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Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750 Hardcover – 6 Sep 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head; 1 edition (6 Sept. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847921973
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847921970
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 4.7 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 135,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Written by one of the most distinguished scholars on China, this book brings clarity and insight into complex historical issues" (Jung Chang)

"Thorough, fast-moving, and consistently clear. Restless Empire 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)

"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" (Stephen R. Platt, author of Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom)

"An essential guide to modern China’s often violent encounter with the rest of the world" (Frank Dikotter, author of 'Mao’s Great Famine')

Book Description

A prizewinning historian and expert on Chinese foreign relations examines China's relationship with the outside world over the last 250 years, showing how the past will set the course for China's future.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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9 of 24 people found the following review helpful By wanderkunstler on 8 Jan. 2013
Format: Hardcover
The author is obviously knowledgeable about international affairs but I am afraid this book is little more than a long series of newscast-type generalities about China's external relations, and does not contain much new information beyond the occasional anecdotal piece (e.g. Barack Obama attended the same school in Honolulu where Sun Yat Sen had been a student a hundred years earlier)or a few paragraphs cited from already published material or official memos. On the basis of my own experience in China and other readings (and movies-don't miss "China: A Century of Revolution"), I agree in the main with the author's general assessment but I mostly felt like I was having a chat with him over coffee instead of poring over several hundred pages of a historical treatise, which the book purports to be. In some instances, the book falls very short of expectations, as when the author states that China has a better historical case with regard to the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, but provides no explanation of why. I also expected lots more about recent developments and future prospects for Hong Kong and the SEZs, Taiwan, relations with Singapore, Chinese diaspora and public diplomacy (Confucius Institutes all over the world- what are they doing?), and current European interests in China. They get little or no coverage. In sum, another example of a book with the word China in the title but very little analysis inside. Honestly, I even wonder whether the author knows Mandarin well. Can you imagine a book about the history of the last 200 of the US by someone who didn't know English?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 17 reviews
66 of 67 people found the following review helpful
A Good Introduction 18 Sept. 2012
By Bernard Kwan - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I have been reading Histories of China (Modern and Ancient) in English since the 1980s and to this day have not found one which is definitive. My personal favorite is Jonathan Spence's The Search for Modern China, elegantly written but has been justly criticized for being light on the 1960s onwards (which is a fair criticism since there wasn't as much material available to the west when the book was published). I found Immanuel Hsu's (Rise of Modern China) brick of a book rather hard going and bogged down for minutiae, but it remains an important textbook even after three decades. Finally Jonathan Fenby's Penguin History of Modern China, is even worse on that front, chock a block full of minor characters and facts but lacking in structure and analysis.

Thus I approached this book with a bit of trepidation and was pleasantly surprised. By taking a international relations perspective Odd Arne Westad has managed to tame his subject matter by cutting through the domestic and social issues and giving us an analysis of how to understand China through its interactions with other states, starting with the strong position of the early Qing dynasty, to weakened interactions with the Imperial powers and finally the deft diplomacy to stay independent and relevant during the cold war period in a world that was forced to divide into a bipolar conflict. This all plays into how it now views its "peaceful rise" and its rightful place in the world.

The language is deliberately pared down and simple to understand, which is perhaps a function of Professor Westad's first language being Norwegian rather than English. This is of a great benefit for those without any background in Chinese history as it is direct and to the point.

Restless Empire avoids the pitfalls of the previous books by avoiding bringing in a host of minor characters to drive the narrative or overwhelming us with interesting trivia, instead it is the state, key personages and institutions that are the major actors in his book leaving the reader with a clear sense and analysis of how the situation evolved. It also avoids another pitfall of being Euro-centric in its analysis with ample space devoted to Japan and the USA. Whereas previous books perhaps overstate the importance of the Taiping Rebellion, Opium War and the Boxer Rebellion (due to the ease of access to primary data available in foreign libraries) these are dealt with quickly in 1-2 pages per topic and are placed in their proper context as important events that contributed to the demise of the Qing but only one part of the chain of causation - the other being the international situation and rivalry with Japan.

I was pleased to see that this book incorporated much of the latest scholarship, including details of how the Qing Empire was not as weak as previously assumed with research showing that during the early 18th century the productivity and standard of living of China compared favorably to any other part of the world and the economy was booming. Indeed Westad's argument is that the Qing Empire, had it not been crucially weakened by internal rebellions and wars had a good chance of catching up to the West on its own terms along the lines of Japan.

