Hadrian's Reviews > Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power

Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power by Yan Xuetong
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bookshelves: china, nonfiction, philosophy, politics-and-foreign-policy

An intriguing attempt to apply concepts from ancient Chinese philosophy into contemporary international relations.

The main text of the book consists of three essays by Dr. Yan about Chinese political philosophy before the unification of the first Chinese state in 221 BCE. The first is a comparative analysis of seven different philosophers who, at various times, served as advisers to various feudal polities and hoped to bring them to more favorable situations. One of the key findings, says Yan, is the importance of moral reasoning as a bedrock of political order, and therefore a useful guideline for China, should it aim to increase its pre-eminence in the world. This 'humane authority' (a translation of the term 王 as used in classical Chinese) is the ultimate aim of a hegemonic state. The other two essays discuss the book Guanzi, and the Warring States period from from 475-221 BCE, respectively.

After these are three further essays by different Chinese IR scholars critiquing various points of Yan's study. One brings up disputes over his classifications of the ancient philosophers, another disputes his use of the term 'hegemony' and if the previous meaning is entirely applicable to contemporary usage, another doubts whether China should take up the mantle of a 'superpower' at all. These essays are useful critiques of Yan's study, and they illustrate a useful cross-section of the debate within Chinese academia.

There are more points of critique of Yan's ideas - how exactly moral leadership can be implemented, his interpretations of previous thinkers, how the application of 'moral' leadership to interventionism is reminiscent of American neo-conservatism, etc. Yet for all the flaws of this line of thinking, this volume is useful to see where exactly the debates are heading.
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Reading Progress

September 29, 2015 – Shelved
September 29, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
Started Reading
March 23, 2017 – Shelved as: china
March 23, 2017 – Shelved as: nonfiction
March 23, 2017 – Shelved as: philosophy
March 23, 2017 – Shelved as: politics-and-foreign-policy
March 23, 2017 – Finished Reading

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