This article is based on lessons learned from the Chinese School of International Relations Revaluation: A Post-Colonial Perspective. Review of international studies (2021).
As early as 1977, Stanley Hoffmann claimed that international relations (IR) was an American social science (Hoffmann 1977), and according to Ann Tickner (2013) little has changed since then. Mainstream IR scientists view different regions of the world as test cases for their theories rather than sources of the theory itself. This made the “non-West” a domain that IR theorists considered backward. A domain that requires instruction in order to reach the “end of history” embodied in western modernity (Fukuyama 1992). The phenomenon of American centrism is closely related to the experience of the United States as the hegemonic power of the world after World War II. Although US hegemony has often been challenged by other countries in the world, its hegemonic status has never been replaced. Indeed, even if at certain times other countries looked like they were going to outperform the US (the Soviet Union in the 1970s and Japan in the 1980s), they did not have the global, sustainable, and sweeping appeal of the American model. Therefore, American hegemony in today’s world not only enjoys technological, economic and political superiority, but is also culturally, ideally and ideologically.
However, every great power in history has its rise and its fall, and the United States is no exception. The 2008 financial crisis, Brexit, the rise of populism in Western countries, and the rise of non-Western countries have challenged the current liberal order under the leadership of the United States. First, the stability of American society itself has declined in recent years, especially under Trump’s administration. Racial divisions, coupled with other accumulated social and economic problems, have plunged the United States into serious trouble. The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in 2020, has weakened the West as a role model for governance and accelerated the transfer of power and influence from the West to the “rest”. In addition, the voice of developing countries and non-western regions has grown stronger in recent decades as their wealth and power have increased. For example, the combined nominal GDP of the BRICS countries accounts for around a quarter of global GDP. Some scholars have pointed out that the norms, institutions and value systems promoted internationally by the West are dissolving. The world is entering a “post-western era” (Munich Security Report 2017).
The views and experiences of non-Western subjects were increasingly recognized as an indispensable part of the discipline, a consequence of the decline of the West and the wider spread of non-Western cultural and philosophical concepts. Various research agendas and appeals were presented on this topic. Among the most representative and influential are two initiatives: “Non-Western / Global IR” and “Post-Western IR”. Proponents of the theory of non-western / global relations such as Amitav Acharya and Barry Buzan not only criticize the western centrism of the discipline, but also advocate the establishment of IR research based on the histories and cultures of other regions and encourage the development of non-western IR theories (see Acharya and Buzan 2010; 2019). The World Beyond the West research series, initiated by Ann Tickner, Ole Wæver, David Blaney and others, hopes to showcase the local knowledge production practiced by multiple locations to criticize western centrism in the world Discipline and respond to the political and ethical challenges faced by discipline in the post-Western era. Both initiatives expect the development of different IR theories and concepts based on “non-Western” historical experiences, thoughts and viewpoints.
The increasing interest in non-Western thinking in the field of IR has had a positive effect on the development of Chinese IR theory. Many Chinese scholars believe that a Chinese IR school should be established. For these proponents, the Chinese IR doesn’t just need to develop its own epistemological system to understand international relations from China’s perspective. It can also add to the discussion about what kind of world order China wants. Qin Yaqing, one of the most representative proponents of the Chinese school, believes that the establishment of the Chinese school is not only possible but also inevitable. He notes that the Chinese school has three sources of thought from which to draw food: (1) the Tianxia concept and practice of the tributary system, (2) modern communist revolutionary thought and action, and (3) the experience of reform and opening. Judging from the efforts of Chinese scholars in recent years, most of their efforts have focused on the use of Chinese history, culture, and traditional philosophical ideas (Qin 2006). Among them, the most influential are Yan Xuetong’s moral realism, Zhao Tingyang’s Tianxia system, and Qin Yaqing’s theory of relationality.
Yan’s moral realism seeks to learn from the concept of “humane authority” in pre-Qin Chinese thinking as a source of knowledge and ideas in order to recapture the realistic view of power. According to Yan, human authority is not something to strive for; Rather, it is acquired by winning people’s hearts, by setting an example of virtue and morality. In this sense, virtues and morals are qualities that may be inherent in the behavior of the state and its leaders and that can lead others to act in their favor. It is the source of “political power” (see Yan, Bell and Sun 2011; Yan 2018). Zhao’s Tianxia system is based on an idealized version of the Tianxia system of the Zhou dynasty (approx. 1046-256 BC) as a paradigmatic model. He argues that the system was a broad geographical, psychological, and institutional term. It therefore belongs to all people equally and is more peace-driven than the Westphalian system, which has ruled the world order for centuries (see Zhao 2006; Zhao and Tao 2019). Qin’s theory focuses on the concept of relationality or Guanxi, an idea embedded in Confucianism. From a Chinese relationship perspective, international society is not as simple as consisting of independent units that react in a selfishly rational way to the given structures. Instead, it is a complex network of relationships made up of states that are connected to one another in different ways (see Qin 2009; 2016; 2018).
