Distinguishing between China and Vietnam: Three Relational Equilibriums in Sino-Vietnamese Relations

By Anderson, James A. | Journal of East Asian Studies, May-August 2013 | Go to article overview

Distinguishing between China and Vietnam: Three Relational Equilibriums in Sino-Vietnamese Relations


Anderson, James A., Journal of East Asian Studies


Premodern Sino-Vietnamese relations may be described by three systems of engagement that I have labeled Strong China/Weak Vietnam, Weak China/Strong Vietnam, and Strong China/Strong Vietnam. These three states of interaction appear at various points, beginning with Vietnamese encounters with the Qin empire (221206 B.C.E.) through the early modern era. Brantly Womack has already described the historical Sino-Vietnamese relationship as politically "asymmetrical" with China playing the strongman role, and the three relational equilibriums described here do not contradict Womack's thesis. Instead, I explore how the generally asymmetrical states of affairs were molded by historical context and the specific ambitions of elite in the frontier region. While the general conditions of the Sino-Vietnamese relationship were asymmetrical, the choices available to Chinese and Vietnamese leaders in different periods varied widely. KEYWORDS: China, Vietnam, premodern, relations, tribute system, equilibrium

*********

WELL BEFORE US MILITARY PLANNERS FEARED BEIJING'S INTERVENTION in Vietnam's second Indochinese war, relations between Vietnam and China held a great regional significance. As reflected in Ho Chi Minh's blunt 1946 comment to scholar Paul Mus that enduring a little more French malodor is worth avoiding a lifetime of the same from China, fears of northern domination have long shaped Vietnamese foreign policy (Duiker 2000, 361). Examining the nature of Sino-Vietnamese relations throughout the premodern period, however, one finds a flexible but durable system of engagement. Within this generally stable system of relations, one may isolate three political equilibrium conditions, labeled in this article as Strong China/Weak Vietnam, Weak China/Strong Vietnam, and Strong China/Strong Vietnam, respectively. (1) These three states of interaction appear at various points, beginning with Vietnamese encounters with the Qin empire (221-206 B.C.E.) through the early modern era. Brantly Womack has already described the historical Sino-Vietnamese relationship as politically "asymmetrical" with China playing the strongman role, and the three relational equilibriums described here do not contradict the general trend described by Womack (2006, 4-7). Instead, I wish to explore here how the generally asymmetrical states of affairs were molded by historical context and the specific ambitions of the elite in the frontier region. While the general conditions of the Sino-Vietnamese relationship were asymmetrical, the choices available to Chinese and Vietnamese leaders in different periods varied widely.

The larger narrative of Sino-Vietnamese relations has long revolved around border negotiations, either in terms of territory or spheres of political authority, by the designated leaders of Vietnamese and Chinese polities. (2) This narrative could, in fact, be constructed in alternate ways: focusing on the rise and fall of frontier trade, for example, as a source of anxiety for rulers of both northern and southern regimes. Officially sanctioned trade between the two central courts respected the political division at the frontier, while unofficial trade among subaltern communities flowed easily through the region when restrictions were lifted. Moreover, cultural exchange and the flow of ideas passed easily across a border invisible to most frontier inhabitants, but these ideas, such as Buddhism, would in turn lead to social structures and political practices that reinforced the separation between northern (Chinese) and southern (Vietnamese) polities. The frontier as a line of division and the frontier as a contact zone existed simultaneously between China and Vietnam after the late eleventh century (Anderson 2007). The dual nature of the frontier, in turn, affected conditions in the three equilibrium conditions mentioned above.

I will demonstrate that many aspects of Sino-Vietnamese relations changed with the outcome of tribute missions sent north to Chinese courts by Vietnamese envoys. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Distinguishing between China and Vietnam: Three Relational Equilibriums in Sino-Vietnamese Relations
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.