Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific header image 2

Chinese – Ānquán

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



Relates to ‘security’, ‘safety’, ‘peace’, ‘to assure wholeness’, ‘no danger’

The term combines the two characters, 安 (ān) and 全 (quán).

安 – ān – peace; tranquil; to set at ease; to pacify; calm; safety; security; to place in a suitable position; stability; to stabilise; to be satisfied with something.[1] When the word ‘ān’ refers to security or safety, it is in opposition to “danger.”  ‘An’ also means to impose tranquillity, which means almost the opposite of ‘peace’.

全 – quán – entire; all; complete; to maintain intact or to keep integrated; wholeness; ; to help others to accomplish something.[2]

There is a prevailing tension around the meaning of ‘anquan.’ While it can be merely benign, in other circumstances it can carry negative connotations, particularly with respect to ‘ānquánbù (安全部)’, ‘the secret police’. It also implies the importance of enforcing security. There is a need here to acknowledge the perennial concern that China’s rulers have with power. Safety comes from fulfilling your role properly, doing what you’re supposed to do.

Ānquán carries with it the idea of the ruler’s duty to protect. Historically, there was a Chinese belief that the hierarchical order that existed in the human world was a mirror image of the natural world which was determined by heaven. A ruler was the representative of heaven; his virtue gave him the moral authority to rule under heaven. He pacified his people with benevolence and his people were to submit to him with filial piety. If each person fulfilled the roles within the hierarchical order, there would be great peace and harmony under heaven. The heavenly mandated power of a ruler came about partly through obedience to ‘rites’: a ruler might lose power if he did not act according to specified rites.

After the western invasion and colonisation of China, the concept of the modern state/nation emerged and the security referent moved from the emperor system to the ‘guojia’, literally, the state, nation, or country.

Ānquán relates to ‘safety’, ‘security’, or ‘no danger’. Its use has been documented since the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 8 AD).  The Jiāoshì yìlín (焦氏易), a Chinese book of divination composed during this period, states, ‘the road is flat and easy to walk on, safe and without worries’ (dàolǐ yí yì, ānquán wú jì / 道里夷易,安全無忌).[3]

In an official volume of dynastic history for the Jin period (265 AD – 420 AD), Jìnshū (晉書), written during 646 AD – 648 AD, the meaning of ‘protection’, or the ‘assurance of safety’, or ‘to keep intact’ is indicated.[4] A passage in Jinshu says, ‘I received great favour from you, so I would like to protect the safety of Changlegong from danger’ (Gūshòu zhŭshàng bù shì zhī ēn, gù yù ānquán zhănglè gong. 孤受主上不世之恩,故欲安全長樂公.)[5]

In the Chinese modern society, the care of ānquán at the personal or individual level prevails and extends to the social level. For example, in a government work report delivered at the Third Session of China’s 11th National People’s Congress (NPC) in 2010, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao mentioned various kinds of domestic safety and/or security issues which are of concern to the Chinese government. These social safety and/or security issues include the safety of drinking water in rural areas, reinforcing the safety of food and pharmaceuticals and the establishment of a social security and welfare system.[6]

Indeed, the term ānquán conveys a very broad concept of ‘security’ and communicates the tendency in China to speak in terms of ‘comprehensive security’. It is an official view that:

‘The fundamental goals of China’s contemporary national security are: to guarantee that the whole Chinese people’s rights of survival and development suffer no significant harm; to guarantee that China’s domestic economic construction, social development, and political modernization do not suffer significant interference; to guarantee that our country’s territorial integrity and fundamental dignity are not damaged by external influence.’

Dāngdài zhōngguó guójiā ānquán de jīběn mùbiāo shì: Băozhèng zhōnghuá mínzú zhěngtǐ de shēngcún hé fāzhăn quánlì bù shòu rènhé zhòngdà sǔnhài, băozhèng zhōngguó guónèi de jīngjì jiànshè, shèhuì chéngzhăng, zhèngzhì xiàndàihuà guòchéng bù shòu dà de gānrǎo, băozhèng wŏmen guójiā de lǐngtŭ wánzhěng, Biānjiè zhŭquán jí jīběn zūnyán bù shòu wàibù shìlì de qīnfàn.


