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Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750 Hardcover – August 28, 2012

3.8 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


John Pomfret, Washington Post
“[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…. [He shows] that the foreigners’ story in China is not the monochromatic account of malevolent imperialism that has dominated the discourse in U.S. universities but a much richer and more important tale. The brilliance of Restless Empire is that while acknowledging the threat to China inherent in its contacts with the West and Japan, Westad also shows that they inspired and amazed the Chinese and played the critical role in the opening of the Chinese mind.”

Financial Times
Restless Empire is a fascinating book and a pleasure to read. As well as providing a historical framework for understanding the behavior of modern China, it is full of interesting details and insights…. Amid the anecdotes and the broad historical narrative, Westad also offers pointed reassessments of particular episodes in Chinese history…. Another interesting angle to Restless Empire is its emphasis on the ambiguous impact of China’s collision with imperialism…. The restless reader may want to know what all this history tells us about the modern day. Westad places current developments in an interesting historical perspective.”

The Guardian, Best History Books of 2012
“[A] fine example…of the way history can begin to make sense of [China] for an outsider.”

Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books
“A Sinologist who has written widely and lucidly on the cold war, Westad’s Restless Empire is a rich history of the past 250 years of Chinese foreign policy.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A revisionist attempt to break up tomes of statecraft and statesmen into histories of missionaries, businessmen, coolies, revolutionaries and scholars. Restless Empire is a personal, anecdotal and humanistic approach to history that uses the single common thread of China's turbulent past to tie 250 years of history together—her people.... Westad is foremost a good storyteller, the most important qualification of a good historian.… Compelling stuff.”

Sunday Telegraph
“Westad starts with an important piece of mythbusting, arguing strongly against the idea that China has been an inward-looking society closed to the rest of the world…. Westad is particularly acute on the Cold War period, using impressive documentation to argue that China’s relationship to the rest of East Asia was not just communist, but Confucian in the ties that Mao nurtured with his ideological ‘younger brothers’ such as Kim Il-sung and Ho Chi Minh…. [Westad] makes[s] poignantly clear the obstacles to China becoming a global leader.”

“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…. I’m unaware of any other work of this chronological sweep that replaces the old ‘Western impact on China’ treatises so well with the findings of modern scholarship.”

Literary Review
“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.”

Vancouver Sun
“[A] timely new book…. Westad takes us on a fast but sure-footed…gallop over the heavy ground of China’s relations with the outside world since the beginning of the serious incursions by foreign powers, especially the British…. Westad has produced an entertaining, fulsome and useful addition to the deluge of literature on China.”

Charleston Post & Courier
“Understanding China’s cultural, commercial and diplomatic relationships to the U.S. and the rest of the world is an important task. That’s why this book is so useful. For China, perhaps more than any other country, understanding its past is key to understanding its present and future.... Westad constructs his narrative from sources that include other scholarship, personal anecdotes and primary research, but with an accessible style. Restless Empire is a great example of macro-history written for the general reader.”

Global Asia
“[Restless Empire] is a richly detailed, elegant meditation on China’s search to define its role in the world, and answer that elemental question: What is China?... Westad masterfully relates China’s vertiginous 19th-century decline, restless 20th-century experimenting with modernity and its dizzying resurgence today…. A learned history.”

Library Journal
“[A] nuanced interpretation of the history of China’s foreign relations…. This is essential reading for students of modern Chinese history and for those interested in China’s growing role in world affairs. Westad’s ability to lucidly explain a complex subject makes this an excellent introduction.”

Stephen R. Platt, author of Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom
“Odd Arne Westad’s Restless Empire is 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.”

Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans and co-author of Mao: The Unknown Story
“Written by one of the most distinguished scholars on China, this book brings clarity and insight into complex historical issues.”

Jonathan Spence, author of The Search for Modern China
“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.”

Frank Dikotter, author of Mao’s Great Famine
“An essential guide to modern China’s often violent encounter with the rest of the world.”

Kirkus Reviews
“An astute, succinct study of modern China emphasizing overarching themes like hybrid identity and foreign influence rather than nationalism and centrality…. A fresh look at a confounding nation the West has not yet figured out.”

Publishers Weekly
“[A] savvy history…. 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.”

Booklist, starred review“A superb story of China’s historically ‘schizophrenic’ relationship with the outside world…. [A] compelling, expansive account. Westad has provided readers with both a remarkable and timely glimpse behind the curtain that is required reading for anyone interested in Chinese political history and economic development and the future of China’s position in the international community."

Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order“Understanding China is the most important question facing the world. Arne Westad has written a really excellent book which represents a very important building block in this task – the relationship between China and the world since 1750. Highly accessible, insightful, full of good sense and wise judgment, and, as one would expect, extremely well-informed, it deserves to be both influential and widely read.”

About the Author

Odd Arne 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. Author or editor of eleven books, including The Global Cold War, which won the Bancroft Prize, the Harrington Award, and the Akira Iriye International History Award, Westad lives in Cambridge, England.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (August 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465019331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465019335
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #367,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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