China's Quest: The History of the Foreign Relations of the People's Republic of China

In This Review

China's Quest: The History of the Foreign Relations of the People's Republic of China
By John W. Garver
Oxford University Press, 2016
888 pp.
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China’s Quest lives up to the definitive comprehensiveness suggested by its subtitle. This superb, lengthy volume knits together thick descriptions of events in China from 1949 until today into a clear, compelling narrative. In Garver’s telling, all of China’s modern leaders—from Mao Zedong, who was guided by his leftist vision, to Deng Xiaoping, who prioritized market-responsive economic modernization, to Xi Jinping, the current president, who has played great-power politics and built a strongman persona—have steadfastly pursued what they believed to be China’s interests. Each leader saw his country as facing a deep domestic crisis of legitimacy, and their respective foreign policies were primarily attempts to shore up that weakness. But their efforts to legitimize the regime all had fatal flaws, which compelled their successors—or will compel them, in Xi’s case—to reinvent the stories that the party told the people. With each reinvention, Beijing’s external policies changed to fit the new line. But the Communist Party has yet to come up with a convincing rationale for one-party rule that can simultaneously make the Chinese people, China’s neighbors, and the world beyond feel comfortable with China’s rise and also aid domestic stability and material progress. The struggle goes on. As Garver concludes: “There may be further detours.” 

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