Sovereignty in China’s Perspective

by Yonghong Yang (Author)
©2017 Thesis 233 Pages


This book explores China’s perspective on sovereignty. The concept of sovereignty is universal, however, the understanding of it varies in different states and due to cultural backgrounds, history or the composition of ethnic groups. In order to comprehend China’s current perspective on sovereignty, the author connects Chinese historical ideas with the current international society. She locates misunderstandings of China’s past and present which could cause misjudgment of China’s perspective on sovereignty. Hence, the author analyzes China’s imperial history concerning sovereignty and foreign policies. She surveys the cultural, political, administrative and legal roots of the ancient empires because of their great influence on its current political arrangements. In addition, the study examines the divergence between the European and Chinese understanding on human rights.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. The Concept of Sovereignty
  • Introduction
  • Section 1. The Westphalian Sovereignty
  • 1. The Academic idea of Sovereignty during Westphalia Time
  • 2. Westphalian Model Sovereignty
  • 2.1. The Peace of Westphalia as the Beginning of Sovereignty
  • 2.2. The Westphalian Pattern of Sovereignty
  • 2.3. Westphalian Sovereignty Accepted as the Base of International Society
  • Section 2. Sovereignty in the Post-Second World War Era
  • 1. The Concepts of Sovereignty
  • 2. Sovereign Rights and Duties
  • 2.1. Sovereignty as Rights to Exclude Jurisdiction of other States
  • 2.2. Sovereignty as Equal Rights and Duties
  • 2.3. Sovereignty as Responsibility
  • 3. Sovereignty as both Absolute and Relative
  • 4. Divergent Stages of Sovereignty
  • Section 3. The Principle of Non-intervention
  • 1. Non-intervention as Inalienable Rights and Duties
  • 2. The New Challenges to Non-intervention Principle
  • 2.1. The Exception of Non-intervention Principle
  • 2.2. Breach of Non-intervention Principle
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 2. Sovereignty in Ancient China
  • Introduction
  • Section 1. Ancient China as a State with ‘Sovereignty’
  • 1. The Earliest Period of China: Xia, Shang, and Western Zhou
  • 2. The Tianxia View in the Chinese Political System
  • 2.1. The Origin of the Tianxia View
  • 2.2. The Emperor as Son of the Heaven at the Center of the Chinese Political System
  • 2.3. From the Idealism to Realism: Multiple Concepts of Tianxia
  • 3. The Sovereignty in the Sense of Supreme Authority since the Qin-Han Dynasties
  • 3.1. Centralized Administrative System
  • 3.1.1. The Qin Bureaucratic System
  • 3.1.2. Dynasties after Qin
  • 3.2. Zhongguo and Sino-culture Zone
  • 3.3. The Han Chinese as the Major Subjects of Zhongguo
  • 4. Pre-modern Sovereignty in Ancient Zhongguo
  • Section 2. Sovereignty in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods
  • 1. Background
  • 2. Interstate System in the Spring and Autumn and Warring State Periods
  • 3. The States had their Exclusive Jurisdiction over their People and their Territories
  • 3.1. The Substantial Bases of Internal Sovereignty
  • 3.2. Exercising Exclusive Jurisdiction within its Territory
  • 4. Meetings and Treaties were frequently used in Interstates Relations
  • 4.1. Covenant Meeting
  • 4.2. The Vertical Alliance and the Horizontal Link
  • 5. Theories Concerning Interstate Relations
  • 5.1. Xunzi’s Theory of International Relations between States
  • 5.2. Mencius’ Theory
  • 5.3. Han Fei
  • Section 3. The Traditional Chinese Foreign Relations System
  • 1. The Origin of Tributary System
  • 2. The Connected Concepts: Tributary System, Tianxia View, Wufu System
  • 3. Flexibility of the Tributary System
  • 3.1. The Symbolic Superiority of China in the Tributary Relations
  • 3.2. A Pattern of Equal Relationship
  • 3.3. Non-application of the Tributary System for States further from China
  • 4. The Tributary System’s Collapse
  • 5. The two Distinct Schools of the Tributary System
  • 6. The Difference between the Tributary System and the Colonial System
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3. The Emergence of Modern Sovereignty in the Late Qing Dynasty
  • Introduction
  • Section 1. Evaporation of ‘Chinese Traditional World Order’
  • 1. Isolated Civilization
  • 2. The Acceptance of Modern Sovereignty
  • 3. Sovereignty and Saving China
  • Section 2. The Encroachments on China’s Sovereignty
  • 1. Aggression and Imposition of Unequal Treaties
  • 2. Other Encroachments of Territorial Sovereignty of China
  • 2.1. Foreign Concessions and Settlements
  • 2.2. Foreign Powers’ Spheres of Influence in China
  • 2.2.1. Manchuria under the Domination of Russia and Japan
  • 2.2.2. British in Tibet
  • 2.2.3. Russia in Xinjiang
  • 3. Foreign Supervision of China’s Customs, Post, and Salt Administration
  • 4. Extraterritorial Jurisdiction in China
  • 5. The Justification of Encroachment of China’s Sovereignty
  • Section 3. Recovery of China’s Sovereignty
