What kind of superpower will China be? That’s the question of the 21st century. According to American leaders such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, China will be a rapacious authoritarian nightmare, intent on destroying democracy itself. Beijing, needless to say, doesn’t quite agree.
Fortunately for those of us seeking answers to this question, China was a major power for long stretches of history, and the foreign policies and practices of its great dynasties can offer us insights into how modern Chinese leaders may wield their widening power now and in the future.
Of course, Chinese society today is not the same as it was 100 years ago—let alone 1,000 years. But I’ve long been studying imperial China’s foreign relations, and clear patterns of a consistent worldview emerge that are likely to shape Beijing’s perceptions and projection of power in the modern world.