Being arguably each side’s most enduring international bond, the China-Korea relationship has long been of great practical and symbolic importance to both. Moreover, as Odd Arne Westad observes in his new book, this has in many ways also been a paradigmatic kind of tie between a large ‘empire’ and smaller (though by no means small) ‘nation’, and thus has much to teach us about past and present international relationships in East Asia and beyond.
Westad’s Empire and Righteous Nation: 600 Years of China-Korea Relations (Harvard UP, 2021) is both a highly readable survey of a special dynamic between polities and cultures, and an argument for the important continuities and trends running throughout six centuries of tumultuous Ming, Choson, Qing, Japanese, Soviet, American, Republican, Nationalist and Communist history. As this book convincingly shows, in all its mutual admiration, suspicion, hierarchy and compromise, this has been a deeply revealing relationship and one which – as scholars in both countries would themselves agree – it would benefit today’s world to understand in greater historical context.
Ed Pulford is a Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Manchester. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.