Republican China, 1911–1949
- LAST REVIEWED: 28 September 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0028
- LAST REVIEWED: 28 September 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0028
There have been major changes since the mid-20th century in the way in which the history of republican China (1911–1949) is conceptualized by scholars in the West and elsewhere. Up to the 1970s, scholarship was dominated by a somewhat teleological revolutionary paradigm, in which developments in republican China were seen predominantly in terms of their relationship to the 1949 revolution and thus, of their contribution to the total transformation of Chinese society. This teleological approach has more recently been challenged in at least two respects. First, scholars have affirmed that ideas and actions in Nationalist China are worthy of study in their own right, rather than merely in terms of the contribution they did or did not make to China’s Communist revolution. This was partly, though not exclusively, a reflection of the economic and, to some extent, political success of Taiwan and the ethnically Chinese city-states outside the People’s Republic of China, which suggested that the Chinese past could generate paths other than those outlined by Mao Zedong. Second, the degree to which 1949 actually represented a radical break or complete transformation of Chinese society has come increasingly under question. Developments after 1949 have come more and more to be seen as the continuation of a process of state building that was under way, certainly, during the Nationalist regime of 1927–1949 and, to some extent, even before that, back to the warlords or even the late Qing. A further change, and one that reflects the emergence of postmodern views of history way beyond Chinese studies, is to downgrade metanarratives of all types (not just the revolutionary teleology) and to focus more on the local and the contingent. Local studies have therefore been a major trend in republican history since the 1990s. The field covered by this bibliography is vast, and in order to reduce it to manageable size, the author has decided to concentrate mainly (though not exclusively) on topics linked to politics (though in the Chinese case many social, cultural, and economic developments had a strong political element, and they are touched on) and on works that focus centrally on the 1911–1949 period rather than, for example, the whole 20th century.
There are a substantial number of English-language overview texts on modern Chinese history that cover this period. Most are aimed at an undergraduate market, and most tend to focus very much on a chronological account of mainly political history. Two texts by leading scholars represent contributions at the opposite ends of the spectrum of detail: Spence 2013 is a relatively comprehensive treatment of the period, whereas Mitter 2008 offers an extremely concise coverage. Zarrow 2005 and Lary 2007 are high-quality texts of medium length. On a more specialized level, the two volumes of The Cambridge History of China dealing with republican China (Fairbank 1983, Fairbank and Feuerwerker 1986) exemplify the state of understanding of this period of Chinese history as of c. 1980. Chinese scholars tend to emphasize massive, collectively written histories, which are more or less authoritative. Li 2011 and Zhang 2005 are probably the two most important examples, though there are many other texts of different lengths.
Fairbank, John K., ed. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 12, Republican China, 1912–1949, Part 1. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
Contains heavyweight articles by leading scholars on several subperiods of republican history mainly up to 1928, as well as overviews, including the foreign presence in China, intellectual and literary trends, and the Chinese bourgeoisie. Clearly becoming outdated, but many of the chapters still give an excellent overview.
Fairbank, John K., and Albert Feuerwerker, eds. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 13, Republican China, 1912–1949, Part 2. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
To some extent, takes the story in Fairbank 1983 up to 1949, with studies of the Nanjing decade, the war, and the rise of the Communist movement. Also contains survey articles on topics including international relations, the agrarian system and peasant movements, local government, and the academic community.
Lary, Diana. China’s Republic. New Approaches to Asian History. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Text on the Republic of China (with a final chapter on Taiwan). Strong on social as well as political issues.
Li Xin 李新, ed. Zhonghua minguo shi (中华民国史). 12 vols. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2011.
The standard collective history—mainly political, diplomatic, and military—of the period from Beijing. Mostly written in the 1980s or even earlier. Chronologically organized into different subperiods. Each section has an index of personal names at the end.
Mitter, Rana. Modern China: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
What the title says: a very short introduction; but takes account of the latest scholarship and diverges further from the political narrative than most similar works (“Is China’s society/economy/culture modern?”).
Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China. 3d ed. New York: Norton, 2013.
Strong claim to the standard—albeit long—text on modern China, updated extensively in the late 1990s. Starts from 1600 and organized chronologically (an approach that Spence defends). The middle two hundred pages examine the republican period. Emphasizes not only continual change, but also continuities from late imperial China to the People’s Republic of China.
Zarrow, Peter. China in War and Revolution, 1895–1949. Asia’s Transformations. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.
Short, high-quality survey of republican history. Covers a wide range of topics, focusing on intellectual and cultural history. Contestation between different groups over the concepts of nation and democracy is a key theme.
