China is a key player in today's world, and it is important to understand its background. I've tried other sources, and unfortunately gotten lost in a maze of different dynasties that have come and gone in its 3,000+ year history. The good news about "Modern China" is that it doesn't get bogged down in that very old history. Just learning that while the last (Ming) dynasty fell in 1912, and the subsequent government collapsed again less than 40 years later - after involvement in WWI (intent was to get Allies' support for forcing Germany out of China - instead, got Japan forced in), being dominated by Japan for decades, the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), and the Civil War (1946-49) helps one understand why today's government is quite leery of losing control and possibly repeating some of those tragic happenings. Resentment over being taken advantage of by various nations contributed to the Ming collapse - especially the British wanting a market for opium (banned within China) produced in Bengal, leading to the first Opium War (1839-1942), followed by unfair treaties, the forced introduction of disruptive influences (eg. Christian missionaries) - it's a wonder China got over its xenophobia and effort to be self-sufficient. Then there was the loss of Taiwan to Japan, the brutally put down Boxer Rebellion (U.S. participated), and monstrous reparations imposed ($333 million, over 39 years).
Confucianism is also briefly addressed - more of an ethical system than religion, stressing mutual obligations, hierarchies, self-development (education and improvement), and an ordered society that abhors violence and tends to look down on profit-making.
Deng Xiaoping clearly was a key figure in transforming China after Mao, but "Modern China" fails to explain how he rose to power two years after Mao's death. (Deng had previously been twice purged for opposition to Mao's policies during the Cultural Revolution. I'm assuming his final success was largely because of his political skills being applied to party recognition of China's problems post-Mao. He liked to call his appraoch "Socialism with Chinese characteristics.") Deng reportedly recognized the Cultural Revolution's anti-intellectualism ("Seek truth from facts.") and xenophobia had pushed too far, and Deng steered the nation toward Zhou Enlai's 'Four Modernizations' - agriculture, economy (concentrated power in the hands of managers and technical experts; started with light industry and its limited capital requirements), science and technology, and defense. Economic equality no longer was a goal ("Let some people get rich first." "Poverty is not socialism. To be rich is glorious.") and special economic zones were set up to try new approaches while minimizing resistance. Deng's pragmatism ("Socialism and market economy are not incompatible," "We should be concerned about right-wing deviations, but most of all, we must be concerned about left-wing deviations") and ability to defuse rancor remaining from Mao's day was incredible. On freeing up access to other information and internal discussion, he said "If you open the window, some flies will get in" - acknowledging the potential problem while minimizing it. Deng is also famous for saying that "It doesn't matter if a cat was white or black - as long as it catches mice" - emphasizing that China needed to focus on end goals, not means.
Unfortunately, "Modern China" also did not do a good job explaining why Mao eventually defeated the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-Shek.