New Sinology for A New Period”

The Honourable Kevin Rudd

26th Prime Minister of Australia

President of the Asia Society Policy Institute, New York

 An Address to the Seventh World Forum on China Studies


Sunday 10 December 2017

Minister Jiang Jianguo, Director of the State Council Information Office.

Mayor Ying Yong of Shanghai.

Thank you for your invitation to speak at the Seventh World Forum on China Studies.

This is a global conference on the study of China.

And it occurs a little more than a month after the conclusion of the 19th Party’s Congress.

Most of my Chinese friends will be aware that the world is watching very closely what happened at this Party Congress.

35 years ago when I first came to China to live and work, the only people who followed the Party Congresses closely were academics and diplomats.

Now everybody is engaged.

Of course, there is a simple reason for that.

And that is the rise of China.

When I first came to China, the size of Chinese economy is about the same size as Australia.

Now, according to PPP, it becomes the largest economy of the world.

And according to the measure of market exchange rate, within the next decade, it is likely to become the largest economy by that measure as well.

The consequences is that, China’s foreign policy is also changed.

When I worked in Beijing, Deng Xiaoping’s foreign policy was one of “hide your strength, bide your time, never take the lead” (韬光养晦,决不当头).

Now, we have, under Xi Jinping, a new approach to foreign policy: which is consciously more activist (奋发有为,有所作为).

We also have a range of new foreign policy concepts:

  • 新型国际关系 (a new type of international relations)
  • 新型大国关系 (a new type of major power relations)
  • 外交体系改革 (the reform of the foreign policy establishment)
  • 国际秩序之争 (the struggle for international order)
  • 国际体系变革 (the change and reform of the global system)

These concepts were all emphasized in the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs in November 2014.

I remember it clearly when I was in China watching these closely on Television.

And I was deeply interested in this new activism.

Of course, there have been other new concepts of China’s diplomacy as well:

  • 新的国际格局 (new international structure )
  • 新的全球治理理念 (new concepts of global governance)
  • 新的大国关系框架 (new frameworks of major power relations)

We now have started a new discussion of an Asia Pacific Community.

And of course there is Xi Jinping’s 人类命运共同体 (community of common destiny).

Many of these concepts are emphasised particularly in Xi Jinping’s important address to the Party Congress.

Of course, no list can be completed if we don’t include new institutional changes as well.

China has successfully established the AIIB.

China has now embarked on perhaps its most ambitious project ever – the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Once again, the scale of what was proposed with the BRI is having a profound impact on international public opinion.

Over the last five years, since Xi Jinping became China’s leader, most of these are new formulations of China’s new foreign policy direction.

The world is also paying attention to China’s military development – in particular, the strategic changes in the relative emphasis on China’s land forces compared to its naval and air forces.

China has proudly launched its first aircraft carrier, and it is in the process of completing the second.

As China’s economy grows, and as it pursues more activist foreign policy, it is of course natural that China’s military expediter also grows.

And this occurs in the context of a region that military budgets in most countries are growing rapidly as well.

Indeed, in 2013 the aggregate military expenditure in Asia exceeded those from Europe in absolute dollar term.

China has now put a man into space, and in the process of preparing to put a man to the moon.

China’s scientific and technological developments are rapid.

Recent statements by the Chinese state council on the future development plan of a new generation of Artificial Intelligence has attracted interests around the world.

China has always been big.

It is a big country in its landmass.

It is the most populous country on the planet, although soon to be passed by India.

But now, China is big in many new ways as well.

Finally, we see this scale of China in the world at large.

China has already become, therefore, a great power.

Or, as the Chinese historian will remind us, China has become a great power once again.


So why have I listed all these in a conference on the study of China?

All of our Chinese friends will already be fully aware of these changes in China’s posture in the region, and the world, of the last five years.

My reasons are very simple. Because China is now so big. The world now has a natural interest in understanding what China is now doing in the world.

It affects directly practically every country in the world.

So the international community will want to know more and more what China’s plans are for the future.

Many foreigners until just now are barely aware of these new concepts of China’s foreign policy.

But more and more they now also want to know what meaning they should attach to these concepts.

And what concrete policies will be associated with them.

