From Tianxia to Tianxia: The Generalization of a Concept

  • Salvatore BabonesEmail author
Original Article


The philosopher Zhao Tingyang argues that some 3000 years ago there existed a meaningful Chinese tianxia, at the time of the classical Zhou Dynasty. But what does the term mean today? And what does it (or should it) mean in English? Just as the Greek word hegemonia became the English hegemony and the Latin word imperium became the English empire, the Chinese word tianxia is entering English-language political discourse as something related to, but distinct from, its original Chinese meaning(s). Like hegemony and empire before it, the English-language term tianxia is likely to lose its cultural specificity while retaining its structural implications. As a distinct form of secular international society organized around a central state, tianxia is less authoritative than hegemony, which is itself less authoritative than empire. As a result, a tianxia presupposes a certain community of spirit among its member states. One possible source of such community is world society, the society of all the individual people in the (or, in the past, “a”) world. New political structures call for new terms to describe them, and tianxia may emerge as a useful supplement to empire and hegemony as a term to describe a more spiritual form of international society coordinated, but not dominated or ruled, by a single, central state.


Tianxia Hegemony Empire English School Central state system 


  1. Babones, Salvatore. 2017a. American Tianxia: Chinese Money, American Power, and the End of History. Bristol: Policy Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Babones, Salvatore. 2017b. Taking China Seriously: Relationality, Tianxia, and the ‘Chinese School’ of International Relations. In Encyclopedia of Empirical International Relations Theory, ed. William Thompson, 1–16. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Babones, Salvatore. 2018. Sovereignty in the Millennial World-System. In The Return of Geopolitics, ed. Albert Bergesen and Christian Suter, 31–47. Berlin: Lit Verlag.Google Scholar
  4. Babones, Salvatore, and John H.S. Aberg. 2019. Globalization and the Rise of Integrated World Society: Deterritorialization, Structural Power, and the Endogenization of International Society. Forthcoming in International Theory.Google Scholar
  5. Bull, Hedley. 1966a. The Grotian Conception of International Society. In Diplomatic Investigations, ed. Herbert Butterfield and Martin Wight, 50–73. London: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  6. Bull, Hedley. 1966b. Society and Anarchy in International Relations. In Diplomatic Investigations, ed. Herbert Butterfield and Martin Wight, 35–50. London: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  7. Burgess, Sean W. 2017. Brazil in the World: The International Relations of a South American Giant. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Burke, Edmund. 1999 [1796]. Select Works of Edmund Burke, Volume 3 (Letters on a Regicide Peace). Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.Google Scholar
  9. Buzan, Barry. 2004. From International to World Society? English School Theory and the Social Structure of Globalisation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Buzan, Barry. 2014. An Introduction to the English School of International Relations: The Societal Approach. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  11. Callahan, William A. 2011. Tianxia, Empire and the World. In China Orders the World? Soft Power, Norms and Foreign Policy, ed. William A. Callahan and Elena Barabantseva, 91–117. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Chung, Jae Ho. 2016. The Rise of China and East Asia: a New Regional Order on the Horizon? Chinese Political Science Review 1: 47–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Drogula, Fred K. 2007. Imperium, Potestas, and the Pomerium in the Roman Republic. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 56: 419–452.Google Scholar
  14. Fukuyama, Francis. 1989. The End of History? The National Interest 16: 3–18.Google Scholar
  15. Ge, Zhaoguang. 2018a. The ‘Interior’ and the ‘Exterior’ in Historical China: A Re-clarification of the Concepts of ‘China’ and the ‘Periphery’. Chinese Studies in History 51: 4–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ge, Zhaoguang. 2018b. What Is China? Territory, Ethnicity, Culture, and History, translated by Michael Gibbs Hill. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Jones, Lee. 2019. Does China’s Belt and Road Initiative Challenge the Liberal, Rules‑Based Order? Prepublication forthcoming in Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences.Google Scholar
  18. Kang, David C. 2010. East Asia before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Tribute. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Kavalski, Emilian. 2018. The Guanxi of Relational International Theory. Oxford: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Lebow, Richard Ned. 2001. Thucydides the Constructivist. American Political Science Review 95: 547–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lebow, Richard Ned, and Robert Kelly. 2001. Thucydides and Hegemony: Athens and the United States. Review of International Studies 27: 593–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lu, Mingjun. 2016. The Bene-Ideal: China’s Cosmopolitan Vision of World Order. Chinese Political Science Review 1: 336–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Meyer, John W., John Boli, George M. Thomas, and Francisco O. Ramirez. 1997. World Society and the Nation-State. American Journal of Sociology 103: 144–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Modelski, George. 1964. Kautilya: Foreign Policy and International System in the Ancient Hindu World. American Political Science Review 58: 549–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. MOFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation]. 2016. The Declaration of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the Promotion of International Law. Beijing: June 25.Google Scholar
  26. Rawls, John. 1999. Law of Peoples. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Richardson, John S. 1991. Imperium Romanum: Empire and the Language of Power. Journal of Roman Studies 81: 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Samuel Huntington, P. 1996. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Touchstone Books.Google Scholar
  29. Sarkar, Benoy Kumar. 1919. Hindu Theory of International Relations. American Political Science Review 13: 400–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Schmitt, Carl. 2003 [1950]. The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum. Translated by G.L. Ulmen. New York: Telos Press.Google Scholar
  31. Schwab, George. 1994. Contextualising Carl Schmitt’s concept of Grossraum. History of European Ideas 19: 185–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Wang, Gungwu. 2013. Renewal: The Chinese State and the New Global History. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Wight, Martin. 1966. Western Values in International Relations. In Diplomatic Investigations, ed. Herbert Butterfield and Martin Wight, 89–131. London: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  34. Wight, Martin. 1977. Systems of States, edited by Hedley Bull. Leicester: Leicester University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Xinhua, 2016. [2013]. General Secretary Xi Jinping Explicates the ‘Chinese Dream’, translated by Ted Wang. Chinese Law & Government 48: 477–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Zhang, Fung. 2015. Chinese Hegemony: Grand Strategy and International Institutions in East Asian History. Stanford: Stanford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Zhao, Tingyang. 2006. Rethinking Empire from a Chinese Concept ‘All-under-Heaven’ (Tian-xia). Social Identities 12: 29–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Zhao, Tingyang. 2009. A Political World Philosophy in Terms of All-under-Heaven (Tian-xia). Diogenes 221: 5–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Zhao, Tingyang. 2012. All-Under-Heaven and Methodological Relationism: An Old Story and New World Peace. In Contemporary Chinese Political Thought: Debates and Perspectives, ed. Fred Dallmayr and Tingyang Zhao, 46–66. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.Google Scholar
  40. Zhao, Tingyang. 2015. Redefining the Concept of Politics via ‘tianxia’: The Problems, Conditions and Methodology. World Economics and Politics 6: 4–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Zhao, Tingyang. 2019. Redefining A Philosophy for World Governance. Singapore: Palgave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Fudan University 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SydneySydneyAustria

Personalised recommendations