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date: 18 January 2018

China and the Asian World, 1500–1900

Summary and Keywords

China’s relations with the Asian world between 1500 and 1900 were shaped by a variety of political, economic, and cultural factors. A common denominator in these international relationships was a loose framework of ideological principles and administrative procedures later dubbed by scholars the “tributary system.” This “system,” first posited in the early 1940s, has remained the single most influential concept for interpreting the interactions of Ming and Qing China with Asian countries. However, in recent decades it has been critiqued from various perspectives, narrowed in the scope of its application, and modified by a greater focus on the actual course of specific cases rather than ideological principles. That is, historians have increasingly come to understand China’s relations with the Asian world as influenced by pragmatic considerations and changing local dynamics, so that each relationship and the factors shaping it are best understood on their own terms. One approach to the study of Ming and Qing relations with the Asian world is to consider it within the framework of three regional groupings. China’s interactions with its neighbors in Northeast Asia were shaped by its largely stable relations with Korea and the Ryukyu Kingdom, and its radically fluctuating relations with Japan, sometimes marked by conflict and sometimes by the deliberate avoidance of political contact. Early Ming political relations with maritime Southeast Asia atrophied as the role of European and private Chinese merchant intermediaries increased. Those with continental Southeast Asia (particularly Burma, Siam, and Vietnam), more enduring, were influenced by intense regional rivalries that occasionally impinged on the borderlands of China’s southern provinces. In these two regions, the Ming–Qing transition, although particularly resented in Korea where it involved two invasions, did not radically alter existing patterns of international relations. By contrast, the vast territorial expansion of the Qing Empire did greatly change China’s foreign relations to the north and west, where it encountered states that had not had relations with the Ming. In these regions the Qing government drew principles and practices from its foreign relations in the south and east, but modified them to fit new conditions. After 1800, and more intensively after 1850, European and later Japanese imperial power began to penetrate Central, South, Southeast, and ultimately East Asia, in each region undermining existing Qing relationships with Asian neighbors. By 1900, virtually all former Qing tributaries were under the direct or indirect control of the British, Russian, French, or Japanese empires.

Keywords: China, Asia, Ming Empire, Qing Empire, tributary system, foreign relations, frontiers, empires

The category “Asian” did not exist in the worldview of Ming and Qing governments. Asia was introduced as a feature of the “five-continent” tradition of geography brought by the Jesuits in the late Ming period, but before 1840 the validity of this concept was not widely accepted. Indeed, the European view of an expansive Asia covering all lands to the east was a precise inversion of the Ming and Qing view that China was bordered by several overlapping “wests” (notably the Western Regions [Xiyu] and Western Ocean [Xiyang]) extending to the Atlantic Ocean.1 It could be argued that, even without the concept, Ming and Qing observers in practice distinguished Asian from European countries. Such an argument would highlight the role of what has been called the “tributary system,” referring to a mode of foreign relations in which all formal contact, including legal trade, included the obligation to undertake practices acknowledging the superior position of the Chinese emperor. In the Ming period, newly arrived Europeans were pointedly excluded from this mode of relations, although they (like many Chinese merchants) were able to trade by resorting to various semilegal expedients.2 Early in the Qing period, these European and Chinese merchants benefitted from new policies allowing maritime trade without political relations; a separate system devised for Russia also allowed trade without tributary forms.3 By contrast, virtually all states in Asia that had formal contact with the Qing remained at least nominally subject to the tributary framework developed in the early Ming. If this commonality provides some justification for treating Ming and Qing relations with Asian states as a coherent subject, it must be stressed from the outset that these tributary relations are simply an institutional lowest common denominator: actual political, economic, and cultural relations were extremely diverse, and in many cases the ideology of the tributary system had little or no practical significance for relations between these countries and China.

The following entry will summarize as comprehensively as possible relations between the Ming and Qing Empires and countries in Asia. Two large zones will, however, be excluded from consideration because they are treated elsewhere in this encyclopedia: first, Asian territories that came under European imperial control prior to 1800, particularly in maritime Southeast Asia, and second, Inner Asian territories that were independent in the Ming period but later absorbed into the expanding Qing Empire. For the sake of convenience, this essay will divide its coverage into three zones whose regional dynamics greatly influenced relations with the Ming and Qing: Northeast Asia (Korea, Japan, the Ryukyus), Southeast Asia (principally Vietnam, Siam, Burma), and the Himalayas and Central Asia. In the first two zones, the transition from Ming to Qing rule, although involving considerable violence and turmoil, did not in itself radically alter the existing patterns of relations. In the third, relations were newly initiated or fundamentally transformed by Qing expansion in Inner Asia.

In the interest of convenience, this essay will as far as possible use current geographic names when referring to Asian regions and countries, even when these are anachronistic. When historical names are necessary, diacritical marks have been omitted.

China and Northeast Asia

By 1500, after more than a century of trial and error, Ming China had established a seemingly stable international order along its eastern and southern frontiers, from Korea to Southeast Asia. By far the closest of its international relationships was that with Choson Korea. The preceding Koryo dynasty had been unable to forge stable relations with the emerging Ming, and indeed stood at the brink of war with China when a military coup in 1392 brought the new dynasty to power. Although the triangular Ming-Korean-Jurchen relationship along Korea’s northern border remained sensitive, the threat of a military clash between Korea and China receded. In keeping with the early Ming state’s principles of interaction with foreign governments, Choson kings accepted formal investiture from the emperor, used the Ming calendar in correspondence with China, and dispatched periodic embassies bearing tribute items and documents, for which they received return gifts and permission to trade under specific conditions. Close and strategically important, Korea sent the Ming three embassies per year and supplemental missions for special occasions; it remained the most frequent tributary for the rest of the imperial period. Despite formal subordination and constant contact, Ming China did not attempt to closely monitor or control Korea’s internal politics.4 Stable and peaceful relations were also maintained with the Ryukyu Kingdom, unified after 1429, which used its tributary access to Ming China to build a vast maritime trading network extending from Java to Japan and Korea.5

Ming relations with Japan lacked the stable basis established with Korea and the Ryukyus. In part this was due to Japan’s internal political turmoil, which at times erupted outward. It was also partly a consequence of the fact that although Japan’s emperor lacked effective political power, those who ruled in his name found it almost impossible to acknowledge even the nominal subordination required for political intercourse with China. At the beginning of the 15th century, when Ming regional influence was at its peak, an Ashikaga shogun made the exceptional decision to participate in the tribute system as “king” of Japan. This expedient permitted a short-lived shogunal trade monopoly, but from 1433 missions to China came to be controlled by temples and regional lords.6 From the Ming perspective, missions ostensibly from the Japanese ruler continued to be received until 1547. In the 1550s, piracy surged along the coast of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. Although many participants were Chinese, these groups were known generically as “Japanese pirates” (Ch. wokou, J. wakō), heightening Ming wariness; formal relations between Japan and Ming China were not restored after the crisis passed.7

