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  • The China Order: Centralia, World Empire, and the Nature of Chinese Power by Fei-Ling Wang
  • Chih-yu Shih
The China Order: Centralia, World Empire, and the Nature of Chinese Power, by Fei-Ling Wang. New York: State University of New York Press, 2017. 342 pp. US$95.00 (Hardcover). ISBN: 9781438467498.

In his determined quest for a revisionist account of Chinese political history, Fei-Ling Wang has achieved an epistemological irony. Amid decades of poststructuralist attempts to painstakingly complicate identities and categories in the humanities and social sciences in order to deconstruct hegemony, Wang's seemingly nuanced engagement, also aimed at anti-hegemony, reversely simplifies the understanding, the scope, and the analysis of China by reducing Chinese historiography of 2,600 years to an ideational drive—that is, "the China Order," or "the predestined urge to reunify the world" (p. 11) so that "all could and must become one and the same" (p. 21) that has been "totalitarian in nature" (p. 6).

Wang critically observes that the totalitarian China order "unified and molded the language with power-centered deferential and casuistry" (p. 19). He also agrees that the principle of governance is "fear" (p. 108). Wang discovers that the Chinese tended to become either "the vicious and atrocious slaver-owners or the submissive and shameless slaves" (p. 130).

The China order is disappointing for Wang because of the abortion of the "de jure nation-state system, capitalist market economy, Enlightenment-like cultural development and scientific and industrial revolutions" as well as "modern cities," that could have developed had pre-Qin China proceeded toward a "Westphalia-like order" (pp. 38, 121, 147).

Although Wang argues that, to the Chinese people, "external influences were largely trickles and the existence of non-Chinese worlds was easily obscured" (p. 17), he accepts that, beginning from the Qin Dynasty, "all new ideas were to be imported (such as Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Marxism-Leninism, nationalism, capitalism, democracy, and modern sciences" (p. 33). Today, likewise, only external forces "such as the Europeans' expansions … may shake or even shatter the dominance of the China order" (p. 39). According to Wang, Westphalian wars made "humankind eventually safer and richer" (p. 123). Therefore, "greater thinkers and innovative scholars of politics and law could never emerge in the Chinese world empire." He believes that "only outsiders might perhaps help to change the sad destiny of the Chinese people" (pp. 113, 149). [End Page 217]

Yet, Wang is willing to acknowledge that the China order could actually be "pretension" (p. 39) rather than reality, so that Confucianism can facilitate "local communal autonomy and social critique even politics opposition" (p. 53). He reversely acknowledges that, instead of totalitarianism, the China order can better be characterized "in reality and in practice" by both the proverb—"the heaven is high and the emperor is far away" (p. 108) and the sociological note—"duplicity and hypocrisy" (p. 109). Consequently, "throughout the Chinese World the people have exhibited a great regional diversity and variety in their physical features, customs, and languages despite" forces of assimilation or control (p. 19). In fact, the sanctioning of five "official" languages during the Qing Empire (p. 73) collides directly the unification of language during the Qin.

Despite Wang's understanding that "for faraway and powerful countries, peer-like diplomacy might be used so long as the son of heaven could continue the world empire pretention at home" (p. 106), he insists that the Chinese order also produces an "absorptive empire" that seeks to convert others (p. 100). And yet, Wang qualifies this impression elsewhere when he appeals to the case of the Hui to illustrate the limits of cultural assimilation (p. 112).

Wang further acknowledges the "counterintuitive" Tang era, during which interactions between the Tang and other nations attest to "the practical incompleteness and inconclusiveness" of the China order (p. 60). In addition, readers may wonder if his discovery that those "sociopolitical and cultural 'simultaneities'" that the Confucian father role of the Qing rulers endorses (pp. 72–73) is incompatible with the charge of totalitarianism.

Wang is able to rely on the China order to explain opposite tendencies when he argues that it drives expansion as well as...


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