Skip to main content Accessibility help

Toward a Dynamic Theory of International Politics: Insights from Comparing Ancient China and Early Modern Europe

  • Victoria Tin-bor Hui (a1)

This article examines why international relations theories presume checks and balances but universal domination triumphed in ancient China. I argue that one should not presume the European experience as the norm and treat ancient China as a deviant case. I propose a dynamic theory of international politics that views international competition as processes of strategic interaction and that allows for alternative trajectories and endogenous transformation. Realist theories of international politics tend to focus on structural mechanisms and overlook agential strategies. At the same time, these theories focus on causal mechanisms that check attempts at domination and overlook mechanisms that facilitate domination. It is true that attempts at domination are checked by the mechanisms of balance of power and rising costs of expansion. But domination-seekers may overcome such obstacles by pursuing divide-and-conquer strategies, ruthless tactics, and self-strengthening reforms. From this strategic-interactive perspective, universal domination is no less possible than the balance of power.I would like to express my gratitude to Jack Snyder, Ira Katznelson, Charles Tilly, Thomas Bernstein, Michael Davis, and David Kang for their extensive comments on multiple drafts. I also want to thank Fiona Adamson, Bear Braumoeller, E. Bruce Brooks, Lars-Erik Cederman, Thomas Christensen, Claudio Cioffi-Revilla, Charles Cogan, Timothy Crawford, Julian Franklin, Taylor Fravel, Robert Goodin, Yoav Gortzak, A. Iain Johnston, Edward Kolodziej, Andrew Kydd, Mark Lewis, Daniel Nexon, Richard Rosecrance, Stephen Rosen, Peter Rutland, Mark Sheetz, Erik Voeten, R. Harrison Wagner, R. Bin Wong, and the editor-in-chief and two anonymous reviewers of International Organization for their thoughtful and critical comments. In addition, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the Institute for the Study of World Politics, the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University, and the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University sponsored various phases of this project.