The world increasingly wants to know what’s going on in Chinese politics.

They want to know who is new on the standing committee of the politburo and who the other members of the politburo are as well.

They all want to know the details of what the Chinese leadership mean by the deleveraging of its economy. By how much? By when?

They want to know the details of future of China’s financial system reform.

Just as they want to know the details of China’s future policies on foreign trade and investment.

And perhaps most of all, they want to know the details of China’s climate change policies, given the effect of the commitments of all countries made at the Paris conference on climate change.

It is true that the western industrial countries are responsible for most of the past greenhouse emissions in the atmosphere.

But because of its size, China is now the largest emitter and its fundamental significance in the global debate and in global action on climate change will only increase.


In the past, China’s leadership, over many decades, may regard many of things as matters for China’s internal affairs only (内部的问题).

As a keen student of post-1949 history, I understand why this is so.

But in this new period, there will be new expectations from the world to understand as much as possible of what China is doing.

Of course, there is a further complexity as well.

The history of Chinese policy development, both domestic and foreign, has usually been laid out as a general strategic direction (方针).

And the purpose of the strategic direction, based on my understanding of China, has been to give the broadest possible political direction on where policy should then go.

As a result, policy details often emerge much later in the process.

Let’s take the simplest example: Deng Xiaoping simply said: “reform at home, and open up to the world” (对外开放,对内改革).

That constitutes a political direction in only eight simple characters, which formed the basis of the subsequent 30 years of China’s foreign and domestic policy making.

Let’s take another example from Jiang Zemin. In 1992, the 14th Party Congress report encouraged Chinese to “go out (into the world)” (走出去).

As a result, during the last 25 years, because of these three simple characters, millions of Chinese companies and entrepreneurs went out to every corner of the world.

So as someone who studies this country reasonably closely, I understand some of China’s frustration when foreigners keep asking for details of China’s policy decisions in particular areas.

It is not just they are traditionally seen as China’s business alone, not for the prying eyes of foreigners.

It is also that the actual policy development process itself takes much longer than the announcement of a new strategic direction.

But at the same time, what I am saying to my Chinese friends is that this pressure to understand more of what China is doing, both at home and aboard, will only increase in the future, as China’s national wealth and power increase as well.

One humble suggestion to my Chinese friends is this: don’t interpret this pressure as impertinent; don’t interpret it as a cunning plan to steal China’s secrets.

Please see it as what it primarily is – that is a desire to understand what the rise of China means for each of them in their particular country, in their particular region, in their particular industry and in their particular field of research.

And I would urge my Chinese friends to be as transparent as possible.

And to avoid the use of the modern equivalent of the old “baguwen” – 八股文 (eight-legged essay) to explain what’s going on.

Transparency is good for all countries.

Because the absence of transparency, in any country, compounds anxiety, fear and suspicion on the part of other countries.

This is the sad lesson of history.


What does all these mean for the professional study of China?

Of course, not all these are the exclusive burden of Chinese scholars, officials and politicians.

They also represent a new responsibility, in this new period, for foreign scholars of China as well.

And those who are responsible for the study of China around the world must share this burden too.

For the last ten years, since I first became Prime Minister of Australia, I have called for development of a New Sinology. In Chinese, some call this 新汉学, others call this 后汉学.

What do I mean by this?

First, it means a new emphasis in analysing and explaining to the world at large what core Chinese concepts actually mean.

Take for example, the field of International Relations studies.

In the theory of International Relations, western scholars have developed five major schools of analysis to understand the international political behavior of states – called realism, liberalism, structuralism, constructivism, and what is now called post-structuralism.

International Relations scholars in the West then seek to understand Chinese international policy ideation, policy development and policy implementation and action through the prism of one or other of these five schools.

Personally, I am not so sure China fits neatly within any of them.

This raises the question of whether in fact there is a Chinese School of International Relations which we in the West need to understand.

Or, if not a formal Chinese School of International Relations theory, then how do we best interpret China’s modern application of its Seven Military Classics:

The Art of War(孙子兵法)Six Secret Teachings(六韬tāoThe Methods of the Sima(司马法), Wuzi(吴子)Wei Liaozi (尉缭子)Three Strategies of Huang Shigong (黄石公三略), and Questions and Replies between Tang Taizong and Li Weigong (唐太宗李卫公问对)

These are often referred to by Chinese leaders in their speeches.

