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China Among Equals


Scholars have long accepted China's own view of its traditional foreign relations: that China devised its own world order and maintained it from the second century B.C. to the nineteenth century. China ruled out equality with any nation: foreign rulers and their envoys were treated as subordinates or inferiors, required to send periodic tribute embassies to the Chinese emperor. The Chinese court was otherwise uninterested in foreign lands. Its principal interests were to maintain peace with what it perceived to ...

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Scholars have long accepted China's own view of its traditional foreign relations: that China devised its own world order and maintained it from the second century B.C. to the nineteenth century. China ruled out equality with any nation: foreign rulers and their envoys were treated as subordinates or inferiors, required to send periodic tribute embassies to the Chinese emperor. The Chinese court was otherwise uninterested in foreign lands. Its principal interests were to maintain peace with what it perceived to be barbarian neighbors and to coax or coerce them into admitting China's superiority and accepting the Chinese emperor as the Son of Heaven.

But Chinese foreign policy was not monolithic. Court officials in traditional times were much more realistic and pragmatic than is commonly assumed. They did not scorn foreign trade, nor were ignorant of foreign lands. Challenging the accepted view of Chinese foreign relations, the authors of China among Equals contribute to a clearer assessment of Chinese foreign relations and policy. From the tenth to the thirteenth centuries, China did not dogmatically enforce its own world order. Chinese were eager for foreign trade and knowledgeable about their neighbors. The Sung (960-1279), the principal dynasty during that era, was flexible in its dealings with foreigners. Its officials recognized the military and political weakness of the dynasty, and in general they adopted a realistic and pragmatic foreign policy. They were compelled to accept foreign states as equals, and the relations between China and other states were defined by diplomatic parity.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520045620
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 1/19/1983
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 436
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.97 (d)

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China Among Equals

The Middle Kingdom and Its Neighbors, 10th-14th Centuries

University of California Press

Copyright © 1983 Morris Rossabi
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-04562-9

Chapter One

Diplomacy for Survival: Domestic and Foreign Relations of Wu Yüeh, 907-978

Edmund H. Worthy, Jr.

The tenth century marks a critical and turbulent transition period in the history of East Asia. The internal political order of China, Korea, and Japan either disintegrated or was transformed, and on the Asian mainland the threat of vigorous foreign forces emerged north of the Great Wall. As a consequence of this political flux, the Sinocentric pattern of foreign relations predominant during the T'ang was disrupted. Pressures intensified on rival states and mini-kingdoms to form both foreign and domestic alliances for the sake of self-preservation, political stability, and economic advantage.

The expression "internal disorder and external calamity" (nei-luan wai-huan) characterizes the national and international situation of the era, particularly in mainland Asia. In Korea dramatic changes resulted from the breakdown of the Silla kingdom during the late ninth and early tenth centuries. The ensuing struggle among several competitors to fill the vacuum climaxed with the supremacy of the state of Koryo in 936. Consolidation and expansion of Koryo's newly acquired power required several more decades. During the same period, beyond the Great Wall the might of the Khitans, transformed into the Liao dynasty, impinged first upon North China and later on Korea. The Jurchens in northern Manchuria and the Tangut Hsi Hsia tribes on China's northwestern frontier also began to grow in power and influence. Meanwhile in Japan, the Fujiwara clan, overcoming some initial challenges, gained ascendancy as imperial regents and thereby altered the nature of Japanese imperial rule. Outside the court and capital, centralized control of the provinces deteriorated, and Japanese-initiated official diplomatic contact with China was discontinued in the face of China's ebbing power and attraction.

Tenth-century China was beset with disunion that was longer lasting and more pervasive than that in other East Asian states of the time. While the successive Five Dynasties in the North and the Sung during its initial two decades pretended sole claim to legitimacy, not all other states in the South, the so-called Ten Kingdoms, recognized this claim. To one degree or another, all acted autonomously, and some openly declared their independence and established an imperial form of government. Thus, in effect, a multi-state system existed internally within China just as it had during such earlier eras of national disintegration as the Spring and Autumn period (722 B.C.-481 B.C.).

