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TIANXIA AND THE INVENTION OF EMPIRE IN EAST ASIA
Mark Edward Lewis and Mei-yu Hsieh
The idea of tianxia ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) has never been rigorously defined, but among modern scholars the primary dispute is whether it refers to a culturally specific realm without set political boundaries, or rather primarily to China. Thus, based largely on his study of Qing China, Joseph Levenson argued that tianxia primarily indicated "a regime of value," which he defined in opposition to a political unit, guo ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]), that is, a state. Examining earlier periods, Morris Rossabi posited roughly the same distinctions, and for approximately the same period Peter Bol argued that tianxia should be defined as society in opposition to guo as state.1 On the other hand, the authors of modern Chinese dictionaries such as Cihai ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) and Hanyu da cidian ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) assert that tianxia was a political unit essentially synonymous with Zhongguo (the middle states [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]), with only a secondary sense of "the larger world" or "civilized world." This is not a quibble, because for these and related authors the definition of the term is linked to the problem of China's modern entrance into the world of nation-states, and the relation of the Chinese nation to the earlier political forms that existed in the area the country now occupies. Light can be shed on this question not only by examining the functioning of the term in the late imperial period but also by studying the origins of the concept and the nature of the political entity to which it was applied.
The term "tianxia" as a major category of Chinese thought appears in political discourse relatively late in antiquity, not figuring prominently until the emergence of the Zuo zhuan ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) and, to a lesser extent, the Lun yu ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]). Although both texts evolved over time and neither can be precisely dated, this would suggest that the concept was not prominent prior to the fourth century BCE, that is, the early Warring States period. The term has not been found in the surviving corpus of Zhou bronzes and scarcely appears in the Shi jing ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) and the reliably early chapters of the Shang shu ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]). Even these few early occurrences do not seem to be an established compound, but simply an abbreviated form of the fuller tian zhi xia ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]). The phrase in both forms seems to have referred to the territory ruled directly by the Zhou king (in his capacity as tianzi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]), and even to have referred to a smaller territory when the power of the king declined.
In the Zuo zhuan, the term begins to achieve some prominence, appearing four times in the first half of the text and no less than eighteen times in the second half. For most of the text the usage supports Levenson's later generalization, featuring frequently in phrases indicating that a certain type of behavior would be either praised or condemned by "all under heaven," which in the context clearly indicates the part of the world that shares the values of the Zhou elite. In some cases, mostly later in the text, the term has a political meaning, referring to a realm that might be occupied and held. This usage comes largely from speakers from the southern state of Chu in discussions about the possibility of Chu's occupying the old Zhou realm. It also serves as what could be described as a term of "politicized culture," in which tianxia as the Zhou realm is specifically contrasted with the territory of the Rong ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) or Di ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) peoples. Both these political and cultural senses also figure in the Lun yu, but the term appears more frequently than in the Zuo zhuan (dramatically so in relation to the relative brevity of the Lun yu) and most often in the sense of a realm that could be possessed and ruled. This realm, as in the earlier texts, was essentially the core Zhou states, and most references to it being possessed or ruled attribute this ability to the ancient sages. In contrast, the present day is marked by the absence of a single ruler over all under heaven.
This shift toward a political sense continued into the later fourth century BCE. In the core chapters of the Mozi ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]), which probably date from this period, the term "tianxia" appears more than four hundred times, even though the Mozi is only two and a half times the length of the Lun yu and much shorter than the Zuo zhuan. In the Mozi, "all under heaven" is treated primarily as a political unit, functioning routinely as the object of verbs such as "possess" (you [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]), "rule" (zhi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]), or "be a king over" (wang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]). However, in contrast to the Lun yu, the Mozi not only cites the ancient sages but also indicates that any true ruler, including those of the present day, should unify and rule all under heaven. As in the earlier texts, this political unit should share a common set of cultural ideals. Thus the chapter "Unifying Upward" (shang tong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) elaborates the argument that tianxia should be united through the establishment of a single criterion of duty or propriety (yi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]). Similarly, the text's repeated references to the "men of service and gentlemen of tianxia" (tianxia zhi shi junzi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) imply that tianxia possesses a single cultural elite who should share common values. The Mozi also sometimes identifies tianxia as an economic unit whose resources must be protected or properly exploited by the ruler.
Later Warring States philosophical texts such as the Mencius ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]), the Xunzi ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]), and the Han Feizi ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) follow the Mozi in identifying tianxia as a territorial unit defined by common cultural ideals that would ideally have a single ruler. While the cultural aspect of tianxia as a unit of value figures throughout this period, the sense of it as a political realm continues to predominate. Moreover, as theorized by the modern scholars cited above, tianxia is routinely defined in contrast to guo, with the latter invariably being a political subdivision of the former. The early difference between tianxia and guo was thus primarily one of scale rather than of kind. In this way it is clear that by the late Warring States period, as Yuri Pines has argued, tianxia was no longer simply a civilized world but also a potentially unified political realm, an imperium that transcended all existing state boundaries. It was first and foremost a place of political rule and only secondarily a regime of value or a normative society, as posited by Levenson and Bol for later periods.
