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Cover of Birth of the Geopolitical Age by Shellen Xiao Wu
Birth of the Geopolitical Age
Global Frontiers and the Making of Modern China
Shellen Xiao Wu


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September 2023
328 pages.
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503636415
Paperback ISBN: 9781503636842
Ebook ISBN: 9781503636859

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From the 1850s until the mid-twentieth century, a period marked by global conflicts and anxiety about dwindling resources and closing opportunities after decades of expansion, the frontier became a mirror for historically and geographically specific hopes and fears. From Asia to Europe and the Americas, countries around the world engaged with new interpretations of empire and the deployment of science and technology to aid frontier development in extreme environments. Through a century of political turmoil and war, China nevertheless is the only nation to successfully navigate the twentieth century with its imperial territorial expanse largely intact. In Birth of the Geopolitical Age, Shellen Xiao Wu demonstrates how global examples of frontier settlements refracted through China's unique history and informed the making of the modern Chinese state. Wu weaves a narrative that moves through time and space, the lives of individuals, and empires' rise and fall and rebirth, to show how the subsequent reshaping of Chinese geopolitical ambitions in the twentieth century, and the global transformation of frontiers into colonial laboratories, continues to reorder global power dynamics in East Asia and the wider world to this day.

About the author

Shellen Xiao Wu is the Lawrence Gipson Chair of Transnational History at Lehigh University. She is the author of Empires of Coal: Fueling China's Entry into the Modern World Order, 1860–1919 (Stanford, 2015).

"Wu's Birth of the Geopolitical Age is the most exciting study in the history of science, empire, and nation I have read in recent years. The book is brilliantly conceptualized, tracing the circulation and translation of geographical and agricultural sciences among the United States, Germany, Japan, and particularly China. Its central idea, geo-modernity, is an illuminating concept that will be widely referenced. Based on extensive research in multiple languages, Birth of the Geopolitical Age tells a rich narrative about a wide range of historical actors, institutions, and discourses. The book is a marvel of scholarly ambition, erudition, and compression. Despite its impressive scope, the narrative is exceptionally clear and readable. This superb book is a model study in global and comparative history. I can't wait to recommend it to every historian interested in the topic."

—Fa-ti Fan, Binghamton University

"By recounting the roles of academic disciplines and individual intellectuals in forming a spatial awareness of agricultural development and natural resource exploitation occurring in places distant from the corridors of power, Shellen Xiao Wu presents the pursuit of geopolitical power by economic and political elites through the construction of new forms of empire. Comparing and connecting her narrative of China's twentieth-century transformation with those in the U.S., Germany, and Japan, she offers a new global historical perspective on the emergence of China's contemporary importance."

—R. Bin Wong, University of California, Los Angeles

"Shellen Wu has written an eye-opening study that centers China in the history of expansion into the great inland spaces by the world powers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Readers will see the age of empire anew."

—Charles S. Maier, Harvard University