The Tianxia System: The Revival of a Traditional Chinese Worldview?

Date: 6 Apr 2017
Location: Boardroom (Room 318) Educaiton 2 (ED2) La Trobe University, VIC 3086 Australia

China’s steady rise since the 1980s has become a subject of much discussion among international relations theorists. One frequently asked question is whether China’s rise will alter its views about the Westphalian System that still dominates the world today, and even cause China to challenge the existing international order.

In the 1990s many Chinese scholars started to query mainstream Western theories of international relations, with some even raising the possibility of establishing a world order “with Chinese characteristics”, subsequently giving rise to the “Chinese School” of international relations theory. One of the theories developed by this school that has become the subject of lively debate inside China today is the so-called Tianxia System.

“Tianxia”, literally meaning “All-under-Heaven”, is an ancient Chinese concept referring to all lands under the sky; or a universal agreement in the hearts of all people; or a political system in the world governed by a global institution. What makes the Tianxia Order different from the Westphalian System is its emphasis on culture and ritual order. Advocates of this theory argue that only with the Tianxia System, which is a hierarchical structure, can the stability and harmony of the world order be maintained. In their opinion, “the Tianxia System” would be far superior to the Western dominated international system and, hence, might even be the best system of world governance.

This seminar will trace the evolution of the Tianxia concept throughout China’s imperial past, in order to provide fresh insight into China’s debates on its international position today, and into the possible future trajectory of China’s international relations theories.

About the speaker

Cyrus Yee is a final year PhD candidate in History at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He holds a BA (Translation), MA degrees (Comparative and Public History and Literary and Cultural Studies) and an MPhil (History). His areas of interest include China’s frontier studies, History of the Mongol Empire and Yuan dynasty, History of Modern and Contemporary China, History and Politics of Taiwan, Cross-Strait Relations, History of Sino-foreign Relations, Comparative study of Chinese and Western Culture and Postcolonial Studies. He is a Research Associate at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He was a Lecturer at HKU SPACE and coordinator of the “Oral History of China Studies Scholars in Hong Kong” Project.

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