The concern here – implicit in the term ‘ānquán’ itself goes well beyond attacks or invasions, and includes economic security, technological security, environmental security, cultural security, and all other security issues that can cause impacts affect the future development of the country and the people.[8]

In 1996, in post-Cold War international discussion, China came up with what was called a ‘new security concept’ featuring mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and cooperation.[9] Many new terms – formed with ānquán – flowed into the Chinese security language lexicon, including: rénlèi ānquán 人類安全 human security; kējì ānquán 科技安全 – technology security; Jīngjì ānquán 經濟安全 – economic security; jīnróng ānquán 金融安全 – financial security (emphasized after the 1998 Asian financial meltdown); gōnggòng wèishēng ānquán公共衛生安全 – public health security (emphasized after SARS outbreak); wăngluò ānquán網絡安全 – Internet security; xìnxī ānquán 信息安全 – information security; yán ānquán 語言安全 – language security; huánjìng ānquán 環境安全 – environmental security; zīyuán ānquán資源安全 – natural resource security; and liángshí ānquán – food security.

The security concept – formulated on the basis of the already broad idea of ānquán – is in fact so extensive that it has set in place an ever-growing agenda of security tasks. Nonetheless, this conceptual proliferation remains distinct from the actual attitude towards security inherent in Beijing’s policies. Indeed, when the Chinese government vows to assure the safety and security of its people, it is also indicating that it has absolute authority to maintain social order or pacify any rebellion or disorder – whenever it deems necessary – in order to achieve the ultimate goal of maintaining the safety and security of society. For example, the police force’s ministry in China is called the ‘Ministry of Public Security’ (Gōngānbù,公安部). Maintaining the social order, reducing disorder, and combating illegal activities reflects the fact that security and safety in the domestic China is almost equivalent to China’s effective control of its people and the society. Regardless of the specific security referent, the expression ānquán strongly conveys the notion of ‘wholeness’, or ‘completeness’, as well as safety, or freedom from danger.

In practice the deployment of the concept of ānquán at the national levelhas gravitated towards traditional definitions of state-centric threats. Indeed, aince 1949, the major manifestation of ānquán in China’s concept of security has been the unification of the country, the integrity of the territory, the protection of the sovereignty, and defence against external threats. For example, it is said that, ‘the first goal of China’s national security remains to be the safeguard of the unification, integrity and security of China’s territory and sovereignty;(Zhōngguó guójiā ānquán de shŏuyào mùbiāo, réngrán shì wéihù zhōngguó lǐngtŭ zhŭquán de tŏngyī, wánzhěng yŭ ānquán / 中國國家安全的首要目標,仍然是維護中國領土主權的統一、完整與安全.)[10] Despite the expansion of the concept in recent decades, the standard attitude of many Chinese policy makers and academics towards ānquán can still be summarized as: ‘the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a state are key elements to the national security, especially the state’s political security’ (Guójiā zhŭquán dúlì yú lǐngtŭ wánzhěng shì guójiā ānquán, tèbié shì guójiā zhèngzhì ānquán de héxīn yàosù / 國家主權獨立與領土完整是國家安全、特別是國家政治安全的核心要素).[11]




[1] Xiandai Hanyu Cidian (Modern Chinese Dictionary, the 5th Edition), Beijing: Commercial Press, 2006, p. 6. Hanyu Da Cidian (Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Words), Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Press, 1989, Vol 3, p. 1312.

[2] Xiandai Hanyu Cidian (Modern Chinese Dictionary, the 5th Edition), Beijing: Commercial Press, 2006, p. 1131. Hanyu Da Cidian (Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Words), Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Press, 1989, Vol 1, p. 1157.

[3] Jiao Yanshou (Western Han Dynasty), “Jiaoshi Yilin,” vernacularised by Shen Bihua, Shi Yiren, and Ni Qiming, Xian: the San Qin Press, 1990, p. 62

[4] Jinshu is an official dynastic history for the Jin period (265 A. D. – 420 A. D.) written during the Tang Dynasty (646 A. D. – 648 A. D.). Please see, and

[5] “The Vernacularisation of the 24 Dynastic Histories,” Xu Jialu (chief editor), Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Press, 2004, p. 2650

[6] Wen Jiabao, the Report on the Work of the Government, March 5, 2010,

[7] Wang Yizhou, “The National Security during the Peaceful Development,”, December 13, 2006, [accessed December 7, 2008]

[8] Zhang Wenmu, “China’s Philosophy on National Security,” Strategy and Management Magazine, in year 2000, 1st edition of 2000 and the 38th since its publication, pp. 24 – 32 correct editing style required

[9] The Document of China’s Stance on the New Security Concept, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 31, 2002, [accessed November 11, 2008]

[10] ”The Re-Examination of China’s Territory and Sovereignty: Integrity, Unification, and Security (中國國家領土主權再認識:完整、統一與安全),, August 10, 2010,

[11] ”Zhou Zhihuai: ‘the Taiwan Independence’ Is the Major Threat to the National Security (周志懷:’台獨’是國家安全最大威脅),”, September 11, 2007,


No Comments so far ↓

There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment