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  • Mao's, China's, or Confucius's Tianxia?Reflections on Chinese Visions of World Order
  • Bai Tongdong (bio)
Ban Wang, editor. Chinese Visions of World Order—Tianxia, Culture, and World Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017. vi, 330 pp. Paperback $27.95, ISBN 978-0-8223-6946-2.

China is a big country, both in terms of size and population. It has been rising economically, and quickly so. All these facts naturally lead to emerging and pressing questions: what does this rise mean to the existing global order? Will China repeat what other major rising countries, such as pre-WWII Japan and Germany, have done, that is, to demand more from the rest of the world that is fitting to its growing power? And if the rest of the world rejects their demands, will they resort to the use force to get it? Or will China avoid this trap for latecomers, follow a different path, or even invent a new order that improves upon the existing one? More and more scholars, myself included, have recognized the significance of this question and have tried to address it from different perspectives. The recently published anthology, Chinese Visions of World Order, edited by Ban Wang, is a collection of 11 articles (by 13 authors) that are meant to address the issue.

These contributions are divided into five parts. I will discuss these chapters (plus the Introduction) in an order that I think makes more sense than is currently presented in the book. In the Introduction, the history and the significance of the key issue is presented, along with the chapter breakdown of the whole anthology. In the main body of the anthology, the only chapter that is mainly devoted to elaborating on the significance of this issue is by Prasenjit Duara. According to him, the rise of China leads the Chinese to try to understand its significance and also the question of whether China can produce a vision that avoids the injustices of the earlier world order. According to him, this order is a covert globalism that is rooted in nation-states, and there are conflicts between nation-states that claim agency and sovereignty and limit sympathy to the national community on the one hand, and globalism that is meant to transcend these on the other (as well as the kind of individualism that protects individuals against the intrusions by the nation-state). A pressing practical issue is environmental and ecological sustainability. In the existing world order, nation-states benefit from extracting resources, sometimes globally, but the environmental costs are borne by the world as a whole. But the world cannot demand a remedy from the nation-states because there is no effective representative of the world, while only nation-states have full sovereignty over their own affairs. Duara then argues that Kant's transcendence, according to some interpretations, is not constructed from an Archimedean point, contrary to the spirit of the Enlightenment; rather, it is an [End Page 334] attempt to transcend the self (be it the individual or the state) by thinking from the perspectives of the other. Hegel and Marx are more explicitly and firmly following this line of thinking. The transcendence, or the salvation, can only be achieved by the will and faith of humans, revealed by the progress and the end of history. This vision, however, is deeply utopian, and Duara argues that its realization, achievable only through a movement of radical social change, needs "sacred authority," or "a compelling symbology and affective power" (p. 80). But for the justifiable fear of extremism (such as Nazism), the moderns are unwilling to resort to these tools. Duara then argues that perhaps the Confucian, and especially the Neo-Confucian, "practices of self-cultivation in sustaining the ethical authority of heaven" may be useful, for as transcendence in Confucianism, "heaven was tapped as a figureless figure of hope for a variety of ethical and empowering personal projects that validated this very transcendence" (p. 80). The question Duara raises, namely how to combine reason with the sacred, is a profound one for the moderns, and the Confucian heaven may also be more inclusive than the Christian God or Allah. Still, if...


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