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Cultural Realism

3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691029962
ISBN-10: 0691029962
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Editorial Reviews


"If Johnston's analysis of China's strategic culture is correct--and I believe that it is--generational change will not guarantee a kinder, gentler China."--Warren I. Cohen, The Atlantic Monthly

"[Cultural Realism] contends that the Chinese are no less concerned with the use of military power than any other civilization--a point that scholars have traditionally disputed because, as Johnston demonstrates, they misread the Chinese classics."--Roderick MacFarquhar, Lingua Franca

"Johnston is correct that many actual Chinese uses of force look far more like 'realism' than many Sinologists have realized. His stress on the 'realist' thread in the classics is likewise very illuminating."--Arthur Waldron, The New Republic

"The beauty of this book is the clarity and precision of the argument.... We need the intellectual challenge of such social science research on ancient and imperial China."--Joseph W. Eshrick, Journal of Asian Studies

About the Author

Alastair Iain Johnston is Assistant Professor of Government and teaches Chinese foreign policy and international relations at Harvard University.


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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Studies in International History and Politics
  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (October 2, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691029962
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691029962
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #629,302 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Geoff on July 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
While admittedly not a formal scholar of Chinese history, I was drawn to read this book by a lifelong interest and association with China, and found it quite interesting and well-argued, if somewhat technical.
The book argues that a textual analysis of older Chinese literature, using the "Seven Military Classics" (historically important Chinese military texts), leads to the conclusion that the Chinese have essentially two distinct mentalities regarding the use of violence. On the one hand is the traditional view -- here termed the Confucian-Mencian view -- of a cultural aversity to the use of force. Johnston claims that this view, while perhaps a valid perspective in Chinese history, is nevertheless exaggerated in the face of actual historical evidence.
Johnston, a professor at Harvard, makes extensive citations of previous research, and his arguments are generally speaking, logically well-structured. He is very careful to draw conclusions on the basis of evidence he has previously provided in a step-by-step, almost connect the dots manner.
My only criticisms relate to two factors: First, some of the language used seems somewhat overblown. I understand that this is an academic text, and I am not taking issue with the necessary complications that such texts entail. However, on a whole the work is somewhat difficult to read, sometimes unnecessarily. I was stopped on several instances by words which had simply been fabricated, more complex versions of already pre-existing and less obscure terminology.
My last point is admittedly a somewhat weak one, since I do not have the exposure to purely academic work with which Johnston assumes familiarity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dani K. Nedal on May 27, 2008
Format: Paperback
Johnston's presentation of a thorough research is clear and precise. It is a great acquisition for those who are interested in Chinese history and strategic culture, but also for those who work with strategic culture writ large.
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7 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Glenn Jackson on June 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I set about several years ago to improve my understanding of China. I have previously submitted reviews with China as subject, "The Coming Conflict with China" and "Year of the Rat: How Bill Clinton Compromised U.S. Security for Chinese Cash". I will soon add a review of " Betrayal: How the Clinton Administration Undermined American Security " by Bill Gertz. However, "Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History" is perhaps most important for providing that historic foundation of Chinese culture that makes these other books immensely more understandable and frightening in the light they shed.
Cultures do not change dramatically over time, especially a culture as old as is China's. One of the widely held beliefs about Chinese culture is that in it's strategic thinking; how to handle conflicts with other nation-states, the use of force, and the nature of the enemy, China has been largely passive and defensive. Not so contends Johnston. By a systematic and painstaking review of the "Seven Military Classics", a compilation of the military writings of ancient China, Johnston satisfactory demonstrates the realpolitik found in Chinese thinking. A set of operational strategic maxims that "argues that the best way of dealing with security threats is to eliminate them through the use of Force". This of course based on gaining the abilities and upper hand to do so.
Taken as a whole this book argues for a reassessment of the Western world's view of China as something of a gentle giant. Far from being gentle, this book argues for a China ready to use force to protect it's national interest. And a certain sensitivity to what may be constituted as a threat to national interest.
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