Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750

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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
…a wonderful book…Westad upends, but ever so politely, a slew of misconceptions about China that have been concocted by his academic predecessors both in the West and in Asia…The brilliance of Restless Empire is that while acknowledging the threat to China inherent in its contacts with the West and Japan, Westad also shows that they inspired and amazed the Chinese and played the critical role in the opening of the Chinese mind.
—John Pomfret
Publishers Weekly
Trauma, antagonism, and stimulating development are the fruit of China’s deeply formative engagement with the world, according to this savvy history. Bancroft Prize–winning historian Westad (The Global Cold War), of the London School of Economics, surveys China’s foreign relations from the 18th-century Qing dynasty’s war in Burma to present-day wrangles over U.S. spy planes, mineral rights in the South China Sea, and the latter-day economic boom that has made nominally Communist China the “champion of free market capitalism.” Much of this period is one of military subjection to rapacious foreign powers, but Westad emphasizes the importance of those experiences in making China modern: Western imperialism, he argues, brought economic development and new ideas about democracy and nationalism; Communist China’s emulation of the Soviet Union boosted the power and activism of the state; China’s post–cold war economic boom is predicated on international trade and investment, and business practices imported from abroad. Against the conventional image of an arrogantly aloof and immovable civilization, the author tells a story—apart from the disastrous xenophobic detour of Maoism—of China’s progressive attunement and adaptation to foreign influences. Westad manages to compress a vast and complex history into a well-paced narrative that helps readers understand China’s growing centrality in international affairs. 6 maps. Agent: Peter Robinson, Robinson Literary Agency. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
John Pomfret, Washington Post
“[A] wonderful book…. Westad upends, but ever so politely, a slew of misconceptions about China that have been concocted by his academic predecessors both in the West and in Asia…. [He shows] that the foreigners’ story in China is not the monochromatic account of malevolent imperialism that has dominated the discourse in U.S. universities but a much richer and more important tale. The brilliance of Restless Empire is that while acknowledging the threat to China inherent in its contacts with the West and Japan, Westad also shows that they inspired and amazed the Chinese and played the critical role in the opening of the Chinese mind.”

Financial Times
Restless Empire is a fascinating book and a pleasure to read. As well as providing a historical framework for understanding the behavior of modern China, it is full of interesting details and insights…. Amid the anecdotes and the broad historical narrative, Westad also offers pointed reassessments of particular episodes in Chinese history…. Another interesting angle to Restless Empire is its emphasis on the ambiguous impact of China’s collision with imperialism…. The restless reader may want to know what all this history tells us about the modern day. Westad places current developments in an interesting historical perspective.”

The Guardian, Best History Books of 2012
“[A] fine example…of the way history can begin to make sense of [China] for an outsider.”

Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books
“A Sinologist who has written widely and lucidly on the cold war, Westad’s Restless Empire is a rich history of the past 250 years of Chinese foreign policy.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A revisionist attempt to break up tomes of statecraft and statesmen into histories of missionaries, businessmen, coolies, revolutionaries and scholars. Restless Empire is a personal, anecdotal and humanistic approach to history that uses the single common thread of China's turbulent past to tie 250 years of history together—her people.... Westad is foremost a good storyteller, the most important qualification of a good historian.… Compelling stuff.”

Sunday Telegraph
“Westad starts with an important piece of mythbusting, arguing strongly against the idea that China has been an inward-looking society closed to the rest of the world…. Westad is particularly acute on the Cold War period, using impressive documentation to argue that China’s relationship to the rest of East Asia was not just communist, but Confucian in the ties that Mao nurtured with his ideological ‘younger brothers’ such as Kim Il-sung and Ho Chi Minh…. [Westad] makes[s] poignantly clear the obstacles to China becoming a global leader.”

Commonweal
“Westad’s clear account is extraordinarily useful, both for the context in which he puts it and for the use he makes of recent scholarship…. I’m unaware of any other work of this chronological sweep that replaces the old ‘Western impact on China’ treatises so well with the findings of modern scholarship.”

Literary Review
“A lucid and engaging book…. This fine survey is the best guide to appear yet on the knotty entanglements of China’s pasts and futures.”

Vancouver Sun
“[A] timely new book…. Westad takes us on a fast but sure-footed…gallop over the heavy ground of China’s relations with the outside world since the beginning of the serious incursions by foreign powers, especially the British…. Westad has produced an entertaining, fulsome and useful addition to the deluge of literature on China.”

Charleston Post & Courier
“Understanding China’s cultural, commercial and diplomatic relationships to the U.S. and the rest of the world is an important task. That’s why this book is so useful. For China, perhaps more than any other country, understanding its past is key to understanding its present and future.... Westad constructs his narrative from sources that include other scholarship, personal anecdotes and primary research, but with an accessible style. Restless Empire is a great example of macro-history written for the general reader.”

Global Asia
“[Restless Empire] is a richly detailed, elegant meditation on China’s search to define its role in the world, and answer that elemental question: What is China?... Westad masterfully relates China’s vertiginous 19th-century decline, restless 20th-century experimenting with modernity and its dizzying resurgence today…. A learned history.”

Library Journal
“[A] nuanced interpretation of the history of China’s foreign relations…. This is essential reading for students of modern Chinese history and for those interested in China’s growing role in world affairs. Westad’s ability to lucidly explain a complex subject makes this an excellent introduction.”

