Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power

Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power

Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power

Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power


The rise of China could be the most important political development of the twenty-first century. What will China look like in the future? What should it look like? And what will China's rise mean for the rest of world? This book, written by China's most influential foreign policy thinker, sets out a vision for the coming decades from China's point of view.

In the West, Yan Xuetong is often regarded as a hawkish policy advisor and enemy of liberal internationalists. But a very different picture emerges from this book, as Yan examines the lessons of ancient Chinese political thought for the future of China and the development of a "Beijing consensus" in international relations. Yan, it becomes clear, is neither a communist who believes that economic might is the key to national power, nor a neoconservative who believes that China should rely on military might to get its way. Rather, Yan argues, political leadership is the key to national power, and morality is an essential part of political leadership. Economic and military might are important components of national power, but they are secondary to political leaders who act in accordance with moral norms, and the same holds true in determining the hierarchy of the global order.

Providing new insights into the thinking of one of China's leading foreign policy figures, this book will be essential reading for anyone interested in China's rise or in international relations.


Daniel A. Bell

If American neoconservatives are liberals mugged by reality, Chinese realists are idealists mugged by the surreal events of the Cultural Revolution. In the case of Yan Xuetong, he grew up in a family of morally upright intellectuals and, at the age of sixteen, was sent to a construction corps in China’s far north, where he stayed for nine years. Here’s how he describes his experience of hardship: “At that time, the Leftist ideology was in full swing. In May, water in Heilongjiang still turns to ice. When we pulled the sowing machine, we were not allowed to wear boots. We walked barefoot over the ice. Our legs were covered in cuts. We carried sacks of seed that could weigh up to eighty kilograms [about 176 pounds]. We carried them along the raised pathways around the paddy fields. These were not level; make a slight misstep and you fell into the water. You just thought of climbing out and going on. When you at last struggled to the end and lay down, your eyes could only see black and you just could not get up…. [W]e saw people being beaten to death, so you became somewhat immune to it.” In 1969, the Voice of America predicted that war could break out on the Sino-Soviet border: “When we young people learned this, we were particularly happy. We hoped that a massive war would improve the country, or at least change our own lives. Today people fear war, but at the time we hoped for immediate action, even to wage a world war. That way we could have hope. In that frame of mind, there was no difference between life and death. There was no point in living.”

Four decades later, Yan Xuetong has emerged as China’s most influential foreign policy analyst and theorist of international relations (in 2008, Foreign Policy named him one of the world’s hundred most influential . . .

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