China, Pariah Status and International Society
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Pariah status in international society denotes an international social hierarchy and differentiation of states caused by power differentials between state groups along the material and normative spectrums. From the late Qing era to the present day, China’s engagement with international society has largely been marked by a sharp fall from the ‘Middle Kingdom’ to a pariah, followed by a recent rise to great power status. This thesis traces and analyses China’s experience as a pariah in international society since 1839, and explains China’s responses to the normative boundaries and behavioural standards set by members of international society. To this end, this thesis addresses two themes. Theme One (Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4) provides an account of the sociological history of pariah state, on which basis it conducts an empirical study on China’s pariah past. Theme Two (Chapter 5) brings in a sociological account of status to understand the fall and rise of states (particularly that of China), and to explain state responses to the normative boundaries alongside their status change in international society. Moreover, it challenges the material-power based power transition theory on China’s rise and destiny, and argues for an alternative status-led account. In general, this thesis resonates greatly with English School theorists and social constructivists in terms of the understanding of and approach towards international relations. In a broad sense, it adopts a combined sociological and historical approach towards the study of the international, specifically that of pariah and status. The main contentions of this thesis are: first, pariah is a social, relational and historically contingent term. Pariah states are socially made through a process of rule making, rule-application, and behaviour-judging, with the rule-makers being those who are positioned at the higher ends of both material and normative power spectrums. The criteria for pariah are not fixed, but subject to change as they are conditioned by the changing international normative/material structures and dynamics among actors. Second, state status has both material and social implications in international society. It derives from the internal/domestic attributes of the state as well as the external/international. The attainment of status hinges upon material power capacity, state identity, behavioural legitimacy, and international perception thereof. Third, empirically, the fall and rise of China in international society is not merely a process of China’s material power decline and elevation relative to others, but was also accompanied by its social mobility downward and upward. China’s responses to the international normative boundaries are not purely determined by material power incentives. Instead, it is the complex interplay between the material and the social that accounts for China’s constant struggle between compliance with the standardised behavioural codes prescribed in the standard of civilisation, and attempts to contest them by inserting its own civilisational values.
PhD in Politics