The emerging popularity of the Chinese school has received many criticisms in the IR field, the most important of which are the following two. The first argument is that the Chinese School’s references to historical documents and classics are either imprecise or overly romanticized. It is a kind of anachronism that also suggests an imperious form of the Chinese state of emergency – a form of wishful thinking that “China will differ in its behavior or its disposition from any other great power” (Kim 2016). The second point of criticism is that the knowledge developed by the Chinese school is only used to legitimize the rise of China. As Nele Noesselt (2015) states, the search for a Chinese IR paradigm is mainly aimed at “safeguarding the national interests of China and legitimizing the one-party system.“The two points of criticism mentioned above are valid, but not only to be found in China, and according to this standard, many other work would have to be discounted in IR. The American IR grant also uses source material anachronistically, as critics of realism have observed, and its agenda often reflects U.S. interests and concerns. As E.H. Carr noted in his letter to Hoffman in 1977, “What do you call international relations in the” English-speaking countries “other than the” study “of how to” rule the world from positions of strength “? …[it] was little more than a rationalization for the exercise of power by the dominant nations over the weak ”(Carr 2016: xxix).
Comparisons between the American hegemony and its connection to mainstream IR on the one hand and the rise of China with the Chinese school on the other hand do not of course justify the enterprise of the Chinese school from the critical IR perspective. It is worth noting that critics like Callahan (2008) on various occasions have cautiously viewed the Chinese school as just another well-known hegemonic design. To some extent, Chinese school scholars are actually replicating mainstream Western IR theory and its problems (Chen 2010). Attempts by Yan, Zhao and Qin, traditional Chinese concepts – d. H. Resurrecting Human Authority, Tianxia System, and Relationality – actually steer Chinese IR schools into mainstream American IR discourse – i. H. A realistic idea of power, a liberal logic of Cosmopolitanismand a constructivist idea of Relationality. The Chinese school uses anti-Western concepts and themes that mainstream IR is currently using against the non-Western world. As Shani (2008) points out, true post-Western theories should not only mimic modern Western discourse; You need to develop a critical discourse within non-western traditions and free non-western regions from western dominance. However, one might ask: is it possible that imitation of Western discourse constitutes some kind of critical resistance? To ponder this subject, it is worth looking at Bhabha’s concept of “mimicry”.
For Bhabha, “mimicry” is a complex, ambiguous and contradicting form of representation and constantly creates differences / differences and transcendence. As Bhabha notes (1994: 86), “the discourse of mimicry is constructed around an ambivalence: in order to be effective, mimicry must continuously create its slip, its excess, its difference.” As a result, the imitation by the Chinese school is not just to duplicate Western discourse, but to change Western concepts and practices to better suit local conditions in China. “Almost the same, but not quite.” Thus, non-Western scholars, including the Chinese school, can still make novel and innovative contributions to the literature of IR through hybridization, mimicry and the modification of the original terms, as Turton and Freire (2016) note. More importantly, this mimicry is a hidden and destructive form of resistance in anti-colonial strategy. First, the imitation of the West will create similarities between non-Western theories and Western theories, which in turn confuses the identity of the West. Furthermore, the relationship between the “speaker” and the one who is articulated can potentially be reversed. In support or in opposition, the mainstream IR scholarship has been forced to respond to various ideas, concepts, and approaches proposed by scholars from the Chinese school. Third, the Chinese school also affirms that the European experience is a local experience. This is easy to see when the starting points of mainstream IR, which are often taken for granted, are used in different contexts.
Still, from the standpoint of Bhabha’s colonial resistance, there seems to be a problem at the heart of the Chinese school businesses. For Bhabha (1994: 37) “hierarchical claims to the inherent originality or” purity “of cultures are untenable even before we resort to empirical historical examples that demonstrate their hybridity.” the political thought manifests several degrees of essentialism and believes that Chinese culture has a homogeneous, non-malleable and ingrained essence. It has indeed juxtaposed China and the West and made essential and fixed the existence of “Chinese culture”, which is hybrid in nature. When orientalist IR meets occidentalist IR, hatred and conflict become possible and continue questionable practices in world politics. In this regard, the Chinese school company could close the creative space required to envision a different type of engagement. Essentialism is taboo in the critical line of IR science. However, if critical theory’s criticism of essentialism is too extreme, it can threaten the very base on which resistance depends. In order to challenge hegemony in a meaningful way, we need an agency location or a topic. A theoretical difficulty that arises from this point of view is the extent to which a certain level of essentialism is desirable.
For Spivak, essentialism is the object to be deconstructed, but deconstruction depends on essentialism. As she said (1990: 11): “I think it is absolutely purposeful to go against the discourse of essentialism … But strategically we cannot.” On the question of feminism, Spivak rejects so-called feminine nature. She believes it is practically impossible to define “women”. One implication of the definition of women is the creation of a strict binary opposition, a dualistic view of gender, and as a deconstructor, she opposes advocating such dualistic ideas. Although she refuses to define an absolute and solid nature of women, from the standpoint of political struggle she believes that the historical and concrete nature of women still exists and can be used as a weapon of struggle. Given Spivak’s thoughts, it is inevitable to adhere to some degree of essentialism with post-western theories, although we must be vigilant. In other words, the Chinese school as a “strategy” is not permanent, but specific to the situation of non-Western voices to be heard on the global stage, and states that the greatest challenge in today’s IR discipline is to do this Address the legacy of “western hegemony”.
In summary, the rise of the Chinese school has sparked discussion, debate, and inspiration among IR scholars. It has challenged Western hegemony within international relations and their study. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the field of IR theory has so far been highly Eurocentric, and international relations are dominated by Western hegemony. Hence, there is no need to discard the perspective of the Chinese school as a whole. Rather, we have to use the Chinese school strategically and critical, instead of treating them as purely objective standpoints that produce truths. IR knowledge of all kinds must be generated with a reflective mind.
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