotional description, not all "advisers to China" failed to make a difference nor were they discarded after their usefulness to the Emperor or other agency was exhausted. This is an armchair slice of China history seen from the perspective of selected Westerners who became sometimes enchanted or fascinated with China---most who brought pre-judgement in what they could accomplish. There is no innate cultural malice in their treatment by the Chinese. They all display extraordinary perseverance. What is missed by other reviewers is that, with a few exceptions, these Westerners adapted linguistically--their success was dependent on their speaking the languages. And at these times, there were many wide-ranging dialects.
This book is acceptable if this is to be your only view of a few early Westerners in Chinese history. The profiles, while simplified because of the brevity of treatment allowed, align fairly closely with the more recent detailed biographies of many of these strong personalities. However, if you want to see the fuller picture, then Tung-Tsu Ch'u's "Local Government in China Under the Ch'ing" provides an understanding of the perspective of the government officials and their duties which justifies their response to Westerners.
This is not a treatise on Chinese science, but Chinese relationships with science are far better explained by the great China scholar Derk Bodde in "Chinese Thought, Society, and Science."
The letters of Robert Hart over his long 1868-1907 tour are found in "The I.G. in Peking" edited by Fairbank, Brunner and Matheson, giving a far more detailed understanding of this highly able and well-traveled workaholic.
Even those only seeking a good read can benefit from seeing the revolutionary era through the American journalists who reported from China, well-detailed by Peter Rand in "China Hands." This will also fill in a better understanding of Chiang Kai-Shek who is mainly portrayed as inept here.
Deeper perspective into missionary zeal is available via many books on the China Inland Mission. "To Change China" does not really provide enough background on the late Ching, the Tsungli Yamen, and the Boxer Rebellion. The extent the Western nations exacted foreign concessions and mis-treated Chinese is not the theme of this book, but could have provided a balancing background to the assumption that Westerner's motives were merely missionary or entrepreneurial. If a reader wishes to feel the atmosphere, then the classic movie "Sand Pebbles" is not inaccurate, although fictional.
The use of older Wade-Giles is wholly appropriate for this time, since it is in that Romanization that these Westerners worked, that maps of the time were printed, etc.
The chapter on the Russian Borodin hopefully will leave the reader wanting to know more about an envoy who was left to manage impossible situations with little reliable direction.
The Westerner who did not fail and who left a lasting legacy was Norman Bethune, the Canadian doctor who died in the service of the People's Army. His efforts, essentially what we would today call a mobile army surgical hospital (popularized in M*A*S*H) were not thrown away, but lived on in the development of China's PLA Medical Corps. Even though they have stopped requiring the study of Maoist thought in Shanghai and Beijing universities, every Chinese student today knows the name he was given in Chinese. Like missionaries, he was driven and he poured his soul into his work in Canada and the Spanish Civil War, but it was in China that he succeeded, was accepted, and his work lasted. Ask the next Chinese foreign student you meet: "Who was Norman Bethune?" He or she will reply: "You mean Baichuan!" Yes, Bethune was a Westerner and he DID change the part of China that was his mission. And Spence never says otherwise.To change China;: Western advisers in China, 1620-1960, Overview

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