Harmony and humane governance: Contesting the social order in classical Chinese thought and 21st century global society

Rosita Dellios, R. James Ferguson

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When China’s President Hu Jintao articulated his country’s ‘harmonious world’ (hexie shijie) foreign policy perspective at the United Nations’ 60th anniversary in 2005, he spoke of the need ‘to preserve the diversity of civilizations in the spirit of equality and openness, make international relations more democratic and jointly build a harmonious world where all civilizations coexist and accommodate each other.’ This message has retained its salience in subsequent years and represents a particular vision of world order that is viewed as the ‘preferred’ option within current Chinese foreign policy. Where does this vision come from? In investigating the ancestry of the current leadership’s policy posture of ‘harmonious world’, which has its domestic counterpart in ‘harmonious society’, it is necessary to delve into classical Chinese thought. But more than investigate the past to seek the origins and meaning of a key Chinese cultural concept, harmony, this paper also examines the implications of a stronger China articulating such a vision. Like the Contention of the Hundred Schools of Thought (770-221 BC) which flourished with the passing of the Zhou dynasty and its socio-political order, so too the sudden end of bipolar strategic competition at the close of the 20th century has left the field open to alternative modes of relating as nations and peoples, with globalization accelerating the transformative process. Is the world on the threshold of a new age of contestation of ideas for how global society advances? China’s focus on constructing a ‘harmonious world’ is indicative of an attempt to render this Confucian idea as more than merely Chinese, that ‘harmonious world’ is, in effect, harmonious with the UN’s vision and global governance cooperation in an era dominated by transnational security issues. This paper will investigate ‘harmony’ and the notion of humane governance in classical Chinese thought when the social order was being contested, as well as the prevailing world order when the crucial level of analysis is the global system, with China playing a more active role harmonizing dominant and weaker powers, Western and non-Western values.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Confucian studies
EditorsS. Chun
Place of PublicationBeijing
PublisherJiuzhou Press
Number of pages43
ISBN (Print)9787510808500
Publication statusPublished - 2011
EventInternational Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) Inter-Congress: From the crossroads of civilizations: Understanding cultural diversity to connect societies - Belek, Antayla, Turkey
Duration: 3 Oct 20106 Oct 2010

Publication series

NameMonograph series
PublisherJiuzhou Press


ConferenceInternational Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) Inter-Congress
Abbreviated titleIUAES 2010
CityBelek, Antayla
Internet address


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