The various states of tenth-century China treated each other like "foreign" lands and conducted diplomacy accordingly. Among themselves they exchanged envoys and diplomatic notes, offered gifts, paid tribute, conducted warfare, and entered into treaties just as a unified China had done and later did with non-Chinese states. This system of domestic multi-state relations lasted until 979 when Sung T'ai-tsung conquered the stubborn Northern Han state.

An international multi-state system in East Asia coexisted and interacted with the domestic system in China. Without a single, universally acknowledged central Chinese state, however, the Sinocentric structure of foreign relations lost much of its compelling logic. Although China continued to exert a strong cultural attraction on other East and Southeast Asian states, they could, during this period of Chinese political division, afford to develop simultaneous relations with one or more of the Chinese states for their own advantage. Or, as in the case of the Japanese court which stopped sending official envoys to China, East Asian states could drift away from the Chinese political orbit.

Until the balance of military power gradually shifted to the Chou (950-959) and Sung after the middle of the tenth century, a political vacuum existed in East Asia that permitted the various domestic and foreign states to deal with each other more or less as diplomatic equals. This situation made for an ever-changing mosaic of relationships. Just as foreign states manipulated their relations with Chinese domestic states for their own advantage, so the Chinese states used their connections with foreign powers, particularly the Khitans, to bolster their own domestic positions.

By focusing on the domestic and foreign relations of one Chinese state, Wu Yüeh, this essay will analyze in microcosm the dual domestic and international multi-state systems of the tenth century. The course of Wu Yüeh's relations with other Chinese states, and their perceptions of Wu Yüeh, will be examined through the year 956, when Chou launched its invasion of the Southern T'ang and dramatically altered the military and diplomatic equation. The next section of the essay will examine Wu Yüeh's domestic relations for the final twenty-two years preceding its capitulation to the Sung in 978. Wu Yüeh's relations with foreign states and its place within the international multi-state system will be considered separately. Finally, in the concluding section, the interaction of the two multi-state systems, especially during the half century before 956, will be examined in the context of a specific international relations theory explaining a balance of power system.

Wu Yüeh consisted of thirteen prefectures (chou) and eighty-six sub-prefectures (hsien). Its territory roughly corresponded to today's Chekiang Province, that portion of Kiangsu Province south of the mouth of the Yangtze and east of Lake T'ai, and the northeastern quadrant of Fukien Province, including Fu-chou. The territory in Fukien was not appended until 947. Although Wu Yüeh ranked geographically among the smaller states of the tenth century, it certainly was one of the wealthiest. Its population totaled approximately 550,700 households (hu), many of whom lived in active commercial centers and major seaports. The rulers of Wu Yüeh promoted land reclamation and waterworks projects that increased agricultural production. While we possess little explicit information about Wu Yüeh's commercial and agricultural development, its tremendous wealth will be obvious when the extent of its tribute is discussed in the next section.

Ch'ien Liu (852-932) was the founder of Wu Yüeh, which for purposes of this study is considered to have begun in 907 when Chu Wen, who destroyed the T'ang and founded the Later Liang dynasty, invested him as Prince (wang) of Wu Yüeh. Initially, he gained fame as a defender of Hang-chou against the rebel bands of Huang Ch'ao in 878. Thereafter, his military power increased steadily until he reached the position of regional military governor (chieh-tu shih). After he quelled a revolt in 897 against the T'ang by his one-time superior, his fortunes and rank rose even higher. In 902 he was named Prince of Yüeh, and in 904, Prince of Wu.

During the two decades prior to 907, Ch'ien Liu, Yang Hsing-mi, who was the progenitor of the Wu Kingdom (later transformed into the Southern T'ang), Sun Ju, who simply was a military opportunist, and Chu Wen conducted a seesaw struggle for control of the Chiang-Huai and Chekiang regions where the prosperous southern ports of the Grand Canal were located. The contest ultimately came down to a rivalry between Ch'ien (Wu Yüeh) and Yang (Wu/Southern T'ang, which was the largest and most powerful Southern state). This rivalry smoldered and sometimes erupted into open warfare during the next ninety years until the demise of the two states.