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 4. Nationalism in China
  • Introduction
  • Section 1. Traditional Nationalism in China
  • 1. Chinese Identity
  • 1.1. Hua and Yi Distinction
  • 1.1.1. Culture as Common Identity
  • 1.1.2. Ethnicity as Common Identity
  • 1.1.3. Geographic and Political Identity
  • 1.2. The Thought of ‘Great Unification’
  • 2. Traditional Nationalism in the German Sense in Chinese History
  • 2.1. Traditional Nationalism Emerging While Facing Foreign Threat
  • Section 2. The Emergence of Modern Chinese Nationalism
  • 1. The Collapse of Traditional Chinese Culturalism
  • 2. The Rise of Modern Nationalism
  • 3. The Major Types of Chinese Nationalism in Modern China
  • 3.1. The Ethnic Nationalism as One of the Earliest Forms of Nationalism
  • 3.2. The Cultural Nationalism as Part of Anti-Imperialism Movements
  • 3.3. Political Nationalism as the Major Source to Establish a New Nation-State
  • 4. The Nationalism Practice in the Modern History of China
  • 5. The State’s Sovereignty Prevailing Over the People’s Sovereignty
  • Section 3. The Influence of Nationalism on the Sovereignty of Contemporary China
  • 1. The Nationalism and Internationalism during the Early Period of the PRC
  • 2. Multiple Modalities of Nationalism after 1979
  • 3. The Characteristics of Present Nationalism
  • 3.1. Humiliation as an Integral Part of Chinese Nationalism
  • 3.2. Territory Sovereignty at the Core of Nationalism
  • 3.3. The View of ‘Great Unification’ Still Being a Part of Chinese Nationalism
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 5. Sovereignty and Human Rights in China
  • Introduction
  • Section 1. Human rights in the Domestic Level of China
  • 1. The History of Human Rights in China
  • 2. Chinese Culture and Human Rights
  • 3. The Development of Human Rights in China
  • Section 2. China’s Human Rights Foreign Policy and Sovereignty Principle
  • 1. China’s Human Rights Foreign Policy
  • 2. China’s Perspective of Relationship between Sovereignty and Human Rights
  • 2.1. Sovereignty and Human Rights are Two Fundamental Values
  • 2.2. China insists that human rights issues fall, by and large, within the domestic jurisdiction of each state
  • Section 3. The Gap between EU and China in Human Rights Protection
  • Section 4. China’s Perspective on Humanitarian Intervention and RtoP
  • 1. A Gap between China and Western States on Humanitarian Intervention
  • 2. China’s Endorsement of RtoP
  • 2.1. The Primary Responsibility
  • 2.2. Consent of Host States
  • 2.3. Objectivity, Neutrality and No Regime Change
  • 2.4. Intervention shall be Taken in Caution
  • 3. China’s Practices in Humanitarian Crisis
  • 3.1. Kosovo
  • 3.2. Sudan
  • 3.3. Libya Crisis
  • 3.4. Syria Crisis
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 6. China’s Contemporary Perspective of Sovereignty
  • Introduction
  • Section 1. Sovereignty in the PRC’s Perspective
  • 1. Sovereignty and the Evolvement of the PRC
  • 1.1. In the Early Period of PRC
  • 1.2. The 2nd Period of PRC
  • 1.3. The Peaceful Rising Period
  • 2. The Barometer of China’s Foreign Policies - China’s Aid to Africa
  • 2.1. Free Aid for Ideological Alliance
  • 2.2. Low Profile in Africa
  • 2.3. Radically Growing Cooperation with Equal Partnership for Win-Win Purpose
  • 2.4. Comparison between China’s Aid Policies and the EU’s Aid Policies
  • 3. China’s Perception of Sovereignty is in the Process of Transformation
  • 3.1. From Refusal to Active Engagement in UN Peacekeeping Projects
  • 3.1.1. China is in Favor of UN Peacekeeping’s Involvement in Humanitarian Crises instead of Humanitarian Intervention
  • 3.1.2. China is in Favor of Multiple Non-military Assistances instead of Military Options
  • 3.1.3. China’s Peacekeeping Operations Highlight Respect for Sovereignty of the Host State
  • 3.2. China’s Endorsement of RtoP
  • 3.3. Globalization and Transferable Sovereign Rights
  • 3.4. The Concept of Core National Interest and Sovereignty
  • 4. China’s Current Major Views on Sovereignty
  • 4.1. State Remains the Key Player in International Plane and Sovereignty Remains the Base of International Relations
  • 4.2. Sovereignty and Non-intervention Remains the Base of China’s Foreign Policy
  • 4.3. Relative Limitations on Sovereignty
  • 4.4. Humans Rights Protection and Sovereignty
  • Section 2. The Chinese Ancient Thoughts and Contemporary Chinese View of Sovereignty
  • 1. The Tianxia View is Outdated
  • 2. The Great Unification Thought and One China Policy
  • 3. “One State, Two Systems” and the Traditional Tributary System
  • 4. Daoism and the Non-intervention Principle
  • 5. The Other Ancient Thoughts that Influence Chinese Decision Making
  • Section 3. The Comparison between European and Chinese Perspectives on Sovereignty
  • 1. The Different Views on the Relationship between Sovereignty and Human Rights
  • 2. The Fundamental Difference in Non-intervention
  • 3. China and European in the Different Stage of Sovereignty
  • 4. China’s Equal Sovereignty vice versa EU’s Supranationality
  • Conclusion
  • Reference
  • Series index

