Introduction to Department of International Relations

International Relations teaching and research began at Tsinghua University in December 1993, upon the establishment of its “International Political Teaching & Research Group”. The group, headed by Professor Li Runhai, was under the Department of Philosophy and Sociology at the School of Humanities and Social Studies. In January 1997, the Tsinghua University Institute of International Studies (IIS) was founded, with the former Ambassador of China to Kenya, distinguished diplomat Xue Mouhong, as its founding chair. In July 2000, Professor Yan Xuetong joined the IIS as executive director and later became its director. Thereafter, the IIS rapidly developed. In 2003, the institute received approval from the Ministry of Education to launch International Relations Master’s and PhD programs, and began to enroll undergraduate students.


The Department of International Relations was established in 2007, with Professor Yan Xuetong as the founding chair. October 2010 saw the founding of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University (renamed the Institute for International Relations, Tsinghua University in 2015), with Professor Yan Xuetong as dean. Professor Shi Zhiqin was appointed the chair of the department at the end of the same year. In March 2011, the Department of International Relations launched its level-one degree in Political Science and the major of International Relations appeared on the list of Beijing’s key level-two degree programs. In September 2012, the institute received Ministry of Education approval to establish its postdoctoral research program in Political Science, and in November 2015, Professor Sun Xuefeng was appointed chair of the department. In 2017, Tsinghua University was 35th in the QS World University rankings for Politics and International Relations, and 2nd among the universities and colleges in the mainland China. 


The department’s 17 faculty members comprise 11 professors, five associate professors, and one assistant professor. These include one “Best Master in Education in Beijing”; one “Ministry of Education Yangtze River Young Scholar”; two “Ministry of Education New Century Scholars”; two winners of the Tsinghua University Young Scholar of Distinction award; and four winners of the Tsinghua University Young Faculties Teaching Excellence Award. All hold doctoral degrees and have either studied or been visiting scholars at the world’s most prestigious universities. They moreover have rich pedagogic experience and outstanding research capabilities. Many of the significant academic research and policy consultation projects in which they participated have been funded by the National Social Science Foundation. The work they have carried out in related professional fields, both at home and internationally, has had wide academic impact and policy implications.


In order to apply the principles and ideas of the professors in charge of scholarly pursuits and departmental management, the Department of International Relations operates a system of working committees that spur the enthusiasm and initiative of faculty members and enhance the quality of teaching, academic research, and administrative management. The present working committees comprise: the Teacher Recruitment Committee; the Enrollment Committee; the Graduate Training Committee; the Undergraduate Training Committee; and the Student Committee. The department has also established four teaching and research (T&R) offices, namely, the Comparative Politics T&R Office, the International Relations T&R Office, the International Political Economics T&R Office, and the Diplomacy T&R Office.


As regards fostering talent, the Department of International Relations enrolls undergraduate, postgraduate, and doctoral students. It has also established academic or professional training programs such as the Developing Country Studies PhD program and the Tsinghua-John Hopkins Dual Master’s Program in Global Politics and Economics. The emphasis of training programs and courses is on integrating modern social scientific methods with international relations history and theory, so keeping pace with the discipline’s development trend as well as the demands of social development. Of the courses presently available, one is listed as a “National Essential Course” and a “National Resource-sharing Course”, and three have been selected as “excellent Tsinghua University courses.” Beijing Educational Committee and Tsinghua University have appraised and rated as excellent the many textbooks that members of our faculty have edited, and which the Ministry of Education recommends for post-graduate courses. Significant numbers of our PhD graduates now hold key posts at China’s top universities and key research institutes. Some of our students have received national scholarships and the Tsinghua University New Talent Award, and many of our graduates, both from China and overseas, have made impressive achievements in different professional areas, including government departments and news agencies, throughout the world.


Tsinghua University’s international relations research has gradually wrought its distinguishing characteristic of integrating modern scientific methods with ancient Chinese political thought, namely the Tsinghua Approach to International Relations studies. The English language academic journal the Chinese Journal of International PoliticsCJIP is Tsinghua University and China’s (including the Hong Kong and Macao SARs and Taiwan) sole SSCI journal on international relations. The CJIP entered the SSCI Q1 zone in term of impact factor in the field of international relations between 2015 and 2016. It currently shows the highest impact factor of all international relations/politics/regional studies journals published in Asia. The Chinese academic journal Quarterly Journal of International Politics became a CSSCI journal in January 2017, and its impact factor ranks 9th. The quality of the journal has been widely recognized in China’s international relations circles.


The rapid pace of globalization and continuous progress of China’s reforms set higher requirements for international relations studies, and for the quality of education as a whole. This constitutes a great challenge but also an important opportunity for the department. To fulfill its historical mission and responsibilities as a leading academic institute of higher learning, the Department of International Relations is dedicated to promoting new paradigms, new theories, and new methods by integrating the experience of China and the world. We may thus gradually propel China’s international relations studies from the periphery to the center of the global academic community. Meanwhile, our research also focuses on China’s rise and other important global governance issues, with the aim of making academic contributions to the renewal of the Chinese nation and to global stability and prosperity.


Based on these missions and orientations, the Department of International Relations is committed to embodying three characteristics in its academic research. Firstly, it pays close theoretical attention to the realities of China and of the world, mobilizing and focusing its academic resources on the rise of great powers and the impact it has on the international order, on the modernization of national governance institutions, and on the transitions and innovations of global governance. Second, it highlights modern scientific methods and gives full play to the achievements and advantages to be gained from integrating modern scientific methods with international relations theories. It continues to amass large data bases, independent intellectual property rights, and an international relations data lab, thus to consolidate and broaden the features and advantages of Tsinghua University’s international relations studies. Third, it promotes academic innovations through inter-disciplinary studies. Tsinghua University’s tremendous accumulation of natural sciences and social sciences provides an essential foundation for innovations to social science studies.


Accordingly, in the coming five to ten years the Department of International Relations will focus on research into China’s rise and the transition of international order. It will pay particular attention to three key areas, namely, the relationship between great powers and neighboring countries; regional cooperation; and global governance. It will advance the level of innovations to international relations theory and scientific research methods, underlining the Tsinghua style and approach to international relations academic research. It will at the same time strengthen national and national security studies.


The Department of International Relations upholds the principle whereby education integrates knowledge, capability, and values. It persists in combining theory and practice, in gaining an accurate grasp of cutting edge programs, in embracing interdisciplinary fusion, and in its commitment to training world-level innovative talents. Specifically, the emphasis of doctoral education is on training students’ abilities to innovate theories. They may thus build the foundations on which to become leading figures within China’s international relations studies, and top international academics. The graduate programs focus on students’ professional accomplishments, especially the skills necessary to defuse the challenges of global and national governance. The undergraduate programs focus on cultivating students’ fundamental quality and comprehensive abilities by guiding them to explore and exploit their advantages and achieve success.


With the staunch support and joint efforts of the university, we believe that international relations research and education at Tsinghua University will attain world first-class standards by the year 2020, and thus contribute to Tsinghua’s standing as a world first-class university.