Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Kang, David C.: East Asia before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Tribute

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Kang, David C.: East Asia before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Tribute

Article excerpt

Kang, David C. East Asia before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Tribute. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2010. 221 pp.

This book belongs to the International Relations literature concerned with the historical origins of the current peace and stability in East Asia. The author himself, David C. Kang, a professor of International Relations and Business at University of Southern California, sees the present book as the logical sequel to his much praised work on the more contemporary peace in East Asia, China Rising (2007). While the prequel was focused on contemporary China, the present work is concerned with regional level-of-analysis of early modern East Asia. Using secondary literature, Kang set up a nonevent case study investigating the stability in the whole region, i. e. the question why there was such a prolonged time of peace with only a couple of short-lived conflicts on the whole. Within this case study, the time Kang looks at ranges from the beginning of the Ming Dynasty in 1368 to the First Opium War in 1841. Since the foreign relations in the East Asian region are the main focus, the book concerns itself with the tribute system and the states in it, China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. As the title of the work illustrates, Kang's work will contribute to anti-Eurocentric literature in IR and offer a non--conventional way of looking at IR on a theoretical level, a distinct East Asian culture being the reason for doing so.

Chapter one introduces the reader to the main research question about the stability in early modern East Asia between the mentioned four states over five centuries. Kang challenges Eurocentric assumptions such as the norms and rules surrounding the Westphalian system in which obviously states and their sovereignty are in basic regarded as equal. He juxtaposes this in a stark contrast to the tribute system in which inequality is a leading principle. To elaborate on this more, Kang neatly defines the concepts of hierarchy, status, and hegemony involved in the tribute system from 1368 to 1841 in chapter two. He makes a compelling case that because of cultural and civilizational achievements, China was accepted by the other units in the tribute system as ranking highest in status within this hierarchy, i. e. being the hegemon. And beyond that Chinese civilization had a lasting impact on its surrounding states.

Chapter three elaborates more on this system and its ranking in which Korea ranked second, Vietnam third, and Japan last. Kang calls this regional international society the Confucian society which was "based on formal recognition and regulated by a set of norms" (p. 53). In chapter four, the diplomacy surrounding the tribute system is examined. Status and hierarchy dominated the diplomatic relations and Kang elaborates on why Korea was ranked higher than Japan, for example. The author makes the case that Japan was a boundary case for the above-described international society. In chapter five, Kang inspects the war aspect of the foreign relations between the units in the international system which was merely confined to two war between them and four other major conflicts with outside actors, like Turkic nomads or Britain. …

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