The Mind of Empire: China's History and Modern Foreign Relations

The Mind of Empire: China's History and Modern Foreign Relations

The Mind of Empire: China's History and Modern Foreign Relations

The Mind of Empire: China's History and Modern Foreign Relations


In the last century, no other nation has grown and transformed itself with such zeal as China. With a booming economy, a formidable military, and a rapidly expanding population, China is emerging as a twenty-first-century global superpower. China's prosperity has increased dramatically in the last two decades, propelling the nation to a prominent position in the international community. Yet China's ancient history still informs and shapes its understanding of itself in relation to the world. As a highly developed and modern nation, China is something of a paradox.

Though China is an international leader in modern business and technology, its past remains a source of guiding principles for the nation's foreign policy. In The Mind of Empire: China's History and Modern Foreign Relations, Christopher A. Ford demonstrates how China's historical awareness shapes its objectives and how the resulting national consciousness continues to influence the country's policymaking. Despite its increasing prominence among modern, developed nations, China continues to seek guidance from a past characterized by Confucian notions of hierarchical political order and a "moral geography" that places China at the center of the civilized world.

The Mind of Empire describes how these attitudes have clashed with traditional Western ideals of sovereignty and international law. Ford speculates about how China's legacy may continue to shape its foreign relations and offers a warning about the potential global consequences. He examines major themes in China's conception of domestic and global political order, describes key historical precedents, and outlines the remarkable continuity of China's Sinocentric stance. Expertly synthesizing historical, philosophical, religious, and cultural analysis into a cohesive study of the Chinese worldview, Ford offers revealing insights into modern China.

The Mind of Empire tracks China's astonishing development within the framework of a national ideology that is intrinsically linked to the distant past. Ford's perspective is both pertinent and prescient at a time when China is expanding into new areas of power, both economically and militarily. As China's power and influence continue to grow, its reliance on ancient philosophies and political systems will shape its approach to foreign policy in idiosyncratic and, perhaps, highly problematic ways.


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 background is limited to international relations and the law. Nor is this book one by a professional Sinologist, and, as a newcomer to the field, I have, in deference to my nonmembership in that fraternity, taken pains to provide extensive citations to the works on which I have relied in my research. This work is aimed less at the historian or Sinologist than at the public policy intellectual or the general reader who has an interest in China’s rich history and portentous future and is willing to put up with the sort of elaborate footnoting common to law reviews.

In this regard, a word is in order here about the transliteration of words from Chinese—a language I must admit to neither speaking nor reading. I am aware that several different systems of Chinese romanization have been used during the last century and a half: the modern pinyin established by the Chinese government, a simplified pinyin transliteration, the old Wade-Giles system, and the yet older one adopted by James Legge in his nineteenth-century translations (in which, e.g., the Taoist eminence Zhuang Zi is rendered Kwang-tze). As I have drawn in the preparation of this book from a number of sources using each of these various systems, I have elected in many instances—with the exception of cases in which it seemed expedient, except in direct quotation, to standardize accounts throughout this volume (e.g., the Qin [Ch’in] and Qing [Ch’ing] dynasties and the period of Zhou [Chou] feudalism)—to use the transliteration employed in each source. This will no doubt cause headaches and some confusion for well-read experts and those who know Chinese, but it seemed the safest way to eliminate actual errors on my part. For names of notables such as Kongzi (K’ung-tzu) and Mengzi (Meng-tzu), more-

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