Rethinking Empire from a Chinese
Concept ‘All-under-Heaven’
(Tian-xia, )
Tingyang Zhao
In this paper the author argues that the Chinese theory of All-under-Heaven is the best
philosophy for world governance. All-under-Heaven is a deep world concept with a
trinity of meanings: the earth, people’s hearts and a world institution. And it introduces a
political principle, ‘world-ness’, that arguably transcends the principle of ‘internationality’.
The author argues that the theory of All-under-Heaven is a more appropriate
‘world theory’ than ‘international theory’ in dealing with world problems. The author
also considers the philosophies of the UN and EU.
‘Empire’ is not only a geographical but also a cultural institutional concept.
There have been great empires in the past, always reminding us of their splendid
victories and fatal collapse. The modern age has been mainly an age of nations/states,
in which the concept of empire has been distorted in terms of the imperialism that
should assumed responsibility for the most terrible wars recorded in history.
As is now realized, because of penetrating globalization and astonishing technological
developments, the modernity of the nations/states system has been weakened,
while a still-vague new age emerges,1 an age of globality as the consequence
of globalisation. But what is the most likely form of global governance? Personally
I feel as if the steps toward a new empire could be now be heard, and indeed it
has already been discussed (see Hardt & Negri, 2001). What ideal of empire could
we expect for a new empire? It seems an important and serious question.. And here
I would like to introduce the Chinese traditional conception of world governance,
which is quite different from the usual understanding of empire, and which
might give a more constructive and positive way to rethink the best Idea of an
acceptable empire.
Tingyang Zhao, Professor of Institute of Philosophy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 5 Jiangnomennei
Avenue, Beijing, China 100732. Email:
ISSN 1350-4630 (print)/ISSN 1363-0296 (online) # 2006 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/13504630600555559
Social Identities
Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2006, pp. 29/41
1. The Concept of ‘All-under-Heaven’
In contract to the western concept of empire, China has a three thousand year-old
traditional concept, ‘All-under-Heaven’, very closely relevant to the Idea of empire.
We are led to think that a thing always has, in Platonic philosophy, its Idea that
essentially makes it as it is . And an Idea also implies, if further interpreted, the perfect
conception for a thing to be as it is expected. That means a perfect idea is turned out
to be an ideal of a thing. Here the concept of All-under-Heaven could be considered
as a supposed ideal of a perfect empire.
The term ‘All-under-Heaven’ (Tian-xia, ), found in almost the oldest Chinese
texts, means firstly the earth, or the whole world under heaven.2 It is almost
equivalent to ‘the universe’ or ‘the world’ in western languages. Its second meaning is
the ‘hearts of all peoples’ ( ), or the ‘general will of the people’. The world is always
the home-for-people, that is, the earth as it is ours more than the earth as it is . Allunder-
Heaven therefore consists of both the earth and the people. Consequently, an
emperor does not really enjoy his empire of All-under-Heaven, even if he conquers an
extraordinary vastness of land, unless he receives the sincere and true support from
the people on the land. Just as Philosopher Xun-zi (313BC/238BC) said in his essay
‘On kingship and supremacy’:
Enjoying All-under-Heaven does not mean to receive the lands from people who
are forced to give, but to satisfy all people with a good way of governance.
Its third meaning, the ethical and/or political meaning, is a world institution, or a
universal system for the world, a utopia of the world-as-one-family. This political/
ethical ideal of the world boasts of its very distinctness in its philosophical and
practical pursuit of world governance ensured by a world institution. The ideal of
All-under-Heaven as the philosophical concept of a world institution essentially
distinguishes itself from the pattern of the traditional military empire, for instance
the Roman Empire, or that of an imperialist nation/state, for example the British
Empire. The conceptually defined Empire of All-under-Heaven does not mean a
country3 at all but an institutional world instead. And it expects a world/society
instead of nation/states. All-under-Heaven is a deep concept of the world, defined by
the trinity of the geographical, psychological, and political worlds. From the
viewpoint of this political ontology, our supposed world is now still a non-world,
for the world has not yet been completed in its full sense. World institution and full
popular support are still missing. We are talking nonsense about the world, for the
world has not yet been fulfilled with its world-ness.
The concept of All-under-Heaven shows its uniqueness in its political and
philosophical world-view that creates the world-wide-measure, or the world-wideviewpoint,
of seeing the affairs and problems of the world in the measure of worldness.
