Peace studies provide a methodological foundation for conflict resolution

By ZHAO QI / 12-22-2023 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

Peace studies can chart a path for guiding peacebuilding efforts and lay groundwork for us to coexist in a world without violence. Photo: TUCHONG

The world is currently experiencing significant changes, with numerous challenges and crises intersecting and overlapping. This underscores the crucial role of solidarity and cooperation in effectively addressing these issues through a peace-oriented lens. In this context, CSST recently interviewed Liu Cheng, a professor from the School of History at Nanjing University and UNESCO Chair on Peace Studies, and Egon Spiegel, a professor from the University of Vechta in Germany and guest professor at Nanjing University. The duo elaborated on the development and contemporary value of peace studies as well as the Chinese outlook on peace. 


According to Liu and Spiegel, peace studies arose as an interdisciplinary field after WWII. Encompassing peace research, peace education, and peace activities, it is a system of knowledge and practices for investigating nonviolent programs for preventing, easing, and resolving conflict, and analyzing conflict structures and mechanisms to achieve peace. 

The two experts noted that the pursuit of peace might have a history as long as human history. Peace studies originated in the West, but the field’s core tenets stemmed from the East, such as India’s principles of non-violence, and the Chinese philosophy of the “balance between yin and yang,” “universal love and non-aggression,” and “replacing weapons of war with gifts of jade and silk.”

In their early stages, peace studies focused on negative peace. However, after the 1970s, scholars shifted their focus to positive peace in order to address a wider array of contradictions and challenges as the world grew increasingly globalized. 

Liu and Spiegel pointed out that positive peace encompasses four key aspects. The first aspect is peace of nature, which stresses cooperation among species instead of competition. Second, direct positive peace underscores benevolence in both speech and on the material level, exhibiting concern for people’s basic needs, survival, happiness, freedom, and identity. Structural positive peace calls for the substitution of suppression with freedom and exploitation with equality, through dialogue, integration, unity, and participation, rather than infiltration, separation, isolation, and marginalization. Cultural positive peace aims to replace the legitimacy of violence with that of peace, thereby building a culture of peace and leveraging individuals’ different talents. 

Positive peace has transcended the traditional definition of peace, enriching its connotation and becoming the principal content of peace studies. Liu and Spiegel held that positive peace is grounded in the understanding of extensive social conditions, and justice and equality are the fundamental elements. They urged for efforts to eliminate discrimination of all forms based on class, age, religion, race, and gender, along with attention to future, lasting, and all-around peace—a perspective that aligns with the Chinese cultural conception of peace.

Relevance today

In world history, war is responsible for immeasurable damage to humanity, and the detriment of warfare is even more unbearable in the era of globalization. However, war seems to remain a lingering haze, which, to some extent, has given rise to the bias that “peace studies are too idealistic.”

Responding to this bias, Liu and Spiegel observed that following WWII, people began to profoundly reflect on war, with the hope of putting an end to the resolution of conflict by force. They began to examine how to transform conflict by nonviolent means, especially along the structural, cultural, and ecological dimensions, attempting to reveal sources of violence of all sorts and come up with peaceful means. 

History has demonstrated that violent acts within microscopic areas of society, as well as intra-state and international clashes, are ineffective and meaningless, and have jeopardized people’s physical and mental health. The two scholars believe that in modern society, humanity possesses the wisdom to seek alternative methods for conflict transformation, and peace studies can chart a path for guiding peacebuilding efforts and lay groundwork for us to coexist in a world without violence. 

The approach of peace studies is not deficit-oriented, but resource-oriented, Liu and Spiegel argued. The duo suggested first interpreting the peaceful world as a community based on shared interests and mutual understanding, followed by tolerance of each other, acceptance beyond tolerance, respect for other traditions and sentiments, and lastly, forming unions. 

In addressing separatism in the contemporary world, Liu and Spiegel pointed out that the research of alliance and confederation in peace studies will facilitate global governance and prompt more rational considerations to regional interests. 

Chinese conception  

Liu and Spiegel noted that worldwide, the relationships between cultures, religions, and nations can be divided into four different models, and the choice of model varies from country to country. The first model is the “Ego,” which regards one’s own culture, religion, and nation the best and superior to others. The second model is the “Multi,” denoting a real world marked by the coexistence of different cultures, religions, and nations. The model of “Inter” signifies that each culture, religion, and nation exists and evolves through interplay, communication, and cooperation with their counterparts. The fourth and highest-level model features “Trans,” which holds that all people are in the same boat and live in the same world, with common experience and wishes, while facing common challenges, united as a whole in the global social network. 

The Chinese vision of building a global community of shared future, a product of Chinese culture and wisdom, embodies the goal and pathway of the “Trans” model, representing a nonviolent path to peace, Liu and Spiegel explained, adding that this notion epitomizes the Chinese outlook on peace.