The best books to understand the origin of the Asian balance of power

The Books I Picked & Why

The Meiji Restoration

By W. G. Beasley

The Meiji Restoration

Why this book?

This book is a deep dive into what makes Japan special. William G. Beasley (1919-2006), a long-time professor at the University of London, was one of his generation’s finest Japanologists. This book highlights the enormous achievements of the Meiji generation, who alone among non-Western leaders, positioned their country to win the game of economic catch-up.


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Modern Chinese Warfare, 1795-1989

By Bruce A. Elleman

Modern Chinese Warfare, 1795-1989

Why this book?

Outsiders do not grasp the frequency let alone the magnitude of the civil and foreign wars that ravaged China well into the Maoist era. Sometimes China was the aggressor and sometimes the victim and, in its many civil wars, the Chinese government was always brutal. Concise chapters describe each conflict.


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Japan and the Wider World: From the Mid-Nineteenth Century to the Present

By Akira Iriye

Japan and the Wider World: From the Mid-Nineteenth Century to the Present

Why this book?

Shakespeare commented that brevity is the soul of wit. No wasted words in this short book that provides a whirlwind tour of Japanese foreign policy from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1980s. Iriye starts with Japan’s emergence as a great power and takes the story through the end of the Cold War.


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Sino-Russian Relations

By Rosemary Ouested

Sino-Russian Relations

Why this book?

Western commentators still try to analyze East Asian politics without reference to Russia as if countries ignore bordering great powers. For this obvious reason, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Russian leaders pay careful attention to each other because they share crucial borders. There are hardly any books on Russia’s pivotal role in Asia and most authors who try read none of the relevant languages. Rosemary Quested packed a lot into her concise book highlighting Russia’s role in the evolution of the Asian balance of power.


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The Cambridge History of China: Volume 10, Late Ch'ing 1800–1911, Part 1

By John K. Fairbank

The Cambridge History of China: Volume 10, Late Ch'ing 1800–1911, Part 1

Why this book?

The Qing dynasty is covered in both volumes 10 and 11 of this wonderful series. Volume 10 contains essays that earlier in my career I would always go back to—not for the riveting prose but for the solid information. John K. Fairbank (1907-1991), the father of U.S. Sinology and longtime professor at Harvard University, invited the finest Sinologists to contribute to these volumes. Pick and choose from among the excellent chapters including: Joseph Fletcher (Inner Asia and Sino-Russian relations), John K. Fairbank (the treaty port system), Philip A. Kuhn (the Taiping Rebellion) in volume 10; and Immanuel C. Y. Hsu (foreign relations), Marius Jansen (Japan and the 1911 Revolution) in volume 11. Beware that the two volumes are very much scholarly works—in both the positive and negative meanings of the word, scholarly.


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