Harmony and War: Confucian Culture and Chinese Power Politics

Harmony and War: Confucian Culture and Chinese Power Politics

by Yuan-kang Wang
     
 

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Confucianism has shaped a certain perception of Chinese security strategy, symbolized by the defensive, nonaggressive Great Wall. Many believe China is antimilitary and reluctant to use force against its enemies. It practices pacifism and refrains from expanding its boundaries, even when nationally strong.

In a path-breaking study traversing six centuries of

Overview

Confucianism has shaped a certain perception of Chinese security strategy, symbolized by the defensive, nonaggressive Great Wall. Many believe China is antimilitary and reluctant to use force against its enemies. It practices pacifism and refrains from expanding its boundaries, even when nationally strong.

In a path-breaking study traversing six centuries of Chinese history, Yuan-kang Wang resoundingly discredits this notion, recasting China as a practitioner of realpolitik and a ruthless purveyor of expansive grand strategies. Leaders of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) prized military force and shrewdly assessed the capabilities of China's adversaries. They adopted defensive strategies when their country was weak and pursued expansive goals, such as territorial acquisition, enemy destruction, and total military victory, when their country was strong. Despite the dominance of an antimilitarist Confucian culture, warfare was not uncommon in the bulk of Chinese history. Grounding his research in primary Chinese sources, Wang outlines a politics of power that are crucial to understanding China's strategies today, especially its policy of "peaceful development," which, he argues, the nation has adopted mainly because of its military, economic, and technological weakness in relation to the United States.

Editorial Reviews

China Quarterly - Aleksandra Kubat

Wang's book provides an accessible, historically well-informed and methodologicallywell-constructed account of an important phenomenon of Chinese history.

Asian Politics and Policy - Julia Dinh T.H.L.

...a must-read for those who are interested in Chinese power politics and strategic culture.

Journal of Chinese Political Science - Gregory J. Moore

Yuan-kang Wang's Harmony and War is the most important and well-conceived application of structural realist theory to Chinese foreign policy (past and present) to date.

Choice

a necessary read for those concerned with the issue of cultural versus strategic realism and Chinese strategic culture....highly recommended.

China Quarterly
Wang's book provides an accessible, historically well-informed and methodologicallywell-constructed account of an important phenomenon of Chinese history.

— Aleksandra Kubat

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231151405
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
12/15/2010
Series:
Contemporary Asia in the World Series
Pages:
328
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Warren I. Cohen

Harmony and War does an excellent job of using Chinese history, especially Song and Ming Dynasty documents, to measure the affect of structural realism on Chinese foreign policy. An important book—along the lines of Iain Johnston's Cultural Realism.

Victoria Tin-bor Hui

Yuan-kang Wang offers a powerful test of strategic culture versus structural realism in the contexts of Song and Ming China, meticulously weaving together international relations theories and Chinese history. The result is a must read for any student of international relations and Chinese foreign policy.

Avery Goldstein

Yuan-kang Wang's theoretically informed and historically rich study of Chinese strategic behavior is a major contribution to answering one of the central questions of the twenty-first century: How might China's growing strength shape its role on the world stage? Wang boldly challenges explanations that emphasize the distinctiveness of China's traditional culture as the source of its international behavior. His book is sure to encourage important and necessary debates about the adequacy of our beliefs about China as a great power, both during its Imperial past and its current renaissance.

Richard C. Bush

China assures its neighbors that its rise will be peaceful, in part because Chinese have a cultural allergy to aggression. Those who would like to take such promises seriously should read Harmony and War, Yuan-kang Wang's outstanding account of Chinese national security strategy in the Song and Ming dynasties. He finds that it was the degree of external danger and not Confucian culture that motivated Imperial leaders, and that they pursued harmony when China was relatively weak but engaged in war when it was stronger. There may be a contemporary lesson lurking in there.

Meet the Author

Yuan-kang Wang is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Western Michigan University. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago and has received fellowships from Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Brookings Institution's Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies.

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