Whereas civil strife in Japan had fostered piracy, its unification under Toyotomi Hideyoshi triggered a greater crisis when he attempted to subdue Korea and invade China. His forces, landing at Pusan in 1592, quickly captured Seoul. Forced to flee, the Korean king reached the Ming border and requested military aid. Recognizing the threat to China’s own security, the Wanli emperor sent a large expeditionary force that succeeded in pushing the Japanese invaders back toward the south of the peninsula. Several years of fruitless negotiation between the Ming and Hideyoshi followed. Another invasion, less successful, was launched in 1597, but halted with Hideyoshi’s death in 1598. Once Japanese forces evacuated, Ming troops withdrew in 1601.8

Although the Ming defense of Korea was a considerable military achievement, within four decades the rising Jurchens (called Manchus from 1635) succeeded in bringing a reluctant Korea into their own political orbit. The Jurchen leader Nurhaci broke off relations with the Ming in 1616 and soon conquered the Liaodong region, driving a geographic wedge between China and Korea. Korea’s ineffectual military aid in these wars failed to prevent the Ming defeat, and in 1627 Nurhaci’s son and successor Hong Taiji ordered an invasion. Although a truce was negotiated, a second invasion followed a decade later after Korea refused to recognize his newly proclaimed status as emperor of the Qing dynasty. Leading a force to Seoul, Hong Taiji compelled the Korean king to surrender to him in person. With this, Korea’s ritual obligations to the Ming were transferred to the rising Qing, which soon captured the Ming capital of Beijing in 1644, and then all of China.9

Although Korea never openly fought with the Qing after its submission, its rulers initially viewed their tributary obligations with resentment and frustration. For a time in the 1650s, the Korean court went so far as to begin planning a “northern expedition” against the Qing.10 As late as the 1710s, Choson officials nervously regarded a future Manchu invasion of Korea as a real possibility and did what they could to resist Qing inquiries about sensitive subjects.11 Notwithstanding their punctiliously correct diplomatic correspondence, internal Choson political discourse never acknowledged the legitimacy of Manchu rule in China. In 1704, an altar dedicated to Ming emperors was erected within the Choson royal palace. More broadly, Korean literati embraced a self-image as true inheritors of the Ming dynasty’s Confucian moral legitimacy, which they regarded as lost in China. As the 18th century progressed, however, Korean resentment of the Manchus became more muted.12

While relations with Korea quickly resumed the Ming pattern, those with Japan did not. The new Tokugawa regime, which succeeded Hideyoshi, restricted and then prohibited Japanese merchants from sailing abroad. Although trade with the Dutch continued, that with China remained Japan’s most significant external economic relationship. Goods from China arrived through three channels. Japanese traders from the domain of Tsushima could trade for them at Pusan, via Korean intermediaries. A similar intermediary trade was carried out via the Ryukyu Kingdom. With Tokugawa authorization, a force from the domain of Satsuma had invaded the islands in 1609. Although the king, under duress, agreed to recognize Satsuma’s overlordship, he continued with their collusion to represent himself to China as an independent ruler.13 Tributary trade between the Ryukyus and China continued, but never recovered its early Ming prosperity. Most important, however, was the trade to Japan by Chinese private merchants, sailing either directly from China or via Southeast Asia. From the 1620s, this trade was dominated by Zheng Zhilong, a merchant with experience in Japan who also served the Ming as a military official. After he was taken hostage by the Qing in 1646, his son Zheng Chenggong, born to a Japanese mother, used this trading empire to lead a vigorous coastal resistance. Despite repeated overtures, Japan never agreed to join him as an ally against the Manchus.14 Soon after the Zheng organization surrendered in 1683, the Kangxi emperor legalized private direct trade with Nagasaki, part of the larger program of decoupling trade and tribute that also permitted trade with Europeans at Canton. This provoked a boom in trade to Japan. Both sides recognized its importance, and the Kangxi and Yongzheng emperors dispatched undercover agents to report on conditions at Nagasaki, but there was no attempt by either side to reestablish formal relations.15

China and Southeast Asia

Early Ming emperors established relations with the rulers controlling almost every major port in maritime Southeast Asia.16 Officially sponsored voyages between 1405 and 1433 expanded the range of Ming political contact into the Indian Ocean and as far as East Africa. In many cases these entities no longer had sustained contact with the Ming court after 1500, but they continued to be formally listed in rosters of Ming (and in some sources, Qing) tributaries. The decline of these ties accelerated as many of these ports came under Portuguese, Spanish, or Dutch colonial rule after 1500. The Portuguese conquest of Malacca in 1511, one of the few to attract considerable Ming attention, did not draw a Chinese military response but was one reason the Ming declined to admit Europeans into the tributary system. By the late Ming, economic relations between maritime Southeast Asia and China were largely mediated by European and Chinese merchants.

Ming and Qing relations with continental Southeast Asia were more sustained and complex. As in Northeast Asia, by 1500 the Ming had engineered an international order that was superficially stable but vulnerable to bouts of upheaval. Closest relations were maintained with Vietnam. Although it was one of the earliest Ming tributaries, the Yongle emperor launched an invasion in 1406 and the next year incorporated it as a directly ruled province of his empire. This met with fierce resistance; Ming rule was relinquished in 1427, and Vietnam resumed its position as a tributary. This Le dynasty was displaced by a new Mac regime, which gained Ming recognition, though not at the highest rank of king, in 1540. A restored Le regime regained acknowledgment as rulers of Vietnam in 1597, and the Mac were forced to take refuge in a small territory along the Ming border.17 The Qing initially recognized their position, but acquiesced when the Le conquered this enclave in 1677.18 To the southwest, the Ming attempted with mixed success to keep polities beyond its border fragmented. For this reason, it refused to grant the rulers of Burma, Laos, and other realms the status of kings (wang) of a state (guo), only the lesser status of pacification commissioner (xuanwei si shi). By contrast, the ruler of Siam (Ayutthaya) was recognized as king.19 This contrast persisted into the early Qing. In 1662, a Qing army penetrated deep into Burma and forced its ruler to hand over the Yongli emperor, a Ming pretender, but this incursion did not lead to formal relations with the Qing. However, tributary relations were resumed with Siam after an embassy was received early in the Kangxi period.20 Somewhat later, in the Yongzheng reign, relations with Laos recommenced, its ruler now recognized as a king.

Before 1750, continental Southeast Asia was not a major focus of Qing attention, but an interconnected web of political turbulence provoked two Qing invasions of the region within twenty-five years. Behind this development lay efforts in the Yongzheng reign to exert tighter control over non-Han peoples living along the boundaries of Chinese provinces and often acting as buffers with neighboring states. This made it harder for Beijing to avoid responding to the 1752 rise of the expansionist Kon-baung dynasty in Burma. Local officials and the Qianlong emperor grew increasingly alarmed by its assertion of control over indigenous groups they regarded as Qing subjects. When clashes broke out in 1765, Qianlong, fresh from a signal victory in Central Asia, decided to bring Burma to submission by force. Although Qing troops pushed their way almost to the Burmese capital Ava, the struggle ended in a stalemate and hasty truce in 1769. Thereafter, the Qing court attempted to embargo trade with Burma pending its formal submission. Negotiations resumed under obscure circumstances in 1787, and in the following year a Burmese mission arrived in Beijing.21

In addition to pressing northward, Burmese forces campaigned to the east and extinguished Siam’s Ayutthaya kingdom. Several contenders rushed to fill the vacuum. One was Phraya Taksin, partly of Guangdong ancestry, who lobbied for Qing military aid against Burma and recognition as the new ruler of Siam. He bested one major rival, the overseas Chinese regional power of Ha Tien in the Mekong delta, but was killed before receiving formal Qing recognition.22 The succeeding Chakri dynasty built on his relations with China, eagerly resumed tribute trade with Canton, and gained Qing investiture for its first king in 1786.23

A nearer manifestation of regional instability flared in Vietnam with the outbreak of the Tayson rebellion in 1786. The Le ruler, acknowledged by the Qing as king of Vietnam, fled and entreated Qianlong to restore him. A Qing invasion of 1788 occupied Hanoi, only to be driven out by a counterattack in 1789. In 1790, Qianlong pragmatically decided to acknowledge the leader of the Tayson rebellion, Nguyen Hue, as the new king of Vietnam. In 1802, the Tayson were in turn overthrown by a new regime under Nguyen Anh.24 Despite the need to finesse early disputes, including what name China would accept for this new regime, it also quickly gained Qing recognition in 1803.

