Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-lfgmx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-28T05:53:38.907Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Sino-speak: Chinese Exceptionalism and the Politics of History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 January 2012

Get access


This article examines how recent books by academics and public intellectuals are reshaping the discourse of the rise of China. While earlier trends argued that China was being socialized into the norms of international society, many texts now proclaim that due to its unique civilization, China will follow its own path to modernity. Such books thus look to the past—China's imperial history—for clues to not only China's future, but also the world's future. This discourse, which could be called “Sino-speak,” presents an essentialized Chinese civilization that is culturally determined to rule Asia, if not the world. The article notes that nuanced readings of China's historical relations with its East Asian neighbors provide a critical entry into a more sophisticated analysis of popular declarations of “Chinese exceptionalism.” But it concludes that this critical analysis is largely overwhelmed by the wave of Sino-speak.

Research Article
Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


List of References

Barthes, Roland. 1972. Mythologies. New York: The Noonday Press.Google Scholar
Buckley, Chris. 2010. “China PLA officer urges challenging U.S. dominance.” Reuters, March 1.Google Scholar
Callahan, William A. 2004. Contingent States: Greater China and Transnational Relations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
Callahan, William A. and Barabantseva, Elena, eds. 2012. China Orders the World: Normative Soft Power and Foreign Policy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Campbell, David. 1998. Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
Gang, Cheng. 2010a. “Jiefang jun daxiao Liu Mingfu zhuzhang Zhongguo zhengzuo shijie di yi junshi qiangguo” [Liu Mingfu of the PLA emphasizes that China will become the world's number one superpower]. In Wuyouzhixiang [Utopia], March 3. [accessed 17 July 2011].Google Scholar
Gang, Cheng. 2010b. “Liu Mingfu dui benbao shuo, Zhongguo zheng dang shijie guanjun he taoguang yanghui bu maodun [Liu Mingfu tells this paper: China struggling to be the world's number one power does not contradict the “lay low” policy]. In Huanqiu shibao (Global Times), March 2. [accessed 17 July 2011].Google Scholar
“China's aim of being top military superpower may be a dream.” 2010. In Global Times, March 3. [accessed 17 July 2011].Google Scholar
Creek, Timothy. 2006. “Xu Jilin and the Thought Work of China's Public Intellectuals.” In China Quarterly no. 186: 401–20.Google Scholar
Cumings, Bruce. 1998. “Rimspeak; or, The Discourse of the ‘Pacific Rim’.” In What is in a Rim? Critical Perspectives on the Pacific Rim Idea, 2nd edn., Dirlik, Arif, ed., 5372. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
Davies, Gloria. 2007. Worrying About China: The Language of Chinese Critical Inquiry. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
“Do you think China will become global military power?” 2010. Online poll. In Global Times, March 3. [accessed 17 July 2011].Google Scholar
French, Howard W. 2010. “In Case You Missed Them: Books by Martin Jacques and Yasheng Huang.” In The China Beat, February 1.Google Scholar
Foot, Rosemary and Walter, Andrew. 2011. China, the United States, and Global Order. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Fukuyama, Francis. 1989. “The End of History” In The National Interest no. 19 (Summer).Google Scholar
Friedberg, Aaron L. 1993/94. “Ripe for Rivalry: Prospects for Peace in a Multipolar Asia.” In International Security 18(3) (Winter): 533.Google Scholar
He Beilin, . 1996. “Qianyan” [Foreword]. In Zhonggou keyi shuo bu [China can say no], Song Qiang, Zhang Zangzang and Qiao Bian. Beijing: Zhonghua gongshang lianhe chubanshe.Google Scholar
Horner, Charles. 2009. Rising China and Its Postmodern Fate: Memories of Empire in a New Global Context. Athens: University of Georgia Press.Google Scholar
Hughes, Christopher R. 2011. “Reclassifying Chinese Nationalism: The Geopolitick Turn.” In Journal of Contemporary China 20(71): 601–20.Google Scholar
Huntington, Samuel P. 1993. “The Clash of Civilizations?” In Foreign Affairs 72(3): 2249.Google Scholar
Jacques, Martin. 2009. When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
Jacques, Martin. Martin Jacques: Writer & Columnist. Personal website. [accessed 17 July 2011].Google Scholar
Jiang Rong, . 2004. Lang tuteng [Wolf Totem]. Wuhan: Changjiang wenyi chubanshe.Google Scholar
Johnston, Alastair Iain. 2008. Social States: China in International Institutions, 1980–2000. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Kang, David C. 2007. China Rising: Peace, Power and Order in East Asia. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Kang, David C. 2010. East Asia Before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Tribute. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Kang, David C. 2003. “Getting Asia Wrong: The Need for New Analytical Frameworks.” In International Security 27(4): 5785.Google Scholar