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This thesis is about the concept of sovereignty in China’s perspective. The concept of sovereignty is universal, however, the understanding of it is varies in states and its people due to cultural backgrounds, the position of strength of states, the history, composition of ethnic groups, the strategy of developing, etc.1 In order to comprehend China’s current perspective on sovereignty, I try to connect Chinese historical ideas into the current international society. Hence, I analyze a part of China’s imperial history concerning sovereignty and foreign policies and try to dig deep within the cultural, political, administrative and legal roots of the ancient empires because of the great influence that China’s antique political systems and culture has had on its current political arrangements. The comprehension of political systems of ancient China should help to better understand the current perception China has on sovereignty. The thesis focuses on sovereignty in ancient China, modern China, and current China. Furthermore, this thesis will draw a comparison between European states’ perceptions and China’s perception on sovereignty. Whilst the focus is on sovereignty, the close relationship between sovereignty and human rights in China cannot be left unexamined and a comparison of the divergence between the European and Chinese understanding on human rights is also a part of the thesis.

The structure of the thesis is outlined as follows:

Firstly, Chapter 1 analyzes the concept of sovereignty in general. After the traditional Westphalian concept of sovereignty is described in the beginning of this chapter, the thesis also introduces the current concepts of sovereignty. The fact that the sovereign state plays a major role in today’s world means that the Westphalian idea has not been abandoned but has changed. Sovereignty is progressively limited by more and more international constraints, particularly by the overarching demand of universal human rights.

The second chapter attempts to examine the political system of the Chinese empire in different dynasties. It concludes that the Chinese empire since the Qin-Han dynasties was a unitary state with a centralized administrative system ruled by emperors who had absolute power within the territory. The chapter tries to clarify the different meanings of the Tianxia in a bid to comprehend ancient China from the political and geographic definition to the cultural definition. Moreover, it describes a special period of China, so-called the period of Spring-Autumn and Warring states, in which the empire was similar to Europe in the Westphalia period. Furthermore, it gives a focus to the Chinese tributary system, which was a logical consequence of the “Tianxia” view. It attempts to reveal the nature of the Chinese tributary system ← 13 | 14 → as a pragmatically and flexible foreign policy to seek a peaceful surrounding and also offers a comparison between the tributary system and colonialism.

