John B. Thompson
Originally published 05/17/2013
John B. Thompson: Review of Stephen Platt's "Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom" and Tobie Meyer-Fong's "What Remains: Coming to Terms with Civil War in Nineteenth-Century China"
John B. Thompson (@johnbthomp) is a writer from Columbus, Ohio. He is a PhD student in East Asian history at Columbia University. THIS SUMMER MARKS the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg, and November holds the anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address — “the words that remade America,” according to journalist and historian Garry Wills. Part of the address’ power flows from the image of the dead as martyrs for “a new birth of freedom,” the promise that the unprecedented savagery of the American Civil War was not a departure from the American project but a necessary part of it. We tend to remember this civil war for the positive reasons that Lincoln primed us to believe. But Lincoln’s rhetorical accomplishment makes us forget that death and civil war are more often toxic things. And few here remember that, at the same time that Lincoln was delivering his speech, China was witnessing its own civil war, with even higher costs and more unclear ends.
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