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International societies in pre-modern East Asia

Zhang, F. (2012) International societies in pre-modern East Asia. In: Australian Political Studies Association Annual Conference, 24 - 26 September, Hobart, Australia


This paper gives a conceptual and historical analysis of the social structure of premodern East Asian international societies from the theoretical lens of the English School. The English School is most useful in providing the ‘big picture’ of international society with theoretical depth and historical breadth. This picture, from the dawn of imperial China (221 B.C.) to the beginning of Western intrusion (mid-nineteenth century), may be conceptualized as the evolution and interaction of two international societies: the sinocentric society of Chinese hegemony (fanshu) and the more equal society of rival equality (diguo), ordered through the unique institution of the tribute system in the former case and those of heqin (peace and kinship), treaties, and the balance of power in the latter case, as well as through their common institutions of traveling embassy, trade, and war. In addition, although these two were the primary international societies in East Asian history, we should also note the existence of nested ones—the various fanshu-style hegemonic relationships between powerful states other than China (the Xiongnu, Turks, Korea, Vietnam, etc.) and the lesser states they dominated. Historical East Asian politics, characterized by the coexistence, overlap, interaction, and interpenetration of different kinds and levels of international societies, were therefore considerably more complicated and interesting than the tribute system paradigm suggests.

Item Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
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