Date of this Version


Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Details

Submitted Version.

Ferguson, R. J., & Dellios, R. (2010). Harmony and humane governance - Contesting the social order in classical Chinese thought and 21st century global society. Paper presented at the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) Inter-Congress: "From the crossroads of civilizations: Understanding cultural diversity to connect societies", Belek, Antalya, Turkey.

Access the conference website.

© Copyright R. James Ferguson & Rosita Dellios, 2010

This article has subsequently been published:

International Confucian Studies. Monograph series, volume 18 Part 2, (pp 614-656). Beijing: Jiuzhou Press.

2011 HERDC submission. FoR code:160607,220406


When China’s President Hu Jintao articulated his country’s ‘harmonious world’ (hexie shijie) foreign policy perspective at the United Nations’ 60th anniversary in 2005, he spoke of the need ‘to preserve the diversity of civilizations in the spirit of equality and openness, make international relations more democratic and jointly build a harmonious world where all civilizations coexist and accommodate each other.’ This message has retained its salience in subsequent years and represents a particular vision of world order that is viewed as the ‘preferred’ option within current Chinese foreign policy. Where does this vision come from? In investigating the ancestry of the current leadership’s policy posture of ‘harmonious world’, which has its domestic counterpart in ‘harmonious society’, it is necessary to delve into classical Chinese thought. But more than investigate the past to seek the origins and meaning of a key Chinese cultural concept, harmony, this paper also examines the implications of a stronger China articulating such a vision. Like the Contention of the Hundred Schools of Thought (770-221 BC) which flourished with the passing of the Zhou dynasty and its socio-political order, so too the sudden end of bipolar strategic competition at the close of the 20th century has left the field open to alternative modes of relating as nations and peoples, with globalization accelerating the transformative process. Is the world on the threshold of a new age of contestation of ideas for how global society advances? China’s focus on constructing a ‘harmonious world’ is indicative of an attempt to render this Confucian idea as more than merely Chinese, that ‘harmonious world’ is, in effect, harmonious with the UN’s vision and global governance cooperation in an era dominated by transnational security issues. This paper will investigate ‘harmony’ and the notion of humane governance in classical Chinese thought when the social order was being contested, as well as the prevailing world order when the crucial level of analysis is the global system, with China playing a more active role harmonizing dominant and weaker powers, Western and non-Western values.

Included in

Asian Studies Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.