China as a Non-Hegemonic Superpower? The Uses of History among the China Can Say No Writers and Their Critics
Since the advent of Deng Xiaoping's policies of reform and opening in the late 1970s, most observers have agreed that China is likely to recover its rightful place in the world as a great power in the twenty-first century. Disagreements have arisen principally over whether China will join the world as a normal nation state or will instead seek to restore its traditional hegemony in East Asia and even attempt to extend that predominance to the entire world. This article challenges both of these positions by examining the uses of history—and the way in which the past uses those who use it—in several Chinese books published at the turn of the century and in a set of essays critiquing those books. The authors argue that China is likely to eschew both the national imperialism characteristic of Western superpowers and Japan and the over-expansion attempted by earlier Chinese states such as the Qin and the Yuan. Instead China is likely to pursue the minimal goal of avoiding political disunion and cultural crisis similar to its policies in earlier ages and the maximal goal of restoring political unity and cultural centrality associated with such earlier polities as the Zhou, Han, Tang, Ming, and Qing.