Understanding China's rise: stigma management during XI Jinping Years (2012-2017)



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Tartu Ülikool


This MA thesis tackles two research questions. First, a theoretical one: How to understand the nature of China’s rise? Through a theoretical discussion that engages major International Relations theories – neo-realism, Power Transition Theory, neo-liberalism, constructivism, and the English School – and the literature on status, status-seeking, stigma and stigma management, the thesis contends that in order to develop a satisfactory account on understanding China’s rise, China needs to be looked through the stigma framework and it needs to be treated as a status-seeking stigmatized state. That is to say, that the specific historic context of how China became a part of the international society needs to be taken into account, because it has had a deep constitutive effects on the identity of China and consequently also its behaviour. It is the way that China manages its historic stigmatization that can reveal how the state perceives its current status and what is the nature of China’s rise, i.e. what is the course that China is likely to take in the future. Second, the thesis dealt with an empirical question: How has China managed its stigma in the Xi Jinping years (November 2012 - October 2017)? Post-structuralist discourse analysis was conducted on 30 official speeches by China’s political elite. The empirical finding of the thesis was that out of four distinct stigma management strategies, three were present in the analysed time period. The mixed result is coherent with the theoretical background that China has an uneasy relationship with the existing normative order due to the specific historic context of the norms that constitute it. Through an interpretation of the empirical results, it became evident that currently the most dominant stigma management strategy is ‘correction.’ For the nature of China’s rise this means that in the near future the state will continue to rise peacefully, although occasionally contradictory indications might occur.