Ch'ien Liu's reign until his death in 932 extended through much of the span of two Northern states, Later Liang (907-922) and Later T'ang (923-937). Ch'ien charted a delicately balanced diplomatic course for Wu Yüeh and came closer than any of his successors to making an outright declaration of independence as a separate imperial state. His fifth son, Ch'ien Yüan-kuan (887-941), enjoyed a nine-year reign into the middle of the Later Chin (937-946). Upon his death he was succeeded by his son Ch'ien Tso (928-947), who ruled for six years until the beginning of the Later Han (947-950). Ch'ien Tso's brother Tsung inherited the throne, but only for the last half of 947. A military man named Hu Chin-ssu staged a palace coup and replaced Tsung with his younger brother Ch'ien Shu (929-988), who reigned for the final thirty years of Wu Yüeh's history. During his reign he was faced with the growing problem of preserving the existence of his state in the face of inexorable pressure from Chou and Sung.

Wu Yüeh was the longest lived of all states, North or South, during the T'ang-Sung interregnum. It also suffered the least from external attack, despite the attraction of its riches. The skillful diplomacy of its rulers best explains its survival during these difficult times.

Domestic Multi-State Relations, 907-956

Chu Wen's usurpation of the T'ang throne and his founding of the Later Liang dynasty in 907 shattered the Chinese myth of a legitimate, unified empire. His act of rebellion freed and indeed encouraged other competing regional military governors either to consider an attack on the Later Liang in the name of restoring the T'ang or to establish in some formal fashion their own kingdoms.

Ch'ien Liu was faced with these same options, but characteristically elected to follow a course of action that was to become the guiding diplomatic policy for Wu Yüeh. At the time of the T'ang downfall, several of his advisers urged him to launch an attack against the Later Liang and not submit to a usurper. Even if he were unsuccessful, their reasoning went, Ch'ien could at least retain Hang-chou and Yüeh-chou (present-day Shao-hsing in Chekiang Province) and declare himself the Eastern Emperor (tung-ti). He rejected this advice and acknowledged Chu Wen's imperial pretensions. His justification was that an ancient strategy called for nominal submissiveness to the emperor, but his unstated implication was that he would remain free to do as he wished within his own territory. Ch'ien opted not to assert his independence and autonomy openly. The reasons for this will become apparent.

Chu Wen's position at the outset of his reign was by no means completely secure. Confronted with threats from the Sha-t'o Turks in the North under Li K'o-yung, the Later T'ang progenitor, and from Huai-nan or Wu in the South, Chu Wen needed pledges of loyalty, even if nominal, from other states. Ch'ien Liu served as a potential counterbalance to the might of Huai-nan. Consequently, Chu Wen conferred special favors on him. Only one month after the creation of the Liang dynasty, Chu Wen named Ch'ien the Prince of Wu Yüeh, a rank that he had unsuccessfully requested from the T'ang in 904. Almost a year later, Chu Wen discovered from a Wu Yüeh envoy the personal likes of Ch'ien Liu and presented him with ten polo ponies and one jade belt, the first of several such belts to be given to Wu Yüeh rulers. Other titles and honors were granted to Ch'ien and various members of his family during this period. One title in particular reveals Chu Wen's intentions. In 907 Ch'ien received the concurrent title of regional military governor of Huai-nan and the military rank of pacification officer of Huai-nan.

For his part, Ch'ien Liu valued ties with Liang in order to help neutralize the threat from Wu, which was vigorously attempting to expand its influence and territory. In 908 Ch'ien sent an envoy to the Liang court to present a strategy for taking over Wu. This gesture demonstrated his good faith to Liang and also helped enlist Liang's continued support against the incursions of Wu. Hostilities between Wu and Wu Yüeh continued intermittently until 919, with each side staging attacks and counterattacks across the other's northern and southern borders. Fighting on both land and rivers centered primarily around Ch'ang-chou (present-day Wu-chin in the province of Kiangsu) in Wu and Su-chou in Wu Yüeh, two cities which confronted each other across the northern tip of the border.