It defines the world as a categorical rethinking unit of viewing and interpreting
political life, constitution and institution. This methodology is essentially different
from the western. In western political theory, the biggest political unit is found to be a
30 T. Zhao
country or nation/state, while in Chinese theory it is the framework of ‘world/society’.
States have always been seen as subordinate units inside the framework of the world/
society that are regarded as a necessary and the highest political unit. Chinese
political philosophy defines a political order in which the world is primary, whereas
the nation/state is primary in western philosophy. Certainly, westerners do think
about the world, but the western imaginations of the world are nothing higher and
greater than international alliances or unions of nation/states, not going beyond the
framework of nation/states. Such projects have essential difficulties in reaching the
real integrality of the world for they are limited by the perspectives of nation/states,
due to the lack of a vision of world-ness. To see the world from its world-ness is
different from seeing it from part of it.
All-under-Heaven should be understood together with another closely related
concept the ‘Son of Heaven’ ( ), that is, structurally pertaining to All-under-
Heaven. The concepts of All-under-Heaven and the Son of Heaven make a
philosophical foundation for the system of empire. The Son of Heaven, analogous
to an emperor,4 is entitled to ‘enjoy his reign of the world under the heaven’ (see The
Poems). He is born to have ‘All-under-Heaven as his home’, just as naturally as a man
has a home of his own according to his natural rights, and ‘nothing left there out of
his world of home’. Whilst not even the strongest empires have controlled the entire
world, it is not difficult to conceive of the world controlled by a conceptual empire.
Of most importance is that a Son of Heaven does rather than is . In other words, one
could self-claim one’s destiny as the mandate of heaven to be, but has to be
reconfirmed the Son of Heaven if and only if there is evidence to justify his
qualification, that is, as a Confucian master Mencius argued, one’s being supported
by the peoples.5 The people’s choice is conceived as the final evidence or examination
of the legitimacy/justification of the governance. The Chinese theory of political
legitimism allows two ways to prove the rightness of the reign, one of them is the
legitimacy of establishment of an empire*/that is to save peoples from a terrible
situation when, and only when, welcomed by most of the people*/and the other is
the justification of enjoyment of the reign, which is to keep the world in the order that
most of the people want.
According to Confucius’ theory of justification, ‘p is p if p does as p is conceptually
meant to do’, we do not say that a king, an institution or a political system is better
but rather does better as evidenced.6 However, what is considered evidence in the
Chinese way is not always based on statistics, a democratic election, but rather the
that collected by means of observation of social trends or preferences, and especially
by the obvious fact that people autonomously choose to follow and pledge their
allegiance, instead of voting for one of several dubious politicians. In fact, careful and
sincere observations can better detect truth and come to a better reflection of public
choice than do democratic elections, which become spoilt by money, misled by media
and distorted by strategic votes. The autonomy of people to follow or not to follow is
regarded as a fundamental question in Chinese political philosophy as the matter of
‘people’s heart’ ( ), and it is considered closer to the truth of political reality than
Social Identities 31
democracy. The problem of people’s heart (it might better be translated in the
western way as ‘demo-allegiance’) must, theoretically, be a better representation than
democracy of the problem of public choice. If we follow the facts, it seems to be the
case that the masses always make the wrong choices for themselves through a misled
The knowledge of public preference has never been an epistemological problem to
Chinese minds, for evidence of public preference is thought to be apparent. Instead,
the Chinese have taken the ethical problem of the ‘sincerity’ of concern for the people
most seriously. The unspoken theory is that most people do not really know what is
best for them, but that the elite do, so the elite ought genuinely to decide for the
people. In the late nineteenth century, many Chinese began to think, influenced by
western discourse, that the best way of carrying out the Chinese principle of ‘people’s
hearts’ was democracy. But the problem of public choice remains unsolved today, and
has become an even greater difficulty, for democracy represents misled minds much
more than the independent, the false want much more than true needs, and illusive
advantages much more than real goods and virtues.