Few common features can be identified in the relationships described above. At some point the early Ming emperors enrolled virtually all Northeast and Southeast Asian rulers into the tributary system, and in most cases these relations were formally maintained by the Qing. In practice, however, the course of each relationship differed profoundly. The effects of distance and terrain allowed some neighbors, like Japan and Burma, to opt out of the tributary system temporarily or permanently. For others like Korea and Vietnam, nearer and of greater strategic sensitivity, no such option realistically existed. Although trade was important in each relationship, in some cases, as with the Ryukyus and Siam, it was a sine qua non, in others only one among several vital dimensions. Likewise, the role of “Confucianism” varied greatly. In some cases, elites in tributary countries, whether indigenous inhabitants or Chinese migrants, were familiar with the ideological principles their correspondence with China was supposed to manifest. In many other cases, literary Chinese and its canonical ideology were unknown to tributary rulers. Yet shared knowledge of “Confucian” claims and values did not necessarily facilitate better relations. To the contrary, ideology was an irritant in the Qing-Korean relationship (which was itself regarded by Koreans as compromising key Confucian principles), a positive obstacle to relations with Japan, which had its own emperor, and only a limited check on the frictions in relations with Vietnam.

China and Inner and Central Asia

The Qing conquest of China had surprisingly little impact on the long frontier running from Korea to Burma. It provoked armed conflict only with Korea, and even there did not radically alter the long-term trajectory of the relationship. By contrast, Qing rule had more significant consequences to the north and west. Although the course of Qing expansion lies beyond the scope of this entry, it can be briefly reviewed. The early Jurchen state of Nurhaci and Hong Taiji was pulled northward by competition with rival Jurchen groups, and westward by the need to check threats from Mongol rulers. In its drive north, it ejected Russians from the Amur region and negotiated a border via the Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689). Hong Taiji’s 1634 victory over the Chakhar Mongols allowed Qing dominance over Mongolia south of the Gobi. In the 1690, Kangxi intervened to defend the Khalkha Mongols north of the Gobi from an incursion by the powerful Junghars. During almost seventy years of intermittent conflict with successive Junghar rulers, Qing emperors secured control over Tibet (1720), Qinghai (1724), and the territory that came to be called Xinjiang (1755–1759). Ruling these vast territories, known today by the collective label “Inner Asia,” brought Qing rulers into direct contact with states that had little or no history of relations with the Ming.

If contact with Russia to the north was the first Qing foreign relationship without a Ming precedent, the second came in the Himalayas. Although Kangxi had incorporated Tibet into the Qing Empire in 1720, it remained in many ways a state-within-a-state, maintaining its own administration and military under loose Qing oversight. The secular ruler of Tibet, Pho-lha-nas, decided to launch an invasion of Bhutan in 1730. He reported the successful completion of this project to the Yongzheng emperor, who received Bhutanese envoys in Beijing and acknowledged the country as a tributary.25 Embassies from the three Newari (Bal-po) states in Nepal reached Beijing in 1734, while one from the western Himalayan territory of Ladakh had already arrived in 1724.26 Although contact between these lands and Beijing was sporadic, Tibet continued to operate its own regional diplomacy. In general, Qing supervisory officials in Tibet, called ambans, paid close attention only to those of Tibet’s foreign relationships relevant to the critical struggle against the Junghars. Thus, the conquest of the Newari states by the more aggressive Gurkha Kingdom in 1769 does not seem to have been noticed in Beijing, and Qianlong was surprised to face a Gurkha invasion in 1788, arising from a crisis in its relations with Tibet. Although this was settled by negotiation, a more serious incursion followed in 1791. Qianlong dispatched a large expeditionary force, which pushed close to Kathmandu before the Gurkhas surrendered.27 The exigencies of war returned Beijing’s attention to the Himalayan region, and officials not only renewed contact with Bhutan and Sikkim, but inaugurated fitful intercourse with the government of British India in Calcutta.28

Early in the Ming period, relations had briefly been established with Central Asian rulers, most notably with Temur from 1394, and later with his son Shahrukh Bahadur. By 1500, however, the Ming was no longer diplomatically active in Central Asia, and while caravans continued to arrive under the guise of tribute missions from local rulers, this was of little political consequence.29 Only with the Junghar wars did the Qing once again turn attention to the region. The most dramatic venture was Kangxi’s decision to dispatch a mission across Siberia in 1712 to visit Ayuki Khan of the Torghud, ostensibly to discuss one of his relatives stranded in Qing territory, but actually to sound him out about the Qing struggle against the Junghars. Russia permitted a second mission to visit the Torghud in 1731, but refused subsequent requests. In 1771, the majority of the Torghud fled the Volga region and were resettled by the Qing in northern Xinjiang.30

The Junghar wars contributed greatly to Qing knowledge of western and Central Asia. Tulišen, a member of the 1712 mission, published a description of Russia and neighboring countries that included a map of Eurasia reaching to Sweden and Ottoman Turkey. Later, in the 1720s, excellent maps were produced at the Qing court that combined Jesuit-mediated European cartographic data and intelligence from a range of informants. However, it was not until the conquest of Xinjiang (1755–1759), that the Qing state developed direct contact with those regions. For a time, its westward vision extended to the distant reaches of Asia.31 Symbolic of this period is the Xiyu wenjian lu, by the Manchu official Cišii, stationed in Xinjiang in the 1770s. Perhaps the single most popular geographic text of its age, it gave Chinese readers lively descriptions of India, the Ottoman Empire, and elsewhere, with briefer notices on locations as far west as modern Iran, Iraq, and even Egypt.32 Although Qing political relations were not quite as extensive, embassies were received in the 1760s from Afghanistan, Bukhara, and elsewhere in Central Asia.

