Zhang Xiaoming School of International Studies Peking University

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Zhang Xiaoming

School of International Studies

Peking University


IRT was introduced into China from the West, especially from the US. The Chinese IR

community started the learning process by

importing the Western IRTmainly through

translation, especially in the beginning of the

reform and opening up era.


Some Chinese IR scholars, such as Chen Lemin at CASS and Ni Shixiong at Fudan Univeristy, Chen Hanwen at Institute of

International Relations, and others, did the pioneering work by starting to introduce the Western IRT to the Chinese readership in the early 1980s.

My personal experience at PKU.


The travelogue of the so-called American

mainstream IR theories into China


Realist IRT: The early 1990s saw the first wave of translating American IRT classics which seemed to show a special preference for realist works:

Hans Morgenthau’s Politics among Nations (1990).

Kenneth Waltz’s Man, the State, and the War (1991), and Theory of International Politics (1992).

Robert Gilpin’s War and Change in World Politics (1994).

J. Measheimer, S. Watt, S. Van Evera, etc, in 21




Liberal IRT: In late 1990s and early 21


century, liberal IR theories were also

introduced into China, a series of liberal

works were translated and published in China between 2001 and 2002:

Robert Keohane’s After Hegemony and Neorealism and Neoliberalism.

Keohane and Nye’s Power and Interdependence (3



James Rosenau’s Governance without



Constructivist IRT: the most conspicuous

development in China’s IRT at the turn of the century was the introduction of

constructivism and its rapid spreading:

Alexander Wendt’s Social Theory of

International Politics was translated by Qin Yaqing and published in China in 2000.

A number of books on constructivism written

by young Chinese IR scholars were published

in the early 21




The travelogue of non-American and non-

mainstream IRT into China


English School of International Relations: the Chinese IR community has been paying

increasing attention to the English School since the end of the Cold War, especially since the


R. J. Vincent’s Human Rights and International Relations (1998).

Hedley Bull’s Anarchical Society (2003).

Barry Buzan and Richard Little’s International System in World History (2004).

Nicolas Wheeler’s To Save the Strangers (2011).

Books on English School by Chinese scholars,

such as Chen Zhirui, Xu Jia, Miao Hongni, Li

Zhangze, Zhang Xiaoming, Liu Debin, etc.


Other non-mainstream IR theories: feminism, critical theory, world system theory, etc.



The impact of the learning process:

In the beginning of the 21


century, Chinese IR community has imported almost all the IR

theoretical approaches in the West, including mainstream, and non-mainstream theories.

At the same time, some Chinese IR scholars and students tried to apply Western IRT to local

contexts and puzzles and to assess their relevance. (theory test)

IRT courses are offered at Chinese universities

and IRT textbooks published in China.


In a word, the introduction of Western IRT into China is no doubt a great push for the Chinese IRT studies. The Chinese IR

community has benefited a lot from and been

greatly shaped by its engagement in global

conversation on IRT, and IR has become an

independent academic discipline in China

ever since.


But another result of the introducing efforts is to strengthen the American dominant

discourse in Chinese IRT studies, IRT in China has been greatly influenced by the West IRTs, especially the American ones. The so-called

“colonization” or “Americanization of Chinese IRT studies was raised by some Chinese IR



In the process of introducing and learning the Western IRTs, there has been an increasing

anxiety among the Chinese IR scholars.


The introduction of the Western IRT has not

led to the indigenous IRT, and to some extent, it even resulted in the stagnation of the IRT

studies in China, as claimed by some Chinese IR scholars.

“Now in China, we have a discipline of

international relations, but it is a discipline without theory of its own” (Qin Yaqing)

They have been searching for “IR theory with

Chinese characteristics” or “Chinese school of

IRT” since late 1980s.


In 1987, at China’s first major IR theory

conference in Shanghai, the proposal that China needed “IR theory with Chinese characteristics”

was made, by the old generation of Chinese IR scholars (such as Liang Shoude at PKU, and Feng Tejun at Renmin University, and Fu Yaozu at

Foreign Affair College).

In the beginning of the 21


century, the term

“Chinese school” of IRT seemed to replace the term “IR theory with Chinese characteristics”, by the young generation of Chinese IR scholars

(such as Qin Yaqing at Foreign Affairs College,

and Su Changhe, Ren Xiao at Fudan University).


The main reason:

The success of the Chinese reform and opening up policy has surely become a

source of inspiration for Chinese IR scholars to produce indigenous IRTs.

With the rise of China’s comprehensive power, some Chinese scholars anticipate that

refomist China will sooner or later fully exploit its potential for an “IR theory with

Chinese characteristics” or “Chinese school of

IRT” to emerge and evolve.


In China, in addition to the continued

introduction of the Western IRT, some of the scholars have been exploiting the resources which are available for the indigenous study of IRT in China. That is called “To use the

Chinese concepts to tell the Chinese story.”


Three individuals’ efforts need to be



Qin Yaqing’s efforts:

The core problematic



Zhao Tianyang’s efforts:

China needs to excel not just in economic production, but in knowledge production as well, China needs to stop simply importing ideas from the West, and instead exploit its own indigenous resources of traditional


Conceptualization and modernization of

traditional Chinese concept Tianxia (All-



Yan Xuetong and Tsinghua Approach?

Yan Xuetong, Ancient Chinese Thought,

Modern Chinese Power (Princeton University Press, 2011).

Yan Xuetong is using ancient Chinese thought for both modern IR theory and the policy

problem of China’s rise.


Why are the Chinese IR scholars so eager for

an indigenous IRT? Is China an exceptional

country in the world?


China is a country (or civilization) with a long history and unique cultural as well as

intellectual resources, some of the Chinese IR

scholars are eager to exploit the local history

and traditional culture for conceptualization

or theorization of international relations.


China’s rise is a source of inspiration to

produce an indigenous IRT.


China is a late comer in the West-dominated

international society, the learning process of

IRT will continue.


IRT in China: a learning process, and a

cultural phenomenon.