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From Tianxia to Tianxia: The Generalization of a Concept

  • Salvatore BabonesEmail author
Original Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Tianxia Hegemony Empire English School Central state system 

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Copyright information

© Fudan University 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SydneySydneyAustria

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