Tianxia and the worlding of the world

The classical Chinese concept of tianxia – under heaven – implies dominion of the Chinese imperial order (the emperor as tianzi, the “son of heaven”) and cultural sphere. In this ethnocentric view of the world, those people who live outside the Chinese dominion are considered “barbarians”.

Clearly tianxia is too narrow a concept to describe the whole world, even if is meant to convey the sense of the whole of the “civilised” world. Yet in Chinese culture, another common concept also has an expansive spatial meaning without the cultural and political constrictions of tianxia, namely sihai – the “four seas”.



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