The New Cambridge Handbook of Contemporary China

Colin Mackerras

Cambridge University Press 2001
A book review by Danny Yee © 2002
With ten independent parts, The Cambridge Handbook is both a reference resource and a general introduction to contemporary China. It concentrates on the period since 1990, but information about earlier periods is provided where necessary as context or to illustrate long-term patterns. The result should have something for anyone curious about modern China; it is not just a reference for specialists.

Six of the sections are basically narrative in structure, most of them around fifteen to twenty pages in length. Part two is a survey of the political and legal systems of the People's Republic of China (PRC), part five looks at some key issues in China's foreign relations, particularly those with the United States and international organisations, part six is a thirty page description of China's economy, part seven covers demographics, part nine China's minorities (Mackerras' own specialty), and part ten the education system. These are liberally provided with graphs and tables, but those are integrated into the text — the most indigestible portions are probably a three page list of all the autonomous areas within the PRC and six pages listing the dates different countries recognised the PRC (with comments on their positions on the Taiwan question).

Four of the sections are more oriented to browsing. Part one is an eighty page chronicle of events — going back to 1949, but with much more space for recent events (half a page on 1950, but nearly ten pages on 1999). Part three offers thirty pages of brief biographies of eminent contemporary figures. Part eight is a geographical gazetteer, surveying individual provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities. And part four is a thirty page bibliography, offering not just lists of titles but over two hundred mini-reviews (brief paragraph descriptions) grouped thematically (following much the same structure as the book as a whole). This restricts itself to books published since 1990, in English. This bibliography is my favourite part — I find I haven't read a single one of the books listed...

January 2002

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%T The New Cambridge Handbook of Contemporary China
%A Mackerras, Colin
%I Cambridge University Press
%D 2001
%O paperback, index
%G ISBN 0521786746
%P xi,313pp