The Age of Openness

Frank Dikotter

The Age of Openness – China before Mao explores the Republican era from 1911 to 1949.

Frank Dikotter in his long essay of 102 pages – part of the Understanding China series- contends that contrary to the perceived wisdom that the Republican era was an era of anarchy and decay, was actually a vibrant, open, and cosmopolitan era.

He illustrates his essay with chapters on a Chinese society engaging with the world in 4 areas: advances in rule of law, freedom of movement in and out of China, eager reception of ideas on humanities and science, and an open and vibrant market.

Although not cited by him, a good illustration of the openness and vibrancy of this era is the life of Han Su Yin who wrote the famous semi-autobiography A Many Splendoured Thing.

Sterling Seagrave, Jung Chang

Her dad was a Belgian-educated engineer. Her mom was Flemish. She herself went to Brussels to study medicine in 1935 and returned to serve in China.

Another good illustration is the lives of Sun Yat Sen and the three Soong sisters.

A good book that illustrates what could have been is The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom by John Pomfret. Highly recommended.

John Pomfret

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