Diplomacy and Trade in the Chinese World, 589-1276

Diplomacy and Trade in the Chinese World, 589-1276

Diplomacy and Trade in the Chinese World, 589-1276

Diplomacy and Trade in the Chinese World, 589-1276


Covering the period from the establishment of Sui to the fall of Southern Sung, this reference work for the first time gives a full and conveniently arrranged overview of China's diplomatic and trade relations with its major and minor Asian neighbours: continental South Asia and the islands, Japan, Korea, Northeast Asia, Tibet, Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, and the Hsia, Liao, and Chin States. Basing himself on his yearlong research of Chinese offical histories and historical compendia, the author offers a wealth of detailed information - in translation - on matters such as the goods exchanged, the negotiations for peace and alliances, special missions required by diplomatic etiquette, foreign requests for marriage with Chinese princesses, etc. Special emphasis is given to the meaning of the so-called tribute missions , in reality a disguised form of trade.


This work is a sequel to the chapter on EMBASSIES in my The Six Dynasties, vol.11 (Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, vol. 69, 1996). It is chiefly a study of the exchange of missions and the goods they brought. Government trade is therefore a major theme of this work. Military conflicts are mentioned only in passing, whenever they help to elucidate diplomatic reactions.

I am not concerned with the theory of foreign policy, with Chinese diplomacy in a broad, international context, or how the imperial courts perceived foreign ethnic groups. High-level debates and decisions at the court on how to cope with powerful foreign peoples, and the strategies of diplomatic specialists such as a P’ei Chü (d. ca.630) are beyond the scope of this work. So are diplomatic correspondences, or the reminiscences of envoys. An exhaustive study of such matters would require several books in their own right. Neither do I discuss private, foreign travellers such as Buddhist monks. They did not represent their countries. I deal with the actual technique of foreign relations, i.e. chiefly with the exchange of missions and the goods they brought.

Obviously, China and its immediate neighbours had other relations than mere trade. Borders had to be delineated, peace had to be concluded, technology and books were exchanged, and so on. Where the sources dwell on these matters, I have given them full attention. For countries which were situated more distantly from China, trade became the exclusive purpose of the missions. The states in Afghanistan, the Middle East, India, and on the islands to the south did not have to reckon with China as a great power, and they did not have to pay homage to the Son of Heaven. All they wanted was Chinese goods. If their envoys went through motions which signified submission, this was no more than smart business practice.

The Chinese saw it differently and liked to believe that the emperor or Son of Heaven was destined to govern the world. This concept of a universal ruler was hard to maintain in times of internal division or strong foreign neighbours, when emperors had to accomodate themselves to the existance of other emperors, and rival courts had to devise means of coexistance. It was nevertheless shared by all, whether Chinese or aliens. It meant that foreign kings and chiefs were con-

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