International Orders before the West

In the afternoon of October 10, 2022, Ayşe Zarakol, Professor of the Department of Political and International Studies, Cambridge University gave an online lecture on the theme of ” International Orders before the West ” for the faculty and students of the IIAS and the audience inside and outside the university. This lecture was hosted by Duan Jiuzhou, an assistant Professor at the IIAS. Nearly 150 listeners from many units and universities at home and abroad attended the lecture.

This lecture is divided into two parts. In the first part, Prof. Ayşe Zarakol introduced her new book Before the West: The Rise and Fall of Eastern World Orders to the audience. This book aims to construct a narrative paradigm of the history of the international order that is de Eurocentric by studying a series of “Eurasian international order” led by the Mongolian Empire, Timur Empire, Ming Empire, Safavi Empire, Ottoman Empire, Mughal Empire and other eastern empires. Professor Zarakol pointed out that the history of the international order of traditional Eurocentrism had long ignored the Eurasian region before the Westphalian system, and wrongly believed that exchanges between regions outside Europe were extremely limited. This narrative style of the history of international order is increasingly difficult to help people today understand the world order and the principles of its rise and fall. The study of this book, on the other hand, helps to fill this gap. By showing a series of history of the rise and fall of the “Eurasian international order”, the author can explain how these non-western international orders have promoted the exchange of material resources between Eurasian regions, and shaped a “universal” political organization model, ruling model and political culture that are jointly respected by all regions of Eurasia.

In the second part, Prof. Ayşe Zarakol, from history to theory, explained to the audience the enlightenment of the study of “Eurasian international order”. She proposed two crisis forms that can lead to the decline of the international order, namely “legitimacy crisis” and “structural crisis”. The operation principle of “legitimacy crisis” is that every international order has a legitimacy logic to support its survival. When the legitimacy logic cannot continue, the order will face a survival crisis. For example, the legitimacy logic of the Eurasian international order established by the Mongol Empire is to expand intermittently. When the expansion stops, Mongolia must transform or decline. Similarly, the legitimacy logic of the liberal world order lies in the inclusiveness of “universal”. When the order chooses to exclude some countries in an irrational way, its legitimacy logic is destroyed. The “structural crisis” is more reflected in non-human factors such as temperature change, environmental degradation and plague. For example, the global temperature rising in the 12th century led to the expansion of the Eurasian grassland area, which provided convenient conditions for the expansion of Mongolian cavalry, while the Black Death in the 17th century led to political chaos in various regions of Eurasia. Like the crisis of legitimacy, the structural crisis will force the world order to change or end.

In the Q&A session after the lecture, Prof. Ayşe Zarakol had a warm interaction with the audience, and she asked a series of questions from the audience, such as the definition and boundary of “East” and “West”, the similarities and differences of political models between Türkiye and China, how the epidemic situation in the new museum and the development of science and technology affect the world order, how missionaries and seaports promote exchanges and interactions between different regions, the relationship between the macro interpretation framework and specific issues, etc Prof. Zarakol gave excellent replies.


Ayşe Zarakol, Professor of International Relations, Cambridge University. Her main research field is interdisciplinary research on historical sociology and international relations. Her research topics include the relationship between the East and the West in the international system, the history and future of the world order, the conceptualization of modernity and sovereignty, rising and declining powers, and Türkiye’s politics from a comparative perspective. She has written such works as How the East Learned to Live with the West (Cambridge University Press, 2011), Hierarchies in World Policies (Cambridge University Press, 2017), Before the West: The Rise and Fall of Eastern World Orders (Cambridge University Press, 2022), etc.

Text editor: Hu Yifan
Proofreaders: Duan Jiuzhou
Typography editor: Cheng Yao