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Michael Schuman

China Has Never Liked Playing by Other People’s Rules

From the time of the earliest emperors, its leaders would incur great costs and surrender tangible benefits to return to supremacy.

At the center of the universe. 

At the center of the universe. 

Photographer: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Arguably, no country in the world has benefited more from the U.S.-led global order than China. Yet, to many eyes, Beijing seems determined to upset that order, its principles and its institutions.

Some would argue that such ambition is only natural in a rising power, one that played little role in writing the rules by which it’s now expected to adhere. In fact, at least some of the roots of China’s discontent with the current order run much deeper — back to the earliest emperors more than 2,000 years ago. Throughout history, Chinese leaders have rarely liked playing by other people’s rules.