Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The question of this thesis is why the Vatican and China severed diplomatic
ties in the 1950s to the extent that over 60 years later they still have not
reached a rapprochement. In previous literature, this long-term stalemate
was often regarded as the result of ‘incompatible identities’ (communism
versus theism) between the PRC and the Vatican. However, this thesis
argues that this rigid view of identity has led to a highly oversimplified and
biased understanding of Sino-Vatican relations – the agency of Beijing and
Rome in Sino-Vatican interactions was ignored.
To get a deeper insight into the current stalemate in Sino-Vatican relations,
we must return to the early period (1949-1958) in Beijing and Rome’s history
of interaction and discuss why the stalemate was formed in the first place.
In order to do so, this thesis covers major ‘flashpoints’ in Sino-Vatican
relations from 1949-1958 and analyses the key texts from both Beijing and
Rome. Borrowing from Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory, the dialogue
between China and the Vatican will be regarded as the two states’ efforts to
claim and fix the meanings of certain key signifiers in their discourse by
forming ‘chains of equivalence’. This thesis uses a considerable amount of
de-classified archival material on the Chinese side that has never been
revealed before, which provides rich evidence to support a new
interpretation of Sino-Vatican relations.
The thesis concludes that the stalemate in Sino-Vatican relations can be
attributed to Beijing and Rome’s mutual misunderstanding of each other’s
key signifiers. The original contribution of this case study to IR theory and
discourse theory is an analysis of how key signifiers in a state’s discourse
matter and can cause serious misunderstandings. To avoid this kind of
impasse, it is essential to precisely analyse the meaning of key ideological
signifiers in state interactions and diplomacy.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorDaniel DeHanas (Supervisor) & Oliver Davies (Supervisor)

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