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Peace under Heaven: The (Re)Making of an Ideal World Order in Chinese Utopianism (1902-1911)


This dissertation explores the visions of an ideal world order in Chinese utopianism at the turn of the twentieth century. Utopian works produced at this time are addressed both as literary texts and as thought experiments. Reflections about an ideal world order first arose in pre-Qin times in the concept of tianxia (All-under-Heaven). Over time, a whole set of institutions evolved around tianxia, which became the kernel of state ideology. Only in the late Qing period, when China encountered unprecedented crisis occasioned by its introduction to the modern world by Western and Japanese imperialism, did intellectuals significantly revive the utopian implications of tianxia. Among the concerns of late Qing utopians, prospects for the Chinese/yellow race, the potential of science and technology, and the critical role of morality are the most prominent in their consideration of an ideal world order. Driven by "obsession with China," they were inclined to envision a new China that restored its power through moral, social, and political reforms as well as technological progress, then to go on to establish the Chinese/yellow race's global hegemony. Interestingly and importantly, the imagined Sinocentric world order in these works features a tension between the desire to seek vengeance on the West and the hope to realize universal peace and prosperity. In some cases, the aim for universal peace, in the form of Pax Sinica, was actually complicit with Chinese global hegemony. However, there were also thoughtful proposals for a genuine universalism, such as Kang Youwei's Book of Great Unity. As discursive attempts to transcend Western modernity characterized by nationalism, colonialism, and industrial capitalism, these utopian works provide important perspectives not only for understanding Chinese history since the late Qing but also for imagining the future of a rising China where the discourse of tianxia has regained its prominence.

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