I really enjoyed this reading. I thought this article provided a really fascinating look at the way China approaches IR theory, and specifically how their history/culture influences policy decisions/theories more so than other states. My blog post will focus on the aspect of the civilization-state, what it is, how it differs from the nation state; and also, why it is the most important piece in deciphering China’s identity and their view of their future, and their place in it.
The difference between civilization and nation states lie in which era their primary identity came from. For Europe and much of the West, their modern identity stems from their nation state era (ie Peace of Westphalia), which only dates back a couple centuries. China, rather, is a civilization state because their identity is from their two millennia of dynastic history as opposed to their short tenure as modern China. The Chinese think of themselves as a civilization-state rather than a nation-state, the main difference between the two is that the former finds its identity to be much more than the name of their country. The Chinese sense of self is deeply rooted in it’s rich and vast history, there is no other society in the world that is so connected with the past and views it as so relevant and meaningful to the present. Other modern states who have rich ancient pasts, have all been reorganized/transplanted into different regions/identities, which yields a lack of cohesive identity that the Chinese have. The West’s operational concept is the nation-state, while for the Chinese it is the civilization-state.
The concept of the civilization-state is really interesting, as it carries a long-game focused identity with it. I think the discussion on the intersection of theory and strategy is very indicative of China’s overall approach to geopolitical issues/domestic policy. I don’t think this is unique to China, I think one could argue that all western policy at some point is used to reinforce preexisting ideals/policy decisions, and that theories are strategically made to support Western thoughts/goals. But, I do think this influences how China views Western policy, and perhaps why they are careful to implement their own strategy into these preexisting Western theories to drive domestic goals/benefits.
This connects to the concept of Tianxia (天下)- literally translating to ‘land under heaven’ (which, according to the Chinese, equates to China-idk)-it means the all-encompassing land that is China, its past, present, and future. The reading states that Tianxia could be interpreted through modern IR theory as an alternative hierarchal/stable blueprint of the 21st century, China views the Westphalian model as corrupt, and that the only way for peace and stability would be something similar to ruling under Tianxia (a true kingship/empire type deal).
The discussion of the civilization-state/producing a Chinese school of IR theory also reminds me of another China scholar, (although he’s more on the fringe) Michael Pillsbury. Pillsbury wrote a book a few years ago titled, The Hundred-year Marathon, where he claims that there has been a secret 100-year plan in place for China to dethrone the United States as the hegemonic power by 2049. Pillsbury’s goal is to debunk the conventional narrative about China by proposing an alternative narrative that is more realistic of modern China. He states that the Western world has been misinterpreting China’s actions as submissive rather than aggressive, and later goes on to assert that the United States, along with the Western world, has actually unknowingly helped them achieve this
The multi-generational plan was (allegedly) put in place to avenge a century of humiliation and to replace the US as the economic and political leader of the world by the year 2049, which is also the hundredth year anniversary of the communist revolution. Pillsbury claims that the communist party leadership implemented the plan as early as the reconciling of the US-China relationship (mid 1970s). The plan is for China is to set up the world order, rid the world of American supremacy, and revise the US dominated economic and geopolitical world order. Whether this has any base, I’m not sure. But, it does provide an interesting addition to the reading and provides a more cynical context of China’s view of their place in the world.
One of my favorite China scholars, Martin Jacques, stated this in the TED talk posted below: “To appreciate what the rise of China means, we have to understand not only China’s economic growth, but also its history, politics, culture, and traditions”. This quote is from his book, When China Rules the World, which I read every night before going to bed. In it, he describes his prediction of what the world will look like when China becomes the dominant hegemonic power. It is certainly not the dystopian novel it sounds like, and truly, I’m not sure anyone would object to a Chinese overlord at this present time. I’ve used Jacques in a lot of my papers on China’s rise, and his overarching argument in most of his literature is that the West’s main problem when it comes to their relationship with China is that it does not understand China and tries to understand it through pre-conceived Western ideas and values. He states this is impossible, because China is not like the West, and it will not become like the West. There is no indication that China’s evolutionary path of modernization will look like the West. Throughout the book, Jacques refutes the argument that as countries modernize, they simultaneously westernize. He really hones in on the concept of the civilization-state, and how it is the driving force of how Chinese people identify as being Chinese-they draw that sense of identity inspiration not from the nation state period (as with the West- ie past 100-300 years of modern Euro-state history) but from ancient periods, specifically when China first became a unified state in 206 BC. He also uses the civilization-state in his argument as to why the West just doesn’t get it.