Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Mind of Empire

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

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 416
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Mind of Empire
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7377-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    This book grew out of the curiosity sparked by my encounter with theAnalectsof 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 of modern international law. I had written an article on Grotius that examined his legal writings from the perspective of some of the ethical advocacy traditions of Stoic moralizing out of which I felt his approach had grown.¹ His writings and...

  5. 1 An Emergent China and the Weight of History
    (pp. 7-18)

    For many years, as Thomas Kane and Lawrence Serewicz have wryly suggested, China has been “famous for itspotentialto 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 signs of shaking off the torpor to which he referred and developing more than merely a notorious potential for world power. As China’s economy has begun to modernize—and, with it, its huge but long ill-equipped military machine—outside observers and Chinese...

  6. 2 History Lessons
    (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 these is the recurring theme of Chinese statecraft as an unending cycle of struggles for supremacy within the political universe.

    The earliest kingdom identified in Chinese history was the Xia (Hsia) dynasty, probably a preliterate, neolithic tribal confederacy of some sort in the middle reaches...

  7. 3 Confucian Conceptions of Order
    (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 His impact on the history of Chinese philosophy and politics, however, perhaps eclipses that of any other single human being, and the ethical teachings attributed to him lie today in many respects at the core of...

  8. 4 Power and Order in Other Chinese Traditions
    (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 theTao te ching,which is said to have been composed by a contemporary of Confucius’s in the sixth century b.c.e. by the name of Li Erh, a keeper of the royal archives in the state of Ch’u who is better remembered to history as Lao Zi (Lao-tzu, “Old Master”).¹ Taoism long ago developed into two very different branches: philosophical Taoism...

  9. 5 Western Assumptions about International Order
    (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 international law. The key formative period in China’s history occurred much earlier, but both China and Europe experienced devastating zero-sum warfare during a time of great intellectual, cultural, and religious development, and both regions forged the core concepts of their subsequent approaches to geopolitics during...

  10. 6 Sinic Universalism in Theory and Practice
    (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 “shared values” identified by scholars such as Henry Kissinger as being key to the relative success of the post-Westphalia system¹—values that owe much to legal philosophers such as Grotius. As Alex Wendt has pointed out, international behavior is socially constructed; that is, it is powerfully conditioned by how states identify...

  11. 7 The Prehistory of Foreign Engagement
    (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 rival centre of civilization,” it has been observed, “was a factor which contributed most powerfully to the traditional Chinese view of the world.”¹

    Nevertheless, it was not strictly true that China lacked any such knowledge of separate civilizational greatness. In the year 166 c.e., in...

  12. 8 Engagement and Status Conflict
    (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 status and prerogative insisted on by the other. This book is not the place to rehash old arguments over the true causes of the first Sino-British conflict, now remembered as the Opium War. The Chinese, certainly,¹ and no small number of foreign observers at the time (including the British...

  13. 9 Through Formal Equality to Inferiority
    (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 that there was nothing qualitatively different between its encounter with the Europeans and its many past encounters with powerful barbarian kingdoms.¹ Had not, in fact, crude barbarians on occasion even conquered and ruled China? (Ironically, of course, it was one...

  14. 10 China’s Loss of Its Dependencies
    (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 to preserve these territories’ nominal dependence on imperial benevolence. After the arrival of a Frenchman and a British medical missionary in the dependency of the Liu-ch’iu (Ryukyu) Islands in the 1840s, for instance, Chinese officials had been emphatic that “France and England should not...

  15. 11 Imperial Denouement
    (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, simultaneous, and cataclysmic developments: popular uprisings against encroachments by the Western powers and the Qing dynasty’s perceived loss of the Mandate of Heaven. The settlement forced on China by yet another decisive military defeat at Western hands at the close of the uprising by...

  16. 12 Intellectual Ferment in the Nationalist Era
    (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 about how China should best handle these challenges. China’s cultural legacy was variously seen as an impediment and a secret weapon in this process, but few Chinese thinkers seem to have been able entirely to escape their country’s ancient conceptions of virtue-centric global political order.

    At first,...

  17. 13 Mao and the Middle Kingdom
    (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, who proclaimed their country to be the People’s Republic of China (PRC). A detailed treatment of the PRC’s approach to international relations is beyond the scope of this book, but a discussion of some significant themes in Chinese Communist Party (CCP) thinking is in order. The...

  18. 14 China and the Foreign Other
    (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 the Party’s own establishment in 1921. As Edward Friedman has noted, the CCP came to power seeing itself as “the embodiment of heroic anti-imperialist nationalism” in a “nationalist tale of modern Chinese resistance to foreign marauders … imagined as one with the struggle of...

  19. 15 Conceptual Currents
    (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 indisunity. As Michael Swaine and Ashley Tellis have calculated, China has existed as a unitaryand Chineseentity for perhaps onlyhalfthe entire period since the fall of the Han in 220 c.e. It has been torn by war or invasion—or ruled by non-Chinese invaders—for the remaining half of its history. By one count, China was also involved in 3,790 internal or external wars from 1100 b.c.e. to 1911....

  20. 16 China Imagines Its World … and Its Future
    (pp. 249-282)

    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 recently—the United States. Thus, for example, even regional adversaries such as India in the 1960s or Vietnam in the 1970s could be decried, as would-be “regional hegemons” that needed to be “taught a lesson” in punitive Chinese expeditionary wars.¹

    The Indian invasion of 1962 has been...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 283-370)
  22. Index
    (pp. 371-380)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 381-381)