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Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750
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Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  196 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 528 pages
Published August 28th 2012 by Basic Books (first published January 1st 2012)
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David Dinaburg
Nov 28, 2012 David Dinaburg rated it really liked it
My points of comparison are virtually non-existent, so I may have internalized more of this author’s particularized views of China’s history than is especially beneficial. Succinctly: I swallowed this book en masse; interpreted it as gospel; a template against which all future information will be compared; a touchstone; idealized like a collegiate significant other and polished in memory so that all that can be recalled is smooth, rounded, flawless. I readily admit that I don’t know much about C ...more
Jul 10, 2013 Haplea rated it really liked it
The book is a good and efficient overview of the last 250 years of China history for non-informed people like me, who at best were witness of the last decades of contemporary times. It is never boring, even if not brilliantly told like “Game without rules”, and despite its 500 pages it leaves the reader with a thirst for more details, which is a test of a good story. The book’s structuring in chapters with a main theme like Japan, war, communism, etc., unlikely at first sight to insure a smooth ...more
Beth J
Jan 14, 2014 Beth J rated it liked it
A favourite columnist for the Globe and Mail raved about this book, so I bought and read it. I knew very little about Chinese history before reading it, and I did learn a lot. Having said that, I felt that the author often made what seemed to be broad generalizations without supporting data, drew conclusions that weren't convincingly argued, and left me feeling like I had only a little new insight regarding the past 250 years (and the next 50 or so) of what makes China tick. I had expected a boo ...more
Scott Laws
Feb 03, 2014 Scott Laws rated it really liked it
Westad does a really good job at presenting a coherent history of Chinese civilization. He spends time focused on the hybrid identities and complexities that Chinese history creates rather than focusing solely on the faceless masses of Maoist China. I would definitely recommend this book as an overview of modern Chinese history to those unfamiliar with the topic.
Michael Confoy
May 10, 2014 Michael Confoy rated it it was amazing
The book begins with the Qing Empire in 1750. The Quings where the Manchus from Manchuria who had conquered the Chinese Empire from the Ming Dynasty. Through the Quings, China as a nation had focused around the imperial dynasty even if the emperor was not actually from the majority Han or even Chinese in the case of the Mongols. The most important thing to draw from this period is the resentment the Chinese had from the Great Powers’ forced concessions in China. Two opium wars with Britain (the ...more
Mar 12, 2015 Matt rated it really liked it
At 500-plus pages, this modern political history of China took some time to get into, but once I did, I really enjoyed Westad's sprawling narrative of China's transformation in the modern era. Restless Empire is intentionally lacking in cultural, geographical or personal descriptions of the people, places and things that define China. Instead, he focuses on 250 years of the politics, wars and interaction with the outside world that have shaped China and made her the economic superpower she is to ...more
Jan 25, 2015 Tobias rated it really liked it
Serviceable history of China's relations with the world since the Qing dynasty but where the book truly shines is not in its accounts of high politics - which has been covered well elsewhere - but in its detailed account of how the outside world has shaped Chinese minds at home and abroad. Oddly enough the closer the book gets to the present day the less interesting it gets. Westad has so much more to add on late Qing and early Republican China than on post-Mao China. He also had a number of puz ...more
Feb 17, 2014 Rj rated it liked it
Westad who is a East Asian scholar tackles the history of China and its relationship with the west to answer questions about China's rising population, military power and political clout. The book tackles not only domestic issues but also international relations and China's tortured relationship with western ideas. Westad tries to contextualize current Chinese policies and ideologies which are often at odds by describing China's history. For anyone interested in this period or Chinese history it ...more
Kevin Vejrup
Dec 18, 2015 Kevin Vejrup rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 30, 2012 VaultOfBooks rated it liked it
By Odd Arne Westad. Grade: B+
Over the past 350 years of momentous change and dramatic upheaval, China has proved itself to be a Restless Empire. Tracing China’s course from the eighteenth-century Qing Dynasty to today’s People’s Republic, Restless Empireshows how the country’s worldview has evolved. It explains how Chinese attitudes have been determined both by receptiveness and resistance to outside influence and presents the preoccupations that have set its foreign-relations agenda.

Restless Em
Marc Baldwin
Mar 01, 2015 Marc Baldwin rated it liked it
I'm not sure why I picked this book to start the new year! It's a long read, and a decent book, but I admit that it was a little slow going for me until I got up to WWI in the history. I didn't necessarily understand a ton of it before that.

I certainly understand more about the way the Chinese, especially the government, think now. I wanted to read this book for precisely that purpose - to understand the communist country that has generally been vilified here in the United States. I also was hop
Robert Gable
Feb 16, 2014 Robert Gable rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent synthesis of 250 years of Chinese history. Although it skips over chronological details e.g. there are only 2 pages on the Communist Long March, the author takes a broad view of what is ultimately important to understanding China's past. I could imagine reading this again to get even more from it.
Peter Mcloughlin
This history of China was the best I have read out of the half dozen books I have seen on the subject. It doesn't get bogged down with dates and solitary events but is more about forces and movements in China that have shaped it in the past 200 years. This makes the book much easier to digest than most treatments of China which get lost in the minutae and miss important aspects of China internal and external development into modernity. I recommend this book highly to some who wants to understan ...more
Jan 12, 2016 Sharon rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Very good overview of history of China's development in relation to all of the surrounding factors not just wars.If helps if you already know some of the chronological history.
Jenna Fisher
Feb 26, 2013 Jenna Fisher rated it really liked it
Restless Empire was a solid read. Informative, comprehensive, analytical and thankfully absent long-winded wonk. At times the author jumps around in a non chronological fashion, which took some getting used to. But overall I'd definitely recommend it to anyone looking to more deeply understand the vast history and culture of China.

