Zhao Tingyang：All Under Heaven
Chinese history offers a rich repository ofideas waiting to be tapped for modern application. Tianxia – or, “all-under-heaven” – is one sterling example. Its origin lies in the 1150 year old Zhou Dynasty’s founding dilemma: how to gain and preserve allegiance from a disparate collection of potentially more powerful states. Zhou leaders responded by designing a world system with great appeal to the people over whom they exercised dominion. Incorporating elements of geography, society and politics, the Tianxia system pioneered the notion of “world governance.”
As a political philosophy, Tianxia is strikingly different from the Westphalian system. Whereas the latter implies interstate competition with winners and losers, Tianxia seeks to maximize cooperation and minimize conflict. Tianxia gives priority to the development of global public interest, thus obviating the need for individual nation states to zealously pursue the interests of “their” people. At the heart of the philosophy is the idea that co-existence is the precondition for existence. That is, nothing exists in absence of a relationship with something else. Mutual benefit, then, is the overarching aim, with compatibility as the only way to reach common prosperity.
Tianxia envisions a far more comprehensive “world” system in which mankind can better cope with the challenges of globalization. Where international organizations like the United Nations are inherently limited by state sovereignty, Tianxia posits a system of world control over common spaces and resources. Objects of international contention like energy, food, water, the environment and weapons of mass destruction would all fall within its purview. So far the world has lacked the unity to solve global problems. Tianxia represents the apotheosis of unity.
Alexander Wendt has identified three kinds of cultures in international politics: the Hobbesian worldview, which mainly sees adversarial relationships between states; Lockean culture, which substitutes competition for war; and a Kantian worldview advocating for alliances. None of these are satisfactory in the Chinese view. Admittedly, to apply Tianxia in its ancient form is far too visionary. In the end, even the Zhou Dynasty fell, perhaps a victim of its own idealism. And who is to underwrite Tianxia – a system that rejects the very notion of a “chosen state”? Though originally a Chinese concept, China itself would seek no more than to be apart of any such system that might spring from it.