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).

In the history of world politics, great powers have often deployed military forces across borders to influence outcomes in countries on their periphery. Yet China has rarely intervened militarily in Korea, and some were at the request of Korea, not against it. Why has China not tried to use force against Korea more frequently throughout history despite its superior military power? More puzzlingly, at times of great power competition over the Korean peninsula, why has China sometimes considered but decided against military intervention even in the face of external threats to itself? This project examines all of China’s military interventions in Korea in history and demonstrates that a definitive logic informed by geography exists in Chinese security policy making vis-à-vis the two Koreas. It argues that it was not just balance of power politics that affected Chinese intervention decisions. But, it mattered what Chinese policymakers believed who Korea was to them—a country whose identity was distinct from China that existed on its own. The book offers policy relevant insights for thinking about the future of geopolitics surrounding the Korean peninsula, such as China’s attitude toward the U.S.- South Korea alliance, China’s position toward Korean unification, and its approach toward North Korean nuclear and missile threats.