Past and Prologue

At a party during a trip to China in the 1930s Nikos Kazantzakis, one of the foremost writers and thinkers to emerge from Greece in the 20th century, became involved in a deep conversation with a mandarin. Kazantzakis noted that both the communists and the Japanese were advancing toward Beijing from different directions. Was the man scared? Kazantzakis asked. The mandarin, at one time China’s ambassador to France, smiled. “Communism is ephemeral, Japan is ephemeral, but China is eternal,” he said.

China is not new to the power game. For 500 years Imperial China was the world’s preeminent force. At the height of its influence, between 1440 and 1433 AD, China’s navy was the most formidable in the world in terms of sheer size ...

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