This shift of emphasis from culture to politics reflects the changing nature of the political order at the end of the Spring and Autumn period and during the Warring States. This period was marked by the decline and disappearance of the old Zhou nobility, whose shared ritual practices as reflected in archaeological remains were the clearest expression of the ideal of a world united by a common culture. (The same idea was also reflected in stories of poetic citation in diplomatic missions during the Spring and Autumn period that united a politically divided world through the performance of a common literary culture.) As this old order was replaced by extended, ruler-centered states formed through universal military service and bureaucratic administration, the idea emerged that political rule extending across an ever larger and larger space, rather than any common elite cultural practice, was the basis for achieving a stable and enduring order. This ideal of peace through politics made sense only within a vision of a world that could be ultimately united under a single ruler. The diminution of appeals to culture was reinforced by the growing importance of states such as Chu and Qin that increasingly denied, seemingly in contradiction to their actual history, their strong cultural ties to the old Zhou order. However, a residual appeal to shared culture as a background to the ongoing political competition, and to a vision of a possible future world unity, was perpetuated through increasing economic links, mutual borrowing of political institutions, and the flow of diplomats, political aspirants, and scholars across state borders.
A final change in the sense of tianxia during the Warring States period, one that is central to the subsequent historical discussion in this chapter, is its geographic extension. The ideal of a united world as articulated in the Mozi's chapters "Caring for Each and All" (jian ai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) and "Unifying Upward" was universal, transcending the boundaries of the old Zhou realm. This is probably clearest in the text's discussion of the sage Yu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]. When the text praises the sage for "bringing order to tianxia" by ending the great flood, it describes how his great work included the aliens on the fringes of Zhou civilization who benefited equally with the Xia people of the middle states. This discussion clearly sees Zhongguo as only one part of the broader, universal realm defined as tianxia.
This extension of tianxia to include peoples beyond the cultural limits of the Zhou realm may in part reflect the Mozi's rejection of the traditional emphasis on ritual and on the cultural superiority of the Xia people. At various places in the text, the authors of the Mozi equate the claims to ritual superiority of the middle states with other people's belief that cannibalism or the murder of firstborn sons is proper conduct. This shift toward a nascent cultural relativism that made possible the widening of sympathies and fellow feeling may well have partly reflected the increasing contact of subjects of the old Zhou realm with more distant peoples. In particular, it may have been related to the increasingly important role of the southeastern states of Wu and Yue as political actors, military innovators, and masters of certain technologies in the late Spring and Autumn and early Warring States periods.
Whatever the grounds for the Mozi's extension of tianxia to include more distant and exotic peoples, this idea came to dominate philosophical discussions of the question in the later Warring States. One of the most striking examples is the Gongyang Tradition (Gongyang zhuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]), which pioneered a clear dichotomy between the Chinese (huaxia [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) and the barbarians (yidi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) but nevertheless describes a meeting in 576 BCE between the envoys of the alien state of Wu from the southeast and representatives of a league from several of the middle states in this way: "Why does [the Spring and Autumn Annals] emphasize a meeting with Wu? It considers Wu as external. What does 'external' mean? The Spring and Autumn Annals considers its own state [Lu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]] as internal and all the Xia as external, considers all the Xia as internal and the Yi and Di [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]] as external. But the Son of Heaven wants to unite tianxia, so how can he speak of things in terms of internal and external? This simply means that he begins with what is close."
Here the non-Xia peoples are treated as relatively exterior and inferior, but they are still part of the tianxia that is ideally to be united under a true Son of Heaven. Thus tianxia has come to include both what would be treated as the ancestral Chinese and the alien peoples who lay outside the middle kingdoms and the realm of Zhou culture. This or closely related ideas of a greatly extended state in which the majesty or virtue of the sage ruler extends to distant, alien peoples figure throughout the philosophical texts of the late Warring States period. The term "tianxia" and related ideas come to function as the intellectual anticipation of the vast multiethnic empire that would emerge out of the unification of the old Zhou realm and its neighboring peoples.
Nor were these ideas of an empire limited to philosophical texts, for the stone inscriptions of the First Emperor incorporated the all-inclusive rhetoric of these texts in proclaiming that his might reached to the very edges of the earth, specifically locating his mountain inscriptions at the "extremities" of the land and stating that his beneficence reached "wherever the sun and moon shine, and wherever boats and carriages carry their loads," and later extended this to include "wherever human traces reach." While Qin policies, such as building or connecting a "long wall" to the north, did not match these claims of universal blessing, the occupation of the Ordos in the north and the push into the south did indicate a commitment to extending the geographic range of the state and drawing in distant peoples as part of the desire to surpass earlier polities.
