Review-Becoming China: An Excellent Account of how Modern China came to be and what makes it Unique

Becoming China
Jeanne-Marie Gescher
Bloomsbury, 2017

This monumental work aims to show the “story behind the state” and is an impressive account of the history of China from ancient times to modern day. The author focuses heavily on Chinese history in recent years, particularly since the end of the civil war in 1949 and discusses many of the contemporary problems facing Chinese society. I was extremely interested to read about the struggle between the citizens who have moved to the cities without permits, and the governments attempt to control this movement. This was interesting mainly because the controls on movement triggered a national media criticism of the government, something almost unheard on in the PRC.

The book had less discussion of Chinese foreign policy than I would have liked, making few mentions to Tibet, Vietnam (save for squabbles over the South China Sea) and almost no discussion of the major shift in Chinese foreign policy in the last decade. There was also little discussion of the inner workings of the CCP (Chinese communist party) and how its workings had evolved since Deng.

Overall, the book is a good work for anyone seeking to gain insight into the history of China, and how it molded contemporary discourse. At over 700 pages, it is a sizable read but, given the volume of material it covers, it is an achievement to have fit it all into just 700 pages, as easily ten times as much could be written and barely scratch the surface.