But if China and the West do not share a common conceptual framework for understanding what each is doing and saying in the world, then we face a profound problem of misinterpretation, miscommunication and erroneous analyses of one other.

That in turn leads to policy responses which may be based on poor analytical foundations.

Let’s look at other examples within the sphere of International Relations.

What is the difference in Chinese conceptualisations of world order, international order, global governance, the international system, and the global system? (

世界秩序,国际秩序,全球治理,国际系统,and 全球制度)

Which of these concepts includes within it power relations between states as well as the continuing relevance of the concepts of a balance of power, either regionally and globally?

Which of these concepts refers to the structure of international relations, beyond stark power relationships?

Which of these concepts deals with the institutional framework for managing international relations – bilaterally, regionally and globally?

One further example where confusion might arise is on the question of China’s “world view” (世界观).

What does this actually mean?

Is it a Marxist dialectical materialist concept which seeks to objectively analyse the world as “what it really is”?

Or is it a concept which already points in the direction of what China should be doing in the world?

It is one of the reasons why currently I am personally researching this subject.

In other words, how we look at things, and think about things, really matters in terms of what we then choose to do about these same things.

Two years ago, I released a report which I concluded at the Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School, on “U.S.-China 21, the Future for U.S.-China Relations under Xi Jinping: towards a new Framework of Constructive Realism for a Common Purpose”.

In it, I spent a lot of time trying to explain to a broader American and Chinese audience what I understand as the fundamental importance and differences of each country’s “way of thinking” (思维) – both about the world in general, and about each other in particular.

A couple of years ago, I also gave a speech at Qingdao, hosted by PLA on the Sunzi’s Art of War (孙子兵法), where I sought to explore the relevance of key concepts in that text and the other military classics in current Chinese foreign and security policy siwei.

So if we are to have an effective New Sinology, we must deploy all the available tools to understand the full significance of what the new terms of China’s international policy posture actually means.

And this means deploying all the resources of classical sinology to understand the historical, intellectual and cultural content of these concepts.

And what meaning is attached to them domestically in China.

And what meaning is therefore conveyed by them to the international audience.

If England and Germany fundamentally misunderstood each other’s strategic cultures in the 19th century, with devastating consequences in the 20th century, then how much greater is challenge we face in reconciling Chinese and American strategic concepts in the 21st century.

England and Germany come from a common civilisational heritage – Judeo-Christianity and the Enlightenment.

Whereas the U.S. and China come from completely different civilisational traditions.

A second characteristic of an effective new sinology is to properly synthesise analysis.

Sinology is very good in building its internal silos.

There tend to be either classical or modern scholars of China. They might be Confucian scholars with no interest in Daoism.

They might be historians of the Han, or even the Tang and the Qing, but incapable of synthesising what these various historical traditions mean to the Chinese contemporary historiography – and therefore how Chinese leaders look at the past as a way of informing their view of the future.

These scholars might be experts in 红楼梦 (Dream of the Red Chamber) or Lu Xu’s 阿Q正传 (The True Story of Ah Q), but incapable of synthesising how these different dimensions of Chinese literary tradition inform Chinese consciousness today.

Or more crudely, specialist in the Chinese economy, may be incapable of synthesising their knowledge with China’s political economy, China’s core politics and therefore what China believes it can do in the global economy.

It is good that we have so many specialisations within what we might call the overall field of China studies.

But speaking also as someone who has been a political and diplomatic practitioner, both as a Prime Minister and a Foreign Minister, what the political leadership of China’s various partners around the world need is a synthesised analysis –

  • how the parts relate to the whole;
  • how the past relates to the future;
  • and how the economy relates to politics and broader Chinese society.

Therefore, while preserving the necessary specialisations of the various schools of Sinology around the world, I would humbly suggest we need to acquire a new school, which I might broadly describe as “China Synthesis” – not just “China Analysis”.

I say this from some experience – not just as a practitioner.

But now as the president of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York, these are the sorts of questions I’m asked by political leaders from around the world about what the rise of China means for them.

