Imperial Chinese tributary system

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The Imperial tributary system of China was the network of trade and foreign relations between China and its tributaries that helped to shape much of East Asian affairs. Contrary to other tribute systems around the world, the Chinese tributary system consisted almost entirely of mutually-beneficial economic relationships,[1] and member states of the system were politically autonomous and, in almost all cases, independent as well.[2] Through the tribute system, which facilitated frequent economic and cultural exchange, the various dynasties of Imperial China "deeply influenced the culture of the peripheral countries and also drew them into a China-centered, or "sino-centric", international order."[3] The Imperial tributary system shaped foreign policy and trade for over 2,000 years of Imperial China's economic and cultural dominance of the region, and thus played a huge role in the History of Asia, and the History of East Asia in particular.[4] Recently, some scholars have argued that it is misleading to think of a millennial tribute "system," rather than a loose set of expectations and precedents and they suggest that the system only flourished in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties.[5]

The system[edit]

The traditional Chinese international structure was different from many other systems developed in other parts of the world. First, it was premised on the belief that China was the cultural center of the world and that foreigners were "less civilized" or "barbarians." Second, since the Chinese state was considered the center of all humankind, most other foreign rulers were expected to recognize the prominence of the Chinese court.[6] In the Qing period, countries wanting to trade with China had to send “tribute” missions that acknowledged China's superiority and suzerainty via the ritual of ke-tou, or kow-tow, which consisted of three kneelings, each involving three prostrations before the emperor. In return they could trade for a specified number of days at border points designated by Beijing.[6]

Since Asian states wanting to trade with China continued to pay regular tribute to the Chinese court, there was little reason for the Chinese to doubt their predominance in the world order. Even the Europeans, who had first entered the Chinese waters as early as the sixteenth century, had submitted to trade within the highly restrictive Chinese system.[6] By conforming to the conditions imposed on them, and by accepting their inferior position, the Westerners strengthened the Chinese belief in the preeminence of the Middle Kingdom and in the tributary system of foreign relations.[7]

The Imperial Tributary system began its development during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE)[8] with hostage exchanges accepted as the norm.[9] Hostages continued to be used until the Tang dynasty (618–907). Confucianism and the Mandate of Heaven provided the ideological foundations for the tribute system. Emperor Han Wudi (r. 141 – 87 BCE) played a critical role in the formation of the system.[10]

Neighboring tributary states[edit]

Kingdoms along China's North-Western Frontier often struggled with the Imperial tributary system, and Beijing's rejection of tribute missions, and the lavish gifts and benefits gained, exacerbated, then helped soothe, the drawn-out and complex conflicts now known as the Ming-Turpan Border Wars.

Mansur then abandoned large-scale military expeditions, though he continued to sanction raids on China to attain his objectives. Instead he offered tribute, occasionally dispatching a dozen or more embassies a year. He was apparently eager to obtain the Chinese gifts granted to foreign embassies, and therefore limited his incursions.[11]

Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet, although outside China proper, were considered within the pale, and Beijing had the right to post agents and armed forces there. Korea, the Ryukyu Islands, Annam (present-day Vietnam), Siam (Thailand), Burma (Myanmar), and Nepal were “tributary states,” which sent regular tribute missions.[6]

The Ming dynasty declined to intervene under the isolationist and anti interventionist Hongwu Emperor when the Vietnamese attacked Champa, giving only a rebuke.[12] The Chinese again did not intervene in the 1471 Vietnamese invasion of Champa when Vietnam destroyed Champa. Both Vietnam and Champa were tributary states.

