Chicago Journal of International Law


In this Essay, I try to provide some clarification on the concept of Tianxia from the perspectives of both classical Chinese philosophy and constitutional theory, which Tom Ginsburg nominated as the source of authoritarian international law. My observation is that a paradigm shift is occurring in the international legal order. Tianxia designates the ideal relationships between states in the Chinese classics. And in the new paradigm, Tianxia is expected to integrate the international society. In that sense, I take Tianxia as a regime-neutral ideotype between democratic/Western and authoritarian/non-Western legal order. However, Chinese engagement with international law has shown a tendency towards realism since 1949, and at the root of that realism is Western nationalism. In Carl Schmitt’s theory, the latter will finally bring about the plurality of spatial legal order (Grossraum), which gives birth to national and regional legal systems. Accordingly, it is still too early to tell whether China is willing take advantage of the transition to Tianxia.

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