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The Chinese History of the World

by Michael Schuman

Pub Date: June 9th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-5417-8834-3
Publisher: PublicAffairs

Business journalist Schuman, who has more than 20 years of experience in Asia, takes a big-picture look at the reemergence of China as a leading power.

A superpower projects its influence through numerous vehicles. One is military. More important, though, are economic and cultural influences—e.g., the primacy of the dollar as a unit of international exchange, the dominance of English as a lingua franca. China’s ascent is no surprise: Schuman writes that the nation, “for nearly its entire history,” has commanded all these vehicles. For much of world history, it has been the dominant power in its region, has controlled trade networks extending all the way to Europe, and been a technological innovator. “Recall that when Christopher Columbus sailed into the unknown he was not searching for Mexico, but China,” he adds. Numerous injuries inflicted on a tottering political regime in the 19th century, among them the Opium Wars, brought China under foreign control and reduced its influence, but many Chinese now, under Xi Jinping, believe that the time has arrived to reclaim Chinese hegemony. Schuman offers a lucid crash course in Chinese history and some of its more noted political and economic thinkers, from Confucius to King Wu and Liang Qichao, the last of whom counseled that China would not flourish until its “common people participated in the process of governing.” That has yet to happen, but it is inarguable that since the 1980s, with Deng Xiaoping’s reopening of the nation to international trade—“among the most momentous events of modern times,” Schuman rightly notes—China has become wealthy, and if it still relies on other nations (especially the U.S.) for technological innovations, it is taking an ever larger role on the world stage in a way that it has not for half a millennium: “Xi himself appears a reincarnation of the empire-building emperors of old,” Schuman concludes.

Of considerable interest to students of world trade, geopolitics, and history.