Even if the "Global Britain" roar of the current London government, which is nuclear armament and wants to revive the Victorian maritime trade empire, has become a strong competitor for the rank of the most full-bodied historical nationalism, China under Xi Jinping remains the champion of historical gestures of triumph. Trump's MAGA (Make America Great Again) would be preceded by an incomparably more successful MCGA - if it was a sonorous slogan. “Make China Great Again” does not require, as in the comparable cases of Russia and Turkey, to painstakingly fill up the shambles of lost empires. It is enough, under the wise leadership of the Communist Party, to swing back into the only briefly interrupted normal mode of one's own we-history and to do that,what one has always done for at least two thousand years (more or less): just be "big".

Xi's “Chinese dream”, with which he tries to keep his population permanently electrified, is not a utopian reach for stars that have never been reached (like Mao Tse-tung's “Great Leap Forward” from 1958 to 1961), but a reassuring continuity narrative: After that In many Golden Ages, an even more golden one is almost a foregone conclusion, provided the effort persists.

Anyone who invented paper, porcelain and gunpowder should also make the breakthroughs of the future.

Not to be crushed

Because the self-confidence and self-portrayal of today's China contains so much of a successful past - or a past that has been talked about into a series of successes - there are hotter political reasons to deal with the history of China beyond a cool educational interest in the still exotic: What is the truth about the official legitimacy rhetoric, according to which the Chinese nation has a historically justified right to take up its traditional position as a world political leader again and to eradicate the last traces of suffering of the past - the return of Taiwan would be the next step? And a completely different second question arises: How is the "rise" of China from the low point of the 1970s, which in western remote observation often appears as a puzzling natural event?when it should actually be a colossal test for historical analysis?

Michael Schuman's book is a history of China from the beginnings to the present, a “Chinese world history”, however, only in the undemanding sense that special attention is paid to the warlike and civil external relations of the various imperial dynasties.

Answers to both questions can be expected from such an ambitious book.

Two tentative caveats

Unfortunately, almost nothing is learned about the causes of the rise of China. There it remains with the correct, but by no means sufficient, indication that in 1978 and in the years thereafter, the then supreme ruler Deng Xiaoping made a series of decisions that were both correct and momentous: one of the “decisive junctures in human history”. But where, for example, the potential came from, which Deng's visionary pragmatism unleashed in an unimaginably productive way, the author is silent, who is only fleetingly interested in society, the economy and the environment. Instead, he serves up a historical-philosophical cliché: Today the “recurring cycle of Chinese world history” is confirmed. In other words: China cannot be crushed,after each setback, a more magnificent phoenix rises from the ashes. The Wall Street Journal's longtime Asia correspondent would have expected more contemporary diagnostic acumen.