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Video: Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-First Century

The USC U.S.-China Institute presents a book talk with Orville Schell on China's ascent from imperial doormat to global economic powerhouse.
August 2, 2013

This video is also available on the USCI YouTube Channel.

Through a series of absorbing portraits of iconic modern Chinese leaders and thinkers, two of today’s foremost specialists on China provide a panoramic narrative of the nation’s ascent from imperial doormat to global economic powerhouse in Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-First Century (Random House).

The basic facts of China’s rise to preeminence over the past three decades are well documented, but how did this erstwhile sleeping giant finally manage to arrive at its current phase of dynamic growth? How, after such a long and painful period of dynastic decline, intellectual upheaval and revolution, foreign occupation and civil war, did a country once derided as the “sick man of Asia” manage to break out of its old pattern of repeatedly failed reform efforts to burst forth onto the world stage with such an impressive run of hyperdevelopment and wealth creation?

By examining the lives of eleven influential officials, writers, activists, and leaders whose contributions helped create modern China, Wealth and Power addresses these questions. This survey begins in the lead-up to the first Opium War with Wei Yuan, the nineteenth-century scholar and reformer who was one of the first to urge China to borrow ideas from the West. It concludes in our time with human-rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, an outspoken opponent of single-party rule. Along the way, we meet such titans of Chinese history as the Empress Dowager Cixi, public intellectuals Feng Guifen, Liang Qichao, and Chen Duxiu, Nationalist stalwarts Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek, and Communist Party leaders Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and Zhu Rongji.

The common goal that unites all of these disparate figures is their determined pursuit of fuqiang 富强, shorthand for “wealth and power.” This abiding quest for a restoration of national greatness in the face of a “century of humiliation” at the hands of the Great Powers came to define the modern Chinese character. It’s what drove both Mao and Deng to embark on root-and-branch transformations of Chinese society, first by means of Marxism-Leninism, then by authoritarian capitalism. And this determined quest remains the key to understanding many of China’s actions today.

By unwrapping the intellectual antecedents of today’s resurgent China, Orville Schell and Yonsei University's John Delury supply much-needed insight into the country’s tortured progression from nineteenth-century decline to twenty-first-century boom. By looking backward into the past to understand forces at work for hundreds of years, they help us understand China today and the future that this singular country is helping shape for all of us.

Click here to read an excerpt from the book.


Orville Schell, author of many books, studied Chinese history at Harvard and Berkeley and has written for many publications, including The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Time, Foreign Affairs,The New York Review of Books, Harper’s, and The New York Times. Formerly dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, he is now the Arthur Ross Director of the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations in New York City. Schell is a member of the USC U.S.-China Institute's board of scholars.


Geoffrey Cowan has long been an important force in education, communication, and public policy. Cowan became the first president of The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands in 2010 and hosted the Xi Jinping/Barack Obama meeting there in June. Previously he was dean of the USC Annenberg School for a decade and headed the Voice of America during the Clinton administration. Cowan also heads the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. His co-authored play Top Secret has twice toured China.


Clayton Dube has headed the USC U.S.-China Institute since it was established by USC President C.L. Nikias in 2006. Dube was trained as an economic historian, lived in China for five years and visited dozens of times. Dube’s long been committed to informing public discussion about China and about the U.S.-China relationship. He oversees the institute's magazines and documentary efforts and writes the institute's Talking Points newsletter and earlier edited the academic journal Modern China

This event is co-sponsored by the Asia Society Southern California Center and the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.