China’s civilization: a modern journey

These words came from one of the most important television programmes ever to be broadcast. “River Elegy” (Heshang) was transmitted on China Central Television in the summer of 1988. In six episodes, it explored China’s troubled and often turbulent modern history and speculated provocatively about the country’s future. A year later, in June 1989, that immediate future looked immensely bleak as protesting students and workers were shot down near Tiananmen Square. “Industrial civilization,” whatever that might be, seemed a long way off.

Yet the debate about civilization in China has long roots. In the modern era, the notion of what had become of China’s civilization was a resonant one, along with the idea that it might need to be adapted or abandoned. Many of these ideas were shaped by a particular date that remains well-known today. In some ways, to trace the debate over China’s grappling with the...

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Rana Mitter

Professor i modern kinesisk historia och politik vid Oxforduniversitetet.

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