In Chinese philosophy, the legitimacy of All-under-Heaven is asserted as absolute
whereas a Son of heaven is not, which indicates three implicative principles: 1) the
political legitimacy of reign of All-under-Heaven is independent of and prior to any
ideology or religion; 2) the reign of All-under-Heaven is open to any qualified
candidates who best know the Way (Tao, ) to improve the happiness of all peoples
universally; and 3) this will not be a dictator or a superpower, but one who has the
right and power to justify the governance of All-under-Heaven. Laozi, the founder of
Taoism, pointed out:
a king could rule a state by his orders, win a war by strategies, but enjoy All-under-
Heaven only by doing nothing to decrease the freedom and to deny the interests of
people. (see Laozi, Tao Te Ching, c.500BC)
The appeal to the evidence of the people’s support had become the justified reason
for another political group to launch a revolution, a ‘rewriting of the mandate of
heaven’ in Chinese terms. In fact the justification of revolution has become 4000-
year-old tradition. And the theory of All-under-Heaven has no discriminating rule to
deny the opportunity for any nation to be in charge of the governance of All-under-
Heaven. Historically, the Mongolian and the Menchu had governed China for 400
years and their governance had been considered legitimate dynasties of China. More
interestingly, both the Mongolian and the Menchu emperors had adopted the theory
of All-under-Heaven in establishing their legitimate reign.7
In the Chinese system of ideas, family-ship is very powerful in interpreting ethical/
political legitimacy, for family-ship is thought to be the naturally given ground and
resource for love, harmony and obligations, and thus a full argument that ‘exhausts
the essence of humanity’.8 Chinese philosophy has developed the very consciousness
of the virtue of family-ship.9 The essence of humanity, fundamentally constituted as
family-ship, is claimed as the ‘first thing with which a Lord is concerned most’ and
32 T. Zhao
the only thing ‘impossible to be altered forever’, while all other rules and knowledge
are alterable.10 Family-ship is the minimal and irreducible location of harmony,
cooperation, common interests and happiness, so that it is arguably the universal
framework through which to interpret all possible cases of harmony, cooperation,
common interests and happiness.
The virtue of the-world-as-All-under-Heaven is always understood and interpreted
in terms of family-ship. And it analytically implies the claim for the wholeness and
harmony of the world to be a world, for the necessary conditions of family happiness
are always its wholeness and harmony. And as also implied logically, anything against
the wholeness and harmony of the world is defined as politically unacceptable (the
interference in the liberty of an individual might be an unacceptable political mistake,
whilst the damage to harmony, the first political mistake). Thus the principle of
harmony, originating in the ideal of family-ship, is made a paradigm applied further
to the explanations of the possibility of any kind of harmony in the world. All-under-
Heaven is nothing but the greatest family, a world-family; that said, all political levels,
defined as ‘All-under-Heaven, states and families’, should be essentially homogenous
or homological so as to create a harmonious system. This is the key to understanding
Chinese political theory. The world’s effective political order must progress from
All-under-Heaven, to state, to families, so as to ensure universal consistency and
transitivity in political life, or the uniformity of society (just like the uniformity of
nature), while an ethical order progresses from families, to states, to All-under-
Heaven, so as to ensure ethical consistency and transitivity. It implies that a world is
of order if and only if it is ordered with the highest world institution, while the world
institution must reflect the virtue of family-ship. Under this principle, Chinese
political and ethical theories are made one. We all have reason to highlight the
importance of political/ethical consistency and transitivity, because any inconsistency
or contradiction in the system will be a disaster. For instance, democracy, equality
and liberty have been developed in western domestic society, but never extended to
the international society. This case of political inconsistency and intransitivity could
greatly damage the reputation of democracy, equality and liberty.
The Chinese system of families, states and All-under-Heaven, which differs
fundamentally from the western system of individuals, nations and internationals,
is often criticised for its neglect of the individual as well as individual rights, but this
is a misunderstanding of Chinese philosophy and a poor understanding of political
society. There is no Chinese denial of the value of the individual, but rather a denial
of the individual to be a political foundation or starting point, because the political
makes sense only when it deals with ‘relations’ rather than ‘individuals’, and the
political is meant to speak for co-existence rather than a single existence. In a very
Chinese way, politics aims at a good society of peaceful ‘order’ ( ), which is the first
condition for any possible happiness of each and all, and at keeping a society from the
‘disorder’ ( ) that destroys all possibilities of individual happiness. This political
conception could find a strong argument in Chinese ontology, the ontology of
relations, instead of the western ontology of things .
