#09 event report: Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power


June 13, 2011, Bridge Café (Wudaokou)

Speaker:  Prof. Dr. YAN Xuetong 阎学通, Institute of International Studies, Tsinghua University


ThinkIn China presented the last book of Yan Xuetong: Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power. Yan is Professor of International Relations at Tsinghua University, one of the most influential foreign policy analyst and theorist of international relations in the world: Foreign Policy named him one of the world’s hundred most influential  public intellectuals.

In Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power Yan shows his massive research on ancient Chinese thinkers who wrote about governance and interstate relations during a period of incessant warfare between fragmented states, before China was unified by the first emperor of Qin in 221 bce. By looking into the past, Yan displays a new theory which basically sees political leadership as the key of national power and morality as an essential part of political leadership.

In Yan’s view, economic and military might matter as components of national power, but they are secondary to political leaders who act (at least partly) in accordance with moral norms. If China’s leaders absorb and act on that insight, they can play a greater role in shaping a peaceful and harmonious world order.

Yan is still a political realist, because he believes political leadership shapes international relations; it is the way the political world actually works, not just an ideal. Moreover, Yan believes that the global order is bound to be hierarchical, with some states being dominant and others influential. But dominance is achieved mainly by morally informed political leadership rather than economic or military power.


(report by Enrico Fardella)