Using a synthetic narrative approach, this ambitious work uses the lens of multipolarity to analyze Tang China’s (618–907) relations with Turkestan; the Korean states of Koguryŏ, Silla, and Paekche; the state of Parhae in Manchuria; and the Nanzhao and Tibetan kingdoms. Without any one entity able to dominate Asia’s geopolitical landscape, the author argues that relations among these countries were quite fluid and dynamic—an interpretation that departs markedly from the prevalent view of China fixed at the center of a widespread “tribute system.”
To cope with external affairs in a tumultuous world, Tang China employed a dual management system that allowed both central and local officials to conduct foreign affairs. The court authorized Tang local administrators to receive foreign visitors, forward their diplomatic letters to the capital, and manage contact with outsiders whose territories bordered on China. Not limited to handling routine matters, local officials used their knowledge of border situations to influence the court’s foreign policy. Some even took the liberty of acting without the court’s authorization when an emergency occurred, thus adding another layer to multipolarity in the region’s geopolitics.
The book also sheds new light on the ideological foundation of Tang China’s foreign policy. Appropriateness, efficacy, expedience, and mutual self-interest guided the court’s actions abroad. Although officials often used “virtue” and “righteousness” in policy discussions and announcements, these terms were not abstract universal principles but justifications for the pursuit of self-interest by those involved. Detailed philological studies reveal that in the realm of international politics, “virtue” and “righteousness” were in fact viewed as pragmatic and utilitarian in nature.
Comprehensive and authoritative, Tang China in Multi-Polar Asia is a major work on Tang foreign relations that will reconceptualize our understanding of the complexities of diplomacy and war in imperial China.
This is a major work of Tang scholarship, such as we shall not see for a long time to come. It strives to reconceptualize our understanding of imperial China’s foreign relations in a way that neither privileges the tribute system nor dismisses it as an affront to Westphalian principles. In doing so, the book is in perfect sync with the flood of current interest in retheorizing the history of Chinese foreign policy in more recent centuries. It is also an engagingly written narrative about a fascinating time and place in human history.” —Timothy Brook, Republic of China Chair, Department of History, University of British Columbia
“Zhenping Wang’s volume, executed with enviable scholarly acumen, takes the reader away from the single-themed Tang ‘foreign-relations-as-tribute’ model by a consideration of multiple polarities. Incorporating terms and concepts of world history—multiple-polarity, interdependence, soft power, and hard power—the author deals with Tang relations and reactions, varied as they were, to the numerous political states and entities surrounding Tang China. This work appreciably expands our understanding of China-in-the-world and the world-in-China.” —D.W. Y. Kwok, professor emeritus of history, University of Hawaii
Wang Zhenping is associate professor at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
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