How to Understand China: Civilization or Socialism?


About the Webinar

It is common to search for ideas in traditional Chinese civilization to understand how the PRC would run the world if and when it becomes the dominant global power in the 21st century. This has led to much attention to Chinese ideas of peace, harmony, All-under-Heaven, i.e. China’s “peaceful civilization”, which is seen as an alternative to the “western” world order that has been very violent. This talk argues that ideas and tradition are important for understanding Chinese foreign policy. But rather than search ancient Chinese texts for clues, it argues that we need to understand how “Socialism” and China’s 20th century experience of struggle shapes Chinese identity and policy in the 21st century. It suggests that we need to understand Socialism less as a textual ideology and more as a lived-experience of struggle and loyalty, especially among elite Communist Party members. It will examine how this Socialism guides policy-making in China, and will consider how it impacts China’s view of Southeast Asia.

About the Speaker

William A. Callahan is professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and in 2020-21 he is Taiwan Foundation for Democracy Fellow at National Taiwan University where he is studying China’s visual politics. Callahan’s most recent book is Sensible Politics: Visualizing International Relations (Oxford University Press, 2020). His other work includes China: The Pessoptimist Nation (OUP, 2010) and the documentary film “Great Walls” (2020), which asks why we hate Trump’s wall and love the Great Wall of China (


This webinar will be delivered online entirely. You can join the webinar at the specified date and time using devices (computer, phone, or tablet) with internet connection.

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If you have questions for the speaker, please key in your questions via the Q&A, stating your name and affiliation. The moderator will field them to the speaker during the Q&A session.


Apr 13 2021


10:00 am - 11:00 am