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Restless Empire

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This will be one of my summer readings, which will gravitate toward non-fiction. I realize a chronological history of China doesn’t sustain my interest. In the same way, I abandon a general history of Paris for a book on how landscape and urban design transformed the City of Lights. Restless Empire is a welcoming alternative. It tells the story of the foreigners who helped China become what it is today, from China’s first interactions with the West to the current era. In doing so, Odd Arne 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. The Washington Post comments, “Westad’s book goes them one further, showing 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.”

China shows pleasure in being treated as a global player, but shows little sign of knowing what to do with that power other than criticizing the United States. “China has to learn,” Wastad says drily, “that sticking it in the eye of the world’s hyperpower may bring short-term gratification, but it does not amount to a grand strategy in international politics.”

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