Social Identities 33
According to the grammar of Chinese philosophy, the political philosophy focusing
on the absoluteness of individual or nation misleads political questions and logic, for
it encourages conflicts and consciousness of the enemy, which creates more problems
than solutions. Carl Schmitt’s wonderful theory of recognition of enemy/friend could
be an example. It rightly reflects the typical wrong in western political consciousness,
or sub-consciousness, in which political impulse divides and breaks up the world. In
contrast, one of the principles of Chinese political philosophy is said ‘to turn the
enemy into a friend’, and it would lose its meaning if it were not to remove conflicts
and pacify social problems*/in a word, to ‘transform’( ) the bad into the good.
Today, some investigations in game theory seem to support Chinese philosophy in
that in a game, maximizers will find a limit to improving their own interests, because
Pareto efficiency for common happiness would be impossible without trusted
The concept of All-under-Heaven is meant to be an empire of world-ness
responsible for the common happiness of all peoples. It refers to a theoretical or
conceptual empire that has never really existed. I do not say that Chinese dynasties,
for instance the Chin ( ) dynasty, were not empires. Quite the opposite, China had
been an empire in its usual sense for a long time. Every dynasty of Chinese empire
had tried to apply the concept of All-under-Heaven, but had never been able to
realize it because of practical limitations. All-under-Heaven means a very different
empire, that is not necessarily a world superpower, but a world under a commonlyagreed
institution, a plan to make the world a place of world-ness. The ancient
Chinese empires had no power to accomplish the plan of world-ness, but had tried to
be an exemplar empire of family-ship. The comprehensive view of the world as Allunder-
Heaven surely takes the whole world as a single political system that is much
greater and higher than a single country or nation/state. Consequently, the empire of
All-under-Heaven highlights the problem of time rather than of space, that is, the
problem of its duration rather than of its territory; and it has been apparent in the
Chinese concern for the legitimacy of its dynasties rather than actual territorial
The ancient Chinese practical project of the empire of All-under-Heaven had many
sub-states ( ) that were institutionally loyal to the empire, which were institutional
centres, but independent in their governance. These sub-states were not nation/states
at all but ruled by kings or noble families and politically recognized by the emperor.
Before the centralized government of the vast Chinese Empire was set up in 221BC,
China had been an ‘ideal’ empire, close to the concept of All-under-Heaven,
consisting of many ‘sub-states’,11 independent in their economies, military powers
and cultures, but politically and ethically dependent on the empire’s institutional
centre. There was a tributary system between the suzerain centre and the sub-states.
And the suzerain centre enjoyed its authority in recognizing the legitimacy of the substates,
but never interfered unless a sub-state declared war on another member of the
family of All-under-Heaven.
34 T. Zhao
The Chinese institution of empire experienced revolutionary reform in 221BC
when the Chin Emperor the Great conquered China and created a country with
centralized governance over many provinces, instead of sub-states. But this
institutional reform did not change the ideal of All-under-Heaven. On the contrary,
it seemed to lead the Chinese to the idea of an even wider understanding of the world,
a nearly ‘global’ picture of the world in which all foreign countries, near and far, were
seen as the theoretically taken-in sub-states. So the former smaller picture of Allunder-
Heaven had been just mapped onto the enlarged one. And the legal tributary
system had also been redefined and transformed into the voluntary tributary system,
in which foreign countries volunteered to decide whether or not to join.
The voluntary tributary system expresses much of the diplomatic strategy of the
ancient Chinese empire. It had developed stipulated reciprocity into the voluntary in
a tributary system and always ran it in a pattern of much greater returns to any
tributary gifts. Reciprocity has been a leading idea in Chinese thinking. And it has
been performed within the norms of practical life to express mutual respect. The
Interpretation of Rites says: ‘the reciprocal repays is mostly preferred in the rites. And
no pay or no repay no respect’.12 Reciprocity is a truer echo of the other’s heart-felt
respect than an economically equal exchange. And it has been argued that the ideal of
social relations is rooted in the essence of reciprocity as heart-for-heart, much more
than the reciprocity of interests-for-interests. The primary concept or principle in
Confucian theory is ‘Jen’ ( ), literally meaning the best relationship ‘of-twopersons’.
