Haunted by Chaos: China's Grand Strategy from Mao Zedong to XI Jinping



An American Interest Top Book of the Year

"Khan has unraveled the mystery of Chinese grand strategy, showing why insecurity lies at the root of Chinese power projection... Readers will not find a shrewder analysis as to why the Chinese act as they do."
--Robert D. Kaplan, author of The Revenge of Geography

Before the Chinese Communist Party came to power, China lay broken and fragmented. Today it is a force on the global stage, and yet its leaders have continued to be haunted by the past. Drawing on an array of sources, Sulmaan Wasif Khan chronicles the grand strategies that have sought not only to protect China from aggression but also to ensure it would never again experience the powerlessness of the late Qing and Republican eras.

The dramatic variations in China's modern history have obscured the commonality of purpose that binds the country's leaders. Analyzing the calculus behind their decision making, Khan explores how they wove diplomatic, military, and economic power together to keep a fragile country safe in a world they saw as hostile. Dangerous and shrewd, Mao Zedong made China whole and succeeded in keeping it so, while the caustic, impatient Deng Xiaoping dragged China into the modern world. Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao served as cautious custodians of the Deng legacy, but the powerful and deeply insecure Xi Jinping has shown an assertiveness that has raised both fear and hope across the globe.

For all their considerable costs, China's grand strategies have been largely successful. But the country faces great challenges today. Its population is aging, its government is undermined by corruption, its neighbors are arming out of concern over its growing power, and environmental degradation threatens catastrophe. A question Haunted by Chaos raises is whether China's time-tested approach can respond to the looming threats of the twenty-first century.

Product Details

Harvard University Press
Publish Date
July 09, 2018
5.6 X 1.2 X 8.3 inches | 1.1 pounds
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About the Author

Sulmaan Wasif Khan is assistant professor of international history and Chinese foreign relations at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.


An outstanding contribution to our understanding of that most urgent of contemporary geopolitical questions: what does China want? Khan shows that Chinese grand strategy has always been a blend of ideology and pragmatism--sometimes skillful, sometimes careless, but always crucial to understanding global history and politics.--Rana Mitter, author of Forgotten Ally: China's World War II, 1937-1945
Written with verve and insight, this will become the go-to book for anyone interested in the foundations of China's grand strategy under Communist rule.--Odd Arne Westad, author of The Cold War: A World History
Haunted by Chaos is an ambitious and masterful study. In seeking to crack the 'operational code' of successive Chinese leaders, Khan argues that they all have been deeply driven by a profound sense of national insecurity. His book is a useful reminder that for all of China's apparent strengths today, its fragilities and insecurities continue--a paradox worth watching as Beijing becomes a world power.--David Shambaugh, author of China's Future
Khan's brilliant analysis will help policymakers understand the critical rise of China in the twenty-first century. He has written the essential guidebook to the evolution of China's strategy--crucial if we are to avoid conflict with this emerging superpower.--Admiral James Stavridis, U.S. Navy (Ret.), former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO
By emphasizing geography, Khan has unraveled the mystery of Chinese grand strategy, showing why insecurity lies at the root of Chinese power projection. A wise and seasoned book; readers will not find a shrewder analysis as to why the Chinese act as they do.--Robert D. Kaplan, author of The Revenge of Geography
[A] fine survey of Chinese grand strategy.--Richard Aldous"American Interest" (12/28/2018)
An authoritative treatment of Chinese statecraft since Mao Zedong...Given China's outsize presence on the world stage, Khan's insights into the underlying rationale of its leadership will afford his own effort an audience beyond the field of international relations.--Publishers Weekly (07/02/2018)
Useful for decision-makers who might not understand that Beijing's grand strategy is structural and firm and will not be charmed away or pared back by trade deals.--Choice (11/01/2018)
The foreign policy cognoscenti in Washington have spent the past three years in a collective China reckoning, based in part on the presumption that China's foreign policy has radically changed. Kahn argues that since before the People's Republic of China's founding, Chinese rulers have held remarkably consistent objectives, even as their definition of security has expanded.-- (11/29/2019)