Perspectives chinoises has been officially recognized by the French Agency for the evaluation of scientific research (AERES) as an authoritative academic journal in both political sciences and sociology/demography.
20/F Wanchai Central Building
CEFC - Taipei branch
Room B111, Research Center For
Valérie de Poulpiquet: Le territoire chinois
Usually it is better not to criticise an authors first publication too harshly. It is preferable to pass it over in silence, and let him or her try their luck elsewhere. But the authors competence is not always the only issue. Valérie de Poulpiquets book comes with two institutional seals of approval, firstly from the University of Nice, since it was originally a doctoral thesis in Law presented there in 1996, and secondly from a specialist publisher of scientific works. The poor quality of this work, which is volume 88 in the series under the editorship of Jacques Robert, is simply inescapable. Its unscientific approach, affecting both its substance and its form, deprives its central arguments of all credibility, along with their accompanying elaboration.
The proposed goal is ambitious but legitimate. According to the thesis supervisors introduction (p. v) it is not only a question of analysing the numerous legal problems... raised by defining and delimiting the frontiers of China; but it is also a matter of making a contribution to our understanding of the Chinese conceptions of the state, international relations, and law. The author herself maintains that ... Chinese territory cannot be understood purely as a geographical space delimited by legal frontiers defined by international law, and including the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) as recognised by the other states of the international community. It is a more complex notion, inherited from a history of several millennia, and is to this day the source of major controversies which can only with difficulty be resolved according to the generally accepted norms of the international community (p. 45). This statement is not a working hypothesis which the author sets out to demonstrate through painstaking and rigorous investigation. On the contrary, the books reasoning is supremely tautological, just like the Chinese government propaganda that appears to have engendered it. But the authors almost total silence about the actual sources on which she has worked, prevents any confirmation or refutation of the latter supposition.
In fact, far from putting forward a more complex notion of territory, the book deals with the question of re-establishing the territory within its traditional frontiers (p. 212): Thus, the task proclaimed by the PRC will be to re-establish the greatness of China, which their ancestors took so long to build. In the case of China, this is quite the opposite of an imperialist enterprise, since it is a matter of rebuilding the eternal Chinese homeland (pp. 131-132). This affirmation leads on to two recurrent lines of enquiry concerning the relations between China and the West. The first deals in specific terms with Chinas possible acceptance of the rule of international law; the second is a more general concern for the preservation of Chinese identity. The author considers that China has a fundamentally instrumental approach to Law, that it must help to support her national and cultural identity, and enable the recovery of possessions which she believes to have been lost through foreign interference ... (p. 222). But with the return of the two new industrialised territories (Hong Kong and Taiwan) China is preparing for a veritable war of civilisations (p. 130). Although the author is non-committal on the outcome of this war, she believes that Chinese particularism is sufficiently strong to enable the country to face it with confidence (p. 116). In another similar passage she states that the Chinese within China are capable of maintaining against all odds their impenetrable defenses of China against foreign values (p. 201). Thus, discussing the setting up of the Special Economic Zones, she writes, China feels herself sufficiently Chinese not to succumb to the domination by others which this same strategy may have inflicted on other states. And she concludes with this prospect: With China now a Great World Power, nothing guarantees that international relations themselves may not become infected by the Confucian rites (p. 219).
As can be seen from the above, the main body of the argument is based on a monolithic (1) and culturalist vision of China. But even leaving aside the biased approach, it is the absence of any theoretical or evidential basis which causes problems for the reader. Although the opening argument on the concept of territory in French legal doctrine (pp. 11-14) is solid, the rest of the work betrays an ignorance of the ideas and contentious issues which ought to be familiar to anyone claiming to produce a cross-disciplinary analysis, even if it is basically a thesis in Law. For example, although the concept of civil society may be susceptible to many interpretations, it cannot be used as a synonym for society in general without losing all meaning (2). Again, the author implicitly lumps together universalism, internationalisation and globalisation, enabling her to draw the conclusion that, China is the proof that this concept of the universal, which is the expression of hegemonism, is not actually universal. It only expresses a part of the social reality, and it remains extraneous, even if only extraneous to the Chinese world (p. 223).