Hide All


Arreguín-Toft, Ivan. 2001. How the Weak Win Wars: A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict. International Security 26 (1):93128.
Black, Jeremy. 1994. European Warfare, 1660–1815. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Brewer, John. 1989. The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688–1783. New York: Knopf.
Brooks, E. Bruce. 1994. The Present and Future Prospects of Pre-Han Text Studies. Sino-Platonic Papers, No. 46. Philadelphia: Department of Oriental Studies, University of Pennsylvania.
Boulding, Kenneth E. 1963. Conflict and Defense. New York: Harper and Row.
Buzan, Barry, and Richard Little. 2000. International Systems in World History: Remaking the Study of International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chan, Gerald. 1999. The Origin of the Interstate System: The Warring States in Ancient China. Issues and Studies 35 (1):14766.
Chan, Stephen, Peter Mandaville, and Roland Bleiker, eds. 2001. The Zen of International Relations: IR Theory from East to West. New York: Palgrave.
Chen, Enlin. 1991. Xianqin junshi zhidu yanjiu (A Study of the Military System in the Pre-Qin Period). Changchun, China: Jilin wenshi chubanshe.
Christensen, Thomas J. 1996. Useful Adversaries. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Christensen, Thomas J., and Jack L. Snyder. 1990. Chain Gangs and Passed Bucks: Predicting Alliance Patterns in Multipolarity. International Organization 44 (2):13768.
Downing, Brian. 1992. The Military Revolution and Political Change. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Elster, Jon. 1989. Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Elster, Jon. 1993. Political Psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Ertman, Thomas. 1997. Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Fairbank, John. 1992. China: A New History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Gao, Rui. 1995. Zhongguo shanggu junshishi (Military History of Ancient China). Beijing: Junshi kexue chubanshe.
Gerschenkron, Alexander. 1966. Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective: A Book of Essays. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Gilpin, Robert G. 1981. War and Change in World Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Goldin, Paul R. 2001. Han Feizi's Doctrine of Self-Interest. Asian Philosophy 11 (3):15159.
Gourevitch, Peter A. 1978. The Second Image Reversed: the International Sources of Domestic Politics. International Organization 32 (4):881912.
Gulick, Edward V. 1955. Europe's Classical Balance of Power. New York: Norton.
Hintze, Otto. 1975. Military Organization and the Organization of the State. In The Historical Essays of Otto Hintze, edited by Felix Gilbert, 178215. New York.: Oxford University Press.
Hirschman, Albert. 1992. Rival Views of Market Society and Other Recent Essays. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Holsti, Kalevi J. 1999. The Coming Chaos? Armed Conflict in the World's Periphery, In International Order and the Future of World Politics, edited by T. V. Paul and John A. Hall, 283310. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hong, Junpei. 1975. Chunqiu guoji gongfa (International Law in the Spring and Autumn Period). Taipei: Wenshizhe chubanshe.
Hsu, Cho-yun. 1997. War and Peace in Ancient China: The History of Chinese Interstate/International Relations. Occasional Paper Number 75. Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Asia Program.
Hsu, Cho-yun. 1999. The Spring and Autumn Period. In The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 B.C., edited by Michael Loewe and Edward L. Shaughnessy, 54586. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hui, Victoria Tin-bor. 2001. The Emergence and Demise of Nascent Constitutional Rights: Comparing Ancient China and Early Modern Europe. Journal of Political Philosophy 9 (4):372402.
Hui, Victoria Tin-bor. Forthcoming. War and State Formation in Ancient China and Early Modern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Jervis, Robert. 1982. Security Regimes. International Organization 36 (2):35778.
Jervis, Robert. 1997. System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Johnston, A. Iain. 1995. Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Kaiser, David E. 1990. Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Kaufman, Stuart J. 1997. “The Fragmentation and Consolidation of International Systems,” International Organization 51 (2):173208.
Kaysen, Carl. 1990. Is War Obsolete? A Review Essay. International Security 14 (4):4264.
Kohli, Atul, and Vivienne Shue. 1994. State Power and Social Forces: On Political Contention and Accommodation in the Third World. In State Power and Social Forces: Domination and Transformation in the Third World, edited by Joel S. Migdal, Atul Kohli, and Vivien Shue, 293326. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Krasner, Stephen D. 1984. Approaches to the State: Alternative Conceptions and Historical Dynamics. Comparative Politics 16 (2):22346.
Lake, David, and Robert Powell, eds. 1999. Strategic Choice and International Relations. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Levy, Jack S. 1983. War in the Modern Great Power System, 1495–1975. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
Levy, Jack S. 2003. Balances and Balancing: Concepts, Propositions, and Research Design. In Realism and the Balancing of Power: A New Debate, edited by John A. Vasquez and Colin Elman, 12853. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Lewis, Mark E. 1990. Sanctioned Violence in Early China. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Lewis, Mark E. 1999. Warring States: The Political History. In The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 B.C., edited by Michael Loewe and Edward L. Shaughnessy, 587650. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Lin, Jianming. 1992. Qin shi (A History of Qin). Taipei: Wunan Chubanshe.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. 1994. Selected Political Writings: The Prince, Selections from the Discourses, Letter to Vettori, translated and edited by David Wootton. Cambridge, Mass.: Hackett Publishing.
Mahoney, James. 2000. Path Dependence and Historical Sociology. Theory and Society (29): 50748.
McAdam, Doug, Sidney Tarrow, and Charles Tilly. 2001. Dynamics of Contention. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Mearsheimer, John J. 1999. Offensive Realism. Paper presented at the 95th Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, September, Atlanta, Ga.
