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.


















barbaric. Tales of madcap beliefs, sexual perversions, and cannibalism abounded. “Outer barbarians” smelled bad, dressed inappropriately, and were strange in appearance. In some cases these “wild men” were closer to animals than to humans. For such peoples, the Qing state believed in the ancient saying of “leaving them outside, not inviting them in, not governing or educating them, not recognizing their countries.”2 China’s knowledge of the geographical world increased sharply in the eighteenth

could hardly be more different, both peoples have been primed to accept rapid transformation of their daily lives. The intense drive toward modernity that has motivated both American and Chinese elites may have come about for different reasons—for the Chinese the urgency of reviving the past, for the Americans the necessity of recreating the future. Still, both have a teleological purpose for entering into modernity, and a firm belief that only their country can fully possess it. In 1970, Mao

effeminate and claimed that the spread of opium was a threat to the well-being of the state. The Jiaqing emperor complained in 1813 that “before only city rascals had opium and smoked it in private. But today, attendants, guards and officials, they all take it. This is truly sickening.”7 By the latter half of the 1810s, Beijing began looking for more effective methods for upholding the emperor’s 1796 total ban on opium import.8 But the imperial administration’s new concerns about the effects of

Exegetical Notes, Prolegomena and Copious Indexes, vol. 1 (London: Trubner & co., 1861), 9. 5. But if you do want to study it, Ralph Sawyer’s is by far the best edition on the market: Sun Tzu, The Art of War, 9th ed. (New York: Basic Books, 1994). 6. See Peter C. Perdue, “Strange Parallels across Eurasia,” Social Science History 32, no. 2 (June 1, 2008): 263–279; and Victor Lieberman, “The Qing Dynasty and Its Neighbors: Early Modern China in World History,” Social Science History 32, no. 2

Japanese responded by sending in their own troops, ostensibly for the protection of their citizens. By June 1894 the scene was set for a Sino-Japanese war. At first, both Tokyo and Beijing attempted to avoid an all-out conflict. After landing 7,000 troops, the Japanese tried to get China engaged in setting up a joint commission for the reform of the Korean government. Beijing refused. Many leading Qing officials felt that China had done enough to appease Japan over Korea. They believed that

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