A number of current debates have been sublimely ignored, even though the topics of these debates are confronted head on. Principal among these are issues that were hot topics at the time when the thesis was written. For example, there is no reference to any debate over Asian values, even when the author herself writes, This intimacy, which is a term still in current usage among Asian diplomats, expresses for the Chinese and for those from within the Chinese orbit, both a confirmation of personality traits radically distinct from those to be found outside Asia, and of the specific nature of relations internal to the Chinese orbit itself (p. 36). Another example would be the debate over Greater China (Da Zhonghua). Although in fact the author repeatedly uses this expression to refer to the borders of the empire, there is no reference to Chinese or English language publications dealing with Greater China and its formation in concentric circles with Hong Kong at the hub. Or again, there could have been a reference to the opposition between blue China and yellow China when she describes the establishment of the Special Economic Zones (p. 116). Many other similar examples could be cited. A considerable number of mistaken judgements are probably attributable to ignorance of the specialist literature on the relevant topics, such as her views on communitarianism in particular: Communitarianism needs a territory to exist, which is not the case for cultures centred on the individual (p. 217).
Leaving aside her conceptual framework, her analysis of political history is equally defective. Many examples could be given, but a few will suffice here. In her discussion of the 1950s and the 1960s, she lumps the policies of all the countries of the West towards China together with that of the United States. This is to forget that eight Western European countries, including the United Kingdom, recognised the PRC in 1950. It is also to forget that the normalisation of relations between France and China were delayed because of the war in Indochina, followed immediately by the Algerian war, and not because of any Atlantic solidarity. Taiwan after the transition to democracy is still labelled by her as a highly militarised country (note 63, p. 160). And in her discussion of Hong Kong she states that, with the approach of the handover, business circles and the British authorities had a common goal, to set up a political opposition to the central government in Peking (p. 153). The reality was quite different; the business circles in fact transferred their allegiance from the British colonial authorities to the Central Government in China. Her analysis is also distorted by a number of omissions. For example, (contrary to what is implied on p. 158), since 1989 Taipei has stopped breaking off diplomatic relations with countries which recognise the PRC as the legitimate government, and she makes absolutely no mention of the controversy over the Diaoyutai (Senkaku) islands.
The weaknesses in the analysis arise from the inadequacies in her critical approach. The work does not rely on a study of primary sources or on fieldwork, although the thesis supervisor mentions that Valérie de Poulpiquet knows Chinese and has travelled to China on several occasions. As for her use of secondary sources, in addition to the gaps already mentioned, her references are both scarce and somewhat outdated, in areas where there is nonetheless an abundance of written material. Conversely, throughout the work, she repeatedly takes positions contrary to works which she fails to quote.
Finally, the credibility of the work is generally undermined by a whole spate of errors and half truths. There are numerous spelling mistakes, as well as factual errors, whether it is a matter of datesthe DPP adopted the pro-independence platform in 1991, and not 1993 (p. 165), or of placeShenzhen (mis-spelt as Shenzen) does not appear to be located in Guangdong province (mis-spelt as Guandong, p. 110). The date for one work (whose author is moreover not named) is given as 1979 in note 50 on p. 21, but as 1989 on p. 22. Such examples could also be multiplied. The titles of the extremely rare sources in Chinese are not generally translated (e.g. note 7, p.5; note 11, p. 7) In this regard, not only does the author omit to explain why she has not opted for direct transcription, but some names are spelt in the most fantastic manner: such as Kaolong (p. 31) and even Kion-Long (p. 49) for Kowloon (or Jiulong in Mandarin), and Szchechvan (p. 135) for the province of Sichuan etc. In general she shows an ignorance of established usage. For instance, writing in French, she translates the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR literally as the Loi de base. Furthermore, though published in 1998, the work still retains a 1996 perspective of, when the doctoral thesis was written, and this at least ought to have been rectified by the editors. In particular, the return of Hong Kong should not have been presented throughout as a future event.
Translated from French original by Jonathan Hall
1. Even though, in her introduction, the author observes that China has never conformed to the timeless empire of sacrosanct imagery.
2. Among many possible examples I quote the following: Both as Empire and Peoples Republic, China (the state and civil society) employs stable concepts founded in permanent values (p. 37).