Is Zhao's Tianxia System Misunderstood?

AuthorXu Bijun
XU (DO NOT DELETE) 2014-1-29 12:55 PM
XU Bijun
Zhao Tingyang’s Tianxia System has become a hot topic of
discussion since he first introduced it during the 2005 Culture of
Knowledge conference in Gao, India.1 Some commentators have
spoken highly of this system as a worldview that can address
problems in global development.2 Others have lodged criticisms
against it.3 However, many critical commentators have an inaccurate
understanding of Zhaos theories. This paper aims to show the ways
in which Zhao’s Tianxia System has been misunderstood and
responds to misinterpretations of his theories. I will begin by briefly
introducing the Chinese term Tianxia, the core points of Zhaos
Tianxia System, and the current debates surrounding it. I will then
respond to the main misunderstandings of Zhaos System. Finally, I
will present my own thoughts on Zhaos Tianxia System and its
potential impact on international law and relations.
Although Zhaos Tianxia theory is not equal to the ancient
Chinese cultural concept of Tianxia ( 天下, literally
All-under-Heaven), Zhao borrowed this ancient Chinese cultural
concept and its core meanings as a basis for his own ideas.
Therefore, one must understand the traditional concept of Tianxia
before exploring Zhao’s theory.
Tianxia forms the basis for the worldview of the Chinese people
not only in the past but also in the present. Although Chinese people
are familiar with the concept of Tianxia, clearly defining it has been
difficult. In 1981, this topic was discussed in a nation-wide
conference organized by the Chinese Association of Sociology of
Ethnicity and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Various
1 Zhao first introduced his Tianxia system in a paper delivered at the international conference
“International Conference on Universal Knowledge and Language” in Goa, India, on 22 November
2 See Sunndeep Waslekar, Women Shidai de Da Wenti: Cong Minzu Guojia Dao Quanqiu
Gongtongi (我们时代的大问题:从民族国家到全球共同体) [The Big Problem of Our Time: From
Nations to the Global World] in Zhao Tingyang (赵汀阳), Tianxia TixiShijie Zhidu Zhexue Daolun
( 天下体系世界制度哲学导论) [The Tianxia SystemAn Introduction to the Philosophy of a World
Institution] 111 (2005) (A function of Tianxia System) [hereinafter Waslekar]; Francesco Sisci, Under
the Same Sky: A New World-view from China, 56 DIOGENES 7482 (2009).
3 See William A. Callahan, Chinese Visions of World Order: Post-Hegemonic or a New Hegemony,
10 INTL STUD. REV. 749 (2008); Chang Chishen, Tianxia System on a Snail’s Horns, 12 INTER-ASIA
CULTURAL STUD., 1 (2011).

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