Although a host of small states in the Pamirs, including Badakhshan and Bolor, sent emissaries to the Qing around this time, the most important and enduring relationships following the conquest of Xinjiang were those with the Kazakhs, Kirghiz, and the Khanate of Khoqand.33 From the Qing perspective, the submission of the Kazakhs dated to contact with Ablai, sultan of the Middle Juz, in 1757. The first Kirghiz leader submitted in 1758, and the ruler of Khoqand in 1759. Relations with each group followed a different trajectory. Those with the Kazakhs, who by 1757 were already under a degree of Russian control, remained stable.34 By contrast, the Kirghiz were involved more frequently in frontier raids, particularly in the 1820s when they aided assaults on Kashgar by a descendent of a Muslim leader ejected from Xinjiang during the Qing conquest. Khoqand was a rising power, and shrewdly used its good relations with the Qing to expand in other directions, turning aggressively toward Xinjiang once its strength had grown. In 1830, Khoqand led a large invasion that besieged several major cities in Xinjiang before being repulsed.35 A period of stability returned only when the Qing agreed to make considerable trade concessions, an agreement the historian Joseph Fletcher has described as “China’s first ‘unequal treaty’ settlement.”36

For most of the history of the Qing Empire, quite different administrative systems operated in China and Inner Asia. For Chinese provinces, Qing administrative arrangements followed the basic pattern inherited from their Ming predecessor, although over time significant institutional innovations where introduced. By contrast, not only were the administrative arrangements created for ruling Mongols, Tibetans, and other Inner Asian peoples new, but they also owed little to concepts from the Chinese political tradition. It has been a matter of debate how far this distinction applies also to Qing foreign relations on the edges of Inner Asia.37 Russia, on the strength of its critical strategic importance, grudgingly won special treatment that included written treaties and modes of correspondence that did not require it to acknowledge subordination (although in some contexts the Qing listed it as a tributary). No such arrangements were made for other Qing neighbors in Inner Asia. However, from a careful review of Chinese and Manchu documents, Onuma Takahiro shows that while in Chinese Qianlong did not distinguish his relationship with the Kazakhs from that with Vietnam, Siam, and other tributaries, in Manchu-language sources relations with the Kazakhs and other Central Asian polities were described as between ejen and albatu (master and servant) following Mongolian political conceptions.38 At times, high-ranking Kazakh envoys to Beijing could be given a ceremonial rank higher than that offered to other tributary envoys.39 In the 1842 version of the imperial gazetteer, the Da Qing yitong zhi, Central Asian polities as near as the Kazakhs and Kirghiz, and as distant as Afghanistan and Hindustan, were listed within the section on Xinjiang, separate from the list of “tributary” countries (chaogong geguo) such as Korea, Vietnam, Russia, Japan, and England.40 Whether or not the Qing court regarded its Central Asian neighbors as forming a distinct category, it subjected them to the ritual requirements of professed subordination, enfeoffment, and the dispatch of embassies presenting tribute.

Competing with European Imperialism in Asia, 1850–1900

Over the course of the 19th century, almost all Asian countries with which the Qing maintained tributary relations entered the direct or indirect control of the British, Russian, French, or Japanese Empires. This was largely a consequence of intensifying European imperial activity in Asia, a trend the Qing lacked the military and economic resources to counter beyond its own borders, and to which it was itself vulnerable. Unlike its emerging imperial rivals, who tried to gain political and economic control over strategic territories while denying it to opponents, the Qing had not attempted to harness the resources of its tributaries, or limit their relations with third parties. Except in the context of the war against the Junghars, Qing rulers did not try to progressively deepen their control over tributaries and consolidate an imperial formation to fight rival empires. Rather, they concentrated almost entirely on bilateral relationships; if tributaries had peaceful relations with the Qing, little effort was made to investigate their domestic politics or other international relationships. Thus, it took them decades to realize how profoundly contact between their tributaries and European empires would erode their own position in Asia. Even when tributaries sought aid against other empires, they had difficulty convincing Beijing that this was in the Qing interest. One of the earliest examples of this phenomenon was the case of Badakhshan. Although it hastened to send an embassy after the Qing conquest of Xinjiang, and even helped the Qing capture and execute important enemies, it failed despite repeated requests to gain aid against the Afghan ruler Ahmed Shah. Qianlong took no action even when its ruler was killed.41

At the start of the 19th century, British Indian and Russian policy makers began to extend control over Qing tributaries in Inner Asia. From as early as the 1790s, the Gurkhas had represented to Beijing that they were under threat from British India and other powers. Despite their argument that British control over Nepal would directly threaten Tibet and possibly other Qing territories, emperors were not inclined to join forces with the Gurkhas in a Himalayan war. After decades of fruitlessly trying to draw in the Qing as a counterweight, Nepali attempts were abandoned following a political shift in the late 1840s. In this and other cases, Qing emperors had an acute awareness not only that tributaries might be attempting to manipulate them to achieve their own ends, but also that the loyalty of most tributaries could not be depended on. In many cases this caution was justified; the Gurkhas invaded Tibet for a third time in 1855–1856 when the Qing was weakened by the Taiping rebellion. Partly due to Qing overtures, tributary relations were resumed in 1866 and continued thereafter, but it was no longer expected that the Qing could effectively offset the influence of British India.42

A similar dynamic was evident in Xinjiang. From the south, British influence crept into the western Himalayas and Pamirs. In 1834 Gulab Singh, then a subordinate of the independent Sikh state in the Punjab, conquered Ladakh. In 1846 he transferred his allegiance to the British.43 Thereafter, direct and indirect British control expanded over Pamir kingdoms that were in tributary relations with the Qing, reaching as far as Hunza in 1891.44 With fewer geographic barriers, Russian penetration from the north was more forceful. In the 18th century, the Kazakhs had tried to maintain their independence by balancing allegiance between the Qing and Russia. By the 1820s, however, Russia was moving to take direct control over them, and as part of this process ordered the Kazakhs to cease presenting tribute and accepting Qing titles of nobility.45 Beginning in the 1860s, Russia began annexing territory from the khanate of Khoqand, which was finally absorbed in 1876. By 1900, virtually all of Xinjiang’s external frontier was within the British and Russian orbit.

Along its Inner Asian rim, where forces were thinly garrisoned, the Qing state had difficulty even maintaining control of its own directly ruled territory. Tibet gained a greater degree of autonomy, and most of Xinjiang was temporarily taken from Qing control between 1864 and 1877. Under these conditions, the Qing state could make only weak counter-efforts against British and Russian expansion. By contrast, it tried more vigorously to keep tributaries on its eastern and southern rim from being absorbed into other empires, both because intervention was more feasible and because those states, whose boundaries abutted populous core territories, were of more obvious strategic significance.

Apart from military, economic, and technological disadvantages, the Qing also faced difficulties in formulating a diplomatic position that Western powers would accept. Foreign diplomats often insisted that the Qing either accept direct responsibility for its tributaries, including answering for any resistance they mounted to Western incursion, or renounce all involvement in their affairs, both unpalatable choices that from the Qing perspective did not fairly represent the nature of their relationship.

