Off to China… 3) There was a Confucian Peace After All…


About 8 months ago, I wrote that the notion of a ‘Confucian Peace’ was probably wrong. I thought that usually common cultures inspire competition for dominance. Like envies like. We save our greatest passion for inquisitions not crusades. We would rather punish errant insiders in the name of purity than hazy outsiders we can easily classify as ‘barbarians’ and forget about it. I figured Christians massacred each other for centuries over tedious doctrinal issues despite a New Testament ethic to turn the other cheek. So I figured the Confucian Asians (Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam) would be the same way.

But when I actually did the research it really turned out wrong for Confucians. While it is correct that Christians were hypocrites regarding ‘Christendom,’ Confucians generally were not among themselves. This does mean that Confucians states did not war. Like the Democratic Peace, a Confucian Peace posits only that Confucians don’t war on each other, not that they forgo war altogether. Below is the abstract and two of the graphs. If you want the whole paper, please email me. What is most important is the Confucian ‘peace score’ in the bottom table: one two-month war in 195 years of Confucian diplomatic history. That is quite striking compared to 92/151 war years for Christendom.

“International relations theory about East Asia has increasingly argued that East Asia before Western penetration enjoyed a protracted peace. As explanations, a Chinese military hegemony would fit IR theory fairly well, while a cultural peace based on shared Confucian norms would be a significant anomaly. A Confucian long peace challenges widely-held, albeit Eurocentric, IR presumptions including the perils of anarchy, the arms-racing and misperception of the security dilemma, and the regularity of power balancing. This paper therefore investigates, first, whether such peace did in fact exist, and, second, whether this might be attributed to Confucianism. A cultural peace theory requires a strong anti-war cultural norm and a shared sense of community. Skepticism is established by examining 3 comparative cultural spaces that nonetheless did not enjoy a culturally informed peace: the classical Greek city-state system, early modern Christendom, and the contemporary Arab state system. All were deeply riven and competitive. Nevertheless, empirical investigation of the last Chinese (Ching) dynasty before the Western arrival (1644-1839) demonstrates that it was remarkable peaceful toward its Confucian neighbors, while more ‘normally’ exploiting its power asymmetry against non-Confucian ones. Process-tracing specialized Chinese practices toward fellow Confucians suggests the low Confucian war finding emanates from cultural restraint.”

Model of a Politically-divided Cultural Community






Cultural Base or Substratum



Empirical Summary of Cultural Peace Cases


Classical Greece

Western Christendom

Modern Arab State System

Pre-Western Confucian-Ching System

Anti-War Ethic





Society of States





Total War Years / Total System Years






Percentage of ‘Cultural Peace’ Years






[1] This second figure includes the Libyan 1980-87 invasion of Chad.

10 thoughts on “Off to China… 3) There was a Confucian Peace After All…

  1. Good graphs. Do you have any figures on Africa pre-colonialism. Chaka Zulu made wars of conquest all over Southern Africa before the Europeans arrived. His military machine was very sophisticated. What about the Arab conquests of the Maghreb?

    Also, Sub-Saharan Africa had a few large Kingdoms, that engaged in conquests as well.


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