Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Chinese – Bàquán

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Chinese, Hegemony

霸權 (霸权)


Relates to hegemony

The term is composed of two Chinese characters:

– bà – a leader of all vassals in the feudal system, a tyrannical despot, a bully, to dominate, to lord over someone or something[1]

權 – quán –right; authority and power.[2]

In the Chinese ancient feudal time, the term ‘bàquán’ referred to the leadership of a vassal state over other vassal states. An example of early usage is in the Chinese ancient book Chui Jian Lu written during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279 A.D.), in the phrase ‘regaining the Wu State’s hegemony’ (zhèn gōu wú zhī bàquán振勾吳之霸權).[3] In modern times, Chinese academia has adopted the definition of hegemony from international relations theory, namely a state of affairs in which one country possesses the strength to exercise control over other states. The term ‘bàquán zhǔyì’(霸權主義) or ‘hegemonism’, means a country’s policy or behaviour which relies on its strength, either militarily or economically, to intervene with or control the internal or external affairs of other countries. It suggests the domination of a large or powerful country over other countries, or a region, or the world.[4]

The behaviour of bàquán can be associated with any country regardless of its political system. From a Chinese perspective two countries have often been accused of “hegemonism”: the former Soviet Union and the United States. In a report to the Eleventh National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1977 China argued that, “The Soviet Union and the United States, the two hegemonies, are the major exploiters and suppressers in the contemporary, and are the common enemies of people of the world,” .[5] The former Soviet Union’s hegemonic behaviour, which China strongly denounced, included the invasion into Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the invasion into Afghanistan in 1979. These invasions were described by China as “hegemonic behaviours such as a big one bullying the small ones; a strong one dominating weak ones; intervening with other countries’ domestic affairs; trampling down other countries’ sovereignty; and damaging other countries’ independence. The Soviet Union has in reality committed a series of hegemonic crimes.”[6]

From certain perspectives, bàquán implies a local bully or an evil despot in a way that does not necessarily imply hegemony, but instead conjures up other images of dictatorship and the illegitimate imposition of authority. Bàquán, even when it does not mean hegemony, still carries a profoundly negative connotation. It is for this reason that many Chinese embrace their increasing power but insist that their country will continue to avoid ever becoming a bàquán. The catchphrase that was coined by Chairman Mao Zedong and often used in reference to China’s foreign and defence policy, ‘dig tunnels deep, store grain everywhere, and never seek hegemony’ (Shēn wā dòng, guǎng zhí liáng, bù chēng, 深挖洞, 廣植糧, 不稱), sums up this position clearly. The phrase was adapted by Mao from Zhu Sheng, advisor to the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty (Zhu Yuanzhang), who when asked how to describe Emperor Zhu’s capturing the southern part of Anhui replied, ‘build the walls high, store grain everywhere, and delay your declaration of victory’.[7] Mao often used the term to stir up fear among the Chinese people of the imminent danger of Western, in particular, American invasion.

This image of U.S. hegemony among the Chinese people emerged during the Cold War and continues today. In China’s eyes, U.S. hegemony is demonstrated through its efforts to use democracy and capitalism to contain, confront and compete with communism in the world. After the Cold War, U.S. hegemony is often seen by China to have grown in scale, being asserted in political, economic, military, and cultural dimensions. It is manifested in the exporting and promoting of so-called ‘American values’ – democracy, freedom, and capitalism – and the manner in which Washington interferes with other countries’ domestic affairs as it promotes such values. U.S. military power is often criticised for being hegemonic.  For example, the Chinese government was critical of U.S.-led NATO forces in Yugoslavia in 1999 and described the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade as a ‘barbarian and violent act which fully revealed the malignant face of hegemonism and the real nature of aggression of imperialism.’[8] The 1991 and 2003 wars in Iraq, and the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, are also categorised by China as displays of U.S. hegemony. Another example is the role and influence of the U.S. dollar, which is often described as ‘the U.S. dollar hegemony (měiyuán bàquán, 美元霸權)’ when discussing the international financial and monetary system. The Chinese state media has stated, ‘the United States relies on its political and military power to ensure the U.S. dollar hegemony, therefore let Washington adjust the value of the U.S. dollar at its own wish in accordance with its domestic economic needs over the last forty years.[9]

The Chinese government asserts at every possible occasion that China itself will never pursue bàquán zhǔyì (hegemonism) and become a hegemonic power. In 1990, Deng Xiaoping said, ‘China always stands on the side of the Third World. China will never seek hegemony. China will never be the boss.[10] At an occasion at the Security Council of the United Nations in September 2010, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao adhered to Deng’s maxi,, assuring the globe that ‘we adhere to defensive defence policy. We will never become a hegemonic power, and we will never make expansion.”[11] Understanding the PRC’s particular conception of ‘hegemonism’ can help to explain why in it’s involvement in the Pacific islands and Africa, China projects the appearance of following an amoral policy that pays little heed to the promotion of development and human rights objectives.

Nevertheless, no matter how China assures or persuades the international community that it will never seek hegemony and become a hegemonic power, many countries remain concerned and suspicious about China’s future development. China’s enhanced international status means it has its way on many issues, thanks in part to its tremendous economic development and in part to its rapidly modernizing military power. For smaller or middle powers find it is hard to deny or avoid China’s increasing clout when dealing with shared issues, for instance the denuclearisation of North Korea, influencing the military junta in Burma, or territorial disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Even if China does not directly or actively intervene with other nation-states’ decision-making processes, it would be hard for them not to consider China’s reaction in their internal or external decision-making processes. In this way, China is reformulating its own characteristic of ‘hegemony.’ Rather than actively exercising control or manipulating other states, a strategy pursued by China as a developing country in the 1980s, Beijing today is economically and politically confident enough to indirectly but purposely impose its own will on other countries . Without noticing, China may have already become a hegemonic power.




[1] Xiandai Hanyu Cidian (Modern Chinese Dictionary, the 5th Edition), Beijing: Commercial Press, 2006, p. 22. Hanyu Da Cidian (Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Words), Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Press, 1994, Vol 11, p. 730

[2] Xiandai Hanyu Cidian (Modern Chinese Dictionary, the 5th Edition), Beijing: Commercial Press, 2006, p. 1130. Hanyu Da Cidian (Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Words), Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Press, 1989 (or 1997 version年版?), Vol 4, p. 1356.

[3] Hanyu Da Cidian (Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Words), Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Press, 1994, Vol. 11, p. 734

[4] Xiandai Hanyu Cidian (Modern Chinese Dictionary, the 5th Edition), Beijing: Commercial Press, 2006, p. 22, Hanyu Da Cidian (Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Words), Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Press, 1994, Vol 11, p. 734

[5] The Report to the Eleventh National Congress of the Communist Party of China, August 12-18, 1977, [accessed September 14, 2009]

[6] Gui Li, “The Analyses on the Formation and Development of the Soviet Union’s Hegemonism,” the Website of Study on Marxism (operated by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), [accessed September 14, 2009]

[7] Gucheng Li, A glossary of political terms of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, p.403.

[8] “A Discussion on the New Development of the U.S. Hegemonism,” the People’s Daily, p. 1, May 27, 1999, [accessed September 19, 2009]

[9] “Hong Kong Media: the United Satates Plays the Same Old Trick to Encure the U.S. Dollar Hegemony,” Xinhua

[10] 鄧小平文選第三卷

[11] Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s Remarks at the UN Security Council, September 2010


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