The third chapter concentrates on the period when the concept of modern sovereignty was introduced into China. The experience of losing sovereignty in that period has had an unimaginable impact on Chinese perceptions of sovereignty, human rights and other relatable political and social issues. That period’s transformation is decisive for current China’s identity and China’s position on sovereignty. It is also attributed as the birth of modern nationalism which is rather disparate from China’s traditional nationalism in the sense of ‘the Great Unification’. Both of them are the focus of the fourth chapter. A number of scholars, particularly, Western scholars hold that no nationalism existed in ancient China and nationalism only emerged after China was attacked by Britain during the Opium Wars because ancient China’s Tianxia view impeded Chinese from identifying them as a nation. This chapter reveals that romantic nationalism had emerged in ancient China and developed as the view of ‘the Great Unification’, which is still a part of today’s Chinese identification. Admittedly, China’s perspective on sovereignty is heavily influenced by nationalism. It drives the Chinese government to cautiously take a hard position on sovereignty today, particularly, when the domestic society is unstable with multiple conflicts.

Chapter 5 discusses the controversial issue of Chinese human rights. It elaborates on China’s human rights policy and the reasons behind China’s human rights problem. It is an attempt to reduce the misunderstanding between the two sides by comparing China’s human rights policy to Europeans. Additionally, through addressing China’s practice in humanitarian crises, it provides an outline of the transformation of China’s policy on humanitarian intervention.

The sixth chapter describes the change of interpretation on sovereignty from the early stage of the People’s Republic of China to today. It explores the connection between China’s present policy and Chinese ancient thoughts. After concluding China’s major thoughts on sovereignty, the chapter elaborates on the comparison between Chinese and European understandings of sovereignty. Interestingly, the idea that sovereignty has changed but is not dead is accepted by both sides. Both differences and mutual understandings between the two are elaborated on in the last part of my thesis.

The whole thesis is intended to provide a grasp on the Chinese traditional system and thoughts for the purpose of understanding current China’s perception of sovereignty. Meanwhile, it also attempts to explain why China is so different from European states with regards to the perception of sovereignty. Understandably, the two sides are both influential in the international community. A mutual understanding of the two sides is definitely important not only for both of them but also for the whole world. I hope that this thesis may provide a little help.

1 Wang Yizhou, ‘Guoji Cuanxi Yanjiu Ruogan Wenti’ (‘several issues in the study of international relations’), Ouzhou Yanzhou [European Research] no. 3, (2006), p. 131.

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Chapter 1. The Concept of Sovereignty


It is always rather practical or convenient to trace the origin of a theme when exploring a dynamic concept in contemporary academic discourse. It is typically believed that the Westphalian Peace Treaties are the first step to understanding the notion of sovereignty. In the Middle Ages, Europeans believed that all humans lived under the same laws and morals. They existed under the combined spiritual and temporal guidance of both the Pope and the Emperor. Meanwhile, the Chinese were convinced that the emperors had the Mandate of Heaven to rule the world. Under the theory of the Christian Commonwealth, power was organized in terms of overlapping, concentric circles. While Westphalia ended the old epoch in Europe, at the same time, it replaced the Christian Commonwealth and opened a new epoch. During this new epoch sovereign states were deemed equal and became major subjects of the new, so-called international community. About two hundred years later, Westphalia sovereignty spread to China through guns and cannons. It crashed down on the China-central world as China struggled to regain its sovereignty. This chapter focuses on the introduction of general ideas of sovereignty and the non-intervention principle for the purpose of elaborating upon China’s evolving understanding of sovereignty.

Section 1. The Westphalian Sovereignty

Westphalia has achieved hallmark recognition for the inauguration of the interstate system in modern academic discourse even though some questioned its historical benchmark because of the absence of the word “sovereignty” in the peace treaties.2 However, it did not accidently adopt the concept of ‘sovereignty’, which was definitely constructed purposefully on the base of a number of academic achievements.

