Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750

Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750

Odd Arne Westad

Language: English

Pages: 544

ISBN: 0465056679

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


As the twenty-first century dawns, China stands at a crossroads. The largest and most populous country on earth and currently the world’s second biggest economy, China has recently reclaimed its historic place at the center of global affairs after decades of internal chaos and disastrous foreign relations. But even as China tentatively reengages with the outside world, the contradictions of its development risks pushing it back into an era of insularity and instability—a regression that, as China’s recent history shows, would have serious implications for all other nations.

In Restless Empire, award-winning historian Odd Arne Westad traces China’s complex foreign affairs over the past 250 years, identifying the forces that will determine the country’s path in the decades to come. Since the height of the Qing Empire in the eighteenth century, China’s interactions—and confrontations—with foreign powers have caused its worldview to fluctuate wildly between extremes of dominance and subjugation, emulation and defiance. From the invasion of Burma in the 1760s to the Boxer Rebellion in the early 20th century to the 2001 standoff over a downed U.S. spy plane, many of these encounters have left Chinese with a lingering sense of humiliation and resentment, and inflamed their notions of justice, hierarchy, and Chinese centrality in world affairs. Recently, China’s rising influence on the world stage has shown what the country stands to gain from international cooperation and openness. But as Westad shows, the nation’s success will ultimately hinge on its ability to engage with potential international partners while simultaneously safeguarding its own strength and stability.

An in-depth study by one of our most respected authorities on international relations and contemporary East Asian history, Restless Empire is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the recent past and probable future of this dynamic and complex nation.

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non-European variant of socialist development that they themselves wanted to follow. For Mao Zedong, all of these approaches were problematic. He agreed with Moscow that China had a particular role to play in the Third World on behalf of world Communism, but not that it stood for a specific model. It stood for Marxism-Leninism, pure and simple. China wanted global influence, but the Americans, according to the Chairman, were chasing ghosts if they believed that China would involve itself deeply

president in 1990, responding to massive student demonstrations, set a timetable for the introduction of full democracy. In 1996 Li became the first democratically elected president of the Republic of China on Taiwan, and the island became the first modern Chinese democracy, with a constitution that inscribed the people’s right to freedom of organization, speech, and political participation and a freely elected parliament that made sure the executive practiced what it preached. For the leaders

done to conform to a Western-led international economy. On the American side the CCP regime’s human rights record and its policies in Tibet came to overshadow much of the epochal transformation that was happening in the Chinese economy. Within China the singular preoccupation with American technologies, style, music, and education continued to overwhelm all impulses that came from elsewhere, but on the international scene the two states increasingly saw each other as rivals. Three events at the

but it is not a foreign policy, and far less a strategy. One of the biggest ironies of Chinese foreign policy is that while Beijing has begun to realize that Baghdad and Buenos Aires matter, Brussels and Berlin are largely ignored. Although the European Union is now the PRC’s biggest economic partner, China’s relationship to the EU has been concentrated almost exclusively on narrow issues of trade and technology transfer. Chinese diplomats justify this, rather lamely, by saying that China

region, first and foremost in terms of culture and politics. On the other, a Chinese emperor could easily overreach when throwing his weight around in local contests for power within a tributary state. By the late eighteenth century, the Qing dynasty was already less than successful in some of these expeditions: In the 1760s, Qianlong had tried to intervene in Burma to keep the country within the Chinese zone of influence. The expedition was ineffective and costly—at least 70,000 Chinese soldiers

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