East Asia Before the West

East Asia Before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Tribute

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    East Asia Before the West
    Book Description:

    From the founding of the Ming dynasty in 1368 to the start of the Opium Wars in 1841, China has engaged in only two large-scale conflicts with its principal neighbors, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. These four territorial and centralized states have otherwise fostered peaceful and long-lasting relationships with one another, and as they have grown more powerful, the atmosphere around them has stabilized.

    Focusing on the role of the "tribute system" in maintaining stability in East Asia and in fostering diplomatic and commercial exchange, Kang contrasts this history against the example of Europe and the East Asian states' skirmishes with nomadic peoples to the north and west. Although China has been the unquestioned hegemon in the region, with other political units always considered secondary, the tributary order entailed military, cultural, and economic dimensions that afforded its participants immense latitude. Europe's "Westphalian" system, on the other hand, was based on formal equality among states and balance-of-power politics, resulting in incessant interstate conflict.

    Scholars tend to view Europe's experience as universal, but Kang upends this tradition, emphasizing East Asia's formal hierarchy as an international system with its own history and character. This approach not only recasts our understanding of East Asian relations but also defines a model that applies to other hegemonies outside the European order.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52674-6
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. 1 THE PUZZLE: War and Peace in East Asian History
    (pp. 1-16)

    In 1592, the Japanese general Hideyoshi invaded Korea, transporting over 160,000 troops on approximately seven hundred ships. He eventually mobilized a half million troops, intending to continue on to conquer China.¹ Over sixty thousand Korean soldiers, eventually supported by over one hundred thousand Ming Chinese forces, defended the Korean peninsula. After six years of war, the Japanese retreated, and Hideyoshi died, having failed spectacularly in his quest.

    The Imjin War “easily dwarfed those of their European contemporaries” and involved men and material five to ten times the scale of the Spanish Armada of 1588, which has been described as the...

  6. 2 IDEAS: Hierarchy, Status, and Hegemony
    (pp. 17-24)

    The three concepts that guide this book are hierarchy, status, and hegemony. Because they form the intellectual basis of the explanation for how early modern East Asian international relations functioned, we will spend some time discussing them. All three of these concepts are different aspects of the inequality in human life, and all three provide us insight into how inequality is expressed and maintained and into the ramifications of inequality for international life.

    Following Richard Ned Lebow and William Wohlforth, among others, I define hierarchy as a rank order based on a particular attribute. Thus, a hierarchy is an ordinal...

  7. 3 STATES: The Confucian Society
    (pp. 25-53)

    East Asia has perhaps the longest history of centralized territorial rule in the world, defined as states that established political control over defined territory. China as hegemon—and its main philosophy, Confucianism—had a powerful effect on the rest of East Asian domestic and international politics, even while what it meant to be Chinese and how best to organize society and government was continually modified and debated within China itself. Chinese civilization in the region was inescapable, and most states and societies were forced to deal with China in one way or another. Domestically, China influenced state formation and societal...

  8. 4 DIPLOMACY: The Tribute System
    (pp. 54-81)

    Chinese civilization had an enduring and transformative effect on the domestic politics and societies of many surrounding states, and those most Sinicized formed a Confucian society with shared norms, values, and agreement on what constituted membership. But early modern East Asian international relations was also part of a larger international system, as well: it included all of the political actors in the region, not just the deeply Confucianized states. These more general international rules, norms, and institutions formed the basis of international relations in early modern East Asia.

    This international order in East Asia encompassed a regionally shared set of...

  9. 5 WAR: The Longer Peace
    (pp. 82-106)

    The past millennium of European history was soaked in blood, and that experience has affected the way we tend to view history in every region of the world. Jeffrey Herbst describes the situation well: “[European] Peace was the exception and long periods with no major fighting were almost unknown, as for centuries weak states were routinely defeated and populations regularly absorbed by foreign rulers.”¹ States engaged in the “great game” of the balance of power, alliances, and conquest whenever possible. The slightest advantage was to be seized; the slightest weakness was exploited. States constantly jockeyed with one another to survive,...

  10. 6 TRADE: International Economic Relations
    (pp. 107-138)

    The East Asian system, in short, featured smaller states existing under the shadow of a preponderant hegemonic power with the material wherewithal potentially to conquer all or most of the system. Yet we have also seen that the main actors in the system were states and that they interacted with one another within an elaborate and deeply institutionalized diplomatic system that yielded considerable stability. That system was not merely a political or cultural one, however: there were also extensive economic interactions that bound these states together. All states in the system used the same Chinese-derived international rules and norms in...

  11. 7 FRONTIERS: Nomads and Islands
    (pp. 139-157)

    The difference between a border and a frontier is the difference between a line and a space. Borders are fixed—a clear line that separates two different political spaces, with clear rights and responsibilities on both sides of the line. In contrast, a frontier is a zone—an ambiguous area where political control, organization, and institutions gradually diminish and intermingle with other ideas, institutions, rules, and peoples. While some political relationships in early modern East Asia were demarcated by lines, and these proved to be remarkably stable, other historical relationships were mediated by space, and these proved to be more...

  12. 8 LESSONS: History Forward and Backward
    (pp. 158-172)

    In the future, there is absolutely no possibility of a return to the tribute system of international relations that existed centuries ago. Yet we might still ask: How does the past affect the present? How does the present affect the past? Ultimately, we care about what happened centuries ago in East Asia because of what it might tell us about our own situation today. Normally, we view history as moving forward from past to present, and we see the events of the past affecting the way the think about or act in the present. In this way, we might ask...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 173-194)
    (pp. 195-212)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 213-222)