Stephen R. Platt, author of Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom
“Odd Arne Westad’s Restless Empire is an authoritative and lucid history of China’s foreign relations from the peak of the Qing dynasty in the eighteenth century to the present day. Anyone seeking to understand the role China may play in our future world should start with this book.”

Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans and co-author of Mao: The Unknown Story
“Written by one of the most distinguished scholars on China, this book brings clarity and insight into complex historical issues.”

Jonathan Spence, author of The Search for Modern China
“Westad’s Restless Empire is thorough, fast-moving, and consistently clear. It gives an excellent introduction to the vagaries of China’s foreign relations over the last 250 years.”

Frank Dikotter, author of Mao’s Great Famine
“An essential guide to modern China’s often violent encounter with the rest of the world.”

Kirkus Reviews
“An astute, succinct study of modern China emphasizing overarching themes like hybrid identity and foreign influence rather than nationalism and centrality…. A fresh look at a confounding nation the West has not yet figured out.”

Publishers Weekly
“[A] savvy history…. Westad manages to compress a vast and complex history into a well-paced narrative that helps readers understand China’s growing centrality in international affairs.”

Booklist, starred review“A superb story of China’s historically ‘schizophrenic’ relationship with the outside world…. [A] compelling, expansive account. Westad has provided readers with both a remarkable and timely glimpse behind the curtain that is required reading for anyone interested in Chinese political history and economic development and the future of China’s position in the international community."

Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order“Understanding China is the most important question facing the world. Arne Westad has written a really excellent book which represents a very important building block in this task – the relationship between China and the world since 1750. Highly accessible, insightful, full of good sense and wise judgment, and, as one would expect, extremely well-informed, it deserves to be both influential and widely read.”

Library Journal
During the past 250 years China has moved from the center of the world stage to abject isolation and back again, largely due to foreign pressures and influences. Westad (international history, London Sch. of Economics & Political Science; The Global Cold War) provides a nuanced interpretation of the history of China's foreign relations. Readers will find a thorough examination of how foreign encounters affected various segments of Chinese society and a description of intergovernmental exchanges. The book concludes with predictions of how China's foreign relations will unfold in the near future. VERDICT This is essential reading for students of modern Chinese history and for those interested in China's growing role in world affairs. Westad's ability to lucidly explain a complex subject makes this an excellent introduction. For a more comprehensive analysis of Chinese history covering roughly the same era, see Jonathan D. Spence's The Search for Modern China.—Joshua Wallace, South Texas Coll. Lib., McAllen
Kirkus Reviews
An astute, succinct study of modern China emphasizing overarching themes like hybrid identity and foreign influence rather than nationalism and centrality. In presenting this complex portrait of a fast-changing, multiethnic empire as it collided head-on with modern currents, Westad (International History/London School of Economics; The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times, 2005, etc.) takes a thematic approach, following a dozen currents including the effects of imperialism and the relationship with Japan. The orientation of China's empire for millennia was toward the Yellow River and the east, with fluid borders, numerous tributary states and a sense of centrality dictated by Confucian ideals. Since 1636, the Qing, a conquering outsider tribe, consolidated rule by expanding outward, even by genocidal means. Qing rule would steadily be chipped away during the 19th century, due to subsequent ineffectual leadership and disastrous interventions in Burma and Vietnam, uneven growth while Europe began undergoing technological expansion, and a shifting trade with Russia and England. The aggressive arrogance demonstrated by Britain during the Opium War and the concessions wrung by the treaty underscored Qing impotence, emphasized Westerners' contempt for Chinese traditions, and sowed internal dissent. Westad employs this theme of foreign intervention all the way through Mao Zedong's stringent shutting off of China to the outside world. The author also examines the significance of the global Chinese émigré community, which has played a key role in China's capitalist transformation since 1978. China's relationship with Japan grew mutually suspicious and fearful as Russia and the West moved in, and Japan's aggressive war with China, 1937-1945, wrought unimaginable destruction, as well as renewal and modernization. A fresh look at a confounding nation the West has not yet figured out.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465019335
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 8/28/2012
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 501,425
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Odd Arne Westad is one of the world’s foremost experts on both the Cold War and contemporary East Asian history. A Professor of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), he is also co-director of LSE INEAS, a center for the study of international affairs, diplomacy and grand strategy, and author of the acclaimed The Global Cold War, among many other books. He has held visiting fellowships at Cambridge University, Hong Kong University, and New York University, and has been the recipient of major grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the British Arts and Humanities Research Council. He has served as the international coordinator of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Advisory Group on Declassification and Archival Access and has been awarded the Bernath Lecture Prize from the Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations. Professor Westad lectures widely on China’s foreign affairs, on Western interventions in Africa and Asia, and on foreign policy strategy.
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Table of Contents

A Note on Chinese Pronunciation ix

Empire 1

1 Metamorphosis 19

2 Imperialisms 53

3 Japan 87

4 Republic 123

5 Foreigners 171

6 Abroad 213

7 War 247

8 Communism 285

9 China Alone 333

10 China's America 365

11 China's Asia 405

Modernities 439

Suggestions for Further Reading 471

Acknowledgments 477

Notes 479

Index 501

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