Sinic Universalism in Theory and Practice

Christopher A. Ford

in The Mind of Empire

Published by University Press of Kentucky

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780813192635
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813135519 | DOI:
Sinic Universalism in Theory and Practice

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During the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods, China displayed some balance-of-power characteristics similar to those seen in the later European state system. However, the warring states lacked what scholars identified as a “commitment to legacy” and a system of “shared values,” and their concept of self seems to have been less that of emergent, permanent separate nations than that of rival contenders in a winner-take-all struggle for imperial supremacy. The cardinal principle of the Chinese states system thus crystallized as one of resisting hegemony by anyone else and, in effect, seeking it without help. Better even than mere hegemony, moreover, was the geopolitical Holy Grail of achieving outright unification under a state's own banner. Hence, the underlying ethos of the Chinese system during the Warring States period was universalist, and this precluded the development of an explicitly international conception of legitimate political order. Furthermore, because of its marked isolation during its formative years, China viewed itself as “the only civilized society” and considered those beyond its borders as mere barbarians, who should be “rejected as animals.” This form of racism provided an additional set of reasons why relations of formal equality with barbarian rulers were simply out of the question.

Keywords: Sinic universalism; balance of power; unification; world order; sovereign equality; imperial diplomacy

Chapter.  4098 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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