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Maritime Transformation in Comparative Historical Perspective
  • ISBN/SKU: 9781591142423
  • Binding: Hardcover and Ebook
  • Era:
  • Number of Pages: 544
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  • Date Available: July 2009
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China's turn toward the sea is evident in its stunning rise in global shipbuilding markets, its expanding merchant marine, its wide reach of offshore energy exploration, its growing fishing fleet, and its increasingly modern navy. This comprehensive assessment of China's potential as a genuine maritime power is both unbiased and apolitical. Unlike other works that view China in isolation, it places China in a larger world historical context. The authors, all authorities on their historical eras, examine cases of attempted maritime transformation through the ages, from the Persian Empire to the Soviet Union, and determine the reasons for success or failure.

Andrew S. Erickson is an associate professor in the Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College and a founding member of the department's China Maritime Studies Institute.   Online at
Lyle J. Goldstein is an associate professor of strategic studies and the founding director of the U.S. Navy's China Maritime Studies Institute.
Carnes Lord is a professor of naval and military strategy at the U.S. Naval War College and editor of the Naval War College Press. 


“This book is a wonderful academic review not just about China’s maritime power but of the history of sea command. The editors do a remarkable job of building a comprehensive picture of where China stands today in its pursuit of a maritime capability to match its economic ascendency and continental military power.”

Canadian Naval Review,Summer 2011

“Throughout Asia today, China dominates the conversation. Within this dialogue, China's turn to the sea and its development of a blue water capability has economic, diplomatic and military implications. This valuable new book by the U.S. Naval Institute provides in one volume a comprehensive assessment of China's naval development, the principal historical precedents, and the complex thought process that guides the Chinese Navy's leadership.”

Admiral Walter F. Doran, USN (Ret.) , former Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet

 “This book deserves to be read by every career Navy and Marine officer and then retained on his/her bookshelf. The content, scope, and organization of this book are extraordinary. The selection of subject matter leading to an understanding of current Chinese naval developments is also excellent. The volume is nicely bookended with an engaging introduction and a crisp but thorough review of its arguments in the closing chapter. The book examines the historic record of maritime transitions in other states to reflect light on the current Chinese situation. The book marches through naval history from Persia, Sparta and Rome to the Soviet Navy transformation under Admiral Sergey Gorshkov during the Cold War. One need not be a scholar in Chinese studies to profit greatly from this approach. I am pleased to recommend highly this book to a wide public audience that is interested in where China may be headed. The book is especially recommended to those who wonder whether or not the next challenge to the U.S. Navy will come from China.”

Rear Admiral Ronald J. Kurth, USN (Ret.)

 “For readers interested in seapower, this book is a veritable feast of delights. It shows how important Chinese maritime power is likely to be for the rest of us, but also how complex that issue actually is. By way of a multifaceted approach which sweeps across both the experiences of other maritime powers over the centuries and the varying fortunes of seapower in Chinese history, it explores the ways that great land powers have transformed themselves into maritime powers. It identifies so many lessons, and it establishes the dangers, limits and opportunities so well that we must hope that Chinese policy-makers also read this deeply authoritative book closely, for their sake, as well as for ours.”

Geoffrey Till, Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies, UK, author of Seapower: A Guide for the 21st Century

“This is an original and well-designed collection of scholarly essays on the larger historical context of China's current maritime growth. Readers will be drawn immediately to the chapters upon our contemporary balance of forces across the Pacific, to studies of China's shipbuilding programs, commercial expansion, and weapons-systems development. But they should also spend time on the historical case-studies, which are specifically focused upon land powers that go to sea. Since this is clearly what most concerns China's navy, it ought also to capture the attention of external observers of China's sea-power growth in the twenty-first century. This is an important read.”

Paul Kennedy, Yale University, author of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers

“China Goes to Seais a remarkable collection of essays by a group of outstanding scholars. It applies the method of comparative analysis in a critical and sophisticated way to illuminate current naval developments in light of the experience of states developing naval capacities and strategies through the ages. Current developments make it essential reading for students of China, strategy, and international relations.”

