Through Formal Equality to Inferiority

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:
Through Formal Equality to Inferiority

Show Summary Details


Despite their repeated military defeats and diplomatic humiliations at the hands of foreign barbarians between 1842 and 1860, the Chinese remained firm in their belief in Sinic universalism, seeing these reverses as merely temporary setbacks. To help better manage its relations with the barbarians, the imperial government created a Foreign Office, allowed foreign ambassadors a personal audience with the emperor, and later dispatched its own emissaries on formal diplomatic missions overseas. During the post-1860 period, China entered into a set of new treaty relationships with various Western powers and with Japan. During this period, the by now traditional diplomatic scuffles with Westerners over matters of formal status and protocol continued, for neither side had given up its efforts to secure the other's acceptance of its symbolic prerogatives. These scuffles were in no way trivial, for they carried symbolic baggage that went to the heart of each other's worldview and system of politico-moral legitimacy. Throughout this period, the forced march of China's symbolic retreat continued, but its forces retained good order and discipline, and they fought delaying, rearguard actions at every turn. In their attempt to elicit symbolic concessions from China to modern notions of coequal sovereignty and diplomatic reciprocity, the foreign barbarians went further by compelling the Chinese to accept what was becoming clearly a position of outright inferiority. As a result, China arguably did not have to come fully to grips with the implications of the norms of modern international legality, for it was plunged into an environment of obvious and invidious international inferiority contrary to the West.

Keywords: Sinic universalism; international law; foreign ambassadors; diplomatic relations; international treaties; coequal sovereignty; diplomatic reciprocity; world order

Chapter.  6667 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at University Press of Kentucky »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.