Zhang Xianwen 张宪文, ed. Zhonghua minguo shi (中华民国史). 4 vols. Nanjing, China: Nanjing daxue chubanshe, 2005.
Zhang, of Nanjing University, is the country’s leading historian of the republic. Basically ordered chronologically, but has extensive chapters on economic and social issues as well as politics. Useful appendixes on government and political organization and personnel and on changes in administrative geography.
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- 1989 People's Movement
- Agriculture, Origins of
- Architecture, Chinese
- Assertive Nationalism and China's Core Interests
- Buddhist Monasticism
- Central-Local Relations
- Chiang Kai-shek
- Children's Culture and Social Studies
- China and Africa
- China and the World, 1900-1949
- China's Agricultural Regions
- China’s West
- Chinese Communist Party Since 1949, The
- Chinese Communist Party to 1949, The
- Chinese Diaspora, The
- Chinese Nationalism
- Chinese Script, The
- Christianity in China
- Classical Confucianism
- Confucius Institutes
- Consumer Society
- Contemporary Chinese Art Since 1976
- Criticism, Traditional
- Cross-Straits Relations
- Cultural Revolution
- Deng Xiaoping
- Dialect Groups of the Chinese Language
- Disability Studies
- Drama (Xiqu 戏曲) Performance Arts, Traditional Chinese
- Dream of the Red Chamber
- Economic Reforms, 1978-Present
- Economy, 1949-1978
- Economy, 1895-1949
- Environmental Issues in Contemporary China
- Environmental Issues in Pre-Modern China
- Establishment Intellectuals
- Ethnicity and Minority Nationalities Since 1949
- Ethnicity and the Han
- Examination System, The
- Fall of the Qing, 1840-1912, The
- Falun Gong, The
- Family Relations in Contemporary China
- Fiction and Prose, Modern Chinese
- Film, Chinese Language
- Film in Taiwan
- Financial Sector, The
- Folklore and Popular Culture
- Foreign Direct Investment in China
- Gender Issues in Traditional China
- Great Leap Forward and the Famine, The
- Guomindang (1912-1949)
- Health Care System, The
- Heritage Management
- Heterodox Sects in Premodern China
- Hukou (Household Registration) System, The
- Human Origins in China
- Human Rights in China
- Imperialism and China, c. 1800-1949
- Intellectual Trends in Late Imperial China
- Islam in China
- Journalism and the Press
- Landscape Painting
- Language, The Ancient Chinese
- Language Variation in China
- Late Imperial Economy, 960-1895
- Law, Traditional Chinese
- Li Bai and Du Fu
- Liang Qichao
- Literature Post-Mao, Chinese
- Literature, Pre-Ming Narrative
- Local Elites in Ming-Qing China
- Management Style in "Chinese Capitalism"
- Mao Zedong
- Marketing System in Pre-Modern China, The
- Material Culture
- May Fourth Movement
- Media Representation of Contemporary China, International
- Medicine, Traditional Chinese
- Medieval Economic Revolution
- Middle Period China
- Migration Under Economic Reform
- Ming Dynasty
- Ming-Qing Fiction
- Modern Chinese Drama
- Needham Question, The
- Neolithic Cultures in China
- New Social Classes, 1895-1949
- One Country, Two Systems
- Opium Trade
- Orientalism, China and
- Poetics, Chinese-Western Comparative
- Poetry, Early Medieval
- Poetry, Traditional Chinese
- Political Dissent
- Political Thought, Modern Chinese
- Population Dynamics in Pre-Modern China
- Population Structure and Dynamics since 1949
- Poverty and Living Standards since 1949
- Printing and Book Culture
- Prose, Traditional
- Qing Dynasty up to 1840
- Regional and Global Security, China and
- Religion, Ancient Chinese
- Renminbi, The
- Republican China, 1911-1949
- Revolutionary Literature under Mao
- Rural Society in Contemporary China
- School of Names
- Sino-Japanese Relations Since 1945
- Social Welfare in China
- Su Shi (Su Dongpo)
- Sun Yat-sen and the 1911 Revolution
- Taiping Civil War
- Taiwanese Democracy
- Television, Chinese
- Terracotta Warriors, The
- Texts in Pre-Modern East and South-East Asia, Chinese
- Township and Village Enterprises
- Traditional Historiography
- Tribute System, The
- United States-China Relations, 1949-present
- Urban Change and Modernity
- Yan'an and the Revolutionary Base Areas
- Yuan Dynasty