13 And even more interesting, the oldest literal meaning of Jen was the best
relationship of ‘thousands of hearts’ ( ). Jen had been considered the only
fundamental principle with which the harmony of peoples could be developed.
Reciprocity understood in the Chinese way has less to do with the reciprocal
utilitarianism or balance in commercial exchange and much more to do with the
reciprocity of hearts.
The principle of voluntariness is key to the Chinese understanding of ‘relations’
from the viewpoint of other-ness. Some scholars have argued that the general Chinese
ethical principle appears the same as the western Golden Rule (see Kung & Kuschel,
1993), but it differs essentially in the philosophical presuppositions wherein western
philosophy sees in terms of subjectivity, but the Chinese in terms of other-ness. The
Bible’s golden rule, ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you’ sounds
promising, but it would encounter challenges and difficulties when other hearts are
taken into account. The other-ness of the other heart is something absolute and
transcendent, so the other heart might reasonably want a different life. In terms of
other-ness, the Chinese ethical principle thus runs: ‘let others reach their goals if you
reach yours’. It is easy to see the subtle difference between the western and Chinese
rules. I have rewritten the Bible’s rule in a negative representation to be a better
representation of the absoluteness of other-ness: ‘never do to others what the others
would not want you to do to them’. When facing the problem of the irreducible
diversities of the hearts of others, Chinese philosophy found a solution in the
Social Identities 35
highlighting of voluntariness. The 2000-year-old Interpretation of Rites says that
harmony can be developed under two conditions:
To be heart to heart closed when congenial to each other; to respect reciprocally
when different from each other . . . rites differ in forms but equal in essence as the
expression of respect, just as in the same way, music differs in styles but is equal in
essence as the expression of heart.14
That means that to love what is the same to ours is not a problem at all, and thus that
it proves nothing of the essence of humanity. And our brilliant virtue of humanity
could show its excellence only in respecting the dissimilar forms of life. And to
respect the other in their otherness is at least to respect his voluntariness or rights in
developing his culture.
It is proper to learn values from others whereas unjust to impose one’s values onto
the others. Or to say, the values are to be learnt by rather than to be taught to the
Accordingly, an empire of All-under-Heaven could only be an exemplar passively in
situ , rather than positively become missionary. Here we see the difference between the
western and Chinese ethics: western philosophy sees humanity through the eyes of
subjectivity, while the Chinese sees it through the eyes of other-ness. And this is a clue
in distinguishing cultural empire from cultural imperialism.
2. The Relevance to Contemporary Problems
The All-under-Heaven pattern of all-states-in-a-family reminds us of the similarities
with the United Nations pattern, one of which is that they are both world
organizations dedicated to solve international problems and to ensure peace and
order in the world. But their differences might be more important, taking into
account the successes of the All-under-Heaven pattern in Chinese history to have
bring long periods of peace and stable society in many dynasties, in contrast with the
inability of the United Nations pattern to deal with international conflicts.
Furthermore, we might be encouraged to find in the All-under-Heaven pattern the
theoretical potential to resolve international and inter-cultural problems.
The comparison of the All-under-Heaven pattern with the United Nations might
still sound a little far fetched for the United Nations is not an empire system, but it
would also be a mistake to neglect the flexibility and inclusiveness of the concept of
All-under-Heaven. One factor that could reduce the unreasonableness of this
comparison is that the utopia of All-under-Heaven is not a narrowly defined empire
but an extendedly-defined world society with harmony, communication and
cooperation of all nations, guaranteed by a commonly-agreed institution.
In spite of history’s uncontrollable causes and conditions, the successes and failures
of these two patterns, All-under-Heaven and the United Nations, are due to the
different philosophical presuppositions upon which their world system concepts are
36 T. Zhao
built. All-under-Heaven presupposes the Oneness of the world, and the oneness
shows itself in all its diversities.16 Oneness of the world is also reflected in the political
principle of ‘inclusion of all’ in All-under-Heaven in terms of family-ship. Oneness
means the denial of the existence of any pagan, so that nothing in the world can be
defined unacceptable, no matter how strange it might seem. But, slightly differently,
the pattern of United Nations relies on two divergent presuppositions: pluralism and
universalism. The pluralism is of the reluctant ‘political correctness’ to please the
developing countries, and the universalism to satisfy the developed, especially the
major western powers. In order to reconcile this divergence, the United Nations has
made great efforts to validate rational dialogue to replace conflicts. There is no doubt
that rational dialogue has had an impact in reducing wars and fighting, but not in
conflict reduction, and instead has encouraged the strategic game of non-cooperation,
thus universally enhancing the personality of the selfish maximizer. And, worse,
the United Nations has no power to stop a superpower from universalizing itself
alone in name of globalisation. The UN is more of a political market for nations and
less of an institution for the world itself.
