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History and Thought in China’s Traditions

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Abstract

The recent turn to China’s traditions has the potential to correct for the Eurocentrism of Political Science theories. Nevertheless, the overwhelming emphasis on political thought, especially Confucianism, may have its drawbacks. This article suggests that political scientists who are interested in building theories and drawing policy implications should study the verifiable, i.e., history. Unless the purpose is to study philosophy for its own sake, political scientists should study political thought in practice, rather than political thought divorced from history. This article first discusses why it is important to examine history beyond thought. It then analyzes why scholars should not conflate political thought with historical practice. It anchors the analysis with a high-profile recent book on ancient Chinese thought.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Yu Bin [1]. Note that most Chinese names begin with surnames.

  2. 2.

    See, for example, Qin Yaqing [2], Sujian Guo and Jean-Marc Blanchard [3], Amitav Acharya and Barry Buzan [4], Arlene Tickner and Ole Wæver [5], William A. Callahan and Elena Barabantseva [6]. See other references below. A key goal of this recent turn is to establish a “Chinese School of International Relations.” But not all analyses of China’s traditions follow such an agenda. This article focuses on the importance of history and sets aside the merits of a “Chinese School.”

  3. 3.

    Yu, ‘China’s Harmonious World,’ 124.

  4. 4.

    A. Iain Johnston [14]. Indeed, Lin as well as Zhu and Wang argue for the heterogeneity of China’s traditions in order to refute Iain Johnston’s argument that China’s strategic culture is parabellum. Nevertheless, the argument can go either way.

  5. 5.

    Shi, “Armed China,” 18, 22.

  6. 6.

    Ibid., 15.

  7. 7.

    Ibid., 17.

  8. 8.

    Ibid., 241.

  9. 9.

    “A Note on the Translation,” in Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power, in front matters without page number. The translator and editors choose to translate the term “wang” as “humane authority” because “Yan is not arguing for the reestablishment of a monarchical system led by one sage who would save the world with his moral goodness.” However, the term “humane” is typically used in “the humane society” and thus takes on a different meaning. It is not clear why the translator and editors do not use the more straightforward term “moral authority” or “legitimate authority.”

  10. 10.

    Yan, “Pre-Qin Philosophy and China’s Rise Today,” 218, 204; emphasis added.

  11. 11.

    Daniel Bell, “Introduction,” 12, 3.

  12. 12.

    Ibid., 108.

  13. 13.

    Ibid., 108–109.

  14. 14.

    Ibid., 122–123.

  15. 15.

    Ibid., 110–111.

  16. 16.

    Hui, War and State Formation, 31.

  17. 17.

    Ibid., 79.

  18. 18.

    Ibid., chapter 4.

  19. 19.

    Yan and Huang, “Hegemony in The Stratagems of the Warring States,” 115.

  20. 20.

    Yan Xuetong, “Xunzi’s Interstate Political Philosophy and Its Message for Today,” 89.

  21. 21.

    Yan Xuetong, “A Comparative Study of Pre-Qin Interstate Political Philosophy,” 56.

  22. 22.

    Ibid., 33–34.

  23. 23.

    The Xunzi 15:1d. This dating follows E. Bruce Brooks and A. Taeko Brooks, The Emergence of China, book manuscript (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010), 129.

  24. 24.

    Mencius 1A6.

  25. 25.

    Yan and Huang, “Hegemony in The Stratagems of the Warring States,” 125.

  26. 26.

    Shi, “Armed China,”15.

  27. 27.

    Hui, War and State Formation, chapter 2.

  28. 28.

    Lewis, “Warring States Political History,” 626.

  29. 29.

    Yan and Huang, “Hegemony in The Stratagems of the Warring States,” 123–124.

  30. 30.

    Yan, “Pre-Qin Philosophy and China’s Rise Today,” 202.

  31. 31.

    To list just a few, Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink [33], Kathryn A. Sikkink and Margaret E. Keck [34], Richard Price and Nina Tannenwald [35], Kenneth R. Rutherford [36].

  32. 32.

    E. Bruce Brooks and A. Taeko Brooks, The Emergence of China, 132.

  33. 33.

    Yan Xuetong, “A Comparative Study of Pre-Qin Interstate Political Philosophy,” 26.

  34. 34.

    Ibid., 33–34.

  35. 35.

    The Shang jun shu was most likely written by Shang Yang’s followers rather than Shang Yang himself, but it “contains much material about the reforms” and “very well may reflect [his] actual policies.” … Moreover, some of the policies discussed in the text are corroborated by other texts such as the Xunzi and Han Feizi. See Mark Lewis [37], Burton Watson [38].

  36. 36.

    Daniel Bell, “Introduction,” 3.

  37. 37.

    Yan, “Pre-Qin Philosophy and China’s Rise Today,” 203.

  38. 38.

    Yang Qianru, “An Examination of the Research Theory of Pre-Qin Interstate Political Philosophy,” 155.

  39. 39.

    Hui, War and State Formation, xiii.

  40. 40.

    Cited in Ge Zhaoguang [39].

  41. 41.

    Ibid., 54; emphasis added.

  42. 42.

    Xu Jin [40]; emphasis added.

  43. 43.

    Yan Xuetong [41]; emphasis added.

  44. 44.

    Yan Xuetong, “A Comparative Study of Pre-Qin Interstate Political Philosophy,” 50; emphasis added.

