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Power Transition: Identity Shift or Hegemonic Transition?

Ce Liang, Cambridge University, UK
John H. S. Åberg, Malmö University, Sweden
Karl Yan, Zhejiang University, China
Moderator: Xiao Alvin Yang, Universität Kassel, Germany/York University, Canada

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In the first part, Ce Liang will investigate the relationship between time and the construction of national identity in modern world politics. Understanding the ways in which temporal self-comparisons have structured identity-construction of modern nation-states is important for the analysis of great power aspiration and behavioral patterns. Exploring the interconnections between identity, temporality and narrative, Liang will develop a theoretical explanation as well as an empirical research strategy that can be applied to study the current global power shift. Her central argument is that a key variation in great power identity construction is the practice of temporal self-comparisons. Her empirical investigation examines state-produced narratives of post-Cold War China, the US, and Japan using Narrative Analysis. She will demonstrate that China and the US are fundamentally different in terms of identity-making because China’s identity is backward-looking while the US forward-looking. Japan’s modernization in the nineteenth century and post-war recovery show that not all old countries are necessarily backward-looking. Being backward-looking is a matter of choice and arguably a self-defeating choice because it is a self-generated constraint that prevents an aspiring great power from creating a viable alternative to the existing world order.
What to make of power transition? In the second talk, John Åberg will argue that much depends on what lenses and concepts we apply to understand the question. A state-centric perspective might lead one to claim that power transition is unfolding in the international system or international society, whereas perspectives that focus on non-state actors and global networks in the world system or world society paint a different analytical picture. China, of course, is the elephant (or panda) in the room, and what we make of power transition logically relates to the China challenge – is China a peer competitor to the United States? Are we in the midst of a power transition? Well, it remains to be debated!
In the third part, Karl Yan will argue argues that Japan’s hegemonic ascent in the late nineteenth century had a “cleaned the deck” effect concerning the rule of the game in East Asia–supplanting a Sino-centric world based on Chinese suzerainty. War and change were the leitmotif of the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. Japan’s rapid ascent in East Asia fundamentally rocked the Sino-centric world in which the Qing empire had been the preponderance and the sole suzerain. Materially, Japan became an industrialized country capable of raising an armed force capable of engaging in modern warfare, even defeating Czarist Russia in the Russo-Japanese War. Ideationally, Japan’s ascent as the new regional hegemon in East Asia brought a tempestuous end to the Sino-centric Tianxia system. Indeed, the Qing dynasty was in a whole other quagmire. Mortified, the Manchu rulers were struggling in their search for tonics to sustain their rule and simultaneously go through the transition from an empire to a nation-state, a concept imposed by Western powers. The “Celestial Dynasty,” with its agrarian economy, collapsed in the face of modern, capitalist production. Therefore, Yan will argue that both the material and ideation dimensions were equally important to understanding hegemonic transition. Moreover, changes in the ideational dimension produce hegemonic transitions that can rock the extant system and rules of the game.
More about our Debaters and Moderator:
Ce Liang (Anya) is a PhD Candidate from the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge. She has recently submitted her dissertation, entitled ‘Re-emergence: Temporality and the Social Construction of Great Power.” She adopts an interdisciplinary approach to research whereby she draws on philosophy, sociology and intellectual history to theorize the phenomenon of re-emergence in her dissertation. Her works have appeared in The Pacific Review, E-International Relations, and her chapter in the edited volume Making Identity Count (Oxford University Press).
John H. S. Åberg is senior lecturer in the Department of Global Political Studies at Malmö University, Sweden. John does research on International Relations, Foreign Policy, and Global Political Economy, and his research interests include US-China relations and China-Africa relations. His most recent publications are “China as Exemplar: Justin Lin, New Structural Economics, and the Unorthodox Orthodoxy of the China Model,” “China’s Role in Global Development Finance: China Challenge or Business as Usual?” and “Globalization and the Rise of Integrated World Society: Deterritorialization, Structural Power, and the Endogenization of International Society.” Twitter: @JHSaberg
Karl Yan is assistant professor at Zhejiang University, China. He received his PhD in political science from the University of Toronto. Karl’s research sits at the intersection of international and comparative political economy with a particular focus on railway development and the transformation of China. His current research looks at China’s post-1949 industrial restructuring and railway modernization and the geopolitical and geoeconomic implications of China’s globalizing high-speed rail industry. His works on railway have appeared in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, Journal of Chinese Governance, and Asian Education and Development Studies.
Xiao Alvin Yang is a PhD candidate in Political and Economic Science at Universität Kassel, Germany and a visiting research fellow at York Centre for Asian Research, Canada. His dissertation aims to theorize the current (changing) global order and global political economy where there are on-going tensions among globalization, regional integration and the resurgence of nationalism. His works have appeared in a number of peer-reviewed journals both in English and Chinese, such as The China Journal, The Journal of Chinese Political Science, The International Journal, The Journal of Chinese Governance, The Journal of China and International Relations, and Routledge (edited book), World Economics and Politics (Chinese) and The Journal of International Relations (Chinese). Twitter: @XiaoAlvinYang

The Theoretical Debates on Asia series brings together young scholars from around the world to engage in theoretical debates on the emerging Indigenous international relations (IR) theories in Asia and new IR and global political economy (GPE) approaches to studying Asia.
Learn more about the series at:
This is the third event in the series, which will take place during the 2020-21 academic year.


Mar 04 2021


5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
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