Over a decade ago Michael H. Hunt wrote, “in seeing Chinese foreign relations in historical perspective we face not a single embarrassing tradition but rather an embarrassment of traditions.”4 In making such an observation this noted diplomatic historian sought to call attention to the deleterious effects of the common tendency to understand China's past approach to external relations, and its influence on the present, in a monochromatic fashion. The flaw within such an approach stemmed from the fact that, rather than being imprisoned within any one frame, modern Chinese foreign relations stand at the confluence of multiple historical traditions.

The subsequent writings of a handful of historians and political scientists took this admonition to heart and have done a remarkable job of illuminating the complex nature of earlier Chinese approaches to the rest of the world, as well as the layered influences of such experiences on the present. However,...

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