Fragile Rise

From Belfer Center Studies in International Security

Fragile Rise

Grand Strategy and the Fate of Imperial Germany, 1871–1914

By Xu Qiyu

Foreword by Graham Allison

Translated by Joshua Hill

Germany's rise to power before World War I from a Chinese persective, and the geopolitical lessons for today.





Germany's rise to power before World War I from a Chinese persective, and the geopolitical lessons for today.

A series of solemn anniversary events have marked the centenary of World War I. Could history repeat itself in today's geopolitics? Now, as then, a land power with a growing economy and a maritime power with global commitments are the two leading states in the international system. Most ominously, the outbreak of war in 1914 is a stark reminder that nations cannot rely on economic interdependence and ongoing diplomacy to keep the peace.

In Fragile Rise, Xu Qiyu offers a Chinese perspective on the course of German grand strategy in the decades before World War I. Xu shows how Germany's diplomatic blunders turned its growing power into a liability instead of an asset. Bismarck's successors provoked tension and conflict with the other European great powers. Germany's attempts to build a powerful navy alienated Britain. Fearing an assertive Germany, France and Russia formed an alliance, leaving the declining Austro-Hungarian Empire as Germany's only major ally.

Xu's account demonstrates that better strategy and statesmanship could have made a difference—for Germany and Europe. His analysis offers important lessons for the leaders of China and other countries. Fragile Rise reminds us that the emergence of a new great power creates risks that can be managed only by adroit diplomats, including the leaders of the emerging power. In the twenty-first century, another great war may not be inevitable. Heeding the lessons of Fragile Rise could make it even less likely.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262036054 368 pp. | 6.125 in x 9.25 in


Graham Allison and Joshua Hill.


  • Xu's nuanced analysis finds that while Germany's rise created structural stresses that moved the actors toward war, those stresses could have been negotiated by good strategy and statesmanship (as Bismarck demonstrated).... Fragile Rise provides an important clue for Chinese leaders hoping to negotiate the structural stress created by their country's ascendance.

  • Full of critical insights for a how a newly rising power in today's world can appropriately manage Great Power relations, consolidate domestic society, and coordinate foreign policy.

    Mei Zhaorong

    former Chinese ambassador to Germany and former President of the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs

  • A masterpiece... a superb study of strategy as a science that is full of fascinating tactical details.

    Wang Jisi

    former Dean of the School of International Studies, Peking University