1. The Academic Idea of Sovereignty during Westphalia Time

As sovereignty is mentioned, one may think about Niccolo Machiavelli, Jean Bodin, Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, J. J. Rousseau, Emer de Vattel, Friedrich Hegel and others. Generally speaking, Jean Bodin is considered as the one who in 1583 presented the first systematic introduction of the idea.3 Bodin asserted that sovereignty was a state’s absolute supreme authority within its territory which ← 15 | 16 → was only limited by natural and divine law. His theory of sovereignty represented a conceptual breakthrough in the history of political thought and shaped the fundamental principles of international relations.4 The later works of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes introduced the idea of “contractual sovereignty”. This meant that the people established sovereign authority through a contract in which they transferred all of their rights to ‘the Leviathan’, which represented the abstract notion of the State. The will of ‘the Leviathan’ reigned supreme and represented the will of all those who had alienated their rights to it. Similar to Bodin’s sovereign, Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan’ was above the law, a mortal God unbound by any constitution or contractual obligations with external parties. Hobbes also thought the sovereign to be accountable to God and to the natural law. Law was the command of the sovereign ruler, emanating from his will, and the obligation to obey it absolutely.5 Rousseau, differed from Bodin or Hobbes, in that he saw the collective people within a State as the sovereign. They ruled through their general will. In a constitutional government, it is the people ruling through a body of law that have sovereignty. Rousseau’s version of sovereignty is the one that is most commonly regarded as legitimate in the current world. Although new notions of the holders of sovereignty have evolved and more and more restraints are imposed on sovereignty, Bodin and Hobbes’ concept of sovereignty as supreme authority continues to prevail as the presumption of political rule in states throughout the globe today.6 In reality, the Westphalian Peace takes credit for the birth of sovereignty by imposing itself as a determining reality of the way in which the state entity is structured and interacts, both internally, with its subjects—citizens of the state—, and externally, within interstate relations. Its dimensions and validity remain in direct relationship to the power of state entities to which it is associated.

2. Westphalian Model Sovereignty

2.1. The Peace of Westphalia as the Beginning of Sovereignty

First of all, the Peace of Westphalia curtailed the power of the Pope and Emperor. It moved to an alternative foundation of authority based on exclusive jurisdictions of equal and independent entities. These entities were superior within territorial borders, so-called sovereignty. Moreover, the significance of Westphalia was the building of an archetype which functioned as the territorial anchor and fostered the concomitant distinction between domestic and international, inside and outside. This archetype retrospectively indicates the transition from medieval to modern ← 16 | 17 → society.7 Thus, the Peace of Westphalia which settled the bloody Thirty Year war is widely accepted as the birth of equal, sovereign states and a foundational moment of international law and international relations.8

2.2. The Westphalian Pattern of Sovereignty

The perception of Westphalian sovereignty can briefly be presented as follows: The world consists of and is divided into sovereign territorial states that recognize no superior authority over states. The sovereignty connotes an absolute, invisible feature, which purports a legal status with internal and external dimensions based on mutually recognized territorial definition. It combines domestic hierarchy with international anarchy by identifying states as supreme authorities. The sovereign states are all equal and independent from each other.9 They are both the international law makers and law enforcers. Everything, including illegal issues, that occurs within state borders are internal affairs and concerns only the involved states.10 Under the Westphalia system, international law is mainly constituted by customary law and bilateral treaties. Treaties represent a surrogate for the absent central lawmaking authority and the sovereign states are the actual international law making and enforcement authorities.11 The sovereign right of states to freely go to war is the holy doctrine of the jungle. This results in a scenario of big fish eating small fish and powerful states end up with all the rights and benefits.

2.3. Westphalian Sovereignty Accepted as the Base of International Society

Generally, the Westphalia regime covers the period of international law and regulation from 1648 to the early twentieth century although some major rules still have application today.12 Indeed, the regime did not receive its fullest articulation until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when territorial sovereignty, the ← 17 | 18 → formal equality of states, non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other recognized states, and state consent as the basis of international legal obligation became the core principles of the international society.13 That means that territories were consolidated, unified, and centralized under sovereign governments. Meanwhile, the population of the territories now owed allegiance to the sovereign and they had a duty to obey the laws of the land. All territories in Europe and, eventually, all territories around the world were partitioned by sovereign governments and placed under their independent authorities.14

Westphalia has been identified as the first modern, institutionalized practice of multilateral diplomacy on the basis of mutual agreement of participating state parties, and codification through treaty-making.15 Moreover, whilst the peace conference where the state parties participated can be conceived as early examples of multilateral diplomacy, it should be noted that the concluding treaties were still in the form of bilateral agreements and were signed on the personal title of the Emperor and other royal participants.16 The state as an international legal personality, capable of bearing rights and obligations under international law, only developed towards the end of the seventeenth century.17 The significance is that sovereign statehood was established on convention, rather than having its base in power capacities. Also, states formed a society in the sense that they conceived themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another.18

