In Restless Empire, award-winning historian Odd Arne Westad presents a history of China's relationship with the rest of the world for the last 250 years. Westad shows that, for most of its recent past, China has been an open society with an unrivalled capacity to reinvent itself. China's permeability has enabled it to compete and engage with other powers, but it has also contributed to the instability that has marked the country for much of its...
In Restless Empire, award-winning historian Odd Arne Westad presents a history of China's relationship with the rest of the world for the last 250 years. Westad shows that, for most of its recent past, China has been an open society with an unrivalled capacity to reinvent itself. China's permeability has enabled it to compete and engage with other powers, but it has also contributed to the instability that has marked the country for much of its recent history-and which will pose a serious challenge in the future.
Westad traces China's history from the Qing Empire in the 18th century to the People's Republic in the 21st, showing how the nation's worldview and foreign relations have been determined by both its receptiveness and its resistance to outside influence. Encroachment by foreign, often imperial powers-specifically Western nations and Japan-have only reinforced many of China's traditional mores: inherited notions of justice, hierarchy, cultural obligations, and (perhaps most importantly) a sense of Chinese centrality in world affairs. But Westad also shows that recent historical experiences have left deep imprints on China's psyche: encounters with foreign powers during the Boxer Rebellion, World War II, and the Cold War have left Chinese with a lingering sense of humiliation and resentment, while periods during which China flourished by engaging with the outside world-most notably during the republican period of the 1930s, and from the late 1970s until today-have shown that the country has much to gain from taking a more open stance when dealing with potential international partners. All these factors have produced a pattern of foreign policy that is at once insular and confrontational, insecure and defiant, dismissive and curious-and although China's prevailing mindset has changed from era to era, it has repeatedly proven to have serious implications for other nations in Asia and beyond.
At the dawn of the 21st century, China is positioned at the center of global affairs. The largest and most populous country on earth, China currently boasts the world's second largest economy, and it is often predicted that by 2050 China's economy will have overtaken the United States'. Contemporary China appears to be on a frenzied quest for progress and, some worry, regional dominance-but even though China has experienced remarkable growth over the past twenty-five years, its history indicates that the nation's future may be more complex, and much less certain, than some experts would have us believe. Even as China tentatively engages with the outside world, Westad shows, a new form of Chinese nationalism is rising. Many Chinese are angry about the past injustices they feel they have endured, and afraid that the country is losing its identity and mission to commercialization and foreign influences. Will China's attraction to world society dwindle, or will China continue to engage with other global powers? Will it attempt to recreate a Sino-centric international order in Eastern Asia, or pursue a more harmonious diplomatic route? And can it overcome its lack of democracy and transparency, or are these qualities hard-wired into the Chinese system? Whatever the case, one thing is certain: we ignore Chinese history at our peril.
Tracing China's complex and ever-changing relationship with the outside world from the 18th century up to the present day, Restless Empire is the book for anyone who wants to understand China's past, present, and future relations with the rest of the world.