Book Summary Extemp Content and Strategy

Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power

Published in 2017, Howard W. French provides excellent historical context to understand some of the motivations behind China’s modern-day behavior.

Author: Howard W. French


This book pertains mostly to historical or long term developments. As such, it is best used to provide context (maybe in a background or ontop). It is also very helpful for being a subpoint in a past-present-future structure. Oftentimes, extempers may get questions about Chinese politics or global ambitions—this is a great source to use in speeches and a great way to build knowledge about these topics (whether or not you have a place to site it)!


 The author argues that the primary way in which history dictates China’s global behavior is through national embarrassment. He characterizes this embarrassment as China’s loss of influence and power over economics and territory after more than 1000 years of global dominance. Sometimes in speeches, it is sufficient to say that humiliation has caused a nationalist surge. For more in-depth examinations of Chinese ambition more specifics about this embarrassment (below) will prove helpful: 

Japanese growth:

Compared to its dominant kingdom, historical China initially considered Japan as an insignificant foe. Conflict over the Ryukyu islands which has dated back to the 1800’s has created mistrust and a deeper strategic rivalry. When Japan took over these islands, the belief in Chines exceptionalism declined greatly. It created the narrative that Japan’s path to modernity came at the expense of China and therefore China should take revenge by surpassing Japan’s regional and global power.  A good quote the book provides, from scholar Ian Burma is “Cutting china down to size meant that Japan joined the great nations”. The applications of this are great—you will be highly likely to see questions about China/Japan rivalry or even as specific as the Ryukyu islands! 

Territorial encroachment: 

During the opium war 1839-1860, colonizing powers occupied land and forced China into bad deals. This included burning down the imperial palace and seizing control of Hong-Kong. Today, nationalists try to rewrite this history by being aggressive about surrounding territory in the Himalayas, Taiwan, South China Sea, Hong-Kong, etc.

Naval power:

 During the second half of the 19th century, China lost a series of naval battles in the War of 1895 and he Opium Wars. These failures fueled a populist urge for naval development including manufacturing “treasure ships” and a comparative advantage over Japan.  Today, China continues to rebound from prior naval humiliation by portraying strength in the South China Sea and Taiwan. 

Other applicable history: 

 Silk Road: China grew incredibly affluent because of its Silk Road (transportation facilities connecting Eastern Africa, India, and the Arab world to China). You will likely encounter the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) in speeches and can make a historical connection here or use this book to argue for the ambitions behind BRI.

Political popularity: Military figures are typically popular figures in society as they prey on political nationalism.

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