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Creators of Modern China

100 Lives from Empire to Republic 1796–1912 (British Museum)

Jessica Harrison-Hall, Julia Lovell


Discover the stories of 100 women and men whose activities in the 19th century laid the foundations of modern China

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Through telling the lives of one hundred significant individuals, this book explores how China transformed from dynastic empire to modern republican nation during the period 1796 to 1912.

Both famous and surprisingly little-known women and men are brought together in eight thematic sections that bring to life the complexities of China’s path to modernity. Featured figures include the Dowager Empress Cixi, the power behind the throne of the Qing dynasty for fifty years; Yu Rongling, the aristocratic daughter of a Qing diplomat who trained in Paris with Isadora Duncan and is now seen as one of the founders of modern dance in China; Shi Yang, the most powerful woman pirate in the world, celebrated in popular culture as a female icon; the Manchu-Chinese Duanfang, a lynchpin of late Qing government and an avid collector of international art, murdered by his own troops in the 1911 Revolution that ended dynastic rule; Luo Zhenyu, a pioneer of Chinese archaeology whose discoveries and research empirically confirmed the antiquity of Chinese civilization; and many others.

Written by an international team of specialists, this book populates the landscapes of modern Chinese history with extraordinary individuals, making sense of the drama and creativity of the country’s ‘long 19th century’.

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'Engagingly written and beautifully illustrated … Like being invited to a huge party full of interesting (if sometimes unpleasant or even dangerous) people from all walks of life. Indeed, this is a retrospective panorama of a fascinating period in Chinese history, packed with information and providing an entrance into a forgotten world. Harrison-Hall and Lovell have shone a bright light on a neglected area of Chinese (and world) history, and for that the highest praise is due'
Asian Review of Books

'This attractive volume, enhanced by over 150 illustrations and benefitting too from the very best Slovenian production values, is simply a triumph of editorial dedication and skill, admirably fulfilling its aim of bringing a human face to innumerable opening lectures on the burgeoning flood of courses now dedicated to tracing “The Rise of the Dragon” in Anglophone academe'
Bulletin, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

'Illuminating … clear introductions and context allow readers to understand how these personalities came together to create a tumultuous century. Lavish colour illustrations add to the quality of the book, making it a perfect introduction for someone who wants to understand this crucial, but under-examined era'
Rana Mitter, Oriental Ceramic Society Journal

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 24.0 x 17.0 cm

Extent: 368 pp

Illustrations: 150

Publication date: 27 April 2023

ISBN: 9780500480809

Contents List

Introduction by Jessica Harrison-Hall and Julia Lovell

1. The Court – Emperors, Empresses, Eunuchs, Courtiers and Entertainers
Jessica Harrison-Hall

2. Religious Figures - Daoists, Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians
Julia Lovell

3. Militarists - Soldiers, Martyrs, Mercenaries and Pirates
Julia Lovell

4. Artists – Calligraphers, Epigraphers, Painters, Illustrators and Photographers
Jessica Harrison-Hall

5. Observers - Writers, Poets, Translators and Travellers
Julia Lovell

6. Business People - Commodity Traders, Financiers, Entrepreneurs and Media Tycoons
Jessica Harrison-Hall

7. Statesmen - Campaigners, Reformers, Diplomats and Philosophers
Julia Lovell

8. Makers - Craftspeople, Folklorists and Scientists
Jessica Harrison-Hall

About the Author

Jessica Harrison-Hall is head of the China Section, Curator of the Sir Percival David Collections of Chinese Ceramics, and of Chinese Decorative Arts and Ceramics at the British Museum. Julia Lovell is Professor of Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck, University of London. Her book The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China won the Jan Michalski Prize for Literature in 2012.

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