Prasenjit Duara - The Chinese World Order in Historical Perspective (2019)

The Imperialism of Nation-states or Soft Power    I seek to grasp the genealogy of China’s Belt and Road (BRI) in relation both to the imperial Chinese world order and the historical sequence of forms of global domination, i.e., modern imperialism, the ‘imperialism of nation-states’ during the inter-war and Cold War period as well as the post-Cold War notion of ‘soft power’. While we may think of BRI as poised uncertainly between the logics of the older imperial Chinese order and the more recent logic impelled by capitalist nation-states, there are significant novelties in the new Chinese order, mostly in relation to debt, the environment and digital technology which constitute new realms of power not easily dominated by a hegemon.

My goal is to assess the historical conditions and “genealogy” of China’s emergence as a global power. “Genealogy” refers not to a linear sequence of historical causations, but to the different historical modes of power relations that generate the possibilities of the present. I reference the various periods of Western and Japanese imperialism and dominance and revisit the imperial Chinese notion of the world order. In particular, I explore the Chinese Imperial Tribute Order discussed by Fairbank (1968) and others several decades ago.

The argument is not a historicist one suggesting that the present expansion of Chinese power and influence in the One Belt One Road (OBOR) policy (yidai yilu officially translated as Belt Road Initiative, BRI) is somehow a return to those conceptions. Rather, I suggest that there are continuities and novelties with these different modes of dominance and responses, including unexpected convergences between the imperial Chinese order and BRI. But each mode of dominance also generates novel realms of power that I will address, particularly with regard to BRI, in the later part of this paper…..

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