The website offers over 200 contributions by more than 100 scholars from over 20 countries stretching across various geopolitical disciplines.
O. Arne Westad is one of the world’s foremost experts on both the Cold War and contemporary East Asian history, having won the Bancroft Prize, the Michael Harrington Award and the Akira Iriye International History Book Award for his seminal book The Global Cold War.
A Professor of International History at the London School of Economics, he is also director of LSE IDEAS, a centre for the study of international affairs, diplomacy and grand strategy. His latest book, "Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750" has been named among the best for 2012 by the Financial Times and The Guardian.
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"Restless Empire" is the first international history of China over the past 250 years. It attempts a China-focused form of history; this is the story of how Chinese have seen their own role’s in international affairs, not only how others have viewed China and the Chinese.
In 1750 the Qing empire was at the height of its power. Since then China has gone through tremendous change economically, socially and politically. The book tries to catch the international implications of these changes in China, stressing not only state dissolution and decline, but also how Chinese have helped form these changes and the opportunities that have arisen from them.
The images Chinese have of their own society are very diverse and sometimes contradictory. One the one hand there is what is sometimes called a ‘victim mentality’ – the sense that China has been exploited in the past and that the Chinese have to be on their guard so that this does not happen again. On the other hand there is an impression that China has indeed risen, and that the country is on its way back to a position of power and prominence internationally.
There has always been uncertainty among Chinese about what China is. Is it first and foremost a culture, in which the written language is the key? Is it all the territory that was conquered by the last dynasty? Or is it, today, something that is developing in the direction of becoming a modern nation state? These questions remain central to the debate in China today, and makes many Chinese concentrate on debating the ‘meaning’ of their identity.
In form, China is an empire rather than a nation state. The borders of this empire has shifted over a very long time. Parts of what is now China has been outside the empire in the past (for instance Tibet and Xinjiang) and some areas now outside China have been within it (for instance Mongolia).
The preoccupation with becoming the central power in the eastern Asian region and the need for a reasonably stable international environment in which to continue its economic growth.
I am preoccupied with two aspects of this heritage: The concentration on its role in eastern Asia as a region and the belief that China has been treated very unjustly by the great powers (Britain, Japan, the United States) since the mid-19th century.
The current conflicts all come out of the past. Many Chinese are furious with Japan simply because it is seen as attempting to replace China from its rightful position as Number 1 within the region. This is less about islands in the East China Sea or even about World War II than one should think. It goes deeper than that.
The big question is whether it can achieve a gradual rise in power within eastern Asia without war with other powers. One fault line which will determine this is whether Chinese nationalism can be kept within bounds. Another related issue is whether the Communist Party will be willing to accept more responsible forms of government before it is too late.
I remain an optimist. China’s main interests are closely connected to some form of collaborative relationship with the United States and to preserving peace within its region. I am hopeful that the rise of China will also mean its taking on of responsible positions in regional and world affairs.
Leonhardt van Efferink, editor of EG, will be convening a Country Risk Analysis Summer School at Maastricht University in July/August:
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