Confucian Foreign Policy Traditions in Chinese History

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Author/s (editor/s):

Feng Zhang

Publication year:


Publication type:

Journal article

Find this publication at:
Oxford University Press

Feng Zhang, ‘Confucian Foreign Policy Traditions in Chinese History’, Chinese Journal of International Politics, 8(2) 2015: 197-218.

Can Confucianism enrich Chinese foreign policy? This article seeks to explore major traditions of Confucian foreign policy in imperial Chinese history and suggest their implications for contemporary Chinese foreign policy. The popular notion of Confucian pacifism is not a credible tradition of Confucian foreign policy, but a modern Chinese myth constructed in the early 20th century. Rather, Confucian foreign policy traditions were characterized by the contrasting ideas of inclusivism and exclusivism, neither of which renounced the use of force as a legitimate instrument of foreign policy. Both traditions were underpinned by a traditional Chinese theory of human nature. The adoption of inclusivism or exclusivism in foreign policy was a contingent outcome of relational interactions in China’s foreign relations. Confucianism’s inclusive humanism, reflected in the inclusive tradition, can provide a major intellectual inspiration for contemporary Chinese foreign policy. It can suggest a Confucian grand strategy of inclusive relationalism that significantly broadens the strategic vision of Chinese foreign policy. Chinese foreign policy discourse under President Xi Jinping already contains an important degree of inclusive relationalism. Putting this strategy more into practice will benefit both China and the world.

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