Milner, Helen V. 1998. Rationalizing Politics: The Emerging Synthesis of International, American, and Comparative Politics. International Organization 52 (4):75986.
Morgenthau, Hans J. 1973 [1948]. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. New York: Knopf.
Mu, Zhongyue, and Guoqing Wu. 1992. Zhongguo zhanzhengshi (History of Wars in China), multiple vols. Beijing: Jincheng chubanshe.
North, Douglas C. 1990. Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance. New York: Cambridge University Press.
North, Douglas C., and Robert P. Thomas. 1973. The Rise of the Western World: A New Economic History. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Olson, Mancur. 1965. The Logic of Collective Action. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Osiander, Andreas. 2001. Sovereignty, International Relations, and the Westphalian Myth. International Organization 55 (2):25187.
Pierson, Paul. 2000. Path Dependence and the Study of Politics. American Political Science Review 94 (2):25167.
Roberts, Michael. 1995. The Military Revolution, 1560–1660. In The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe, edited by Clifford J. Rogers, 1336. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Rosecrance, Richard. 2001. Has Realism Become Cost-Benefit Analysis? International Security 26 (2):13254.
Rosecrance, Richard. 2003. Is There a Balance of Power? In Realism and the Balancing of Power: A New Debate, edited by John A. Vasquez and Colin Elman, 15465. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Rosecrance, Richard, and Chih-Cheng Lo. 1996. Balancing, Stability, and War: The Mysterious Case of the Napoleonic International System. International Studies Quarterly 40 (4):479500.
Ruggie, John G. 1998. Constructing the World Polity: Essays on International Institutionalization. New York: Routledge.
Sawyer, Ralph D., trans. 1994. Sun Tzu: The Art of War. Boulder: Westview Press.
Sawyer, Ralph D., trans. 1998. The Tao of Spycraft: Intelligence Theory and Practice in Traditional China. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Schelling, Thomas C. 1960. The Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Schroeder, Paul W. 1994. Historical Reality vs. Neo-Realist Theory. International Security 19 (1): 10848.
Schroeder, Paul W. 2003. Why Realism Does Not Work Well for International History. In Realism and the Balancing of Power: A New Debate, edited by John A. Vasquez and Colin Elman, 11427. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Schweller, Randall L. 1994. Bandwagoning for Profit: Bringing the Revisionist State Back In. International Security 19 (1):72107.
Schweller, Randall L. 1996. Neorealism's Status-Quo Bias: What Security Dilemma? Security Studies 5 (1):90121.
Shultz, Kenneth A., and Barry R. Weingast. 2003. The Democratic Advantage: Institutional Foundations of Financial Power in International Competition. International Organization 57 (1):342.
Snyder, Jack L. 1991. Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and International Ambition. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Snyder, Jack L. 2002. Anarchy and Culture: Insights from the Anthropology of War. International Organization 56 (1):745.
Sun, Yurong. 1999. Gudai zhongguo guojifa yanjiu (A Study of International Law in Ancient China). Beijing: Zhongguo zhengfa daxue chubanshe.
Tian, Changwu, and Zhifei Zang. 1996. Zhou Qin shehui jiegou yanjiu (A Study of Social Structures in the Zhou and Qin Periods). Xian: Xibei University daxue chubanshe.
Tilly, Charles. 1975. Reflections on the History of European State-Making. In The Formation of the National States in Western Europe, edited by Charles Tilly, 383. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Tilly, Charles. 1992. Coercion, Capital, and European States, A.D. 990–1992. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell.
van Evera, Stephen. 1998/99. Offense, Defense, and the Causes of War. International Security 22 (4):543.
Vasquez, John A. 1998. The New Debate on Balancing Power: A Reply to My Critics. In Realism and the Balancing of Power: A New Debate, edited by John A. Vasquez and Colin Elman, 87113. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Walker, Richard L. 1953. The Multi-State System of Ancient China. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
Walt, Stephen M. 1987. The Origins of Alliances. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Waltz, Kenneth N. 1979. Theory of International Politics. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley.
Waltz, Kenneth N. 1986. Reflections on Theory of International Politics: A Response to My Critics. In Neorealism and Its Critics, edited by Robert O. Keohane, 32245. New York: Columbia University Press.
Watson, Adam. 1992. The Evolution of International Society. London: Routledge.
Weber, Max. 1958. Bureaucracy. In From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, edited by H. H. Gerth and C. W. Mills, 196244. London: Oxford University Press.
Wendt, Alexander. 1992. Anarchy is What States Make of It: The Social Construction of Power Politics. International Organization 46 (2):391425.
Wohlforth, William. 1999. The Stability of a Unipolar World. International Security 24 (1):541.
Wong, R. Bin. 1997. China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of the European Experience. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Wong, R. Bin. 1999. The Political Economy of Agrarian Empire and Its Modern Legacy. In China and Historical Capitalism: Genealogies of Sinological Knowledge, edited by Gregory Blue and Timothy Brook, 21045. Cambridge, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press.
Yang, Kuan. 1986. Zhanguo shi (History of the Warring States). Taipei: Gufon chubanshe.
Yang, Zihiu, ed. 1996. Zhongguo lidai renkou tongji ziliao yanjiu (China Historical Population Data and Relevant Studies). Beijing: Gaige chubanshe.
“Zhongguo junshishi” Editorial Board. 1983–91. Zhongguo junshishi (Chinese Military History), multiple vols. Beijing: People's Liberation Army Press.
“Zhongguo lidai zhanzheng nianbiao” Editorial Board. 2003. Zhongguo lidai zhanzheng nianbiao (Chronology of Wars in China Through Successive Dynasties). Beijing: People's Liberation Army Publisher.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed