Ge Zhaoguang, an eminent historian of traditional China and a public intellectual, takes on fundamental questions that shape the domestic and international politics of the world's most populous country and its second largest economy. What Is China? offers an insider's account that addresses sensitive problems of Chinese identity and shows how modern scholarship about China--whether conducted in China, East Asia, or the West--has attempted to make sense of the country's shifting territorial boundaries and its diversity of ethnic groups and cultures.
Ge considers, for example, the ancient concept of tianxia
, or All-Under-Heaven, which assigned supremacy to the imperial court and lesser status to officials, citizens, tributary states, and tribal peoples. Does China's government still operate with a belief in divine rule of All-Under-Heaven, or has it taken a different view of other actors, inside and outside its current borders? Responding both to Western theories of the nation-state and to Chinese intellectuals eager to promote "national learning," Ge offers an insightful and erudite account of how China sees its place in the world. As he wrestles with complex historical and cultural forces guiding the inner workings of an often misunderstood nation, Ge also teases out many nuances of China's encounter with the contemporary world, using China's past to explain aspects of its present and to provide insight into various paths the nation might follow as the twenty-first century unfolds.
This book is remarkable. It helps us see how the Chinese see themselves, addressing issues such as China's borders, its relations with its neighbors, and the notion that China and the West are on a collision course. Ge is not defending or attacking anything, but wants to talk to us about where China is with respect to the world, by thinking historically, by relativizing where we all find ourselves now. Sabre-rattlers on all sides, beware.--Timothy Brook, University of British Columbia
Non-Chinese speakers have far too little access to the opinions of Chinese intellectuals today. This book gives an excellent overview of the main issues that lie behind the conundrum of a modern Chinese identity. Ge's voice is one that most definitely needs to be heard by everyone in the West who 'worries about China.'--Mark C. Elliott, Harvard University
This erudite polemic targets the aggressive nationalism that is widespread in China today.--Andrew J. Nathan"Foreign Affairs" (11/01/2018)