Organizer: Nancy Park, Vassar College
Chair and Discussant: Pamela K. Crossley, Dartmouth College
For many decades the concept of tribute as a fundamental element of the "Chinese world order" has been a familiar and widely accepted premise of Western and Chinese historiography. According to John K. Fairbank's influential "tribute system" model, imperial China neatly integrated Han and non Han Chinese, outer "barbarians," and Westerners into hierarchical structure of relationships, with the emperor at the center surrounded by vassals on the periphery. Familiar and influential though this model has been, it is nonetheless time to reassess the role of tribute in imperial China.
The purpose of this session, which is the first part of a proposed two part panel, is to reconsider the multi layered political, economic, and ceremonial significance of tribute and to adapt the current Sinological understanding to take into account the complexities of the actual "tribute system." Whereas the three papers of this panel address the concept of tribute, the papers of the second panel (Session 65) will focus on the practice of tribute. Although approaching the issue from different angles, the two panels are united in a common goal: to offer an enhanced understanding of the richness and diversity of tribute relations in imperial China.
James L. Hevia's paper opens the discussion by focusing on the perception of tribute in the traditional historiography of China, explaining why the tribute model has been such a powerful way of thinking about imperial China's foreign relations. He concludes by proposing an alternative method of conceptualizing these relations by considering the interactions between the Manchu court and a variety of other kingdoms during the Qing dynasty.
Continuing the discussion of Qing tribute, Chia Ning considers the significance of tribute from Inner Asia to the Manchu emperors during the 17th and 18th centuries. She argues that in the early Qing there was a fundamental transition in the Sino-Inner Asian tribute relationship, after which tribute from the newly integrated Inner Asian populations came to be seen as "domestic" rather than "diplomatic" in nature. She claims that this change was designed to reflect the universal rulership of the Manchu emperors and, as such, was a powerful tool in Manchu state remaking.
John E. Wills, Jr. critiques the current tribute system model, arguing that it is too Sinocentric and privileges a Chinese focus on what China did in dealing with "others." He discusses the underlying reasons for this historiographical bias, showing how it has been influenced by the tendency towards "orientalism" that persists in contemporary Sinology. Finally, he suggests a more accurate model for understanding the role of tribute in China's foreign relations, focusing on its significance for defense and imperial ceremonial supremacy.
Each of the three papers in this panel offers interesting challenges or refinements to the current paradigm that, we hope, will initiate a renewed discussion of the significance of tribute. Pamela K. Crossley, well known for her extensive work on Manchu society and emperorship, will be the discussant for the panel.
Chia Ning, Central College
Little attention has been paid to the fact that during the first half of China's last imperial dynasty, the Qing (1644-1911), tribute to the imperial court was divided into two components: domestic tribute and diplomatic tribute. Throughout the Qing, the newly integrated Inner Asian populations-including the Mongols, the Central Asians, and the Tibetans-were perched as "domestic" or "internal," that is, existing within the bounds of the Chinese empire. By contrast, nations like Korea, Vietnam, and Siam, which traditionally had been subordinated to China's cultural influence, were still considered to be "diplomatic" or "external" tributaries. The embassies, commercial companies, and merchants of maritime Europe were also placed in this category.
The "domestic" and "diplomatic" dichotomy of the tribute system came as the direct result of the fundamental transition in the China-Inner Asian relationship that came about in the early Qing, that is, the internalization of the Inner Asian frontiers. This internalization played an important role in the Manchu remaking of the Chinese state. An examination of Mongol tribute to the Manchu court during the early Qing will contribute a fresh perspective to this issue.
The Manchu efforts in internalizing different parts of Mongol tributaries were manifested in the following aspects: tribute activity was organized along the lines of the banner organization; tribute duty was part of the banner nobility's obligation in the Qing Inner Asian administration under the imperial legal regulations; the tribute ceremony was performed in association with other Inner Asian rituals such as the Pilgrimage and the Imperial Hunt; the emphasis of tribute was shifted from material exchange to its ritual significance; and, within the tribute system, the universal rulership of the Manchu emperors toward their diverse populations inside the empire was differentiated from the "Middle Kingdom ideology" exhibited toward the foreign tributaries.
These efforts by the Qing court defined a political boundary between the internal tributaries and the external tributaries. Since the major Inner Asian tributaries were brought into the internal track following the Mongols, the traditional frontier regions, which were periodically part or not part of the Middle Kingdom in pre Qing times, became transformed as the fully internal components of the Qing empire. This study of Mongol tribute will address how Manchu state "remaking" was achieved in practice.
John E. Wills, Jr., University of Southern California
Students of the history of foreign relations need to remember and will be reminded by this session, that the word "tribute" was used in many domestic contexts in the traditional Chinese polity. Some historico philological tracing will help us to see what they have in common. The "Tribute of Yu" is the ur text; in it, the inner outer distinction is graded, and the focus is on presentation of goods as acknowledgment of sovereignty. Uses of "tribute" building on this background did not decide between "feudal" and "fully bureaucratic" variations of the Way of the Ruler and the Minister. They maintained an honest sense of "the goodness of goods" that was part of the humane frankness of Chinese values, and that left the way open to all but frank use of the system as a way of buying off dangerous outsiders, with constant worries about the costs of doing so.
All this is of considerable use in sorting out continuities and changes in pre modern and early modern Chinese ways of dealing with foreigners. But "tribute" and "tribute system" are misleading as master metaphors for the understanding of Chinese foreign relations. "Tribute" privileges and essentializes a Chinese focus on a whole range of what the Chinese did in dealing with "others." This has been done repeatedly in the name of de-privileging the Western concepts of inter state relations, but is itself "orientalist" in its positioning of a separate and internally coherent "Chinese mentality." It is better to begin with explanations of concrete actions and policies, especially their own explanations. Moreover, the model doesn't work; the image of a bureaucratized system keyed on tribute embassies actually controlling all of foreign relations fits Chinese documents only for about 1425-1550.
So how did we get in this fix? The most important European connection with Qing China, the Canton trade, had nothing to do with tribute embassy precedents. The Portuguese worried about being seen as paying tribute, but convinced themselves that they'd beaten the system. The Macartney confrontation over audience ceremonies was very important in shaping the subsequent attitudes of both sides. The Qing authorities, I suspect, were concerned not to breach to ceremonial unity because of possible Inner Asian effects.
Fairbank got the idea of a "tribute system" from Opium War materials. I think attention to the Ming tribute system already was reviving in bookish statecraft scholarship in the early nineteenth century. It wouldn't have survived as long as it has if it hadn't been for the turn away from the study of foreign relations in the 1970's. Of course, it also fits into the persistent "orientalizing" tendency in semi popular works.
If there is time, I will offer an alternative sketch of a way of fitting together what we know about Chinese management of foreign relations, focused on a concept of defensiveness and seeing the maintenance of the ceremonial supremacy of the emperor in the capital as one specific case of that defensiveness.
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