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The Mind of Empire

China's History and Modern Foreign Relations

Christopher Ford

Publication Year: 2010

With an economy and population that dwarf most industrialized nations, China is emerging as a twenty-first-century global superpower. Even though China is an international leader in modern business and technology, its ancient history exerts a powerful force on its foreign policy. In The Mind of Empire: China’s History and Modern Foreign Relations, Christopher A. Ford expertly traces China’s self-image and its role in the world order from the age of Confucius to today. Ford argues that despite its exposure to and experience of the modern world, China is still strongly influenced by a hierarchical view of political order and is only comfortable with foreign relationships that reinforce its self-perception of political and moral supremacy. Recounting how this attitude has clashed with the Western notion of separate and coequal state sovereignty, Ford speculates—and offers a warning—about how China’s legacy will continue to shape its foreign relations. Ford examines major themes in China’s conception of domestic and global political order, sketches key historical precedents, compares Chinese ideas to the tradition of Western international law, and outlines the remarkable continuity of China’s Sinocentrism. Artfully weaving historical, philosophical, religious, and cultural analysis into a cohesive study of the Chinese worldview and explaining its relevance, Ford offers a unique perspective of modern China.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Asia in the New Millennium

Front Cover

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Title Page

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p. 5-5


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pp. xi-xii

This book is more of an interpretive essay on concepts and themes that, in my view, recur in fascinating and significant ways throughout the millennia of Chinese history than it is a “history” of China or Chinese relations with the rest of the world. It is certainly not a work written by a professional historian, being instead the work product of someone whose scholarly...

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pp. 1-6

This book grew out of the curiosity sparked by my encounter with the Analects of Confucius, an encounter that engendered particular interest by virtue of the similarities—and yet striking differences—it suggested between the lives of the great Chinese sage and Hugo Grotius, the Dutchman who for some time in European history was declared to be the father ...

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1. An Emergent China and the Weight of History

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pp. 7-18

For many years, as Thomas Kane and Lawrence Serewicz have wryly suggested, China has been “famous for its potential to be an important global actor.”1 Napoléon Bonaparte famously referred to China as a “sleeping giant” that, if awakened, would “shake the world,” but it is only in comparatively recent years that the world’s most populous country has shown ...

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2. History Lessons

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pp. 19-28

A cultural outsider studying Chinese history might be struck by the early emergence and persistence of particular themes in that ancient kingdom’s notions and practice of statecraft —some of which may have no small relevance today, particularly in a culture so devoted to finding in ancient practice the keys to contemporary legitimacy and understanding. Among ...

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3. Confucian Conceptions of Order

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pp. 29-38

Kongzi (K’ung Fu-tzu, or Master K’ung) was a scholar from a minor aristocratic family who lived from about 551 to 479 B.C.E., during the early Warring States period. A relatively low-level official in the state of Lu (Lû), he is said to have obtained positions during his lifetime no higher than that of keeper of the state granaries and director of Lu’s pasture lands.1 ...

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4. Power and Order in Other Chinese Traditions

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pp. 39-58

The Taoist (Daoist) tradition in China has its roots deep in that country’s ancient yin-yang philosophy of the cyclic interweaving of opposing (but complementary) forces or tendencies inherent in all things. It finds its seminal early text, however, in the Tao te ching, which is said to have been composed by a contemporary of Confucius’s in the sixth century ...

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5. Western Assumptions about International Order

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pp. 59-78

Before we look further at how Chinese concepts of global order played out in the world, a pause is in order to point out some interesting parallels—and sharp distinctions—between the geopolitical development of ancient China and the development, in much more recent centuries, of the European nation-states out of whose interrelations grew modern...

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6. Sinic Universalism in Theory and Practice

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pp. 79-88

In the increasingly chaotic and bloody era of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, China in some ways resembled the later European state system and displayed some balance-of-power characteristics. This embryonic balance-of-power system was unstable, however, because its participants lacked the “commitment to legitimacy” and system of ...

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7. The Prehistory of Foreign Engagement

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pp. 89-120

It was hardly preordained that China have a hierarchical, virtue-focused view of the world, with itself inescapably at the center. Nor, though its conceptual and ideological antecedents—as we have seen—have great antiquity, was such an attitude necessarily firmly set in stone before China’s first great unification. Yet, over time, “the absence of any ...

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8. Engagement and Status Conflict

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pp. 121-140

The Macartney, Amherst, and Napier missions helped lay the groundwork for a slow-motion but remarkably explicit ideological and symbolic sparring match, lasting for the duration of the nineteenth century, between two competing norms of international order—each side sensing full well the implications of, and acutely feeling, every perceived nuance of sta-...

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9. Through Formal Equality to Inferiority

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pp. 141-156

Despite its reverses, Sinic universalism did not simply flee the battlefield. To the contrary, even after the repeated military defeats and diplomatic humiliations of the 1842–1860 period, it missed few opportunities to try to reassert itself or at least to preserve some remnants of the preeminence it had earlier enjoyed. For some time, China still seems to have assumed ...

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10. China’s Loss of Its Dependencies

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pp. 157-164

Another trauma affecting China’s self-esteem during the last portion of the nineteenth century was the gradual peeling away of its traditional tributary states, the ceremonial subservience of which had long reinforced its self-perception as being at the very center of the moral and political universe. For so long as it could, China had taken great pains ...

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11. Imperial Denouement

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pp. 165-180

In an imperial system the political legitimacy of which depended on the possession of Confucian virtue as judged by the regime’s success in achieving worldly dominion and domestic harmony, it is, thus, not particularly surprising that the period of the close of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth was marked by two related,...

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12. Intellectual Fermentin the Nationalist Era

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pp. 181-188

Not surprisingly, the headlong collision between European power and mores and traditional modes of thought about China’s place in the world and the nature of global order—coupled with the humiliations for China of military and economic subordination to foreign barbarians who proved shockingly resistant to Sinicization1—produced a good deal of rumination ...

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13. Mao and the Middle Kingdom

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pp. 189-216

The Nationalists’ struggles to come to grips with international diplomacy lost significance with the Kuomintang’s collapse in the civil war that followed the surrender of Japan after the Americans vaporized the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic weapons in 1945. In place of Chiang Kai-shek now stood Mao Zedong and his triumphant Communists, ...

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14. China and the Foreign Other

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pp. 217-234

It has correctly been observed that antiforeign sentiment was an important tool in the efforts of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to reunite and develop China,1 but it is important to stress that antiforeignism was not simply instrumental; it was an important constituent part of the CCP’s political personality and one with roots stretching back beyond ...

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15. Conceptual Currents

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pp. 235-248

Given the overwhelming power that the monist ideal seems to have possessed in Chinese history, it is remarkable how much of the last two millennia China spent in disunity. As Michael Swaine and Ashley Tellis have calculated, China has existed as a unitary and Chinese entity for perhaps only half the entire period since the fall of the Han in 220 C.E. It has ...

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16. China Imagines Its World. . . and Its Future

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pp. 235-248

Analogies to the Warring States period are particularly useful to the Chinese leadership in that they both explain the basic pluralist nature of the modern international system and provide a theoretical explanation for (and justification for resisting) the alleged predatory onslaught of aspiring non-Chinese hegemons such as the former Soviet Union and—more ...


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pp. 283-370


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pp. 371-380

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813173771
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813192635

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Asia in the New Millennium