By: John W. Garver, Georgia Tech professor of international affairs
Reviewer: Nancy Hollister
The most remarkable nonfiction book I read this year was China’s Quest: The History of the Foreign Relations of the People’s Republic of China by John W. Garver, a life-long China scholar and Georgia Tech professor whose knowledge of the Chinese language and vast research background on the country primed him to write this astoundingly ambitious work, the first to trace the history of China’s complex foreign relations since the Communist regime took power in 1949.
While an 850-plus page book may at first appear daunting, actually more than 60 pages are endnotes that give credit to many scholars and their research. With these pushed to the back, the book is very readable, despite the fact that Dr. Garver doesn’t shy away from complex issues.
Dr. Garver identifies three distinct time periods: 1949-1978 Mao Zedong’s destruction of capitalism and the establishment of Chinese communism; 1979-1989 where Deng Xiaoping established a new course—“opening and reform”—which led to improved conditions for the people and rapid economic development of the country; and the third stage 1990-2015 with internal uprisings, as well as the democratic movement and collapse of Communism throughout the world, which led to the Chinese responses of patriotism indoctrination domestically and an assertive foreign policy posture abroad.
Dr. Garver has noted several domestic drivers of foreign affairs in China over time—foremost being the communist regime survival. This is especially apparent as he highlights the conflicts and periods of cooperation with five countries: the U.S., the Soviet Union/Russia, Japan, India and Iran. All throughout, Dr. Garver maintains a consistently objective stance and yet at the same time provides hard evidence which may support his own views.
This is a “must-read” book for all those interested in China, especially given the country’s increasingly prominent role in global affairs and the seeds of regional conflict sprouting in Asia.
See an interview with Dr. Garver at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations here:
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