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  • The Rise of China and Chinese International Relations Scholarship by Hung-Jen Wang
  • Ngeow Chow Bing
The Rise of China and Chinese International Relations Scholarship, by Hung-Jen Wang. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2013. 195 pp. US$80 (Hardcover). ISBN 9780739178508.

International Relations (IR) as an academic discipline has always been perceived of as an “American” discipline. The theorization of IR that led to the creation of major schools of thought, from realism and liberalism to constructivism, have largely been efforts undertaken by American scholars, despite the existence of the British school of “international society” and also recognition of the Soviet or Marxist approach to IR during the Cold War years. Such American dominance of the discipline no doubt reflects the pre-eminent status of the United States in the post-World War II global political economy.

However, with China’s rise now supposedly challenging the preeminent status of the United States, the voices and discourses of Chinese IR scholars are receiving increasing attention outside of China. Foreigners want to know how Chinese IR scholars perceive the international system and China’s role in it, what theoretical conclusions they can draw from observing international developments, what kind of foreign policy they will prescribe as China is likely to accumulate more material capabilities, and whether they prefer China to adopt a conservative or a radical approach to international affairs that will significantly reshape the international system and the world order. Hung-Jen Wang’s book thus aims to inform readers about the views of Chinese IR scholars.

Wang’s core argument is that the production of IR knowledge in China is the result of a dynamic interaction between Chinese scholars and their subject, China. Chinese scholars are much less focused on theoretical consistency, general applicability, and universal laws than are their Western counterparts in their theorization of IR. Three operative concepts are at work here. First is identity, in which Wang makes the argument that Chinese IR scholarship has to be understood in view of the Chinese historical, cultural, and political contexts. Therefore, most Chinese IR scholars do not claim to be disinterested value-free social scientists working on abstract theorization. Rather, these scholars are accustomed to the tradition in which their works “should have practical applications to their country’s needs.” Second is appropriation. Chinese scholars freely make use of Western theories and concepts when these theories and concepts serve the policy recommendations they are [End Page 270] making. Theoretical consistency is not a major consideration. Third is adaptation, in which Chinese scholars, by borrowing Western theories, also make important efforts to tailor and modify these theories to fit China’s needs and conditions. In the process, these Western theories and concepts, which aspire to universal application, are relativized in the Chinese context.

Wang’s work is based on a model in which how to interpret China’s rise by Chinese scholars is treated as an independent variable. In general, among Westerners China’s rise can be seen as either a threat or an opportunity. How Chinese IR scholars counter these perceptions in their writings is then used to analyze the ways dominant Western IR theories are appropriated in China. For instance, Chinese scholars who counter the “China threat” theory with an uncompromising stand are taking a “realist” approach to IR, whereas those who urge for a more compromising stand are said to be taking the “liberalist” path. Chinese scholars who suggest that they should welcome and work with those foreigners who regard China as an opportunity are said to be influenced by the “constructivist” school, since these Chinese scholars believe in the power of ideas to forge peaceful and harmonious relations. Those who are skeptical about the “China opportunity” theory are nationalists who fear that foreign praise of China is a kind of “excessive praise” that is ultimately aimed to weaken China. Wang then uses this model to analyze the writings by Chinese IR scholars in four case studies or four sets of external relations: China-U.S., China-Japan, China-Southeast Asia, and China-Taiwan. Overwhelmingly, Wang finds that Chinese IR scholars are more prone to appropriating liberalism and constructivism rather than realism.

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