Honors Theses

Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2020

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis


Croft Institute for International Studies

First Advisor

Miguel Centellas

Second Advisor

Gang Guo

Third Advisor

Noell Wilson

Relational Format



Is 21st century China building an empire through the Belt and Road Initiative? Where do modern imperialist trends fit into the post-colonial world? This study explores different conceptualizations of empire used in previous academic studies and explores how the Belt and Road Initiative fits in this narrative of empire. Clarifying the discourse surrounding modern expansionist and imperialist behavior is a necessary first step in comparing phenomena that occur in very different historical periods. For example, when comparing former imperial dynasties of China to modern Chinese expansionist behavior, over 500 years of development divide these two historical periods. Newer terms such as “soft power” or subcategories of imperialism have been developed to define more specific components of this behavior. However, this divergence in terminology oftentimes leads to academic studies speaking on the same topic in different terms due to baseline similarities and seemingly insignificant differences. One of the key focuses of this study is clarifying the terminology that is applicable (under what circumstances by whom) in this instance of Chinese modern empire; an important component in clarifying concepts and terms assigned to China’s behavior is understanding the language used to describe expansive or imperialistic behavior exhibited by the BRI is the rhetorical analysis of an academic summary of the initiative as presented in mainland China’s universities. Using a two-part qualitative research method of theory-based pattern matching (by viewing the BRI and classic cases of ancient empire such as the Roman empire, British empire, and ancient Chinese empire through Weyland’s classification framework) and rhetorical analysis, this study develops a multi-dimensional framework to determine whether or not 21st century China’s expansionist behavior through the Belt and Road Initiative can be classified as imperialistic.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Available for download on Monday, May 08, 2023