China calling

David Eimer

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A soldier of the Shan State Army stands guard on the frontline, December 2005. Credit: Nic Nic Dunlop/Panos Dunlop/Panos

CHINA’S ASIAN DREAM: EMPIRE BUILDING ALONG THE NEW SILK ROAD

Tom Miller
Zed Books: 2017

CHINESE IN COLONIAL BURMA: A MIGRANT COMMUNITY IN A MULTIETHNIC STATE
Yi Li
Palgrave Macmillan; 2017

Hindsight is easy. In retrospect, it’s hard not to conclude that Myanmar’s independence from Britain in January 1948 was a case of unlucky timing. Just twenty-one months after the then Union of Burma came into existence, Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. “The Chinese have stood up”, Mao said famously in September 1949. That upward movement was felt almost immediately in Myanmar, and continues to have immense ramifications in the country, as well as across the rest of Asia. 

Just as Myanmar was free of its colonial master, so China had rid itself of the foreign powers that had forcibly established themselves in the country in the nineteenth century. Until 1800, China was an empire to be reckoned with and the dominant power in Asia. Then, the British and French, joined later by the Japanese, conspired to usurp China’s position and in doing so inflicted wounds on the national psyche that have still not healed. 

The founding of the new China in 1949 ended what Chinese history books refer to as the “century of humiliation”. It marks the moment when China began to seek to regain what it regards as its natural place in Asia. As Tom Miller’s cogent and well-researched China’s Asian Dream: Empire Building along the New Silk Road makes clear, that process has accelerated dramatically since Xi Jinping became China’s leader in 2012.

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