Struggle for Empire

The Battles of General Zuo Zongtang

  • Subject: Spring 2024 Catalog
  • Format:
  • Pages:
  • Illustrations:
    6 maps, 13 b/w photos
  • Published:
    May 17, 2024
  • ISBN-10:
  • ISBN-13:
  • Product Dimensions:
    9 × 6 × 1 in
  • Product Weight:
    24 oz
Hardcover $42.95
Member Price $25.77 Save 40%
Book: Cover Type


Struggle for Empire provides the first comprehensive modern biography in English of the late Qing dynasty statesman, strategist, and military commander, Zuo Zongtang (1812-85). A national hero in China, Zuo’s remarkable story remains understudied in the West.

Drawing upon a voluminous range of primary sources including Zuo’s extensive personal writings, battlefield dispatches, Qing imperial court archives and military campaign records, contemporary Western newspaper and eyewitness accounts, author Kenneth Swope traces Zuo's unlikely rise from poverty and obscurity in rural Hunan province to become the most powerful Han Chinese official in Manchu China. Zuo embodied a new practical type of Chinese official, grounded in the study of military history and strategic geography, who realized that the secret to China’s survival was to both live up to traditional Confucian norms and expectations while also adapting science and technology from the West to grapple with China’s myriad problems.

Realizing that simply borrowing from abroad and relying on foreigners was not a long-term solution, Zuo also pushed for self-strengthening, building China’s first modern naval yard and setting up arsenals, silk factories and publishing houses across China for the dissemination of these new practices and ideas. In the process Zuo helped the Qing put down the greatest civil war in human history, the Taiping Rebellion, while also quelling other massive domestic uprisings, and then acting forcefully to recover territory lost to Muslim rebels in Central Asia, eventually creating the province of Xinjiang.

While these accomplishments have traditionally been overlooked due to China’s later defeat at the hands of Japan in 1895, they were integral to preserving China’s territorial integrity in the age of Imperialism and in creating the seeds of a powerful Han-based nationalism that still animates Chinese political discourse today.

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