These leaders are not just interested in a list of facts and figures, they want to understand the broader picture.

And for that reason, sinologists around the world have a particular responsibility to help paint that picture.

A third characteristic of a new sinology is to break down the artificial barriers which have developed over many decades, which have a false schism between those who might have been described as “pro-China” or “anti-China”.

This is very much of legacy of the Cold War.

Modern China is deserving of a much more sophisticated analysis than that.

Just as the world is more deserving of a more sophisticated analysis as well.

There will be areas where Western sinologists find themselves in considerable disagreement with Chinese scholars or with the Chinese government and Party.

In other areas, there will be a much closer meeting of minds.

I regard such agreement and disagreement as entirely natural.

My advice would be that we should avoid stereotyping each other in all of these.

We need an approach to modern sinology, which is as factual as possible, while recognising that a common factual basis can still lead to different interpretations of the facts.

Back in 2008, I spoke at Peking University as the Prime Minister of Australia outlining the importance of China having friendships in the world which are based on the classical Chinese concept of 诤友 (zheng you).

In a broad as possible terms, this means friendship which can tolerate difference, diversity and even disagreement, but still based on mutual friendship and respect.

I often despair when I hear terms such as “亲华” (pro-China) or “反华” (anti-China), “亲美” (pro-U.S.) or “反美” (anti-U.S.) – which are so often used in the discourse of what these two great countries should do in the world today.

I think we owe it to the world to do better than that.

Certainly, when we seek to analyse China’s rise, it is not helped by analysis which seeks either to eulogise or to demonise.

At the same time, when in China and elsewhere in the world, when we discuss America’s current political circumstances, it is not helped by polarised presentations of either American triumphalism or declinism.

Again, the reality is more complex than that.

And it would be foolish indeed to construct policy on the basis of either of these extreme sets of assumptions – whether they will be about China or the U.S.

A core task of a new sinology is both to analyse and to synthesise complexity for policymakers.

Not just to present a picture which is either black or white.

But to recognise there are indeed many shades of gray as well.

In conclusion, our generation faces unique challenges:

  • climate change;
  • the future of work, given the impact of technology, automation and artificial intelligence;
  • the challenges, opportunities and threats presented by the cyber world; and
  • negotiating the shifting sands of geo-political and geo-economic change.

These are all hard challenges.

None of them are easy.

China should be proud of what it has achieved since the Third Plenum of the Central Committee (三中全会).

The world has witnessed China’s extraordinary transformation from an impoverished country into a global great power.

This has not been easy.

Those of us who study the history carefully, understand there were many twists and turns.

But China has persevered.

It has been a remarkable achievement.

China of course still has a lot problems.

We all know that.

No country is perfect. And we should be prepared to discuss openly these problems and imperfections with each other.

That after all, is the spirit of 诤友 (zheng you).

And in this century in particular, Sinologists have a particularly important role to play in weaving all these complex threads together.

One final challenge for a new sinology lies in how we can begin to forge not just common interests, but also common values across the different civilisations and traditions we together represent.

China is now debating the concept of an “Asia-Pacific Community” (亚太共同体).

I spoke about this concept back in 2008.

I hope it can come to fruition.

But it will only do so if we can intelligently forge sufficient common interests and common values across our wide region to make it happen.

That requires visionary political leadership.

It also requires great scholarship.

The same applies to Xi Jinping’s concept of the “Community of Common Destiny for All Mankind” (人类命运共同体).

Scholars must now begin “unpacking” what this concept could mean.

How can we draw on traditional Chinese concepts of balance, harmony, and even “da tong” (大同 – great harmony). And apply them to the future.

There are also Buddhist and Taoist concepts which point to similar directions.

Just as there are resonances between these concepts with parts of the Western philosophical tradition in both Kant and Hegel.

But also in concepts of a common and equal humanity that are alive in Judeo-Christianity as well.

So how do we deploy our collective wisdom to forge sufficient common values to sustain the global order of the future?

A rules-based order dedicated to open economies and open societies remains critical.

But equally critical are the human values which underpin such a rules-based order for the long term future.

And therein lies perhaps the deepest challenge of all for the new sinology of the future.


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