That is the title of Ian Johnson’s review of Howard W. French’s Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power.
Regarding Chinese policy of cliaming owndership of South China Sea, Johnson writes
China’s leaders have not directly discussed theses actions, but broadly say that their claims are based on history. The argument is simple: because Chinese ships once sailed here, the reefs and shoals are Chinese. but as French puts it:
“These historical claims are not worth exploring because of any legal power they might possess. Almost all non-Chinese experts agree that claiming distant waters are one’s own “historic waterway” is not something that international law or conventions governing the sea either contemplate or permit…
The merit our attention instead because of how they speak to China’s ambivalence about the international system itself, and to the continuing resonance of a certain imperial perspective – tian xia.”
My view is that Chinese behavior in the SCS is mostly a form of balancing American military policy, but Johnson’s review is an interesting exploration of how China’s behavior is shaped by its history.
It is gated, but you can read the review here.