The Prehistory of Foreign Engagement

Christopher A. Ford

in The Mind of Empire

Published by University Press of Kentucky

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780813192635
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813135519 | DOI:
The Prehistory of Foreign Engagement

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Because it was surrounded by what it perceived as weaker and culturally inferior neighbors for most of its ancient history, China has a traditional view of itself in relation to the rest of the world as the center of the political and moral universe. Even where vigorous barbarian peoples were occasionally recognized as equal adversaries in terms of raw power, coequal formal status seems not to have been conceded. The Chinese theory of world order would seem to imply not merely the superiority of the Middle Kingdom but also the arrangement of other peoples of the world into concentric circles of decreasing status proportional to their virtuousness. When an ethnically foreign dynasty was established following the conquest of China by the Mongol and Manchu armies, the traditional Chinese remained steadfast in their belief in Sinic universalism. On the few occasions that Ming emperors dispatched naval expeditions across the seas, their practical object was to take advantage of trading opportunities but their overriding purpose was to “show the flag and reveal the might of the Ming dynasty” to the barbarian kingdoms. In its dealings with different European powers seeking trade relations, China would receive envoys only if they paid homage and offered tribute. Consequently, for some time the Chinese continued to count European barbarians as just another set of foreign tributaries.

Keywords: Chinese foreign relations; hierarchical empire; coequal sovereignties; Chinese tribute system; foreign trade; politico-moral subservience; naval expeditions; diplomacy

Chapter.  12853 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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