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Sacred MandatesAsian International Relations since Chinggis Khan$
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Timothy Brook, Michael van Walt van Praag, and Miek Boltjes

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226562629

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226562933.001.0001

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Interpolity Relations and the Tribute System of Ming China

Interpolity Relations and the Tribute System of Ming China

(p.57) Chapter Three Interpolity Relations and the Tribute System of Ming China
Sacred Mandates
Timothy Brook, Michael van Walt van Praag, Miek Boltjes
University of Chicago Press

Imperial China operated its foreign relations through the tribute system. Membership in the system required paying tribute to China but also provided benefits in terms of political authority and trade. The system imposed the expectation of mutual non-aggression among the tributaries, including China’s nonintervention except when invited in response to internal conflict or external invasion. Ideologically, the system rested on what might be called a Confucian law of nations, premised on a fundamental hierarchical distinction between Chinese and non-Chinese. Actual relations between Ming China and its tributaries produced a more troubled history than the idealized version of the system, in which China calculated its foreign relations in terms of its security needs and its capacity to project force abroad, and from time to time interfered in the affairs of its tributaries and waged war against them. Maintaining the system was particularly important to the emperor of the newly founded Ming dynasty, who needed diplomatic recognition from abroad to project legitimacy at home. For states in the near periphery such as Dai Viet and Chošon Korea, participation in the system was similarly important as a resource for projecting regime legitimacy at home and deflecting the costs of noncompliance.

Keywords:   China, Chosŏn Korea, Confucian law of nations, Dai Viet, Hongwu emperor, law of nations, Ming dynasty, tribute system, unification, Yongle emperor

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