The consequential difference between these two patterns is rooted in their different
understandings of the Oneness of the world. The concept of All-under-Heaven
commits us to the Oneness of the world as the intact wholeness that implies the
acceptance of the diversities as they are and are meant to be in the world. The concept
of the United Nations has taken Oneness as a mission of western modernity to be
accomplished. It is apparent and not surprising that Oneness as a mission has been
developed from universalism. And unfortunately universalism is a type of
fundamentalism. The reason is quite simple: universalism means to universalize
something rather than everything, and to universalize the self instead of others, thus a
sort of fundamentalism that insists on the ideology of making others the pagan.
Political modernity has inherited from and never gone beyond the format of
Christian ideology that had invented, among others, unacceptable others, cultural
clashes and wars, ideological dogmas and propaganda. The worst is the universalism
that tries to universalize the others in a way they do not want.
The theoretical problems of understanding Oneness as a mission to be
accomplished has already been shown. The United Nations is an international
organization mapping onto an individualist society. It inherits and enlarges the
problems of an individualist society, for instance, international conflicts copy social
conflicts. And, worse, it does not enhance international democracy over social
democracy. As has been observed, a superpower has every opportunity to invalidate
an international organization such as the United Nations. Furthermore, it would be
the All-under-Heaven system, instead of an international organization, that would be
a more effective channel to the ideal of the world-as-one, because of the logical
impossibility of an always-justified international choice through democracy, according
to Arrow’s theorem. I am not criticizing the United Nations; it has tried its best.
What I am discussing is the given limitations in the potentiality of the United Nations
pattern. The United Nations is supposed to be an international organization,
Social Identities 37
conditioned by the interests of every nation/state, dealing with international
problems in the age of nation/state rather than in the age of globality. And it seems
to enhance rather than weaken, as Giddens pointed out, the system of nations/states
as the modern political form (see Giddens, 1985). To be fair to the United Nations, it
is not designed to take care of the world but of nations, it is of, not beyond,
modernity. In short, internationality is not and cannot be world-ness. The question of
world institution has now become more urgent since the world has plunged into
It is interesting to consider the pattern of the European Union, maybe the
European United States in the future. The EU is an excellent invention of a real and
institutionally organized region. But it is still not a system that could be extended to
the world, for it is just a company of nations/states, and it is difficult to form and give
priority to a European common interest over the interests of each of its member
nations/states, let alone a world interest. Theoretically speaking, the EU has gone not
as far as Kant’s idea. A well-organized region such as the EU is essentially something
of an enlarged nation/state meant to compete with other world regions or powers,
rather than an ideal for the world in its lack of its world-view of world-ness. The EU
pattern enhances the integration of a region but also deepens separation from the
Globalisation is breaking the world system of nations/states. It is not new. It is a
composition of universalism and fundamentalism, in which fundamentalism,
whether though capitalism, modern industry, post-modern technologies, self-claimed
world religion or ideology, tries to universalize itself.17 And within the process of
globalisation itself, it is likely for one or more nations/states to transform themselves
into new empires, different from the imperialism of nations/states. Is it an age of new
empires to come? Will be there a new form of empire, or just a post-modern return to
the old way? We should consider whether there a more reasonable and commendable
concept of empire. Comparative study would help to clarify the concept of empire,
though this is beyond the scope of this paper. The differences among the ideas of
empires can be detailed as follows:
1. The pattern of the Roman Empire. This is the typical ancient empire, not referring
only to the Roman Empire but also to others. It is considered a military
superpower with territorial expansion. It would encompass the whole world if it
were possible in its claimed or hidden ideal. Consequently it always has temporary
frontiers instead of clearly-settled boundaries. We know this pattern has not
worked since the age of nations/states.
2. The pattern of the British Empire. This is the typical modern empire based on a
nation/state under the mixed ideals of nationalism, imperialism and colonialism.
