the guardian Tue 13 March 2012
Before 1832, the Qing empire restricted foreigners to Canton. That changed after 1842 as foreign nations, particularly Britain, used gunboat diplomacy to steadily increase their influence until the Chinese were no longer in total control of their own country, a situation that continued up to 1949. Although the west has conveniently forgotten its often brutal and exploitative role in China, the Chinese have not. They now refer to these years as the "century of national humiliation". We, too, need to revisit this period if we are to understand modern China and its people's anger at foreign criticisms of its policies at home and abroad: "History matters in modern China and the past is unfinished business." Meticulously researched, this is an authoritative study of a "dark, complex phase in modern China's history". It's not surprising that there is plenty of mutual misunderstanding and even hate in this story. That Bickers also finds "affection, amity and love" between east and west is a cause for optimism.