A dramatic new telling of the dawn of modern East Asia, placing Korea at the center of a transformed world order wrought by imperial greed and devastating wars.
In the nineteenth century, Russia participated in two “great games”: one, well known, pitted the tsar’s empire against Britain in Central Asia. The other, hitherto unrecognized but no less significant, saw Russia, China, and Japan vying for domination of the Korean Peninsula. In this eye-opening account, brought to life in lucid narrative prose, Sheila Miyoshi Jager argues that the contest over Korea, driven both by Korean domestic disputes and by great-power rivalry, set the course for the future of East Asia and the larger global order.
When Russia’s eastward expansion brought it to the Korean border, an impoverished but strategically located nation was wrested from centuries of isolation. Korea became a prize of two major imperial conflicts: the Sino-Japanese War at the close of the nineteenth century and the Russo-Japanese War at the beginning of the twentieth. Japan’s victories in the battle for Korea not only earned the Meiji regime its yearned-for colony but also dislodged Imperial China from centuries of regional supremacy. And the fate of the declining tsarist empire was sealed by its surprising military defeat, even as the United States and Britain sized up the new Japanese challenger.
A vivid story of two geopolitical earthquakes sharing Korea as their epicenter, The Other Great Game rewrites the script of twentieth-century rivalry in the Pacific and enriches our understanding of contemporary global affairs, from the origins of Korea’s bifurcated identity—a legacy of internal politics amid the imperial squabble—to China’s irredentist territorial ambitions and Russia’s nostalgic dreams of recovering great-power status.
Sheila Miyoshi Jager has written a grand narrative of modern East Asian imperial rivalry that successfully demonstrates the outsize importance of Korea to the region. Too often, Korea has been treated as a tangential or superfluous component of books and college courses about East Asian history, which tend to focus overwhelmingly on China and Japan. After this book, it should be clear just how blinkered an approach that is.
The Other Great Game charts the question of Korea’s place in Asia from the 1850s up to 1910, a 60-year period that saw several wars and a series of more minor conflicts and uprisings…The book is detailed, handling well a rotating sequence of negotiations and negotiators, alongside troop movements and strategic blunders.
Ambitious and wide-ranging…A comprehensive and illuminating history of northeast Asia at a time of tremendous change.
It is a story…of suspense, high stakes, and sheer intrigue, and one that has as grave implications for the geopolitics of this decade as its namesake had for the geopolitics of the 1980s.
Over the course of its temporal sweep and multinational span, [this book] finds room to be very, very good on the details of numerous political debates, diplomatic negotiations, and military clashes, and thus constitutes an ample repository of basic accounts of these events. Meanwhile, its fundamental reframing of the competition for Korea through the dynamics of Russian expansion, and the contest of interests that this expansion helped spark, will likely be most appreciated by a more advanced scholarly readership already versed in existing interpretations and their lacunae. Through either lens, Jager’s narrative represents a magisterial contribution.
A monumental achievement. Recounting the story of China’s decline in East Asia, Jager provides a definitive reference for the diplomatic machinations of the great-power conflict in the late nineteenth century. This is narrative historical writing at its best.
For too long, the role of Korea has been in the shadows of East Asian history. With brilliant analysis and meticulous research, Jager shows that Korea’s fate was actually crucial to shaping the Asia of the nineteenth century and the turbulent regional politics that followed all the way up to World War II. Essential for readers of East Asian history and geopolitics alike.
Beautifully written and deeply researched, The Other Great Game is a work of great importance and powerful insight. This gripping history offers a fresh interpretation of the age of empire at the turn of the twentieth century and a clear-eyed view of its long shadow.
- 624 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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