The Virtue of State: Evolution of International Moral Order in East Asia

This book project develops the theory of the virtue of state. This theory explains how states generate power through their excellent moral character. Unlike the usual focus on competitive diplomatic interactions, I argue the excellence of the state’s moral character creates a non-zero sum power that increases the state’s status while simultaneously generating an international moral order with a stabilizing effect. I develop this theory from the practices of early modern East Asian states. They cultivated Confucian virtues not just of individuals but of the states themselves to gain power and status in the international orders. Then, I trace how the virtue of East Asian states have transformed in the 19th century international moral order of sovereign states and the 20th liberal international moral order.

The Ideational Foundations of East Asian International Orders

Constructing a truly global history of modern international order requires the exploration of the ideational foundations of the non-European international orders. In a series of papers, I study various ideational foundations of East Asian international orders focusing on diplomatic documents of Korean and Chinese dynastic courts and literary collections of their elite class that are written in classical Chinese. In particular, I am studying the open-ended meanings of Chineseness, the ontological complexity of the Qing order, and the transformations of East Asian spatial order since the early modern period. In the long term, I aim to cooperate with other historians and IR scholars to create a full-fledged field of East Asian international thought since the early modern period.

Hermeneutics and East Asian Diplomatic History

The study of past historical international orders presents a unique challenge of understanding the thought and lived experience of past actors situated in radically different material and normative contexts from those of contemporary IR scholars. In order to develop methodological principles and techniques to meet this challenge of temporal distance, I am working with colleagues in Korean diplomatic history, IR theory, and East Asian political thought on a two-year workshop and seminar series on ‘Hermeneutics and East Asian Diplomatic History’. The series draws on hermeneutic traditions in both the West and the East to foster a reflexive understanding of the historically situated horizons of both contemporary scholars and historical actors. Historical reflexivity will ultimately contribute to the development of more objective analytical categories for East Asian international relations. The series is funded by the Research Institute for Korean Studies.