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.)
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.
"A rich history of the past 250 years of Chinese foreign policy."Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books
"A fine example...of the way history can begin to make sense of [China] for an outsider."Guardian (UK), Best History Books of 2012
"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."John Pomfret, Washington Post
"A readable introduction to a vast topic, Restless Empire traces the development of modern China and provides context for understanding the country's future place in the world."
New Yorker, Page-Turner blog
"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."Commonweal
"To understand why the map that appears in the Chinese passport has angered diplomats outside China, Odd Arne Westad's perceptive accounts of the
Sino-Indian War of 1962 and of more recent squabbles over islands in the South
China Sea are essential reading"
Times Literary Supplement
"[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."
Literary Review (UK)
"China's relationship with the outside world since 1750 has been varied and complex. Westad explains all."
"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."
Jonathan Spence, author of The Search for Modern China
"Written by one of the most distinguished scholars on China, this book brings clarity and insight into complex historical issues."Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans and co-author of Mao: The Unknown Story
"An essential guide to modern China's often violent encounter with the rest of the world."
Frank Dikotter, author of Mao's Great Famine