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Tang China in Multi-Polar Asia

Tang China in Multi-Polar Asia: A History of Diplomacy and War

Wang Zhenping
Copyright Date: 2013
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  • Book Info
    Tang China in Multi-Polar Asia
    Book Description:

    Using a synthetic narrative approach, this ambitious work uses the lens of multipolarity to analyze Tang China's (618-907) relations with Turkestan; the Korean states of Koguryŏ, Silla, and Paekche; the state of Parhae in Manchuria; and the Nanzhao and Tibetan kingdoms. Without any one entity able to dominate Asia's geopolitical landscape, the author argues that relations among these countries were quite fluid and dynamic-an interpretation that departs markedly from the prevalent view of China fixed at the center of a widespread "tribute system."To cope with external affairs in a tumultuous world, Tang China employed a dual management system that allowed both central and local officials to conduct foreign affairs. The court authorized Tang local administrators to receive foreign visitors, forward their diplomatic letters to the capital, and manage contact with outsiders whose territories bordered on China. Not limited to handling routine matters, local officials used their knowledge of border situations to influence the court's foreign policy. Some even took the liberty of acting without the court's authorization when an emergency occurred, thus adding another layer to multipolarity in the region's geopolitics.The book also sheds new light on the ideological foundation of Tang China's foreign policy. Appropriateness, efficacy, expedience, and mutual self-interest guided the court's actions abroad. Although officials often used "virtue" and "righteousness" in policy discussions and announcements, these terms were not abstract universal principles but justifications for the pursuit of self-interest by those involved. Detailed philological studies reveal that in the realm of international politics, "virtue" and "righteousness" were in fact viewed as pragmatic and utilitarian in nature.Comprehensive and authoritative,Tang China in Multi-Polar Asiais a major work on Tang foreign relations that will reconceptualize our understanding of the complexities of diplomacy and war in imperial China.7 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3788-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  4. Map of Tang China
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book examines the relations between Tang China (618–907) and its major Asian neighbors. During its almost 290-year course, the Tang experienced often turbulent relations with Koguryŏ, Silla, Paekche, Parhae, the Turks, the Uighurs, the Tibetans, and the Nanzhao Kingdom, running the gamut from peaceful coexistence to open warfare. Except for the Uighurs, these countries rose to power one after another to become in turn China’s principal adversaries.

    This book uses “multi-polarity” as the analytical tool for studying Tang China’s complex external relations.¹ “Multi-polarity” refers to an environment in which several countries competed against one another in the attempt...

  6. 1 Dancing with the Horse Riders: The Tang, the Turks, and the Uighurs
    (pp. 11-54)

    Aduois a bird of pale yellow feather, with a forked tail and a claw that resembles the foot of a mouse without the hind toe. About the size of a pigeon, this fowl flies in big flocks, cries in a high-pitched tone, migrates south to seek refuge from harsh winters, and returns to its habitat in the northern deserts when spring comes.¹ This plain-looking bird somehow drew the attention of the most serious-minded compilers of the Chinese official dynastic histories. In theDynastic History of Tang(Jiu Tang shu), they mentioned theduoin the “Monograph of Portents”...

  7. 2 Restoring Lost Glory in Korea: China, Koguryŏ, Silla, Paekche, and Parhae
    (pp. 55-96)

    Ancient Korean tribes are said to have come into contact with China in the early first millennium B.C.E. Later, when China achieved political unification under the Qin Empire in 221 B.C.E. by eliminating various local states, one of those eliminated was the northern State of Yan. Yan bordered on Korea, and, as a result, a large number of Yan refugees fled to Korea. More frequent contact between China and the Korean kingdoms began in 109 B.C.E., when northwestern Korea was invaded by the Western Han, who established four Chinese commanderies, Lelang, Lintun, Zhenfan, and Xuantu, the territories of which covered...

  8. 3 Rearing a Tiger in the Backyard: China and the Nanzhao Kingdom
    (pp. 97-137)

    In the deep mountains and dense forests of what is now modern Yunnan province lived a large number of tribes.¹ For centuries, tribes in the remote western and southern regions had been beyond the reach of Chinese power, but those in eastern Yunnan, whose borders neighbored China, came into contact with China as early as the Han dynasty. Chinese sources referred to these tribes as either “White Aborigines” (Baiman), or “Black Aborigines” (Wuman), depending on their cultural and economic development. Those considered to be of a higher level of development were “White Aborigines,” and the rest were “Black Aborigines.”² These...

  9. 4 Contesting the Western Regions and the High Grasslands: China and Tibet
    (pp. 138-190)

    The Qiang people were early inhabitants of the Tibet Plateau, where they tilled the land and raised livestock for a living. The origins and the language of these people, however, remain unclear.¹ The early history of Tibet itself is largely a mystery, though it is known that there had been thirty rulers before the seventh century who governed the present-day Zedang and Qiongjie region. When Qizong Nongzan (Khri sroṅ brtsan or Sroṅ btsan sgampo; r. 618–649)² came to power, he inherited a state that had already extended its control to the Lhasa River valley in the northwest. In 629,...

  10. 5 Driving a Wagon with Two Horses: Dual Management of External Relations under the Tang
    (pp. 191-230)

    The vast Tang Empire maintained contacts with both its near neighbors and remote countries. For better management of China’s external relations, the Tang court adopted a dual management system that involved both central and local officials in information gathering, decision making, and policy implementation. This unique practice differed sharply from the strict central control that characterizes modern international relations.

    Out of the need to formulate foreign policies and out of curiosity about exotic places, Tang emperors and central as well as local officials strove to gather information on foreign lands and peoples.¹ A major means for them to do so...

  11. 6 Seeking Policy Appropriate to a Changing World: Diplomatic and Foreign Policy Thought under the Tang
    (pp. 231-302)

    In its nearly 290-year history, the Tang dynasty related to very different types of neighbors, ranging from the peaceful to the outright hostile. To create an international environment conducive to Tang’s existence and development, Tang emperors often sought inspiration and substantiation for their actions from the rich legacy of antiquity. This legacy evolved roughly from the Western Zhou (eleventh century B.C.E.–771 B.C.E.) to the Eastern Han (25–220). This was an era when Chinese rulers interacted extensively with non-Chinese peoples and gained broad experience in managing external relations. To achieve their goals, these Chinese governments employed peaceful as well...

  12. Conclusion: Multi-Polarity in Asia and Appropriateness in Tang Foreign Policy
    (pp. 303-306)

    The history of Tang China’s external relations provides ample evidence of Asia’s shift toward a multi-polar world. In this world, Tang China remained a formidable but not the dominant power. The gaps between Tang China and the rest of Asia were shrinking, and power relations in Asia ceased to be zero-sum games. In the face of these profound changes, Tang emperors and courtiers admitted that China’s power alone would not suffice to freeze the perpetual evolution of Asia’s geopolitical landscape. Accepting fluidity as the norm for international relations, they deliberated concerning the disorderly mobility in Asia, and they attempted to...

  13. Abbreviations
    (pp. 307-308)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 309-392)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 393-410)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 411-448)
  17. Index
    (pp. 449-462)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 463-465)