One of the earliest tributary relationships to lapse was that with Siam. This had been maintained primarily because the Siamese court wanted profit from trade with Canton. By 1850, both the profitability of tribute trade and the propriety of acknowledging itself as a Qing tributary began to be questioned. The last tributary mission was dispatched in 1852, although only in 1882 did Siam formally repudiate its status as a Qing tributary and request new relations on a treaty basis.46

The next to be terminated was that with the Ryukyus, a decision made by Japan. The opening of treaty ports changed Japan’s economic relationship with China, and the Meiji restoration of 1868 seemed to demand a new form of diplomacy. In 1871, despite considerable domestic opposition, the Qing government agreed to a formal treaty of equality with Japan, its first with an Asian state. Soon thereafter, Japan began to claim the Ryukyu kingdom as an integral part of its sovereign territory. As recently as the 1840s, Satsuma had consented to having the Ryukyu king appeal for Qing help in halting British and French visits to the islands. Qing officials had conveyed the Ryukyu protests but declined to take further action. For the Meiji reformers, the abolition of the Satsuma domain seemed also to require the dissolution of the Ryukyu kingdom, which they saw as an appendage of it. When Japan invaded Taiwan in 1874, ostensibly to avenge the death of shipwrecked Ryukyuans, Qing officials seeking a settlement had to accept Japan’s right to represent those islanders. Despite the objections of the Ryukyu king, tribute to China was halted, and the islands were directly annexed to Japan in 1879.47

In mainland Southeast Asia, the two largest remaining Qing tributaries were both absorbed by rival empires. Via treaties of 1862 and 1874, France limited Vietnam’s political independence. The Qing refused to accept this new arrangement and quietly countenanced military aid to Vietnam. By 1882, clashes broke out in northern Vietnam between French troops and Qing-aligned guerillas. This developed into open war between the two empires in 1884, settled the following year by a treaty acknowledging a French protectorate over all of Vietnam.48 A similar situation unfolded in Burma. Two wars with the British (1823–1826 and 1851–1852) resulted in the loss of territory far from the Qing frontier. Only in 1885 did a final conflict bring all of Burma under British rule, despite China’s protests. The Qing government agreed to recognize Britain’s position in return for the maintenance of tributary missions, although none was ultimately dispatched.49

By 1886, then, Korea remained the last neighbor not yet dominated by a rival empire. Given its strategic as well as symbolic importance, it is not surprising that the Qing competed for it the most tenaciously and effectively. From 1882, the experienced Qing diplomat Li Hongzhang had prepared a multipronged strategy. Without altering or repudiating the form of Korea’s existing relationship with the Qing court, Li urged it to sign treaties with a range of foreign powers, hoping that their mutual competition would keep it out of the hands of any single foreign empire. He and his protégé Yuan Shikai also used the tools of “informal imperialism” to promote the position of Chinese merchants and gain control over Korea’s emerging administrative, financial, and military institutions. This strategy worked for over a decade, thwarting Japanese efforts to draw Korea into its own orbit.50 In 1894, however, Japan forced a war that ended in a Qing defeat. The 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki formally ended Korea’s status as a Qing tributary, though it was not yet incorporated into the Japanese Empire.

One of the ironies of the century between 1800 and 1900 was that precisely as Western diplomats were rejecting the tributary system as an archaism out of place with modern international relations, the political salience of the tributary system as a potential counterweight to Western and Japanese imperialism reached its peak. Neighbors that in earlier centuries eyed their giant neighbor warily now wished for a larger Qing role in their international affairs. By then, however, Qing rulers and officials were well aware of their own limitations. Few advocated plunging into a new style of military and political alliance, and in the rare cases when the Qing risked war, as over Vietnam and Korea, it was defeated. Still, if in the end the Qing Empire was shorn of a tributary buffer, it was by no means a negligible actor in the East Asian foreign relations of this period.


It is difficult to venture broad conclusions about Ming and Qing relations with Asian countries. Although these relations were associated with ideological expressions and practices granting China ritual superiority, probably very few Asian countries fully appreciated, let alone accepted, their position within this ideological system as understood by China. Far more salient is the fact that all Asian countries in sustained contact with Ming and Qing China were smaller, often far smaller, demographically and economically. Many were also militarily vulnerable. Under these conditions, few Asian rulers had an incentive to directly challenge China’s claims. A variety of factors permitted China and its neighbors to minimize friction. The need for translation, for instance, allowed the claims and assertions of both sides to be finessed. Only very rarely did the Qing court make a point of examining the original-language version in detail. Likewise, the domestic conditions and policies of neighboring countries were rarely scrutinized unless they were related to difficulty on the frontier. Ultimately, the ideological claims made in Chinese-language documents had little impact on actual relations, and certainly no shared “Asian” values bound the Ming and Qing states to all, or even most, of the countries with which they interacted.

Whether Ming and Qing policies toward their neighbors were particularly peaceful is a matter of debate. The Ming attempted to incorporate Vietnam. During the protracted war with the Junghars, the Qing annexed several once-independent Inner Asian neighbors. While in some cases the establishment of relations with China was a voluntary act, in others the attempt to avoid such relations would have been politically and militarily unwise. Ming and Qing armies invaded several neighbors (Korea, Vietnam, Burma, Nepal), some more than once, but how many of these cases constituted aggression is an open question. It must also be remembered that together these dynasties were in power for over half a millennium, so that despite unrest and instability in many Ming and Qing border zones, the prevalence of full-scale warfare was certainly less than in the very different international environment of contemporary Europe. Certainly, the Ming and Qing states were not attempting to build and control an imperial bloc of territory in a manner analogous to European empires in Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries. Ultimately, the virtues and disadvantages of China’s relations with Asian countries in this period, like all other facets of the topic, are best evaluated via studies of specific cases rather than generalizations.

Discussion of the Literature

Chinese scholars had long kept detailed records of their interaction with their Asian neighbors. European diplomats first began to probe these sources in an effort to evaluate Qing claims to influence over neighboring countries, which they tended to dismiss as untenably ambiguous or even misleading. The few Westerners who could read Chinese sources were chiefly interested in Sino–Western relations, although some wrote about China’s relations with neighbors in which their own empire had an interest.51 In the early 20th century, a growing number of Chinese diplomats and scholars came to share the view that Ming and Qing relations with Asian countries had been based on a culturally specific, outmoded form of international relations, inevitably to be superseded by new and supposedly universal norms.

In the early 1930s, Ming and Qing diplomacy and worldviews received new scholarly attention as a historical phenomenon to be understood on their own terms. Research was stimulated by the publication of important documentary collections from the Qing archives, including the Chouban yiwu shimo (1929–1930) and Qingdai waijiao shiliao (1932–1933). Leading historians of the topic, including T. F. Tsiang (Jiang Tingfu) and John King Fairbank, were primarily interested in China’s relations with the West but found it necessary to understand these by reference to earlier interactions with Asian neighbors. The most influential product of this early period of research was a detailed 1941 article, “On the Ch’ing Tributary System,” published by Fairbank and S. Y. Têng.52 This essay argued that Ming and Qing China interacted with foreign countries via a “tributary system” that was one expression of a “Confucian world-order.” Relying heavily on official administrative regulations, they suggested that Chinese rulers used the lure of trade to draw neighboring Asian rulers into a political relationship that formally acknowledged China’s superior hierarchical position. In a second key contribution, Fairbank edited the 1968 volume The Chinese World Order: Traditional China’s Foreign Relations.53 A particular achievement of the volume was to offer English-language descriptions by Asian scholars of relations between the Qing and Korea, Vietnam, the Ryukyus, Southeast Asian countries, and elsewhere. Although the majority of contributors accepted and employed the tributary-system concept, important pieces by Joseph Fletcher and David Farquhar cast doubt on its applicability to Central and Inner Asia.54

The concept of a “tributary system” has been subject to debate, criticism, and direct assault. Although a few historians have rejected the concept outright, most have chosen to reformulate and refine it, particularly with reference to actual practice rather than ideology. It remains the predominant mode by which Ming and Qing relations with Asian countries are studied.