Obviously tackling a subject as vast as "China since 1750" is a herculean task, so this book - though 469 pages - cannot but attempt to brush stroke details. This mea
Apr 19, 2015 Annie rated it really liked it
This is a comprehensive and objective book about China's last 250 years. The author offers an analysis of US-China relations that highlights the countries' similarities rather than differences, which I thought was interesting. I also appreciated the many first person and primary source quotes. The book is very well researched. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in a deep understand of China's history and political and economic operations. The book does go into a lot of d ...more
Julian Haigh
Jul 11, 2014 Julian Haigh rated it liked it
Decent book for an introduction to China's foreign relations. As most history books go, it gets weaker the closer to the present it gets. The most important appreciation I received is that Mao really doesn't have the central place in China that we, in the West, and Chinese lip-service suggest. There is a great appreciation of history in China and it makes it a relatively conservative place. China has worked and been (one) the center of the world for 2000 years. There is a reason to expect this t ...more
Michael Greenwell
Jul 11, 2013 Michael Greenwell rated it really liked it
I found this book thoroughly illuminating, the historical disenfranchisement of China puts their current foreign policy in a satisfying and comprehensible context. I also found the careful distinctions made between the people of China and their leadership very helpful, they often blend into one another but discrepancies and causes provides crucial perspective for understanding the reasons behind both past and future decisions and reactions. This overview has provoked further interest and I expec ...more
Helpful guide to the blurry, chaotic period between the late Qing and 1949. Its focus on outside relations means it skimps on details for the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap and various other things you usually read a lot about in recent histories of China. Very helpful resource, but should not be used alone. Repeats a little, but not excessively.

*Sore point: no need to use pinyin on Taiwanese city names. I feel like that's an asshole copy editor move.
May 31, 2015 Phana added it
I like Odd Arne! He doesn't hesitate to tell you what to think! Of course, this may not be to every readers liking. The sack of Peking is a story that needs to be better known in the west. This pillage must be uppermost on every mainlanders mind when talking with a Westerner. How could it be otherwise?
I'll cut to the summary... the future of China? He sees no reason that it should be any less tumultuous than the last 100 years. Hold on world!
Oct 24, 2015 Emilie rated it really liked it
This book was part of the reading list for a class. I was very impressed with the amount of information contained, however, it is still a lot of history to condense into so many pages, so inevitably at times it felt lacking. I had no major problems with the book until the last chapter when Westad proffers several predictions and interpretations for the future which we didn't agree with.
Aug 17, 2015 Ben rated it really liked it
Shelves: bos-history
Thematic overview of China's international history. Westad cites justice, rules, and centrality as key precepts when looking at China's foreign policy at any time. He also believes that one of China's strengths is its ability to internalize worldview developed elsewhere and to create fluid/hybrid social identities.
Gerhard Greyvensteyn
Fascinating insight, lots to digest. Very dry and humourless presentation of the facts, though.
Joseph Roger
Nov 28, 2012 Joseph Roger rated it really liked it
Very informative book, one I highly recommend — especially given China's increasingly important role in global affairs. My only criticism is that the author's writing style is at times inelegant or at the very least unclear. Nonetheless, a book everyone should read.
Dana Kraft
May 29, 2013 Dana Kraft rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this one for sure. A nice introduction to Chinese and SE Asian history that helps frame much of what is happening there today without taking sides or getting political. That's exactly what I hope to get out of books like this.
Philip Shishkin
Mar 14, 2013 Philip Shishkin rated it really liked it
This is a highly readable account of China's relations with foreign countries, near and far, over the past three centuries. It's essential reading for anyone trying to understand China's foreign policy today
Dude-von Dudenstein
Mar 06, 2015 Dude-von Dudenstein rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
really well written collection of facts. Author has maintained a neutral enough tone despite being so close to the matter. Probably the best written piece on China up till now.
Mar 27, 2013 !Tæmbuŝu marked it as to-read
Jay Liebowitz
Nov 11, 2012 Jay Liebowitz rated it liked it
A little winded and peripatetic at times but thoroughly researched and interesting
Jeffrey Cavanaugh
Oct 28, 2012 Jeffrey Cavanaugh rated it really liked it
A rather good popular history of China's relations with the outside world since 1800.
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Odd Arne Westad, FBA, is a Norwegian historian specializing in the Cold War and contemporary East Asian history. He is currently the ST Lee Professor of US-Asia Relations at Harvard University, teaching in the John F. Kennedy School of Government.
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