"All Under Heaven as one Family”

Tianxiaist Ideology and the emerging Chinese Great Power Identity


  • Matti Puranen University of Jyväskylä


The rise of China is perhaps the most important development in world politics today. It is
challenging the very foundations of the liberal international order that the Western great powers have created. Yet, as China emerges as an economic and political powerhouse with global influence, it is not at all clear what kind of a great power it will become, and what kind of a world order it sees as its ideal. Chinese official foreign policy rhetoric on the subject offers only vaguely described slogans and concepts. Another approach for studying “China’s mind” is to study China’s academic discourse on world politics and foreign relations. In this article, the academic debate around the concept of tianxia (天下. in English: all under heaven) is analyzed, in order to study the great power identities that China is constructing for itself as it prepares for a bigger role in world politics. The article argues that the “tianxia theory” is attempting to distance China from “the West” by creating a completely unique civilizational identity for China. The tianxiaist narrative argues that, because of its unique character and because of its “harmonious” and “worldly” tianxia conception of world politics, China can offer fresh and relevant alternatives for the international community. This is not only a concern for political philosophers, as the concepts of tianxia theory also seem to be influencing and inspiring the foreign policy thinking of the Chinese government.

Keywords: Tianxia theory, tianxiaism, Chinese foreign policy, Chinese great power identity

Author Biography

Matti Puranen, University of Jyväskylä

Matti Puranen is a PhD candidate at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. E-mail: matti.i.puranen@jyu.fi