The Early Han Empire as a Multiethnic Tianxia
Although the political philosophers of the late Warring States period developed a model of a polity defined by its vast extent and inclusion of alien peoples, more recent Chinese writers have produced a very different vision of the early imperial project. The grand narrative of China's modern historiography depicts the Han state, established in 202 BCE in East Asia, as a well-delineated block of territory ruled by a people called Chinese. These Chinese people fought along their northern border with another people from the steppe called the Xiongnu and conquered peoples in the Tarim Basin. The narrative also makes the unexamined assumption that little change has occurred since that time, so that the Han Empire can be regarded as the prototype of modern China. It attributes at least two modern concepts to the East Asia of the second century BCE: one people governs one state, and states are mutually exclusive in both political and ethnocultural terms. Consequently, this narrative assumes that both the core people and the core region of the Han state can be treated as a coherent unit that remained largely unaffected by its interaction with outsiders, and that this unit is fundamentally identical to the later Chinese state. The late imperial adoption of "Han" as a rubric for the newly invented ethnic group that supposedly defined a Chinese nation-state facilitated this conflation of the two realms.
Our research challenges this narrative and the ideology on which it is based, rejecting the received national narrative on two grounds. First, by conflating without question the organizing principles of ancient empires with modern nation-states, we lose the capacity to fully explore the nature of the Han state and imperial power. Second, the modern narrative depends upon ignoring substantial amounts of material preserved in the two Han chronicles, Shi ji ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) and Han shu ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]).
In this chapter, we aim to demonstrate that the Han Empire, and those that followed it, was something quite different from a modern nation-state, and that the Han polity as an imperial form can be usefully analyzed in terms of the category tianxia. We analyze alliance strategies and resettlement policies that promoted imperial authority and secured the existence of the Han state for four centuries. We begin with the first century of the Han, during which the state was transformed from a limited regional polity with multiple power centers to a cosmopolitan empire of multiple regions governed by one supreme ruler, something approximating the notion of tianxia. The Han court was able to strengthen its own position only by linking to the broader state-to-state networks in eastern Eurasia and incorporating diverse peoples into its state structure. While the Han did this first to block the power-building strategies of its challengers, above all the subordinate kings, and then to achieve superiority over the Xiongnu ruler in the steppes and Central Asia, in doing so it fashioned a vision of imperial authority that was multicultural and transregional. This definition of imperial authority shaped the thinking of all later state builders in Chinese history and gave a specific political sense to the vague and moralizing notion of tianxia that had figured in political philosophy.
Excerpted from "Chinese Visions of World Order"
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Table of ContentsIntroduction / Ban Wang 1 Part I. Tianxia, Confucianism, and Empire 1. Tianxia and the Invention of Empire in East Asia / Mark Edward Lewis and Hsieh Mei-yu 25 2. From Empire to State: Kang Youwei, Confucian Universalism, and Unity / Wang Hui 49 3. The Chinese World Order and Planetary Sustainability / Prasenjit Duara 65 Part II. Tianxia, Cross-Cultural Learning, and Cosmopolitanism 4. The Moral Vision in Kang Youwei's Book of the Great Community / Ban Wang 87 5. Greek Antiquity, Chinese Modernity, and the Changing World Order / Yiquan Zhou 106 6. Realizing Tianxia: Traditional Values and China's Foreign Policy / Daniel A. Bell 129 Part III. Tianxia and Socialist Internationalism 7. Tianxia and Postwar Japanese Sinologists' Vision of the Chinese Revolution: The Cases of Nishi Junzō and Mizoguchi Yūzō / Viren Murthy 149 8. China's Lost World of Internationalism / Lin Chun 177 9. China's Tianxia Worldlings: Socialist and Postsocialist Cosmopolitanisms / Lisa Rofel 212 Part IV. Tianxia and Its Discontents 10. The Soft Power of the Constant Soldier: or, Why We Should Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the PLA / Haiyan Lee 237 11. Tracking Tianxia: On Intellectual Self-Positioning / Chishen Chang and Kuan-Hsing Chen 267 Bibliography 293 Contributors 319 Index 323
What People are Saying About This
"Literally meaning 'all under heaven,' tianxia is a paradigmatic figure of universality. Like any concept, however, it also carries specific meanings and connotations, and this pathbreaking volume examines the various ways tianxia has been deployed in Chinese philosophy and politics from antiquity to the present."
“From an explanation of the on-the-ground way in which tianxia unfolded during the Han dynasty as a form of multiethnic, multicultural political unity to reflections on socialist internationalism and foreign policy, Chinese Visions of World Order brilliantly investigates Chinese forms of universality and global unity over the centuries and in contemporary society. Broad in historical scope and approach, these studies are important contributions to evolving research on world systems, empire, and cultural or political authority.”