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Recognition, Deference, and Respect: Generalizing the Lessons of an Asymmetric Asian Order

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image of Journal of American-East Asian Relations

As many distinguished academics and officials have pointed out, the current rise of China is not a completely new phenomenon, but rather the return of China to a position of regional centrality and world economic share that were considered normal less than two hundred years ago.1 This fact underlines the importance of history in putting the present into perspective, and at the same time, to the extent that all history is history of the present, it requires a reevaluation of the structure of China's traditional relationships. Hitherto, China's place in modern social science has been in an exotic corner, a failed oriental despotism. To be sure, traditional China did collapse, and today's China is a different China rising in a different world. We might assume that China is rising now precisely because of its differences from traditional China, that it is the last step toward the end of history rather than a resonance with the past. However, the convenience of such an assumption makes it suspect. If China is simply the latest avatar of Western modernity, then it requires of the West some readjustment, but not rethinking. However, the only certainty about China's rise is that it is a complex phenomenon, and the convenience of constructions such as China-as-Prussia or China-as-Meiji Japan derives from their preemption of open-ended study rather than from their insight into complexity. To the extent that China is China, both past and present require reconsideration.


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