Banner Image Source Original image held by the Harvard-Yenching Library
of the Harvard College Library, Harvard University

June 2017

About the cover

Chosŏn Korea (1392–1910) is to the tributary system what the nematode is to developmental biology: a model organism studied in the expectation that insights into its workings will translate into other contexts. If only Chosŏn were as accommodating a model as Caenorhabditis elegans. It exercised too much agency to fit the ideal type of a loyal and plastic vassal state—so much, in fact, as to cast doubt on the ideal itself. Nevertheless, it is true that Chosŏn drew heavily from the stock of Ming and Qing institutions, practices, and ideas, even as it adapted them to its own circumstances and needs.

The image on the cover is an example of a Korean adaptation of a Chinese model. It is a rank badge (hyungbae 胸背) from the nineteenth century. Often called “mandarin squares” in the West, such insignia were sewn onto officials’ surcoats as a mark of rank. Civil officials wore badges with representations of volant animals, such as cranes, while military officials’ badges bore images of tigers, leopards, and other fierce beasts. Chosŏn first borrowed this system of rank badges from the Ming in 1454, but the rules governing their use evolved during the succeeding centuries. According to guidelines codified in 1871, but likely put into place earlier, single animals represented low ranks, while pairs embellished the badges of high-ranking officials. Thus, the solitary leopard—actually, a “cloud tiger” (unho 雲虎)—on the badge shown here belonged to a military officer of low to middling court rank.1 HJAS thanks the Harvard Art Museums for their kind permission to reproduce the image and H. H. Kang for his research assistance.

For more information on Korean rank badges, see Lee Eun-joo (Yi Ŭn-ju) 이은주, “Chosŏn sidae mugwan ŭi kil chimsŭng hyungbae chedo wa silche” 조선시대 무관의 길짐승흉배제도와 실제, Poksik 복식 58.5 (2008): 102–17.

Details: Artist unknown, Korean; Chosŏn dynasty, 19th century. Rank badge with white leopard decoration; polychrome silk-floss embroidery in satin stitch on a dark blue silk damask ground with gold thread border: H. 21.5 × W. 18.8 cm (87∕16 × 7⅜ in.). Harvard University Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Marilyn and Robert Hamburger, 2002.254. Photo: Imaging Department ©President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Editorial Preface & In Memoriam

Editorial Preface


Special Issue: The Tributary System

Long Live the Tributary System!

The Future of Studying East Asian Foreign Relations

Saeyoung Park

Collective Imaginations and International Order

The Contemporary Context of the Chinese Tributary System

Hendrik Spruyt

A large body of scholarship in Political Science suggests that the material power of a dominant state is critical for the stabilization of international order. Consequently, the relative decline of the United States and the ascendance of China raise concerns regarding the stability of the current international system. By contrast, culturalist accounts such as David Kang’s East Asia before the West submit that a stable order can be based on a shared cultural framework rather than material force. Despite their many contributions, the methodological design of such analyses—Kang’s included—do not allow us to attribute Chinese hegemony in the tributary system primarily to cultural factors. Examining the salience of cultural factors for international order requires a different research design that incorporates greater variation across history and regions and that recognizes the multivocality of imperial claims to authority.

摘要 (中文)


Me, Myself, and My Hegemony

The Work of Making the Chinese World Order a Reality

Saeyoung Park

This article explores a puzzle at the heart of the tributary system, an early modern East Asian system of international relations: What exactly did China get out of it? I argue that Chinese participation in the tributary system engendered domestic legitimacy. The tributary system produced substantive benefits domestically for China but little power internationally. In fact, the assumption that the tributary system functioned primarily as a vehicle for Chinese regional domination is a modernist artifact. That coherence, not coercion, characterized a more flexible East Asian tributary system is difficult to see from a modern international relations (IR) perspective. Within Westphalian IR, the arc of hegemony bends toward domination because sovereignty requires egalitarian relations; conversely, hierarchical relations diminish autonomy and self-determination. This article offers a different East Asian genealogy of hegemony.

초록 (한국어)

이른바 中華世界秩序의 構築과 强制를 동아시아에서 共有하는 漢字儒教 文化에서 찾는 기존연구와 달리, 본문은 中國의 觀點에서 朝貢體制의 이점을 檢討하고 朝貢體制를 통해 얻을 수 있는 國際的 利益은 미미하였으나, 國內的으로 正當性을 强化시킬 수 있는 기제가 되었다고 주장한다.

