I recently completed Odd Arne Westad’s Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750. Although it took me a while to read it due to its length (469 pages), I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Here is a brief description of the book from the publisher:
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.
In order to understand the book more, I think it is important to understand the author. Westad is a professor of international history at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He has held visiting fellowships at Cambridge University, Hong Kong University, and New York University and has published several books, including The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times.
I did not take the book as a groundbreaking study of Chinese relations with the world. I took it as a great introduction to Chinese history from 1750 to the present. Although the initial 50 years is a little scant, Westad more than makes up for that paucity in his discussion from 1800 onward.