There is much trade and economic analysis that reflects the shift in emphasis in historical writing of the last 2 decades, which helps illuminate previously neglected topics such as the relationship of China with other Asian countries as well as the Chinese diaspora and students abroad. A chapter on foreigners is China is also useful in terms of their contribution to the development in bringing Chinese into modernity.

Finally, especially the in the first half of the book, due to focus on international relations and strategy we get a good insight to some of the less well known international players such as the USA, France in Vietnam and Germany (fascinating stuff - besides its model colony in Shandong, Nazi Germany also provided most of Chiang Kai Shek's military advisors up to 1939) and a focus on Taiwan and Okinawa. Taiwan, Okinawa, the Chinese Diaspora all help us place the world of today in a sharper focus and in its rightful historical context.

Again - all in all a very, very good book - especially for a new reader and definitely of a much higher quality than a lot of the dross that you see in the bookshelves as so many authors try to jump on the China bandwagon. (Just because you visited China a few times or lived in China for a couple of years doesn't make you a China expert!). I would definitely recommend this as a great foundational, introductory text.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Restless Empire 22 Aug. 2012
By Igor Biryukov - Published on
Format: Hardcover
We live in times of trouble and I don't mean China's rise. The trouble is: the books are getting too long and there are too many of them. Even so, I urge you to make an exception for this one. Prof. Arne Westad of the LSE wrote a neat book which is accessible without being simplistic and readable without being non-scholarly. I enjoyed it. It is full of valuable information. Like Ariadne's thread he will lead you through the maze of Chinese history. Did he solve the puzzle of China? No, but he outlined what had happened in the past and what most likely to happen in the future. Sometimes I felt that in the final portion of the book he tried to peer into the future too much. As A.J.P. Taylor once said, all history tells us that something will happen, but probably what we do not expect. Still, Arne Westad has a hallmark of a really good historian: he explains the past; neither justifies nor condemns it. He writes with zest, every sentence tingling with life. In short, a warm welcome for a new terrific book by that indefatigable tramper and historian Odd Arne Westad.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Good Overview 18 Nov. 2012
By R. Albin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Aimed at a broad audience, this good book is a combined introduction to modern Chinese history and analysis of the contemporary Chinese state. Starting with a concise overview of the Qing, Wested proceeds chronologically through modern Chinese history, stressing the enormous changes occurring in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. The major theme is China's encounter with Western-Industrial civilization and the consequent changes in Chinese society. Wested takes pains to stress the autonomy and frequent creativity of Chinese responses. Important elements include the gradual penetration of China by the global economy, the importance of overseas Chinese in social and economic change, the underestimated role of the GMD in reconstructing the Chinese state, and the crucial and tremendously destructive role of the Chinese Communist Party under Mao. Strongly interested in international relations, Westad has particularly good discussions of Chinese relations with other nations, highlighting the important and wiidly varying relationships with Japan, the Soviet Union, and the USA. Westad concludes with an interesting and very sensible chapter about the challenges facing the Chinese leadership and China's possible trajectory over the next couple of decades. This analysis is nicely free of much of the recent hysteria about expanding Chinese power and stressing Chinese inter-dependency with the USA. There is a good set of recommendations for further reading.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
No prior knowledge necessary 16 Nov. 2012
By las cosas - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Why is China so sensitive about how it is seen by other countries? Why is China apparently more interested in buying the allegiance of dictators than engaging in diplomacy? Why is China willing to annoy virtually all South East Asian countries in its demands for South China Sea dominance? And is there anything, anything that North Korea could do that would be so nuts that China would publicly rebuke it?

In order to understand these and endless other questions that China poses for westerners, Westad pursuasively argues that it is imperative to understand the outlines of Chinese history and its relationship to the rest of the world since 1750 when the empire reluctantly opens its boarders to non-Chinese. Westad has set himself a huge task which he performs admirably well. The one problem is that the only way to cover such a massive subject to to do so by skimming the surface. Finishing this book I felt that I obtained a good overview of the complexity of China's relationship with other nations and in defining itself. I also appreciated the Suggestions for Further Reading because I was very aware that I didn't really understand any of the issues raised in the book. All require substantially more space than the author was able to provide. But again, and excellent overview.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Valuable non-American perspective, very well-grounded 9 Jun. 2013
By Kindle Customer - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Terrific review of Chinese identity, the formative traumas over two centuries, clearly grounded in deep experience of dialogue and interaction with people in China over several decades. Fascinating facts throughout, many drawn from Asian sources, that are arranged fairly systematically, without falling into the trap of a miscellany. Highly worthwhile read, in view of this Mandarin-speaking diplomat after four years of my own efforts to engage the Middle Kingdom.
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