In general, the most successful critiques of the tributary system concept have concentrated on narrowing the scope of its applicability. First, it was pointed out that this concept tells us little about Qing-era relations with European countries, which Kangxi decoupled from the tributary system in 1684. Another insight was that a tributary “system” comprehending all of China’s foreign relations and trade was an innovation of the first Ming emperor, breaking down already in the 16th century.55 Likewise, historians of pre-Ming China have convincingly disputed the application of the concept to earlier centuries.56 More recently, those studying the expansion of the Qing Empire began to indirectly undermine other assumptions supporting it. Manchu Qing emperors could not simply be assumed to have internalized and exclusively espoused the values and practices of the conquered Ming state. To dominate Inner Asia (Manchuria, Mongolia, and Tibet), they innovated with new modes of administration drawing at least in part on Inner Asian practices. If Qing rulers therefore maintained the tributary “system,” they presumably did so consciously for the practical benefits they believed it offered.

Together with a more rigorous analysis of the tribute-system concept, historians have increasingly come to understand it through Qing-era archival materials that have become more easily available since the late 1970s. This has allowed detailed study of how Ming and particularly Qing rulers and officials debated and responded to specific cases rather than published regulations, which in turn has tended to erode simplistic dualisms, such as those between “Chinese” and “Western” (or “traditional” and “modern”) modes of international relations. Current scholarship therefore uses the concept of a “tributary system” in a cautious and flexible way, as one factor among several in China’s foreign relations.57 Three examples of such recent work can be cited. In a 2003 article on Kirghiz tribute trade, Nicola Di Cosmo concludes that the “structure” of the tribute system was employed as only one part of a larger strategy in Inner Asia, where it created an “environment” in which the Qing could build a mutually beneficial sphere of influence over “clients.”58 Laura Newby, in her study of relations with Khoqand, comments that while it would be wrong to regard the tribute system as a “holistic system informed by a coherent ideology,” it was “a diplomatic toolbox . . . replete with a vast range of instruments.”59 John E. Wills Jr. argues in a recent article that the tribute system represented for the Qing government an effective “functional matrix for dealing with complex situations.”60 Looking at the case of Korea in the late Qing, Kirk Larsen has suggested that the persistence of older tributary concepts in no way prevented the Qing state from studying and applying lessons from Western and Japanese imperialism.61

Peter Perdue has cogently challenged the appropriation of the tribute system for contemporary political purposes. In his view, the general and ahistorical claims made about the system do not reflect “actual foreign policy events and practices,” and fail to address key questions, notably how Chinese elites discussed and debated foreign relations, whether ideology influenced actual policy, how far other countries accepted China’s principles of foreign relations, and whether it can be regarded as a “system” at all.62 Other recent scholarship has emphasized that the rituals and practices of presenting tribute or participating in imperial audiences are only a small part of Qing foreign relations, much of which was conducted by frontier officials. Although tributary concepts suffused official documents, they do not seem to have significantly narrowed the range of policy options open to Qing rulers, let alone dictated that policy.63 In short, research in the past few decades has tended to move from examining ideology and regulation to studying dynamic practice. Under these conditions, the need to approach Qing relations with Asian countries on a case-by-case basis is increasingly apparent.

Primary Sources

A rich but fragmented mass of primary sources exists to study Ming and Qing relations with Asian countries, only a fraction of which can be mentioned here. Unfortunately, very few of these sources have been translated into English or other Western languages. Although many excellent collections of translated materials exist for Qing relations with European countries, for example Lo-shu Fu’s masterful A Documentary Chronicle of Sino–Western Relations, 1644–1820, no comparable effort has been put into systematically translating their Asian equivalents.64

The single most comprehensive source for Ming and Qing foreign relations, as for other official subjects, is the Shilu (“Veritable Records”). Though entries are abbreviated and edited, they function as a useful index for identifying cases that can then be tracked down in more detailed documentary collections. References to Southeast Asia in the Ming shilu have been translated by Geoff Wade.65

Qing archives, particularly the First Historical Archives in Beijing, have published original documents concerning relations with a number of countries, for instance those with the Ryukyus (Qingdai Zhong-Liu guanxi dang’an xuanbian and its successors, 1993–2009).66 Likewise, documents on major Qing military responses to frontier crises have been published, for instance those on Qianlong’s war with Burma (Mian dang) and with the Gurkhas (Balebu jilüe and Kuo’erka jilüe).67 For Qing relations with countries in Central Asia, documents in Manchu are of particular value. Those for the Qianlong period concerning Xinjiang and its neighbors are published as the Qingdai Xinjiang Manwen dang’an huibian.68 David Brophy, Onuma Takahiro, and Noda Jin have published several selections of translated original documents concerning Qing relations with Central Asia.69 The published Chouban yiwu shimo collection, although designed to record Qing relations with Western countries, contains extensive information on how the Qing responded to Western imperial expansion into countries holding tributary relations with the Qing.70

Apart from documents, Ming and Qing official publications are of great value, particularly the series of imperial gazetteers (Yitong zhi), and works such as the Qing-era illustrated album of tributaries (Zhigong tu).71 Survey maps commissioned by the Qing court in the Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong reigns, prepared partly with the assistance of Jesuits, came to cover almost all of Asia, with the notable exception of Southeast Asia. The best edition is now the Qingting san da shice quantu ji.72 Ming and Qing envoys also wrote accounts of foreign countries in contact with China.73

Unofficial sources in Chinese also offer rich materials on relations with, and perceptions of, Asian countries. A collection of early and late Ming Chinese sources on maritime Asia has been translated.74 Later examples of such work range from late Ming geographies of the world known to China, such as the Shuyu zhouzi lu, through the writings of Qing officials like Tulišen and Cišii to late Qing authors like Wei Yuan and his influential Haiguo tuzhi.75 Three works, Chen Lunjiong’s Haiguo wenjian lu, Wang Dahai’s Haidao yizhi, and the Hailu, which records the testimony of the sailor Xie Qinggao, are particularly rich in their descriptions of maritime Southeast Asia.76 Especially for the period after 1860, an extensive collection of late Qing travel accounts, including travel in Asia, may be found in the Xiaofanghuzhai yudi congchao and its continuations.77 As for other fields of Chinese history, reference to the relevant entries in Chinese History: A New Manual is strongly recommended.78

Further Reading

Baldanza, Kathlene. Ming China and Vietnam: Negotiating Borders in Early Modern Asia. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Di Cosmo, Nicola. “Kirghiz Nomads on the Qing Frontier: Tribute, Trade, or Gift Exchange?” In Political Frontiers, Ethnic Boundaries, and Human Geographies in Chinese History. Edited by Nicola Di Cosmo and Don J. Wyatt, 351–372. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.Find this resource:

Fairbank, John K., ed. The Chinese World Order. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968.Find this resource:

Giersch, C. Patterson. Asian Borderlands: The Transformation of Qing China’s Yunnan Frontier. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Kim, Key-Hiuk. The Last Phase of the East Asian World Order. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.Find this resource:

Larsen, Kirk W. Tradition, Treaties, and Trade: Qing Imperialism and Chosŏn Korea, 1850–1910. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2008.Find this resource:

Mosca, Matthew W. From Frontier Policy to Foreign Policy: The Question of India and the Transformation of Geopolitics in Qing China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Newby, Laura J. The Empire and the Khanate: A Political History of Qing Relations with Khoqand, c. 1760–1860. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005.Find this resource:

Noda, Jin. The Kazakh Khanates between the Russian and Qing Empires: Central Eurasian International Relations during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016.Find this resource:

Onuma, Takahiro, Kawahara Yayoi, and Shioya Akifumi. “An Encounter between the Qing Dynasty and Khoqand in 1759–1760: Central Asia in the Mid-Eighteenth Century.” Frontiers of History in China 9.3 (2014): 384–408.Find this resource:

Perdue, Peter C. China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Perdue, Peter C. “The Tenacious Tributary System,” Journal of Contemporary China (2015): 1–13.Find this resource:

Rose, Leo E. Nepal: Strategy for Survival. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.Find this resource:

Viraphol, Sarasin. Tribute and Profit: Sino-Siamese Trade, 1652–1853. Cambridge, MA: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1977.Find this resource:

Wills, John E., Jr. “Functional, Not Fossilized: Qing Tribute Relations with Đại Việt (Vietnam) and Siam (Thailand), 1700–1820.” T’oung Pao 98 (2012): 439–478.Find this resource:


(1.) Matthew W. Mosca, From Frontier Policy to Foreign Policy: The Question of India and the Transformation of Geopolitics in Qing China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013).

(2.) John E. Wills Jr., “Maritime Europe and the Ming,” in China and Maritime Europe, 1500–1800: Trade, Settlement, Diplomacy, and Missions, ed. John E. Wills Jr. (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 24–77.

(3.) Gang Zhao, The Qing Opening to the Ocean: Chinese Maritime Policies, 1684–1757 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013).

(4.) Donald N. Clark, “Sino-Korean Tributary Relations under the Ming,” in The Cambridge History of China, vol. 8: The Ming Dynasty, part 2: 1368–1644 [CHC 8] (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 272–300.

(5.) Takeshi Hamashita, “The Ryukyu Maritime Network from the Fourteenth to Eighteenth Centuries: China, Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia,” in China, East Asia and the Global Economy: Regional and Historical Perspectives (London: Routledge, 2008), 58–84.

(6.) Kawazoe Shōji, “Japan and East Asia,” trans. G. Cameron Hurst III, in The Cambridge History of Japan, vol. 3: Medieval Japan (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 396–446.

(7.) Kwan-wai So, Japanese Piracy in Ming China during the 16th Century (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1975).

(8.) Kenneth M. Swope, A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592–1598 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2009).

(9.) Lim Jongtae, “Tributary Relations between the Chosŏn and Ch’ing Courts to 1800,” in The Cambridge History of China, Vol. 9 Part Two: The Ch’ing Dynasty to 1800 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 146–196.

(10.) Lim, “Tributary Relations.”

(11.) Gari Ledyard, “Cartography in Korea,” in The History of Cartography, vol. 2, book 2, eds. J. B. Harley and David Woodward (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 235–345.

(12.) Lim, “Tributary Relations.”

(13.) Robert K. Sakai, “The Ryukyu (Liu-ch’iu) Islands as a Fief of Satsuma,” in The Chinese World Order: Traditional China’s Foreign Relations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968), 112–134.

(14.) Xing Hang, Conflict and Commerce in Maritime East Asia: The Zheng Family and the Shaping of the Modern World, c. 1620–1720 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

(15.) Angela Schottenhammer, “Japan—The Tiny Dwarf?: Sino-Japanese Relations from the Kangxi to the Early Qianlong Reigns,” in The East Asian “Mediterranean”: Maritime Crossroads of Culture, Commerce and Human Migration, ed. Angela Schottenhammer (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2008), 331–388.

(16.) Geoff Wade, Southeast Asia in the Ming Shi-lu (Singapore: NUS E-Press, 2005).

(17.) Kathlene Baldanza, Ming China and Vietnam: Negotiating Borders in Early Modern Asia (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

(18.) Alexander Ong, “Royal Refuge and Heterodoxy: The Vietnamese Mạc Clan in Great Qing’s Southern Frontier, 1677–1730,” in China’s Encounters on the South and Southwest: Reforging the Fiery Frontier over Two Millenia, eds. James A. Anderson and John K. Whitmore (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015), 275.

(19.) Wang Gungwu, “Ming Foreign Relations: Southeast Asia,” in CHC 8: 301–332, Cambridge History of China, vol. 8, part 2, eds. Denis Twitchett and Frederick W. Mote (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

(20.) Sarasin Viraphol, Tribute and Profit: Sino-Siamese Trade, 1652–1853 (Cambridge, MA: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1977).

(21.) C. Patterson Giersch, Asian Borderlands: The Transformation of Qing China’s Yunnan Frontier (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); Yingcong Dai, “A Disguised Defeat: The Myanmar Campaign of the Qing Dynasty,” Modern Asian Studies 38.1 (2004): 145–189.

(22.) Masuda Erika, “The Fall of Ayutthaya and Siam’s Disrupted Order of Tribute to China (1767–1782),” Taiwan Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 4.2 (2007): 75–128.

(23.) Viraphol, Tribute and Profit, 153.

(24.) John E. Wills Jr., “Functional, Not Fossilized: Qing Tribute Relations with Đại Việt (Vietnam) and Siam (Thailand), 1700-1820,” T’oung Pao 98 (2012): 439–478.

(25.) Luciano Petech, China and Tibet in the Early XVIIIth Century: History of the Establishment of Chinese Protectorate in Tibet, 2d ed. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1972).

(26.) Margaret W. Fisher et al., Himalayan Battleground: Sino-Indian Rivalry in Ladakh (New York: Praeger, 1963), 43.

(27.) Leo E. Rose, Nepal: Strategy for Survival (Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1971).

(28.) Mosca, From Frontier Policy to Foreign Policy.

(29.) Joseph F. Fletcher, “China and Central Asia, 1368–1884,” in The Chinese World Order, 206–224.

(30.) Giovanni Stary, Chinas Erste Gesandte in Russland (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1976); Peter C. Perdue, China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 2005), 292–299.

(31.) Matthew W. Mosca, “Empire and the Circulation of Frontier Intelligence: Qing Conceptions of the Ottomans,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 70.1 (2010): 147–207.

(32.) L. J. Newby, “The Chinese Literary Conquest of Xinjiang,” Modern China 25.4 (1999): 451–474.

(33.) David Brophy, “High Asia and the High Qing: A Selection of Persian Letters from the Beijing Archives,” in No Tapping Around Philology: A Festschrift in Honor of Wheeler McIntosh Thackston’s 70th Birthday, eds. Alireza Korangy and Daniel J. Sheffield (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2014), 325–367.

(34.) Jin Noda, The Kazakh Khanates between the Russian and Qing Empires: Central Eurasian International Relations during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016).

