“All under heaven” (tianxia): Cosmological perspectives and political ontologies in pre-modern China
This essay examines historical transformations of the Chinese concept of tianxia (“all under heaven”) in pre-modern periods. More specifically, it attends to the diverse ways tianxia has been built out of relationships between cosmology and political organization. The sub-titles of this essay—archaic tianxia, relatedness as virtue, conceptions of the world in the Warring States, empire, Neo-Daoist and Buddhist inversions, and ethnographic others—form the features of the moments that make up, in the present, the many-faceted conceptual history of tianxia. The essay engages with these historical moments in order to reconsider popular conceptions of “Chinese civilization” and situate tianxia perspectives in their social contexts. Continuing the line of thinking initiated by Granet, the essay goes on to argue for understanding tianxia in an accumulative and unified sense as well—as an “other” to Indo-European mythico-religious systems of thought as well as an epistemology where political ontologies and the cosmos are conflated.