S. Weigelin-Schwiedrzik u.a. (Hrsg.): As China Meets the World

As China Meets the World. China's Changing Position in the International Community

Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, Susanne; Schick-Chen, Agnes; Klotzbücher, Sascha
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Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Thoralf Klein, Kulturwissenschaftliches Kolleg, Universität Konstanz

For about ten years, a consensus has been established among historians of modern China that the history of that country cannot be written without taking into account its external relations. The present volume falls into line with this approach, while at the same time exploring new perspectives. Most of the individual contributions had been presented at a large-scale international conference held in Vienna in May 2004. As Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik points out in her brief introduction, the conference papers selected for publication as well as a few supplementary contributions were carefully chosen so as to highlight “one aspect which has recently gained in importance but has long been neglected by China scholars”, namely “China’s relationship with and entry into international organizations and into the regime of international law” (S. 7).

From the perspective of cultural history, the two papers that do not conform with this program are among the most interesting of the entire volume. Margareta Grießler (spelled Grieszler throughout the volume) examines the participation of foreign diplomats in the funerary rituals for the Empress Dowager Cixi in 1908, comparing these with the mourning services for Mao Zedong in 1976 and Deng Xiaoping in 1997. As the Chinese Communist leadership deliberately excluded foreigners from the death rituals for both Mao and Deng, Grießler rightly concludes that foreign presence at Cixi’s funeral procession created a unique moment in modern Chinese history. Unfortunately, she fails to contextualize this moment and therefore cannot explain what made it possible in the first place. Drawing on James Hevia’s research on the cultural impact of Western imperialism on China[1], it would seem logical to connect the Western presence at the Imperial funeral of 1908 to imperialist efforts at gaining control of crucial Chinese state rituals, most notably the Imperial audience, in order to force China into the cultural realm of international diplomacy. International power structures, which loom large in many papers of this volume, go unmentioned in Grießler’s article.

Tom Grunfeld presents a both fascinating and disquieting story of how the Tibet question was internationalized. Western concern for the region draws on the myth of Tibet that had been created from the 18th century onwards. But it was not until the Dalai Lama decided to actively promote Tibetan interests in the West in the late 1980s (in order to force Beijing to continue negotiations) that the Tibet question took firm roots in Western European and North American minds. The influence of New Age contributed to the positive image of Tibet, and Hollywood began to take a leading role in communicating a script in which the Chinese government was assigned the role of the bad guy. As Grunfeld points out, the Western media are highly selective in their coverage of Tibet, allowing only the voices of Tibetan exiles to be heard, while ignoring those of Tibetans living in Tibet and disputing the relevance of the Chinese standpoint. At the same time, many Western people exhibit a patronizing attitude towards Tibetans, regarding them as bad guardians of a “culture” that is in fact very much of Western making.

Although rather the early phase of China’s involvement with international organizations is relevant to scientific research, most of the papers in this volume deal with the post-1945 period. Judith Hufnagel takes a look at the strategic triangle between the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC) and the United States from the perspective of international law, which enables her to shed new light on an already well-researched topic. According to Hufnagel, all three parties are committed to a “one China” policy as the basis for a modus vivendi, yet each has its own specific interpretation of what that policy actually means. Hufnagel is probably right to conclude that a rapprochement between ROC and PRC might be the key to Taiwan’s establishment in international organizations. However, she underestimates both the changes Taiwanese identity discourse since the mid-1990s and the ramifications of the PRC’s Anti-Secession Law of 2005.

Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik and Nele Noesselt examine two policy papers by the EU and China respectively concerning their mutual relations. They show that the EU concept of “political dialogue” ultimately aims at system change in China. By contrast, the PRC insists on absolute equality in partnership, regarding the EU as a useful counterweight against U. S. aspirations to military superiority. With a number of strategic conflicts unsolved, it seems that the dialogue between the EU and the PRC is still a far cry from mutual understanding.

Xu Xiaoqun shows how between 1901 and 1911, the Qing government introduced a modern law based on the Western principles of legal equality, judicial independence and due process. In examining in debates on to what extent Confucian values should be preserved in modern law, Xu moves beyond the conventional dichotomization of Chinese officialdom into the two opposing camps of reformers and conservatives. Wang Dong turns to the less gratifying aspects of the introduction of Western law in China. He points out the fundamental discrepancy in Western imperialist efforts to force China to conform to the standards of international law: The so-called “unequal treaties” that reduced China to a status of dependency were concluded in the very name of equality between sovereign nation-states. Wang points out how the unequal treaties dominated the development of international law as an academic discipline and, more importantly, how the specter of inequality has continued to haunt the political leadership of China to this day.

Agnes Schick-Chen addresses another crucial concept of Western world to assess legal culture of non-Western states: the concept of ‘rule of law’. Schick-Chen discusses the ambiguous semantics of the term ‘fazhi’, which has been at the heart of Chinese legal reform (as opposed to the traditional formula of ‘renzhi’, i.e. ‘rule of man’). It carries the two meanings of ‘rule by law’ and ‘rule of law’. Taking Internet regulations and the legislation on and practice of administrative review as examples, Schick-Chen demonstrates, however, that there is no clear-cut boundary between the two approaches to law.

The contribution of this volume to the field of China’s international relations is fourfold: First, almost all chapters emphasize the agency of the Chinese in managing their relations with the world. Second, they demonstrate how China’s present orientation in the world is the result of historical experiences, implying that the West ought to take the Chinese viewpoint more seriously than it usually does. Third, some of the articles address translingual practices, pointing out the ambiguity of terms and concepts as a source of cultural misunderstandings. Fourth, a few chapters also strive to transcend conventional dichotomies and establish new criteria for historical and political analysis.

[1] Hevia, James L., English Lessons. The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century China, Durham 2003.

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