(35.) Laura J. Newby, The Empire and the Khanate: A Political History of Qing Relations with Khoqand, c. 1760–1860 (Leiden: Brill, 2005); Onuma Takahiro, Kawahara Yayoi, and Shioya Akifumi, “An Encounter between the Qing Dynasty and Khoqand in 1759–1760: Central Asia in the Mid-Eighteenth Century,” Frontiers of History in China 9.3 (2014): 384–408; Nicola Di Cosmo, “Kirghiz Nomads on the Qing Frontier: Tribute, Trade, or Gift Exchange?,” in Political Frontiers, Ethnic Boundaries, and Human Geographies in Chinese History, eds. Nicola Di Cosmo and Don J. Wyatt (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), 351–372.

(36.) Joseph F. Fletcher, “The Heyday of the Ch’ing Order in Mongolia, Sinkiang and Tibet,” in The Cambridge History of China Vol. 10 Late Ch’ing, 1800–1911, part 1 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 375. Newby disagrees with Fletcher’s interpretation: The Empire and the Khanate, 192–199.

(37.) Dittmar Schorkowitz and Chia Ning, eds., Managing Frontiers in Qing China: The Lifanyuan and Libu Revisited (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2017).

(38.) Noda Jin and Onuma Takahiro, A Collection of Documents from the Kazakh Sultans to the Qing Dynasty (Tokyo: TIAS, Department of Islamic Area Studies, University of Tokyo, 2010).

(39.) Kataoka Kazutada, “Chōga kitei kara mita Shinchō to gaihan chōkōkoku no kankei,” Komazawa shigaku 52 (1998): 240–263.

(40.) Da Qing Yitong zhi [560 juan], in Xuxiu Siku quanshu, vol. 624 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1995), 406–441.

(41.) Brophy, “High Asia and the High Qing.”

(42.) Rose, Nepal: Strategy for Survival.

(43.) Fisher, Himalayan Battleground.

(44.) Irmtraud Muller-Stellrecht, “Tribute Relationship between Hunza and China (1761–1947),” Journal of Central Asia 7.1 (1984): 125–132.

(45.) Noda, The Kazakh Khanates between the Russian and Qing Empires.

(46.) Viraphol, Tribute and Profit.

(47.) Akira Iriye, “Japan’s Drive to Great Power Status,” in The Emergence of Meiji Japan, ed. Marius B. Jansen (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 288–291; Key-Hiuk Kim, The Last Phase of the East Asian World Order (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 190–203, 279–283.

(48.) Lloyd E. Eastman, Throne and Mandarins: China’s Search for a Policy during the Sino-French Controversy, 1880–1885 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967).

(49.) Anthony Reid, A History of Southeast Asia: Critical Crossroads (Chichester, U.K.: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), 250–251.

(50.) Kirk W. Larsen, Tradition, Treaties, and Trade: Qing Imperialism and Chosŏn Korea, 1850–1910 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2008).

(51.) See, for example, E. H. Parker, “Nepaul and China,” The Imperial and Asiatic Quarterly Review and Oriental and Colonial Record 7.13–14 (1899): 64–82.

(52.) J. K. Fairbank and S. Y. Têng, “On the Ch’ing Tributary System,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 6.2 (1941): 135–246.

(53.) John K. Fairbank, ed., The Chinese World Order: Traditional China’s Foreign Relations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968).

(54.) Fletcher, “China and Central Asia,” and David M. Farquhar, “The Origins of the Manchus’ Mongolian Policy,” 198–205.

(55.) John E. Wills Jr., Embassies and Illusions: Dutch and Portuguese Envoys to K’ang-hsi, 1666–1687 (Cambridge, MA: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1984).

(56.) Morris Rossabi, ed. China Among Equals: The Middle Kingdom and Its Neighbors, 10th–14th Centuries (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1983).

(57.) “Tributary system” and “tribute system” are both in current use.

(58.) Di Cosmo, “Kirghiz Nomads on the Qing Frontier,” 365–366.

(59.) Newby, The Empire and the Khanate, 9–10.

(60.) Wills, “Functional, Not Fossilized,” 441. Italics in original.

(61.) Larsen, Tradition, Treaties, and Trade.

(62.) Peter C. Perdue, “The Tenacious Tributary System,” Journal of Contemporary China 24.96 (2015): 1002–1014.

(63.) Mosca, From Frontier Policy to Foreign Policy.

(64.) Lo-shu Fu, A Documentary Chronicle of Sino-Western Relations, 1644–1820 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1966).

(65.) Geoff Wade, Southeast Asia in the Ming Shi-lu.

(66.) Zhongguo Diyi lishi dang’anguan, ed., Qingdai Zhong-Liu guanxi dang’an xuanbian (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1993).

(67.) Guoli Gugong bowuyuan, Mian dang (Taibei: Chenxiangting qiyeshe, 2007); Qinding Kuo’erka jilüe (Beijing: Quanguo tushuguan wenxian suowei fuzhi zhongxin, 1992); and Qinding Balebu jilüe (Beijing: Quanguo tushuguan wenxian suowei fuzhi zhongxin, 1992).

(68.) Qingdai Xinjiang Manwen dang’an huibian (Guilin: Guangxi shifan daxue chubanshe, 2012).

(69.) Brophy, “High Asia and the High Qing: A Selection of Persian Letters from the Beijing Archives,” in No Tapping Around Philology: A Festschrift in Honor of Wheeler McIntosh Thackston Jr.’s 70th Birthday (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2014), 325–367; Noda and Onuma, A Collection of Documents from the Kazakh Sultans (Tokyo: TIAS, Department of Islamic Area Studies, University of Tokyo, 2010).

(70.) Chouban yiwu shimo (Beijing: Gugong bowuyuan, 1929–1930).

(71.) Zhuang Jifa, ed., Xie Sui “Zhigong tu” Manwen tushuo jiaozhu (Taibei: Gugong bowuyuan, 1989).

(72.) Wang Qianjin et al., eds., Qingting san da shice quantu ji (Beijing: Waiwen chubanshe, 2007).

(73.) One example among many is Zhou Huang, Liuqiu guo zhilüe (Taibei: Zhonghua shuju, 1971).

(74.) Gabriele Foccardi, The Chinese Travelers of the Ming Period (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1986).

(75.) Yan Congjian, Shuyu zhouzi lu (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1993); Tulišen’s account has been translated into English in George T. Staunton, trans., Narrative of the Chinese Embassy to the Khan of the Tourgouth Tartars, in the Years 1712, 13, 14 & 15 (London: C. Roworth, 1821), but the best edition is that edited by Imanishi Shunjū, Kōchū Iikiroku: Tulišen’s I-yü-lu (Tenri: Tenri Daigaku Oyasato Kenkyujo, 1964); and Wei Yuan, Haiguo tuzhi (Hunan: Yuelu shushe chubanshe, 1998).

(76.) Chen Lunjiong, Haiguo wenjian lu (Taibei: Taibei yinhang, 1958); Wang Dahai, Haidao yizhi (Hong Kong: Xianggang xuejin shudian, 1992); and Xie Qinggao, Hailu jiaoshi (Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 2002).

(77.) Xiaofanghuzhai yudi congchao, ed. Wang Xiqi (Shanghai: Zhuyitang, 1891).

(78.) Endymion Wilkinson, Chinese History: A New Manual, 4th ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2015).