By Ray Huang
This brief heritage of China encompasses a new preface, extra illustrations and a extra reader-friendly structure.
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Foes of the past can now regard one another with not only sympathy but also admiration because they begin to see the long-term rationality of history, which has superseded revolutionary rhetoric of all kinds, and is by itself larger than the worlds of Mao and Chiang combined. It is in the same spirit that I, a non-Marxist historian and a naturalized citizen of the United States, can feel comfortable speaking before an assembly of scholars coming from all parts of China. For me there is no better assurance of a settlement than a rendezvous I had with former friends of my youthful years.
Chinese history differs from the history of other peoples and other parts of the world because of an important factor: its vast multitudes. Its cross-section is denser. Owing to China's great mass, inner movement takes more time to be transmitted from one end to another. Its peasantry can only be maneuvered in blocks. Presiding over the land mass of the East Asian continent, the center of gravity of this enormous entity seems always to have been wrapped in some form of mysticism. In the imperial period as well as in the very recent past, practical problems had to be translated into abstract notions in order to be disseminated.
It builds a structure of novel interpretation and vivid anecdote on a solid base of original research and covers the whole sweep of Chinese history, making comparative references to Western history. Huang seeks to explain the present Chinese reforms as the culmination of a commercialization trend that has broken down the old peasant society and brought China into the mainstream of world history. It is debatable whether Imperial China was as stagnant as Huang says, and his theory of the breakup of traditional China bears a resemblance to old-fashioned modernization theory.