Donald Kagan, Yale University, author of On the Origins of War and The Peloponnesian War

“Here is a rich and suggestive collection of essays unique in its wide range over space and time. Among its many other merits, it provides a valuable window into what the Chinese themselves are thinking about strategic maritime matters.”

John Curtis Perry, The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts University

“China Goes to Seais a major contribution to the development of a comparative and historical perspective on contemporary China's growing maritime ambitions.  Experts on the naval history of pre-modern and modern European powers and of China offer illuminating discussions of the sources of land power interest in developing extensive maritime power and the enduring constraints on their simultaneous development of maritime and continental capabilities.  Within this analytical framework, distinguished experts assess China's interest in expanding its naval capabilities and its progress toward developing a power projection navy.  China Goes to Sea is essential reading for scholars and policy makers concerned about Chinese defense policy and developments in Chinese maritime policy.”

Robert S. Ross, Professor of Political Science, Boston College

“The maritime history of China has long been a neglected field. The absorbing interpretive essays in China goes to Sea bring that knowledge-gap to an end by offering us two contrasting settings from which to view China's current naval development: the first is an illuminating historical overview of how continental states from Persia and Sparta down to Imperial Germany and Soviet Russia applied their skills and resources to becoming naval powers. The other is a history of China's own quest for naval growth, from the famous Ming dynasty voyages of the early 15th century down to the current blue water visions of expansion in the People's Republic. This volume will be an indispensable companion to those readers seeking to understand where China's navy may be heading.”

Jonathan Spence, Yale University, author of Treason by the Book and The Search for Modern China

“Compares historical examples dating from the Persian Empire's maritime transformation in 550-490 BC to China's ongoing metamorphosis, expertly addressing the factors influencing China's turn to the sea. … This volume includes excellent work… highlighting a number of ways in which China appears to be deviating from the path historical precedence would seem to dictate. …evidence that China's path may not replicate historical examples is offered by Erickson and Goldstein, who provide an excellent overview of how Beijing has studied the rise of great powers in hopes of emulating successes and avoiding pitfalls. Carnes Lord reviews the factors that led to failed maritime transformations and finds no compelling reason that China's turn to the sea will fail. Instead, he finds a country that has accurately identified its geostrategic vulnerability to seaward attack and has adjusted its maritime policies to these changing security requirements. Lord's only question is the pace and degree of China's maritime transformation.”

—Scott W. Bray (the U.S. Navy's Senior Intelligence Officer for China), “Turning to the Sea… This Time to Stay,” Book Review Essay, Asia Policy, No. 9 (January 2010), pp. 167-72

“Should be required reading for anyone interested in either China or, more broadly, maritime strategy. … Whether China is able to achieve what few nations in the past have done and transform itself from a continentalist past to a maritime future is an issue that will continue to be addressed for years to come. … This book is an extremely valuable contribution to that debate.”

— Capt. Gordon Andrew, RAN, Australian Defence Force Journal(Issue No. 180, 2009), pp. 85-86

“This is a vital book that ought to be read by all the world's political leaders and their advisors, senior military personnel and pro-active business people. Not only does it, as it claims, put China's maritime transformation into historical perspective, it puts almost all maritime commerce into historical perspective. In analysing China's current situation, it provides a brilliant overview of global commercial history. Comprising a collection of essays from 17 clear headed and far sighted scholars it succinctly analyses present day China and its position in the maritime world, indeed in the whole world. This is one of those rare books that delivers vastly more than it promises. A fine piece of literary jewelry full of smaller gems.”

— Baird Maritime, 10 August 2009

“…an impressive study with a sophisticated and comparative approach, a worthy addition to any library. It is an informative read that will please history-buffs and political-wonks alike.”

— Xinhui, China Defense Blog, 4 August 2009



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