Timothy Brook analyzes the last eight centuries of China’s relationship with the world in this history that brings together accounts from civil servants, horse traders, spiritual leaders, explorers, pirates, emperors, migrant workers, invaders, visionaries, and traitors—creating a multifaceted portrait of this highly misunderstood nation.
Scattered across the maps and paintings that Brook invokes, his 13 encounters take in pirates, merchants, soldiers, traders, explorers, emperors and spiritual leaders – characters in China’s complex trade, military, spiritual and political relationships down the centuries. Brook unravels the threads of these relationships across a canvas of war, friendship, savage struggles for power, lethal epidemic disease, triumph and calamity. It is a dizzying and exhilarating journey ... China is not the first or the only big state to refuse to obey the rules that it has signed up to, but it offers perhaps the most important challenge to the postwar global order, in particular to the UN system, since its foundation. Understanding how China sees itself and how it justifies its actions is critical to understanding today’s world. Great State offers some compelling lessons for today, and for all our futures.
Mr. Brook...has written a work that is less a history of China than a kaleidoscope of fragmentary images conjured from equally fragmentary historical sources ... The structure of Mr. Brook’s book requires a certain amount of patience from the reader. Great State can meander and take its time; it can follow tangents that don’t always turn up answers. But Mr. Brook is an elegant, thoughtful writer and an engaging and interesting guide, even if it’s not always clear where he is taking us ... an elliptic, allusive book like this one has its place. And Great State is a delight to read ... These sections can be entrancing, and there is something wonderfully dizzying about the image of China that emerges ... Despite appearances, this is not a book about how China’s past shapes its present; it is a book about China’s past. Readers looking for connections to today must find them for themselves.
...excellent ... The power of this book lies partly in the fact that Brook, a professor at the University of British Columbia...does not overstate his case. While he does not seek to claim that China’s current actions are prefigured by the past, an attentive reader cannot fail to notice extraordinary parallels ... His book also recognises that the attitude of the Chinese state toward foreigners is complex and often contradictory. In perhaps his most powerful chapter, Brook sets out a scintillating argument between two senior Ming dynasty officials over whether Jesuit missionaries represented a boon or a bane to the Great State.