  45. 45.

    The other four indicators are the correctness of the season, the advantages of terrain, the skills of the commanders, and the degree of military discipline. Sunzi bingfa, chapter 1; Mark E. Lewis, Sanctioned Violence in Early China, 115.

  46. 46.

    Yan Xuetong, “A Comparative Study of Pre-Qin Interstate Political Philosophy,” 50.

  47. 47.

    Shang jun shu, 89, 119.

  48. 48.

    Brooks particularly refers to a passage in the Zuo zhuan: “The ruler is about to go to war, and a commoner asks him: Why should I fight? The ruler says, The comforts of food and clothing; I do not dare to monopolize them; I always share with others. The commoner says, That is a petty kindness, not a general one; the people will not follow you. The ruler says, The sacrificial animals and jade and silk offerings, I do not dare to augment them; I am always sincere. The villager says, That is a petty sincerity, and not truly submissive; the spirits will not send blessings on you. The ruler says, In penal cases great and small, even if I cannot investigate, I always judge by the evidence. The village responds, This is the basis for loyalty. On this basis, you can fight a battle. If you do fight, I ask to be included,” chapter “Zhuang 10th year,” Zuo zhuan, cited in E. Bruce Brooks, ‘Evolution Toward Citizenship in Warring States China,’ paper presented at the European–North American Conference on ‘The West and East Asian Values,’ Victoria College, University of Toronto, July 31–August 2 (1998), 6.

  49. 49.

    David Wootton, ed., Selected Political Writings, xxxvi.

  50. 50.

    The Mozi, book 5, “Against Aggressive War.”

  51. 51.

    Yan Xuetong, “A Comparative Study of Pre-Qin Interstate Political Philosophy,” 42.

  52. 52.

    Yan Xuetong, “Pre-Qin Philosophy and China’s Rise Today,” 213–214.

  53. 53.

    Yan Xuetong, “A Comparative Study of Pre-Qin Interstate Political Philosophy,” 66.

  54. 54.

    Yan Xuetong, “Xunzi’s Interstate Political Philosophy and Its Message for Today,” 88.

  55. 55.

    Ibid.

  56. 56.

    The analogous dilemma in Comparative Politics is: For those who argue that dictators are better at delivering economic growth, they have to answer why benevolent dictators are so rare while predatory dictators present the norm. See Amartya Sen [45].

  57. 57.

    Yan Xuetong, “Xunzi’s Interstate Political Philosophy and Its Message for Today,” 87.

  58. 58.

    Deng Xiaoping’s speech at the Special Session of the U.N. General Assembly, April, 10 (1974), accessible at http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/deng-xiaoping/1974/04/10.htm.

  59. 59.

    Schweller and Pu, “After Unipolarity,” 52.

  60. 60.

    Yan Xuetong, “A Comparative Study of Pre-Qin Interstate Political Philosophy,” 63–64.

  61. 61.

    Robert Jervis [47]. For recent applications of the security dilemma in US-China relations, see Tang Shiping [48], A. Iain Johnston [49].

  62. 62.

    Yan Xuetong, “A Comparative Study of Pre-Qin Interstate Political Philosophy,” 35.

  63. 63.

    Ibid., 41.

  64. 64.

    Yan Xuetong and Huang Yuxing, “Hegemony in The Stratagems of the Warring States,” 140.

  65. 65.

    Mencius, 7B2.

  66. 66.

    The Mozi, book 5, “Against Aggressive War.”

  67. 67.

    Xu Jin, “The Two Poles of Confucianism: A Comparison of the Interstate Political Philosophies of Mencius and Xunzi,” 176.

  68. 68.

    Yan, Ancient Chinese Thought, 218.

  69. 69.

    Cited in Joseph Kahn [53].

  70. 70.

    William Callahan [56]. This is a review of Zhao Tingyang [57]. For very skeptical views, see John Dotson, “The Confucian Revival in the Propaganda Narratives of the Chinese Government,” U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Staff Research Report (July 20, 2011); accessible at www.uscc.gov/researchpapers/2011/Confucian_Revival_Paper.pdf; Jyrki Kallio, “Tradition in Chinese Politics,” Finish Institute of International Affairs, report no. 27 (2011), accessible at www.fiia.fi/assets/publications/Report_27_Kallio_web.pdf.

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Author information

Correspondence to Victoria Tin-bor Hui.

Additional information

This article is part of a larger project that has received a junior research fellowship from the Smith Richardson Foundation, a research grant from the United States Institute of Peace, a research award from the Fulbright Fellowship Program, a junior scholar grant from the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange, a travel fellowship from the East Asia Institute Fellows Program on Peace, Governance, and Development in East Asia supported by the Henry Luce Foundation, and research grants from the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts and the Kellogg Institute of the University of Notre Dame. I would like to thank Thomas Bartlett, William Callahan, Michael Davis, and Zhang Feng for thoughtful comments on an earlier draft, and Jee Seun Choi and Christine Gorman for editorial assistance.

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Hui, V.T. History and Thought in China’s Traditions. J OF CHIN POLIT SCI 17, 125–141 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11366-012-9189-z

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Keywords

  • Confucian Tradition
  • Napoleonic-Clausewitzian Tradition
  • Eurocentrism
  • Sinocentrism
  • International Norms