November 27, 2003Foreign Affairs

Paying tribute to the Chinese emperor

From today’s Straits Times:

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

A recent publication by Beijing University’s Institute of International Relations on China’s Security Environment offers a novel perspective which has profound implications for Beijing’s relations with its Asian neighbours and its emerging role in the region.

It suggests that Beijing’s new security environment may be modelled after ancient China’s tributary system, which was started under the Ming Dynasty and perfected under the Qing.

The Ming/Qing tributary system was based on three cardinal principles:

One: China considered itself the central heart’ (zhong xin in Mandarin) of the region; this tributary system assured China of its external security environment.

Two: China needed a stable environment, immediately surrounding the Middle Kingdom, so that it could ensure its own internal stability and prosperity.

Three: The Chinese emperor, at the heart’, would in principle give more favours to the tributary states or kingdoms than he would receive from them; for this generosity’, the emperor gets their respect and goodwill.

According to the publication, royal Qing archives showed that this well-established system laid out a very meticulous system of tribute to the Chinese court.

Under this system, Korea had to pay tribute once a year. The Ryuku Kingdom (comprising present-day Okinawan islands) had to do so once in two years; Annam (northern Vietnam) once in three years; Siam (Thailand) once in four years; Sulu (in the southern Philippines) once in five years; and Burma (Myanmar) and Laos, once every 10 years.

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