The investiture of rulers of tributary nations with titles by Chinese envoys was part of the system.[13]

Warfare between tributary states was arbitrated by the Chinese emperor. Malacca and Vietnam were both tributaries to China. Malacca sent envoys to China again in 1481 to inform the Chinese that while going back to Malacca in 1469 from a trip to China, the Vietnamese attacked them, castrating the young and enslaving them. The Malaccans reported that Vietnam was in control of Champa and also that the Vietnamese sought to conquer Malacca, but the Malaccans did not fight back due to lack of permission from the Chinese to engage in war. The Chinese Emperor scolded them, ordering the Malaccans to strike back with violent force if the Vietnamese attacked.[14]

The Ryukyu Kingdom was a tributary state to the Ming dynasty then the Qing dynasty. It was conquered by Japan in 1609 and became a vassal state of the Satsuma clan, but was allowed to continue its existing tributary relation with China in order to allow for indirect Japanese trade with China. Efforts were made to obscure Satsuma's domination of Ryukyu from the Chinese Court, in order to ensure the continuation of trade and diplomacy, since China refused to conduct formal relations or trade with Japan at the time.

During the Nguyễn Dynasty (1802–1945), Vietnam's rulers copied the Imperial Chinese system, declaring themselves Emperors on the Chinese Confucian model and attempting to create a Vietnamese Imperial tributary system.[15]

The tributary system remained as the primary instrument of diplomatic exchange throughout the Imperial era until the final Qing dynasty fell and China became a republic in 1912.[16]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Eisenman, Joshua; Heginbotham, Eric; Mitchell, Derek (2007). China and the Developing World: Beijing's Strategy for the Twenty-First Century. M.E. Sharpe. p. 9. Retrieved May 28, 2015.  "While flawed, the tributary system offered mutual benefit from both economic and security standpoints to the tributary states and China alike. Tributary states received trade benefits and, in some cases, security guarantees"
  2. ^ Zhang, Yongjin; Buzan, Barry (2012). "The Tributary System as International Society in Theory and Practice". Oxford Journals. The Chinese Journal of International Politics. Retrieved May 28, 2015. Participants and aspiring participants in Pax Sinica, nevertheless, remained sovereign entities, to the extent that they retained their autonomy and independence in conducting their domestic and ‘foreign’ affairs 
  3. ^ Vohra 1999, p. 22
  4. ^ Warren I. Cohen. East Asia at the Center : Four Thousand Years of Engagement with the World. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. ISBN 0231101082
  5. ^ John E. Wills. Past and Present in China's Foreign Policy: From "Tribute System" to "Peaceful Rise". (Portland, ME: MerwinAsia, 2010. ISBN 9781878282873.
  6. ^ a b c d Vohra 1999, p. 23
  7. ^ Vohra 1999, p. 24
  8. ^ Yu 1967, p. 36
  9. ^ Sima & Watson 1993, p. 84.
  10. ^ Hussain 2004, p. 84
  11. ^ Rossabi 1976
  12. ^ Edward L. Dreyer (1982). Early Ming China: a political history, 1355-1435. Stanford University Press. p. 117. ISBN 0-8047-1105-4. Retrieved 2010-11-28. 
  13. ^ Shih-shan Henry Tsai (1996). The eunuchs in the Ming dynasty (illustrated ed.). SUNY Press. p. 151. ISBN 0-7914-2687-4. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  14. ^ Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Straits Branch, Reinhold Rost (1887). Miscellaneous papers relating to Indo-China: reprinted for the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society from Dalrymple's "Oriental Repertory," and the "Asiatic Researches" and "Journal" of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Volume 1. Trübner & Co. p. 252. Retrieved 2011-01-09. 
  15. ^ Alexander Woodside (1971). Vietnam and the Chinese model: a comparative study of Vietnamese and Chinese government in the first half of the nineteenth century (reprint, illustrated ed.). Harvard Univ Asia Center. p. 234. ISBN 0-674-93721-X. Retrieved June 20, 2011. 
  16. ^ Britannica 2010, p. 222

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Warren I. Cohen. East Asia at the Center : Four Thousand Years of Engagement with the World. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. ISBN 0231101082.
  • John E. Wills. Past and Present in China's Foreign Policy: From "Tribute System" to "Peaceful Rise". (Portland, ME: MerwinAsia, 2010. ISBN 9781878282873.