Sumner B. Twiss, Jonathan K L CHAN

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Building on the authors' previous work regarding the classical Confucian position on the legitimate use of military force as represented by Mencius and Xunzi, this paper probes their understanding of punitive expeditions undertaken against tyrants in particular - aims, justification, preconditions, and limits. It compares this understanding with contemporary Western models of humanitarian intervention, and argues that the Confucian punitive expedition aligns most closely with the emerging 'responsibility to protect' model in Western discussions, although it also differs from the latter in certain respects. For example, the Confucian expedition explicitly forwards as legitimate aims regime change and the punishment of tyrants, in addition to rescue of an abused population and assistance in rebuilding a decent society. The Confucian understanding also appears to set a lower threshold standard (well short of genocide, ethnic cleansing, or large-scale massacre) for what counts as severe tyranny warranting intervention, and it explicitly speaks of an obligation (beyond mere permissibility) to intervene when that threshold is exceeded. In its concluding section, the paper discusses some possible contemporary implications of the classical Confucian understanding of a punitive expedition against tyrants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-96
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Military Ethics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy

User-Defined Keywords

  • Mencius
  • models of humanitarian intervention
  • punishment and rectification
  • punitive expedition
  • regime change
  • responsibility to protect
  • severe tyranny
  • true kingship
  • Xunzi


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