The Tsinghua Approach and the Inception of Chinese Theories of International Relations

Chinese Journal of International Politics

Author/s (editor/s):

Feng Zhang

Publication year:


Publication type:

Journal article

Find this publication at:
Oxford University Press

Published in Chinese Journal of International Politics, 5(1) 2012: 73-102.

Now marks the first time in China’s nascent International Relations (IR) studies that a prestigious Western academic press has translated into English and published a collection of articles by Chinese IR scholars. Until now, this honour has been the preserve of history and philosophy, fields with distinguished pedigrees in China’s intellectual history, and whose scholarly accomplishments have long been internationally recognized.1 The publication by Princeton University Press of these articles, most of them originally written in Chinese by Professor Yan Xuetong and his colleagues at Tsinghua University in Beijing, that comprise Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power suggests a turning point in China’s international studies.2 As it turns out, in addition to being important in the disciplinary history of Chinese IR, the book also carries implications for the global IR discipline. It contains, moreover, theoretical insights and policy implications worth thorough review.

My aim is to situate the book within the disciplinary context of Chinese IR; to identify its promise as well as problems, and to suggest its implications for the development of Chinese IR, the emergence of Chinese theories of international relations, and the policy problems of China’s rise. In what follows, I first identify what I call ‘the Tsinghua approach’ in Chinese IR, its significance in China’s international studies and its implications for the debate on the so-called ‘Chinese school of IR.’ I then discuss the book’s methodological assumptions and problems, its theoretical promise and problems and finally its policy implications. Professor Yan has been a distinguished pioneer of the policy, method, and theory of China’s international studies for two decades, and this book leaves no doubt as to his achievements. This article is a critical engagement with his scholarship, in the hope that the Tsinghua team may address existing problems and achieve greater accomplishments on the basis of Professor Yan’s pioneering groundwork.

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