Now looking back from the twenty-first century, China no longer looks very revolutionarynor does it appear to be a failure. How, then, are we to rethink modern Chinese history? Some would create a new historical narrative in which the Chinese revolution was one extended detour, a series of accidents and mistakes. The question I would pose is whether it is wise to ignore the Chinese revolution altogether. If not, how do we fit the revolution into a new narrative that sees more than just failure in the pre-revolutionary past, and more than just the rejection of revolution in the post-Mao present.
Joseph W. Esherick is emeritus professor of history and Hsiu Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Receiving his B.A. from Harvard (1964) and his Ph.D. from Berkeley (1971), he is author of The Origins of the Boxer Uprising, Reform and Revolution in China: The 1911 Revolution in Hunan and Hubei, and most recently, Ancestral Leaves: A Family Journey Through Chinese History. He is also co-author of Chinese Archives: An Introductory Guide, co-editor of Chinese Local Elites and Patterns of Dominance, The Chinese Cultural Revolution as History, and Empire to Nation: Historical Perspectives on the Making of the Modern World; and editor of Lost Chance in China and Remaking the Chinese City.