It has definitely divided boundaries except in disputed areas. The definite
boundaries do not indicate the self-restraint of imperialism, but the safeguard
of their national interests against the free entry of others. Instead of territorial
expansion, imperialism has created colonies to develop and maintain its control of
38 T. Zhao
the world and the division of the world into the developed and the undeveloped.
This pattern has become impossible since the Second World War because of the
universalizing of the system of nations/states, together with nationalism and the
consciousness of independence.
3. The new pattern is of the American ‘empire’.18 It is a new imperialism, inheriting
many characteristics of modern imperialism, but transforming direct control into
the hidden, yet totally dominating world control by means of hegemony or the
‘American leadership’ as Americans prefer to call it. This hegemonic imperialism is
occurring not only in political and economical spheres but also in knowledge,
especially through globalisation, in which it has the greatest power to universalize
its own.19 This new imperialism differs from the traditional empire in that it is
much more than a game winner, as it also defines the rules. The world would
become disordered if a player in the game also became the rule-maker.
4. The pattern of All-under-Heaven. All-under-Heaven appears much like globalisation,
but is essentially different as it contains no such sense of the ‘-isation’. Allunder-
Heaven indicates globalism instead. It means an institutionally ordered
world or a world institution responsible to confirm the political legitimacy of
world governance as well as local governance, and to allow the justification of
systems. Its political goal is to create ‘All-under-Heaven’, the trinity of the
geographical world (the earth), the psychological world (the hearts of all people)
and the political world (the world institution). It is a grand narrative, maybe the
grandest narrative in political philosophies. The very virtue of the All-under-
Heaven pattern is its world view of world-ness, which could let us understand
correctly and discover solutions to world problems. World-ness is a principle
higher than internationality.
My conclusion is that the most important political problem today is not the socalled
‘failed states’ but the failed world, a disordered world of chaos. This is why I
maintan that our world is not yet a world, but is still a non-world. And there are so
many world problems too major to be resolved by a nation, a region or by any
international contract. International theory in the framework of internationality finds
its limitation in dealing with world problems, the common or shared problems of the
world. World-ness cannot be reduced to internationality, for it is of the wholeness or
totality rather than the between-ness. Our globe needs a world theory, rather than an
international theory, to speak for the world. And the theory of All-under-Heaven as a
world theory could provide a better view for political philosophy and political
[1] But not all think so. Smith (1996, Chapter 6), for instance, insisted the system of nation/
states would not be broken up as many think, because no new system could be stronger than
nationalism in the coming future.
Social Identities 39
[2] Two thousand years ago, the popular Chinese imagination of the so called ‘Allunder-
Heaven’ was interesting in its square division of the world into ‘nine regions’ ( )
spreading from the central region to the rest in eight directions. And the land consisting of
the nine regions was the area of ancient China while the oldest capital city in China is rightly
in the central region. But Zou Yan ( ), one of China’s earliest geographers, exceptionally
had a much wider sight of the land that was thought to comprise 81 ‘nine regions’*/
reckoned by multiplying by nine*/and he said that ancient China was ‘just the one of the
eighty-ones’ in the world. See Shima Qian, 91BC, p. 2344.
[3] A Chinese philosopher, Liang Shuming thought that ancient China had been developing
itself as a ‘world’ rather than a ‘country’. See Collections of Liang Shuming, 1992, p. 332.
[4] In Chinese history, before the King of Chin the Great self-nominated as ‘the first emperor’ in
221BC, the King in general was called the Son of heaven and kept as the interpretive name for
[5] Mencius argued that people were of greater weight than the government and the support
from people was the final confirmation of the reign. And he insisted that the king would lose
his reign if he lost his people’s support, and he lost his people’s support because he was
against the people’s hearts. And Interpretation of Rites also said: ‘enjoying the reign when
receiving the support from the people, and losing the reign when losing the support of the
people’ (see Mencius, c. 220BC, as well as Interpretation of rites ).
[6] Confucius had claimed his famous theory of justification as ‘p is p if p does as p is meant to
do’, for instance, a king should do as the concept of king requires. See Confucius, The
Analects , c. 500BC.
