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Publisher's Summary

The history of China is as rich and strange as that of any country on earth. Yet for many, China’s history remains unknown, or known only through the stylized images that generations in the West have cherished or reviled as truth.

With his command of character and event - the product of 30 years of research and reflection in the field - Spence dispels those myths in a powerful narrative. Over four centuries of Chinese history, from the waning days of the once-glorious Ming Dynasty to Deng Xiaoping’s bloody suppression of the pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, Spence fashions the astonishing story of the effort to achieve a modern China. Through the ideas and emotions of its reformist Confucian scholars, its poets, novelists, artists, and visionary students, we see one of the world’s oldest cultures struggling to define itself as Chinese and modern.

©1990 Jonathan D. Spence (P)2000 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

“To understand…China’s past there is no better place to start than Jonathan D. Spence’s excellent new book.” (New York Times Book Review)
“Monumental…History that is always lively, always concrete, always comprehensible.” (New York Times)
“Rich and dramatic…A pleasure to read, as well as being immensely informative.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 3.9 out of 5.0
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Performance

  • 3.0 out of 5.0
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    19

Story

  • 4.2 out of 5.0
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  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Great Read, Difficult Chinese

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would certainly recommend this book as it is both comprehensive and concise. Spence does a great job at covering China's history in a easily digestible read.

What other book might you compare The Search for Modern China to and why?

Nothing out there really compares to Spence's tome, but to supplement this history, Arthur Smith's 19th and 20th century writings cover Chinese culture and society from a more humanistic perspective. Together, the reader will get a good feel for China.

How could the performance have been better?

Chinese pronunciation is difficult for a non-native speaker and the reader's attempts, while noble, fall short of the mark. For those who speak Mandarin, the Chinese pronunciation is annoyingly incorrect making it difficult to follow the narrative when it comes to places and names. It's a struggle, at best. However, for non Mandarin speakers, this may not be a problem.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story
  • John
  • Port Townsend, WA, United States
  • 11-28-12

An undisputed classic

This book is epic, narrative history at its absolute best, as it traces the history of China from the time of the late Ming until the present day. In its best moments, it evokes the likes of Edward Gibbon, as we follow the rise and fall of the larger-than-life personalities, from the Chongzheng Emperor to Deng Xiaoping, that dot the historical landscape of the Middle Kingdom. This is one of those rare historical tomes that I would recommend to anyone, regardless of whether one's interest in Chinese history is professional or casual, and regardless of one's level of scholarship. In short, this is a classic of Chinese history, and even, dare I say, a classic of narrative history.

The performance is solid as well, but has some serious problems. Although the reader never lost my attention, his pronunciation of Chinese names is inconsistent and, more often than not, incorrect. The audible edition is nonetheless worth spending a credit on, and comes highly recommended.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
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The narrator doesn't know how to pronounce Chinese

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

I really looked forward to the book, but the narrator is so awful I felt as though it was a total waste of time. I am not a Chinese speaker but have a rudimentary knowledge of the language and pronunciation - enough to cringe every time he tried to pronounce any Chinese names or words. Awful!!

What could Jonathan D. Spence have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

I couldn't really continue listening after a few hours.

Would you be willing to try another one of Frederick Davidson’s performances?

Not one that related to anything Chinese.

Was The Search for Modern China worth the listening time?

Unfortunately no. . ..

Any additional comments?

Don't buy this is you have the slightest idea of how to pronounce anything Chinese. I really can't comprehend why the narrator was hired to read this book!

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
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  • Delano
  • Philadelphia, PA, United States
  • 10-19-12

Excellent book, lazy narrator

This is a classic textbook on early modern and modern Chinese history. I've very happy to see it finally appearing in audio form, and I hope there are more on the way.

I have one complaint: The pronunciation of most of the Chinese names is so wrong that the reader might as well be making up random noises. For example, "zhou" is pronounced "joe," not "zoo," and it matters because "zhou" appears in the names of most Chinese geographic locations outside Beijing and Shanghai. It would take 10 minutes for the reader to learn the absolute basics of how to pronounce Chinese names. By being too lazy to take those 10 minutes, the next 20? 30? hours of audio lose much of their value for any listener who hopes actually to learn something.

32 of 39 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Great scholarship read by unctuous buffoon

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

A different reader

Who was your favorite character and why?

Chiang Kai-shek, a balanced treatment.

What didn’t you like about Frederick Davidson’s performance?

Davidson combined his self-satisfied, precious English with self-confident, odious Chinese pronunciation. When quoting from a document, he slipped into a sing-song chant one might use in reading off the contents of fortune cookies.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Search for Modern China?

None

Any additional comments?

I respect Professor Spence and his work, but the reading is more suitable for a skit on Saturday Night Live. Perhaps Davidson was chosen by some of Spence's academic rivals, or perhaps this is some sort of elaborate joke.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Great History, Lazy Reader, Needs Update

Is there anything you would change about this book?

New reader, if there is an updated version. History through 70's is solid, but needs perspective of 25 years since 1990 for better interpretation of '80's. And reader should be fired for failing to attempt reasonable pronunciation! Come on! How hard is it to say Dung for Deng or Joe for Zho or Chou (as in Zho Enlai)? Other Audible histories have had names clearly re-read into the text to get them right. And for heaven's sake, someone told him that the Hungarian leader executed in '56, Nagy, was pronounced "Nahge" (which he read correctly) so it couldn't have been that hard. His butchering of almost every name really hurt my ears. It was tolerable -- if a constant irritant -- when I recognized the person through the mangled pronunciation, but lost me countless personages I might have gotten had I heard the name correctly, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.

What did you like best about this story?

I had Spence for Chinese History at Yale in the spring of 1972, a very exciting time to be studying it! He was amazing, then at the beginning of his career. And late Ming and Qing materials are reminiscent of the course and solid. Because the names were so butchered by the reader, the 20th century was much harder to follow.

What didn’t you like about Frederick Davidson’s performance?

Too lazy to get correct phonetic pronunciations. And the emphases he often placed were wrong, showing he clearly did not have a very strong understanding of what he was reading.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating book; horrible narration

Would you try another book from Jonathan D. Spence and/or Frederick Davidson?

From Jonathan Spence definitely.<br/>Davidson, never

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Frederick Davidson?

Anyone who would bother to spend the hour or two it takes to learn basic pronounciation of pinyin Chinese. His butchering of the names, places and words makes it impossible to listen and impossible to remember anything

Any additional comments?

I want to return the book. The narrator messes up Chinese so much the text become unintelligible.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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pronunciation of Chinese’s names is horrible

It’s a great book, but the reader’s pronunciation of Chinese names is horrible. He should have done some homework.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Cringeworthy pronunciations of Chinese terms

The male narrator has a magisterial nonrotic British accent suitable for this sweeping history, but the way he botches Chinese terms is distracting and confusing, all the more so for being so easily preventable with a bit of coaching. He apparently has no understanding whatsoever of how pinyin works. Get ready for Empress Dowager KEE-shee, Chen DUK-show, LUK-sion (Lu Xun!), HEE-bayee (Hebei) and other atrocities.

As for the book, it’s good. Spence had lately fashioned himself an annoying belle lettrist, but not yet here.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great Narration, Bad Pronunciation

The book is amazing. The narration perfect, at least when using English words. The pronunciation of the Chinese words is very incorrect and distracting if you are familiar with Chinese. With that minor caveat, I heartily recommend this book.