Kang Youwei, . 2005. Datong shu [Great Harmony]. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe.Google Scholar
Karl, Rebecca. 2002. Staging the World: Chinese Nationalism at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
Katzenstein, Peter J., ed. 2010. Civilizations in World Politics: Plural and Pluralistic Perspectives. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Kissinger, Henry. 2011. On China. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
Koizumi, Junko. 2010. “Between Tribute and Treaty: Sino-Siamese Relations from the Late Nineteenth Century to the Early Twentieth Century.” In Negotiating Asymmetry: China's Place in Asia, Reid, Anthony and Zheng, Yangwen, eds., 4772. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
Li Yue, . 2010. “Liu Mingfu: Zhong-Mei jingzheng shi yi chang tianjingsai” [Liu Mingfu: Sino-US competition is a track and field competition]. In Jingbao, January 23. [accessed 17 July 2011].Google Scholar
Liu Mingfu, . 2010. Zhongguo meng: hou meiguo shidai de daguo siwei zhanlue dingwei [The China Dream: The Great Power Thinking and Strategic Positioning of China in the Post-American Age]. Beijing: Zhongguo youyi chuban gongsi.Google Scholar
Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan, . 2010. “Zhongguo yao cheng yiliu qiangguo buxu you shangwu jingshen” [To become first class power China must have martial spirit]. In Huanqiu shibao, December 12.Google Scholar
Maung, Aung Myoe. 2010. “Dealing with the Dragon: The China Factor in Myanmar's Foreign Policy.” In Negotiating Asymmetry: China's Place in Asia, Reid, Anthony and Zheng, Yangwen, eds., 95118. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
Naisbitt, John. 1996. Megatrends Asia. London: Nicolas Brealey.Google Scholar
Naisbitt, John and Naisbitt, Doris. 2010. China's Megatrends: 8 Pillars of a New Society. New York: Harper Business.Google Scholar
Nyiri, Pal. 2006. “The Yellow Man's Burden: Chinese Immigrants on a Civilizing Mission.” In China Journal 56: 83106.Google Scholar
Pan Wei, , ed. 2009. Zhongguo moshi – jiedu renmin gongheguo de 60 nian, [The China model: Reading 60 years of the People's Republic]. Beijing: Zhongyang bianshi chubanshe.Google Scholar
Wei, Pan. 2011. “Zhongguo weilai 30 nian: Yuanjing yu xianjing” [China 30 years in the future: Vision and booby-trap]. In Zhongguo weilai 30 nian [China: 30 years in the future], Jinglian, Wu et al. , eds., 5465. Beijing: Zhongyang bianyi chubanshe.Google Scholar
Pomfret, John. 2010. “U.S. takes a tougher tone with China.” In Washington Post, July 30.Google Scholar
Reid, Anthony. 2010. “Introduction: Negotiating Asymmetry: Parents, Brothers, Friends and Enemies.” In Negotiating Asymmetry: China's Place in Asia, Reid, Anthony and Zheng, Yangwen, eds., 125. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
Reid, Anthony and Zheng, Yangwen, eds. 2010. Negotiating Asymmetry: China's Place in Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
Romana, Chito. 2010Does China Want to Be Top Superpower?” In ABC News, March 2.Google Scholar
Rozman, Gilbert. 2010. Chinese Strategic Thought Toward Asia. New York: Palgrave.Google Scholar
Saunders, Phillip C. 2010. “Will China's Dream turn into America's Nightmare?” In China Brief 10(7) (April 1).Google Scholar
Shi Yinhong, . 2010. Quanqiuxing de tiaozhan yu Zhongguo: Duoshi zhi qiu yu Zhongguo de zhanlue xuyao [China and global challenges: China's strategic needs in an era of many troubles]. Changsha: Hunan renmin chubanshe.Google Scholar
Tu Weiming, , ed. 1994. The Living Tree. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
Xu Jilin, . 2010. “Jueqihou de Zhongguo jiang zouxiang hefang: cong Mading Yake de Dang Zhongguo tongzhi shijie tanqi” [Which direction will a post-rise China go?: Discussing Martin Jacques's When China Rules the World]. In Nandu gongzong luntan, May 23. Scholar
Waley-Cohen, Joanna. 2006. The Culture of War in China: Empire and the Military under the Qing Dynasty. New York: I.B. Taurus.Google Scholar
Gungwu, Wang. 2010. “Family and Friends in Changing Asia.” In Negotiating Asymmetry: China's Place in Asia, Reid, Anthony and Zheng, Yangwen, eds., 214–31. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
Hui, Wang. 2011. The Politics of Imagining Asia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Wang, Yuan-Kang. 2011. Harmony and War: Confucian Culture and Chinese Power Politics. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Yan, Xuetong. 2011. Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Zhang Wenmu, . 2010. Lun Zhongguo haiquan [China's sea power], 2nd ed. Beijing: Haiyang chubanshe.Google Scholar
Zhao Tingyang, . 2009. Huai shijie yanjiu [Studies of the bad world]. Beijing: Zhongguo renmin daxue chubanshe.Google Scholar
“Zhengdang shijie ‘guanjun guojia,’ Zhongguo meng?” [Is striving to become the world's “champion country” the China dream?]. 2010. In Huanqiu wang, March 3. [accessed 17 July 2011].Google Scholar