In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section China and the World, 1900-1949

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographical References
  • Journals
  • Qing China (1900–1911) and the World
  • Unequal Treaties and International Law
  • Communist Foreign Relations
  • Diplomatic Institutions
  • International Organizations
  • China and the World Economy
  • Missionary Cultural Legacy

Chinese Studies China and the World, 1900-1949
Dong Wang
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0048


Thematically and chronologically organized, this highly condensed annotated bibliography includes works that provide insights into the long-term, core themes of China and the world during the first half of the 20th century. The fifty years from 1900 to 1949 were marked by revolution, civil war, and foreign invasion but also witnessed change and progress in China’s relations with the outside world. These include the transformation from an empire (Qing) to a nation-state, the rise of Chinese nationalism, the restoration of China’s tariff autonomy, the abolition of extraterritoriality, China’s participation in the two world wars, and its role in the world economy and international organizations. Historiographical debates bring out three interdependent methodological and thematic issues: the state behavior of the Qing (1900–1911), Beijing (1912–1928), and Nanjing governments (1928–1949) in foreign affairs; the role of external forces in China’s nation-building and integration into the world system and community in modern times; and the relationship between nationalism and globalization and between national and international histories. Three influential conceptual frameworks are John K. Fairbank’s Western impact/stimulation and China’s response paradigm, Paul A. Cohen’s China-centered and most recently China-unbound or human-centered approach, and William C. Kirby’s internationalization proposition. What these different strands of research share, in this author’s judgment, is far more important than what separates them. Out of controversy, most scholars today tend to agree that during the period from 1900 to 1949 the Qing, Beijing, and Nanjing regimes were weak but resourceful states in hostile national and international environments. China’s international status markedly improved by the end of the 1940s, as one of the “great powers” (daguo 大国) and a founder of the United Nations in the new world order. National, regional, and global concerns as well as nationalism, imperialism, colonialism, and internationalism have entangled bearings on studies of nearly all subjects that hold significance in modern China and the world.

General Overviews

General studies of China’s foreign relations (1900–1949) can be organized into three groups: works published Pre-1970s, during the 1970s–1980s, and those from the 1990s–Present. President Nixon’s historic visit to mainland China in 1972 and China’s reopening to the world a few years later spurred new interest in the China field. Consequently, the following years witnessed a burst of scholarship whereby researchers availed themselves of newly available sources. Since the 1990s, fresh research topics and multidisciplinary approaches have been further explored.

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