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

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  373 ratings  ·  53 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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Average rating 4.03  · 
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 ·  373 ratings  ·  53 reviews

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Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-history
Westad covers a lot of ground in 500 pages exploring China’s relationship to the world for the last 250 years. He describes the main events but particularly interesting are his descriptions of Chinese culture and how it changes and adapts as its exposure to the West increases. He ends with his thoughts on what this history tells us about China’s future. He focuses on the Chinese point of view. We see the evolution of Chinese thinking about the rest of the world and China’s place in that world. W ...more
David Dinaburg
Oct 17, 2012 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
Sep 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A very good introduction to history of China, mostly focused on its foreign relations but also with good coverage of China's domestic affairs. I think this book should be a role model for introductory history books. Author is not obsessed with telling exact dates and all people involved, instead he is trying to show the bigger picture (turns and twists in political, social, cultural and economical spheres and their interrelation). I didn't always agree with author but it doesn't matter, I learne ...more
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
As the twenty-first century dawns, China stands at a crossroads. What will be its place in the new emerging world? This book offers essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the recent past and probable future of this dynamic and complex nation.

As one of the largest and most populous country and currently the world's biggest economy, China is ready to claim its place in the new emerging world. But as this was not always the case, Odd Arne Westad traces China's past in its foreign affair
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 minutiae and miss important aspects of China internal and external development into modernity. I recommend this book highly to some who wants to understan ...more
Mar 02, 2017 marked it as read-parts-of
Shelves: history, china, nonfiction
I've only just raided the bibliography for research ideas, but this looks like a well-informed and accessible introduction to the history of Chinese interaction with the rest of the world from the late Qing to the modern era. From the parts I've read, I can recommend it.
Apr 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book brilliantly condenses the research of thousands of scholars into a compact guide to China's relationship with the outside world. Moreover, it provides a unique vision of how that history can lead to an understanding of China's ability to adapt in response to the larger world.
This book came out in 2013, yet I found it just as relevant and prescient today (January 2018) as reviewers found it in 2013. Although the author explains at the beginning that this is "a somewhat revisionist take on China's foreign relations" (p. 13), another key argument "has been that even as one should respect the Chinese preoccupation with the past, one should not be daunted by it" (p.439).

I've read more histories of China than I can remember, but Restless Empire wasn't cloying or felt repe
Feb 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very readable, detailed history of China and it's internal and external relations. The pro-Western slant is a bit obvious, but overall it seems fair and full of broad perspectives and relevant detail. A great introduction to the subject.
Mar 04, 2013 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
Shui Kun
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was ok
While I started off this book wary of Western bias, this skepticism gradually wore off (for the most parts). I was treated to a history lesson of events in Qing China leading up to contemporary times, from which much of the Chinese psyche today can be understood. Significant happenings (the Opium wars, World War II, Cultural Revolution) were covered. The dominant theme acknowledged by the author, was oppression and exploitation by foreign imperialists in what became China's Century of Humiliatio ...more
Jul 07, 2013 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
Sep 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, china
Westad has tried to summarise the history of "modern" China (after 1950s), in an attempt to show how the context has shaped the modern Chinese state. I felt that Restless Empire, while interesting in parts, also was frustrating in certain ways.

Firstly, although the book is roughly chronological, Westad has tried to organise the chapters by themes. This has meant that at times there is a bit too much repetition, but at the same time I feel that none of the chapters could stand alone.

Secondly, (al
Jun 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Qing power reached a peak in 1750 where China was the central state of an Asian network. However, internal and external pressure starts creating problems and emperors start losing prestige. This process is slow and culminates in a clash with Western powers that are expanding in Asia just at a time when Qing is weakened. These clashes with the West undermines Qing prestige and revolts like the Taiping cripple the empire.

Western influence sets in motion reforms in Asia. Japan adapts quickly, but C
Gabriel Stein
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting,but risk being overtaken by events

This is an extremely interesting overview of China’s relationship with the rest of the world over the past 250 or so years. However, as with all books of this kind, it risks being overtaken by events. For instance, this book was written while relations with Taiwan and China who are relatively good, something no longer the case. It was also written before the Chinese oppression of its Muslim Uighur citizens intensified. Even so, one should not dismis
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, china
Nice introductory-level book to China's modern history of diplomacy and foreign policies. Good overview of China's role as a regional and international power throughout the past few centuries with high regard of objectivity and consideration of balance between summaries and details, recommended for beginners of Chinese history.
Joseph Raborg
Oct 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very good book on modern China. It is very well written. Some reviewers complained about a lack of detail. For someone like me who had only a vague understanding of China’s history in the modern period, this book is very illuminating.
Mega  Chan
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Read this for my thesis paper. Learned a lot about China's relationship with the west and how the Qing empire came to decline.
Demyan Cherekhovich
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The book is good and thorough, but it is a wee bit tedious to read because of the amount of information crammed in 1 sq.inch of text.
Feb 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: china
Could be a really good textbook for a survey course.
Sep 30, 2012 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
Michael Confoy
Apr 17, 2014 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
Kevin Vejrup
Aug 28, 2015 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Marc Baldwin
Dec 19, 2014 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
Feb 25, 2015 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
Feb 05, 2015 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
Jenna Fisher
Sep 17, 2012 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
Michael Greenwell
Oct 23, 2012 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
Jan 24, 2015 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 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
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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.