Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Inventing the Chinese Political Tradition: A Global History, ca. 1300-1700

This dissertation, combining global history and comparative political theory, seeks to deconstruct the currently dominant vision according to which China has a distinct political tradition incompatible with liberal democratic values and other global norms. I propose that the so-called "Chinese political tradition"— be it Confucian meritocracy or centralized autocracy—is an invention of borne out of encounters, exchanges, and collisions in the context of Eurasian empire building, East Asian tributary relations, and European expansion to East Asia. Thus, this project focuses on the formative centuries from about 1300 to 1700, when ideas about Chinese statecraft were underdeveloped and European discourses had not yet become hegemonic, and I study a new range of different historical actors from across the Eurasian world, both male and female, who began to grapple with new questions of what "China" meant and how the "Chinese" organized the political realm. Using a variety of previously untapped sources, ranging from Mongolian and Manchu chronicles, Latin and French encyclopedias, and Japanese treatises to a variety of documents in Chinese, I trace how Mongol and Manchu conquerors, Jesuit missionaries, Korean envoys, Japanese scholars, and Chinese scholar-officials and female novelists imagined Chinese statecraft in radically different ways out of their own cultural tradition and the immediate challenges they each faced. In all, I excavate the alternative possibilities of conceptualizing China and the political itself. In this way, this project seeks to historicize and to denaturalize the Chine/West division that still haunts current scholarship on Chinese political cultures, on the one hand, while simultaneously challenging us to rethink our modern views of humans as political creatures.