The Old Regime and the French Revolution by Alexis de Tocqueville (translated by Feng Tang) The Commercial Press, August 2012 More than a hundred years after its first publication, The Old Regime and the French Revolution has suddenly found wide circulation and popularity with Chinese readers. The book was written in French by Alexis de Tocqueville, a celebrated political philosopher of French nobility.
When the book was first introduced to China by Commercial Press in 1992, only 2,000 copies were printed. However, at the beginning of 2013, the prestigious publishing house pressed an additional 200,000 copies, not including editions produced by other publishers for the Chinese market.
The book’s recent popularity surge can be attributed to Wang Qishan, who recommended it when discussing corruption with eight scholars shortly after he was elected to the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the 18th CPC Central Committee last November.
“Many of our scholars tend to read material on the postcapitalism era, but I believe we should read more about the early stages of capitalism,” he asserted at the meeting. “The Old Regime and the French Revolution is one title worth a look.”
Of course, rather than the book’s depiction of the French Revolution two centuries ago, Wang values it for the author’s writing style and assertions such as “judging facts is the prerequisite of determining values”, “revolution doesn’t necessarily break out because people are living on the edge of survival”, “revolutionaries sow dragon´s teeth and harvest fleas,” and “hope contains the greatest danger.” Contrasting today’s mainstream attitudes about revolution, such ideas naturally inspire readers to contemplate modern Chinese reality.
Clearly, publishers didn’t mind the CPC leader’s unintentional favor. Thanks to his recommendation, the title has become one of the year’s first bestsellers.
(Text by Wang Yongqiang)
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