''Liberal Barbarism'' Shock and Awe in History and Today

The Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI) arranged a discussion on historical and current examples of the use of violence against cultural targets, using Erik Ringmar’s book "Liberal Barbarism” as the starting point.

In "Liberal Barbarism”, political scientist Erik Ringmar describes the destruction in 1860 of the Chinese imperial palace Yuanmingyuan by British and French troops. The palace, which held one of history’s greatest art collections, had been the pride of the Chinese Emperor.

The brutal violence employed by Western powers in the destruction of Yuanmingyuan seems to contradict their liberal image and the aim of "civilizing” China.

Why did they choose such ruthless tactics? What consequences did the attack on the imperial palace have on the Chinese self-image? What can we learn from this historical example? How can we interpret the violent destruction of cultural heritage for political aims? Can the use of ‘shock and awe’ tactics be legitimate today? 


Erik Ringmar is professor of political science at Lund University, Sweden. He is the author of numerous books covering international relations theory, history, and cultural and economic sociology. The latest, "Liberal Barbarism” (2013) was recently released in paperback.


Nicola Nymalm, Researcher at UI’s East Asia, and Global Politics and Security Programmes. 

Irmy Schweiger, Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at Stockholm University.

The seminar wil be moderated by Karl Gustafsson, Researcher and East Asia Programme Manager at UI. 


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