About the book

Rather than understanding China’s seemingly sudden rise as a process driven by outside influence or intervention, Mühlhahn looks at how China has organized itself over the past century and the institutions and ways of governing the world’s most populous nation. This book offers a new interpretation and seeks to approach China on its own terms, highlighting both the achievements and setbacks in the ambitious undertaking to make China modern. This helps the reader understand important continuities from the imperial to the Republican, the Communist eras, and through to today’s 21st century economic juggernaut.

About the author

Klaus Mühlhahn is Professor of Chinese History and Culture and Vice President at the Freie Universität Berlin. His Criminal Justice in China: A History won the John K. Fairbank Prize in East Asian History from the American Historical Association. Mühlhahn has published widely on modern Chinese history in English, German, and Chinese and is a frequent commentator on China for the German media.

Bibliographical information

Making China Modern:
From the Great Qing to Xi Jinping

by Klaus Mühlhahn

Publication: January 2019
Belknap Press, 2019. 736 Pages.
ISBN 9780674737358

Harvard University Press


China’s 21st Century Rise in Historical Perspective

Many commentators claim that China's ongoing global rise reflects a restoration of its earlier international prominence, while others highlight that China's emergence reflects distinctive characteristics of the country's current political leadership. In his new book, Making China ModernKlaus Mühlhahn of the Free University of Berlin provides a panoramic survey of China's rise and resilience through war and rebellion, disease and famine. At this event Professor Mühlhahn will focus on the lessons from history that provide insight into China's evolving international position and how the United States and others should respond. Following his initial presentation, we will hear commentary from two eminent analysts of modern China: Stephen Platt of UMass Amherst, author of Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China's Last Golden Age (2018) and Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom (2012); and Paul Heer, author of Mr. X and the Pacific: George F. Kennan and American Policy in East Asia (2018). For further information, please see CSIS.

Table of contents

  • Timeline: China, 1644–2017
  • List of Maps
  • Introduction
  • I.The Rise and Fall of Qing China
    • 1. Age of Glory: 1644–1800
    • 2. Reordering the Chinese World: 1800–1870
    • 3. Late Qing Predicaments: 1870–1900
  • II.Chinese Revolutions
    • 4. Upending the Empire: 1900–1919
    • 5. Rebuilding during the Republican Era: 1920–1937
    • 6. China at War: 1937–1948
  • III.Remaking China
    • 7. Socialist Transformation: 1949–1955
    • 8. Leaping Ahead: 1955–1960
    • 9. Overthrowing Everything: 1961–1976
  • IV.China Rising
    • 10. Reform and Opening: 1977–1989
    • 11. Overall Advance: 1990–2012
    • 12. Ambitions and Anxieties: Contemporary China
  • Abbreviations
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index


“A truly important book. Not since Fairbank have we seen such a masterful sweep of traditional, modern, and contemporary history of China (…) Mühlhahn’s narrative will help people anywhere in the world make sense of the China they must deal with today.”

Timothy Cheek, author of The Intellectual in Modern Chinese History

“This thoughtful, probing interpretation is a worthy successor to the famous histories of Fairbank and Spence and will be read by all students and scholars of modern China.”

William C. Kirby, coauthor of Can China Lead?

“A remarkable accomplishment.”

Wen-hsin Yeh, author of Shanghai Splendor

“At last we have a serious introduction to modern China in which the Chinese are the principal architects of their history (…). Anyone wanting to understand the importance of contemporary China for our global future should read this important book.”

R. Bin Wong, coauthor of Before and Beyond Divergence


Klaus Mühlhahn
Professor of Chinese History and Culture
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Lu Tian
Website Manager
Email lu.tian(at)fu-berlin.de
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Freie Universität Berlin
Fachbereich Geschichts- und Kulturwissenschaften
Sinologie - Chinastudien
Fabeckstr. 23-25
Raum 1.1123
14195 Berlin