A civilization state, or civilizational state,[1] is a country that aims to represent not just a historical territory, ethnolinguistic group, or body of governance, but a unique civilization in its own right.[2] It is distinguished from the concept of a nation state by describing a country's dominant sociopolitical modes as constituting a category larger than a single nation. When classifying states as civilization states, emphasis is often placed on a country's historical continuity and cultural unity across a large geographic region.

The term was first coined in the 1990s as a way to describe China,[3] later India but has also been used to describe countries such as Egypt, Russia, Turkey, Iran[4] and the United States.[2][5][6]

The term has been popularized by Bruno Maçães in a series of essays since 2018.[7]

China as a civilization state

The term "civilization-state" was first used by American political scientist Lucian Pye in 1990 to categorize China as having a distinct sociopolitical character, as opposed to viewing it as a nation state in the European model. The use of this new term implies that China was and still is an "empire state" with a unique political tradition and governmental structure, and its proponents asserted that the nation state model fails to properly describe the evolution of the Chinese state. Proponents of the label describe China as having a unique historical and cultural unity, derived from a continuous process of cultural syncretism.[8] The term was further popularized by its use in When China Rules the World by British political scientist Martin Jacques.[9][10]

According to Li Xing and Timothy M. Shaw, the central feature of analyzing China as a civilization state is the view that the Chinese state derives its legitimacy from the continuation of a sociopolitical order which posits that the state maintains natural authority over its subjects, and that it is the "guardian" of both its citizens and their society, a view of the state that is completely distinct from the Westphalian nation-state model.[8] Other scholars make the case that the key features of a civilization-state are the maintenance of an ethos of cultural unity despite displaying significant cultural diversity, across centuries of history and a large geographic space.[11] Some specifically draw attention to the longevity of the Chinese writing system,[12] or describe China's existence as being uniquely and inexorably tied to the past.[13][14]

Guang Xia pushes back on the idea of the uniqueness of a Chinese civilization-state. Xia argues that civilization-state discourse in China studies is an important and positive development, as it allows for characteristics of the modern Chinese state to be properly analyzed in the context of their history. However, Xia concludes that ultimately, all civilizations must reinvent themselves in the context of their history, and that it is a mistake to view China as a static entity or to portray it as being more tied to its past than the rest of the world.[9]

India, Egypt and other proposed civilization states


By creating a civilizational continuation between ancient Egypt and contemporary Egypt with its Muslim characteristics, Egypt is another example of a civilization state that centers its continuous historical and cultural identity and tradition that contrast the West's global cultural dominance.[6]


Main articles: Greater India and Indian civilization

India is another example of a civilization state, with political commentators arguing that a shared Indian identity predates British colonization and Islamic invasions.[10][2][15][16] India as a Hindu majority state, is perhaps the only nation that still follows a Bronze Age religion, i.e. Hinduism. It is suggested by some scholars, taking support of archaeological evidences together with analogy of later cult divinities and religious practices, that roots of Hinduism could be diagnosed in the Bronze Age civilization. [17][18]


See also: Eurasianism

Vladimir Putin's administration has at times embraced the rhetoric of portraying Russia as a distinct Eurasian civilization-state.[2][5][19]


British journalist Gideon Rachman argued in a 2019 article that the concept of a civilization state is at odds with modern conceptions of universal human rights and common democratic standards, and is inherently exclusive to minority groups who do not share the feature(s) that define a particular civilization state (for example, they may have a different religion).[2]

See also



  1. ^ Coker, Christopher (2019). The Rise of the Civilizational State. John Wiley & Sons.
  2. ^ a b c d e Rachman, Gideon (4 March 2019). "China, India and the rise of the 'civilisation state'". Financial Times. Retrieved 2019-07-01.
  3. ^ Pye, Lucian W.1990. "Erratic State, Frustrated Society." Foreign Affairs. 69(4): 56-74
  4. ^ ASHLEY FORD, Christopher (11 November 2019). "Ideological "Grievance States" and Nonproliferation: China, Russia, and Iran". U.S. Department of State. INSTITUTE FOR NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES (INSS). Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  5. ^ a b "Huntington's disease and the clash of civilisation-states". The Economist. 2 January 2020.
  6. ^ a b "The return of the pharaohs: The rise of Egypt's civilization-state". Middle East Institute. 2021-09-16. Retrieved 2021-09-25.
  7. ^ Maçães, Bruno (2020-06-15). "The Attack Of The Civilization-State". ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ a b Xing, Li (2013). "The political economy of Chinese state capitalism". Journals.AAU.dk/Index.PHP/Jcir/Article/Download/218/155. 1 – via journals.aau.dk.
  9. ^ a b Xia, Guang (2014-08-22). "China as a "Civilization-State": A Historical and Comparative Interpretation". Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2nd World Conference on Psychology and Sociology, PSYSOC 2013, 27–29 November 2013, Brussels, Belgium. 140: 43–47. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.04.384. ISSN 1877-0428.
  10. ^ a b Jacques, Martin. (2014). When china rules the world : the end of the western world and the birth of a new global order. Penguin Books. ISBN 9781101151457. OCLC 883334381.
  11. ^ "Civilization state versus nation-state - Martin Jacques". www.martinjacques.com. Retrieved 2019-07-01.
  12. ^ Tu, Weiming (1994). The Living Tree: The Changing Meaning of Beijing Chinese Today. Stanford University Press. pp. 3–4.
  13. ^ Zheng, Yongnian (2004). Will China Become Democratic?: Elite, Class and Regime Transition. Singapore EAI. p. 81.
  14. ^ Huang, Ping (2005). 'Beijing Consensus' or 'Chinese Experiences' or what?. p. 6.
  15. ^ "India is not a nation-state, or a state-nation. It is a civilisational-state". Hindustan Times. 2019-12-19. Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  16. ^ Maçães, Bruno (15 June 2020). "The Attack Of The Civilization-State". NOEMA. Retrieved 2022-02-27.
  17. ^ Shah, Ibrahim (2013-01-01). "A Review of Hinduism and its Historical Development. | Putaj Humanities & Social Sciences | EBSCOhost". openurl.ebsco.com. Retrieved 2024-02-13.
  18. ^ Alper, Harvey (1976). "Review of Hinduism, Its Historical Development". Philosophy East and West. 26 (3): 348–351. doi:10.2307/1397866. ISSN 0031-8221. JSTOR 1397866.
  19. ^ Tsygankov, Andrei (2016-05-03). "Crafting the State-Civilization Vladimir Putin's Turn to Distinct Values". Problems of Post-Communism. 63 (3): 146–158. doi:10.1080/10758216.2015.1113884. ISSN 1075-8216. S2CID 146853956.