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China's Global Strategy as Science Fiction

Willima callahan


Professor William A Callahan

Member of The International Orders Research Unit at LSE IDEAS

Xi Jinping is leading China in a new direction, but how are we to understand his global strategy? For most countries, to understand domestic and international politics we would analyse authoritative sources – leaders’ speeches, official documents and statistics, elite interviews and essays, and public opinion surveys. In the 2000s these methods worked well to probe Chinese politics. But since civil society and independent thought have been severely restricted under Xi, it’s necessary to go beyond such “factual” sources. To understand China’s global strategy, it’s best to read fiction, especially Chinese science fiction. This essay critically analyses Liu Cixin’s novels, The Wandering Earth and the Three Body Problem trilogy, to probe how Chinese sci-fi pushes us to think creatively about key topics: the relation of humans and technology, the relation of science and politics, and the relations between political communities, i.e. are we doomed to existential struggle, or can we engage with difference in creative and productive ways? 

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China's Global Strategy as Science Fiction

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About the author

William A. Callahan is Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science and a member of The International Orders Research Unit at LSE IDEAS. He wrote Sensible Politics: Visualizing International Relations (OUP, 2020), which won the Best Book Award 2022 from the International Political Sociology section of the International Studies Association. His essay “The Politics of Walls: Barriers, Flows and the Sublime” won the Review of International Studies best article prize (2018). Callahan also makes documentary films: “Great Walls: Journeys from Ideology to Experience” (2020) was published in the Journal of Narrative Politics in Spring 2020, and “You can see CHINA from here” in The Diplomat in April 2020.