Ji-Young Lee, China’s Hegemony: Four Hundred Years of East Asian Domination (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016)

Many have viewed the tribute system as China’s tool for projecting its power and influence in East Asia, treating other actors as passive recipients of Chinese domination. China’s Hegemony sheds new light on this system and shows that the international order of Asia’s past was not as Sinocentric as conventional wisdom suggests.

Throughout the early modern period, Chinese hegemony was accepted, defied, and challenged by its East Asian neighbors at different times, depending on these leaders’ strategies for domestic legitimation among their own populations. This book demonstrates that Chinese hegemony and hierarchy were not just an outcome of China’s military power or Confucian culture but were constructed while interacting with other, less powerful actors’ domestic political needs, especially in conjunction with internal power struggles.

Reviewed in International Organization, H-Diplo/International Security Studies Forum Roundtable, Perspectives on Politics, Journal of Chinese Military History, Survival, Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies, Journal of International and Global Studies, The Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Asian Perspective, The China Review, China Insight, The Diplomat, and Voegelinview.

China’s Hegemony is a jewel of a book. Utterly clear-headed, it deals with a broad swath of history by focusing on carefully selected episodes. Its overall argument is compelling.

Peter J. Katzenstein, Cornell University

Ji-Young Lee, The Great Power Next Door: The Past and Present of Chinese Military Intervention in the Korean Peninsula (under contract with Columbia University Press).

When does China intervene in Korea? Scholars, policymakers, and pundits are so focused on China’s power that they tend to overlook identity and interests. China has not and is not likely to expand in any direction it can like a gas, but rather has certain enduring strategic interests shaped by geography and identity. The Great Power Next Door asks why China has rarely intervened in Korea with the use of force, and how some were at the request of Korea, not against it. This book examines all of China’s military interventions in Korea throughout history and demonstrates that the definitive logic exists in Chinese security policy-making vis-à-vis the Korean Peninsula. Drawing on broad historical patterns, it argues that that it is not balance of power politics that kept China from invading Korea. Instead, it mattered that China saw Korea as legitimate—a country whose identity was distinct from China that existed on its own. Using rich historical and contemporary evidence, the book offers policy-relevant insights for thinking about the US’s Asia strategy and related issues, such as the future of the US-South Korea alliance, Chinese attitudes toward Korean unification, and China’s approach to North Korean nuclear and missile threats.