[7] In 1271, the Mongolian emperor changed the empire name Mongolia into a Chinese name
‘Da-yuan’ ( ), meaning ‘as vast as the vastest’, for he thought the name Mongolia was
rather local thus not good for his empire of All-under-Heaven (see Song Liang). And the
Menchu nation had ruled China successfully for nearly 300 hundreds years with the support
from people. The Menchu king had written an interesting letter to the Chinese emperor of
the Ming dynasty before its declaration of a war on Ming, in which the Menchu king took
advantage of the theory of All-under-Heaven to speak for his justice. He wrote: ‘all kinds of
things from insects to humankind in the world are created and nurtured by the nature itself,
not by your empire, so that nothing is your private property. And Heaven is always so fair
that your empire will be blamed and punished for your abusing the governance . . . Allunder-
Heaven will be given to one who has greater virtues’ (see Pang, Sun & Li, 1984, pp.
[8] Interpretations of rites (c. 500BC), chapter on Da-zhuan.
[9] Only a few Chinese philosophers had the opposite opinion to the principle of family-ship.
For instance, Shang-yang said that the ethics of family-ship encouraged selfishness and evils
rather than kindness and goodness, and he thought laws were the most important things. See
Shang-yang (c. 300BC).
[10] Interpretations of rites (c.500BC), chapter on Da-zhuan.
[11] A Chinese sub-state in the ancient times appeared similar to a Greek city-state in many but
not all aspects. The oldest word for state in Chinese is ‘ ’, meaning ‘a militarily guarded city’
while the land outside is called the ‘field’ ( ), and later added a wall or border around the
city to make a new word ‘ ’. A sub-state was considered a member in a family-like
[12] Interpretations of rites (c. 500BC), chapter on Qu-li.
[13] Jen has often been translated as ‘humanity’ or ‘kindness’. These are not good translations.
[14] Interpretations of rites (c. 500BC), chapter on Yue-ji.
[15] Interpretations of rites (c. 500BC), chapter on Qu-li.
40 T. Zhao
[16] Laozi said: ‘the Way of the world produces the Oneness of its own. And the Oneness has its
two-ness. Then the two-ness self-develops into the three-ness. And the three-ness is the
minimal base for the diversities in the world’. See Laozi (c. 500BC) Tao Te Ching .
[17] The Manifesto of the Communist Party was one of the earliest texts discussing something of
globalization. It said: ‘The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market,
given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country’. And ‘as in
material, so also in intellectual production, the intellectual creations of individual nations
become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more
and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a
world literature’.
[18] Hardt and Negri (2001) had argued in their Empire that the new empire of today is different
from the European imperialism and mainly produced in American constitutionalism that is
more akin to Roman empire than to European imperialism.
[19] But the American empire seems still not satisfied with its ‘leadership’. Nye calls upon the USA
to enhance its ‘soft power’ as complement to its ‘hard power’, for the USA is still not
powerful enough to ‘go it alone’ even though it is the strongest power since Rome. See Nye,
Burnet, J. (1930). Early Greek philosophy. 4th ed. London: Adam & Charles Black.
Confucius (c. 500BC). The Analects .
Folsom, K. (1968). Friends, guests and colleagues . University of California Press.
Giddens, A. (1985). The nation-state and violence . Cambridge: Polity Press.
Hardt M. & Negri, A. (2001). Empire. Harvard: Harvard University Press.
Interpretation of rites (c.500BC).
Kung, H. & Kuschel, K.-J. (Eds.). (1993) A global ethic: The declaration of the parliament of the
world’s religions . New York: The Continuum Pub. Co.
Laozi (c. 500BC) Tao Te Ching .
Mencius (c. 220BC). The Book of Mencius.
Nye, J. (2002). The paradox of American power: Why the world’s only superpower can’t go it alone .
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pang, Sun, & Li (Eds.) (1984). The early history of Qian Dynasty. Beijing: Press of the People’s
University of China.
Poems (c. 1000BC).
Shang-yang (c. 300BC). The Book of Shang-yang .
Shima Qian (91BC). The history. 74: 2344.
Shuming, L. (1992). The collections of Shuming Liang. Beijing: Beijing Normal University Press.
Smith, A. D. (1996). Nations and nationalism in a global era . Cambridge: Polity Press.
Song, L. (c. 1370). The history of Yuan Dynasty. Section 4 of Yuan-shi-zu, Vol. 7.
Xun-zi (c. 200BC). On kingship and supremacy. In The book of Xun-zi.
Social Identities 41