Wu's most important success was the capture in 918 of Ch'ien-chou (present-day Kan-chou in the province of Kiangsi), a key point in overland transportation between north and south. Wu already controlled the southern terminals of the Grand Canal and closed it as the primary north-south communication artery. Only one other land route to the north lay open to Wu Yüeh and its neighboring state Min, whose territory roughly corresponded to today's Fukien Province. This route led through Ch'ien-chou at the confluence of the Kung River (Kung-shui) winding into Min territory and the Kan river (Kan-chiang) leading northward into P'oyang Lake and the Liang border at the Yangtze. Through another river system Ch'ien-chou also connected with the Nan Han kingdom in modern Kwangtung Province. This route from southwestern Wu Yüeh to the Liang border was approximately 5,000 li long (roughly 1,500 miles) and traversed the states of Min, Ch'u, and Nan P'ing. Despite its circuitousness, it was preferable to the more direct sea passage to the north, which exposed travelers and cargoes to greater danger.

Until its takeover by Wu in 918, Ch'ien-chou remained under the control of an independent warlord. Trade among the various Southern kingdoms and tribute to the North, especially from Wu Yüeh, brought in transit taxes that helped sustain Ch'ien-chou's defenses. Given its strategic importance as the single link connecting all the states surrounding Wu, including Wu Yüeh, Min, Ch'u, Nan P'ing, and Liang, it was imperative that Wu capture the city and impede communications among its rivals. In 918 Wu attacked Ch'ien-chou, which enlisted the aid of Ch'u, Min, and Wu Yüeh, but their assistance did not prevent a Wu victory. Thereafter until 958, Wu Yüeh's and Min's tribute missions to the North followed the sea route whose terminus was at Teng-chou (modern P'eng-lai in the province of Shantung) and Lai-chou (modern Yeh in the province of Shantung).

The tribute missions that Wu Yüeh sent had a noticeable impact on the Liang economy. According to extant records, Ch'ien Liu first presented tribute to Liang in 909. It is conceivable, though, that he offered tribute or gifts before then, especially in view of the honors he and his family had received. In 916, after Ch'ien had sent another tribute mission and received a prestigious military rank, some court officials expressed concern. They acknowledged the benefit of Wu Yüeh's tribute to commerce in Liang, but felt that Ch'ien should not be granted an excessively high rank in return. The Liang ruler overruled these objections, probably for a combination of diplomatic and economic reasons.

Throughout the Liang dynasty, the honors bestowed on Ch'ien Liu and his family and officials increased. When Chu Yu-kuei briefly usurped the Liang throne in 912, and also in the following year when Liang Mo-ti took the throne, Ch'ien was given the elevated title of "esteemed [imperial] patriarch" (shang-fu).


Excerpted from China Among Equals Copyright © 1983 by Morris Rossabi. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Maps viii
List of Contributors ix
Note on Transliteration xi
Preface xiii
Introduction 1
Part I China in Disarray
1 Diplomacy for Survival: Domestic and Foreign Relations of Wu Yueh, 907-978 17
Part II The Sung Dynasty in a Multi-State System
2 The Rhetoric of a Lesser Empire: Early Sung Relations with Its Neighbors 47
3 Barbarians or Northerners: Northern Sung Images of the Khitans 66
Part III Institutions for Foreign Relations in the Multi-State System
4 Sung Foreign Trade: Its Scope and Organization 89
5 Sung Embassies: Some General Observations 116
Part IV Foreign Lands and the Sung
6 National Consciousness in Medieval Korea: The Impact of Liao and Chin on Koryo 151
7 Tibetan Relations with Sung China and with the Mongols 173
8 Old Illusions and New Realities: Sung Foreign Policy, 1217-1234 204
Part V The Mongol Hegemony
9 The Yuan Dynasty and the Uighurs of Turfan in the 13th Century 243
10 Turks in China under the Mongols: A Preliminary Investigation of Turco-Mongol Relations in the 13th and 14th Centuries 281
Part VI China's Foreign Relations in Historical Context
11 Yin and Yang in the China-Manchuria-Korea Triangle 313
Glossary of Chinese Characters 355
List of Abbreviations 373
Bibliography 377
Index 409
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