International Politics

, Volume 53, Issue 5, pp 574–595 | Cite as

Anarchy in the East: Eurocentrism, China-centred geopolitics and uneven and combined development

Original Article


Mainstream international theories have not been successful in explaining patterns of non-Western international systems due to their deep-seated problem of Eurocentrism. Yet for many attempts at alternative theorization, antidotes to Eurocentrism are only conceivable from a position which denies the theoretical core of mainstream IR, namely the ‘logic of anarchy’. Take the China-centred international system for example: a cultural-reductionist argument currently suggests that premodern East Asia was more peaceful because it comprised a hierarchical, rather than an anarchical order, underpinned by the predominant Confucian culture. This article will first show that such alternative cultural-reductionist explanations are no more advanced than Eurocentric theories because they both tend towards uni-linear understanding of an historical evolution which in fact is multi-linear in nature. What is really problematic is not anarchy, but the lack of an interactive perspective in both mainstream and cultural-reductionist IR that enables a progressive understanding of the evolution of human political agency. The article will then propose that Leon Trotsky’s theory of uneven and combined development can resolve this problem, providing a theoretical re-appraisal of premodern East Asia. Central to the geopolitics of premodern East Asia, I will suggest, is not Confucianism, but the ‘internationally generated combination’ in China’s political agency: a transformation from a prototypical nation-state to a cosmopolitan empire against an enduring backdrop of agrarian society.


anarchy Eurocentrism cultural-reductionism East Asian international system uneven and combined development 



I thank Justin Rosenberg, Kamran Matin, Darius A’zami and Jasper Green for their valuable input and continuous encouragement.


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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of International RelationsUniversity of SharjahUniversity CityUAE

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