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The international relations of the ‘imagined community’: Explaining the late nineteenth-century genesis of the Chinese nation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 October 2014

Abstract

Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities has long been established as one of the major contributions to theories of nations and nationalism. Anderson located the rise of national identities within a long-evolving crisis of dynastic conceptions of identity, time, and space, and argued print-capitalism was the key cultural and economic force in the genesis of nations. This article offers a critical appropriation and application of Anderson's theory through two steps. Firstly, it evaluates the conceptual underpinning of his approach through an engagement with recent scholarship on the ‘theory of uneven and combined development’. The fruits of this interchange provide a deeper analytical framework to account for what Anderson calls the ‘modularity’ of national identity, that is, its universal spread across the globe. Modularity is now reconceptualised as a product of combined development with its causal efficacy derived from the latent dynamics of a geopolitically fragmented world. The latter gave shape and form to the new national communities. Secondly, this revised framework is applied to the emergence of Chinese national identity in the late nineteenth century. This allows Chinese nationalism to be recast as an ideological amalgam of indigenous and imported elements that emerged out of the crisis-ridden encounter between Imperial China and Western imperialism in the nineteenth century.

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Copyright © British International Studies Association 2014 

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57 Thanks to Justin Rosenberg for impressing upon me the importance of these distinctions in conversation. A fuller taxonomy of the idea of ‘uneven and combined development’ can be found in Luke Cooper, ‘Uneven and Combined Development in Modern World History: Chinese Economic Reform in the Longue Durée of Capitalist Modernity’, presented at the International Studies Association Annual Convention, San Diego (2012), p. 6.

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