The Tributary System and the Persistence of Late Victorian Knowledge

Joshua Van Lieu

In his 1968 edited volume, The Chinese World Order, John K. Fairbank famously presents his “preliminary framework” for a Ming–Qing tributary system. The recent rehabilitation of the tributary system in International Relations scholarship is surprising because debates over the concept ultimately judged a tributary-system model deeply problematic. I therefore ask: (1) Can we speak of states as ontologically stable entities over centuries? (2) How might we distinguish a totalizing tributary system from tributary practice in order to allow for a diversity of context? (3) If we return to the tributary system as the lens through which we understand “China,” what elisions must we thus tolerate? Ultimately, the current manifestation of the tributary system is not an innovation but rather a return to an older school of nineteenth-century China-watching.

초록 (한국어)

본문은 최근 조공체제의 재조명이 19 세기 중국을 관찰하는 옛 방식으로 회귀한다고 주장하고 세가지 의문을 제시한다. 국가를 수세기에 걸친 불변의 존재로 볼 수 있는가? 조공체제와 조공 관례를 어떻게 구분할 것인가? 조공체제를 중국을 이해하는 렌즈로 삼으면 무엇을 간과하게 될 것인가?

China is China, Not the Non-West

David Kang, Eurocentrism, and Global Politics

Sankaran Krishna

David Kang’s explanation for the peace and stability in East Asia that continued from the fourteenth to nineteenth centuries positions itself against mainstream understandings of world order in the field of International Relations, which derive exclusively from the experience of the West. However, Kang’s own explanations and theories remain worryingly Eurocentric and are profoundly mimetic of the very approaches he seeks to go beyond. The implications of this Eurocentrism for epistemic and physical violence against ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, and various others in border-zone areas—in both the West and the East—are dire and merit explicit attention.

摘要 (中文)

康灿雄对 14 世纪至 19 世纪东亚的和平与稳定所作的阐释对国际关系学中有关世界秩序的主流认识提出了挑战,但是,深入分析可以看出,康灿雄的解释和理论仍摆脱不了他试图超越的欧洲中心论。这种欧洲中心论意味着对少数族裔、土著民和边疆地区不同人种的侵犯。这种可悲的现象值得关注。


Theory and Empirics in the Study of Historical East Asian International Relations

David C. Kang


The Chinese World Order as a Language Game— David Kang’s East Asia before the West and Its Commentaries

Prasenjit Duara

Review essays

Recent Contributions to Tang Literary Studies: Networks, Gossip, and Literary History

Jack W. Chen

Struggling with Nature and the State: The Chinese People and the Yellow River

Peter C. Perdue

Confucius Murders Squirrels

Perry Link

Book reviews

The Cambridge History of China, Volume 5, Part 2: Sung China, 960–1279, edited by John W. Chaffee and Denis Twitchett.

Patricia Ebrey

A Cultural History of Translation in Early Modern Japan, by Rebekah Clements.

Matthew Fraleigh

Prosperity’s Predicament: Identity, Reform, and Resistance in Rural Wartime China, by Isabel Brown Crook and Christina Kelley Gilmartin with Yu Xiji, compiled and edited by Gail Hershatter and Emily Honig.

Henrietta Harrison

Footbinding and Women’s Labor in Sichuan, by Hill Gates; Regulating Prostitution in China: Gender and Local Statebuilding, 1900–1937, by Elizabeth J. Remick.

Linda Grove

Rationalizing Korea: The Rise of the Modern State, 1894–1945, by Kyung Moon Hwang.

Yumi Moon

The Lama Question: Violence, Sovereignty, and Exception in Early Socialist Mongolia, by Christopher Kaplonski.

Christopher P. Atwood

Excavating the Afterlife: The Archaeology of Early Chinese Religion, by Guolong Lai.

Constance A. Cook

Negotiated Power: The State, Elites, and Local Governance in Twelfth- to Fourteenth-Century China, by Sukhee Lee.

Richard L. Davis

The Chinese Market Economy: 1000–1500, by William Guanglin Liu.

Hugh R. Clark

The Knowledge of Nature and the Nature of Knowledge in Early Modern Japan, by Federico Marcon.

James R. Bartholomew

The Chaos and Cosmos of Kurosawa Tokiko: One Woman’s Transit from Tokugawa to Meiji Japan, by Laura Nenzi.

Amy Stanley

The Undiscovered Country: Text, Translation, and Modernity in the Work of Yanagita Kunio, by Melek Ortabasi.

Seiji M. Lippit

Early Modern China and Northeast Asia: Cross-Border Perspectives, by Evelyn S. Rawski.

Jack A. Goldstone

The Lyrical in Epic Time: Modern Chinese Intellectuals and Artists Through the 1949 Crisis, by David Der-wei Wang.

Wendy Larson