It is necessary to emphasize that the international community was confined to Europe since for a long time European states did not recognize other countries as sovereign states except those that were Christian or European.19 The socio-political changes and technological breakthroughs enabled the European states to expand through colonialism and to spread the notion of sovereignty around the world by treating the non-Christian states as inferior savages. Most of these non-Christian states were not deemed as sovereign and were colonized. China was one of the many states which were colonized. The Europeans profited the most from wars since they won tributes and colonies through wars. In other words, the international world became largely Euro-centric. Ironically, as the European states waged wars ← 18 | 19 → around the world, the concept of sovereignty was introduced to and accepted by the world. The ‘colonies’, ‘protectorates’, ‘condominiums’, ‘mandates’, ‘trust territories’, ‘concessions’ conquered by European states are terms for referring to the non-Christian world. They represent non-sovereign entities which have no supreme internal autonomy and no external independence. Clearly, at that period, an international order based on sovereignty only existed in a relatively small group of technologically advanced and militarily powerful sovereign states with various kinds of formal dependencies and semi-dependencies in their rear. Since the status of those entities might have been considerably different in terms of their internal systems and relations with European states, their sovereignty was manifestly denied. They lacked independence and international legal personalities as far as international law was concerned.20 Up until the end of Second World War, the Westphalian model of sovereignty was not the dominant system of international relations between European states and the other states. Indeed, China regained its sovereignty and became a member of the international community as late as the 1940’s.21

Nonetheless, Westphalia only offers a blueprint for international society of sovereign states, developments on sovereignty have been constantly evolving. The concept of sovereignty is changing; however, Westphalia is not certified false or void. Rather, its legacy as a model confirms its enduring centrality amid challenges.22 The Westphalia model still continues to function as the base of current concepts of sovereignty in today’s international law and international society.

Section 2. Sovereignty in the Post-Second World War Era

The United Nations charter, the constituted treaty of the United Nations (UN), stipulates the principles of equal sovereignty and non-intervention as the basis of the UN, which is the most influential international organization in the world. The fact that these two principles are generally admitted as the base of international society is reconfirmed by numerous documents and treaties. The sovereign equality of states has received its most concrete affirmation after the Second World War, particularly in the era of decolonization by the newly independent states.23 Manifestly, sovereignty becomes the most important concept of the international society. ← 19 | 20 →

1. The Concepts of Sovereignty

Indisputably, sovereignty is completely derived from politics.24 It is a central concept in international relations, international law, political theory, political philosophy and modern history.25 Moreover, it is a dynamic institution flourishing within a legal framework precisely through the daily routine of political practices. Noticeably, the term “sovereignty” permeates the language of law and politics.26 There are plenty of definitions of sovereignty from both sides. The Max Weber’s famous definition from political perspective emphasizes: a corporate group that has compulsory jurisdiction, exercises continuous organization, and claims a monopoly of force over a territory and its population, including “all action taking place in the area of its jurisdiction.”27 Jackson defines: sovereignty, strictly speaking, as a legal institution that authenticates a political order based on independent states whose governments are the principal authorities both domestically and internationally.28 According to Jack Levy, an international system is composed of “states characterized by the centralization of political power within a given territory, independent from any higher secular authority and interacting in an interdependent system of security relations.”29 Morris asserts that sovereignty is that of an ultimate source of political power or authority in a realm.30 The historian Francis Hinsley gives a similar definition, “at the beginning, the idea of sovereignty was the idea that there is a final and absolute political authority in the political community and no final and absolute authority exists elsewhere”31. He particularly emphasizes ‘the exclusively jurisdiction’ which is the implication of final and absolute authority. It is exactly the same as what Steinberger says of sovereignty: “Exclusivity of jurisdiction of states over their respective territories is a central attribute of sovereignty.”32 British publicist Martin ← 20 | 21 → Loughlin defines sovereignty with the states’ four critics33 as follows: Sovereignty is profoundly political in nature, and ‘comes into existence through a process in which a group of people within a defined territory is molded into an orderly cohesion through the establishment of a governing authority that can be differentiated from society and which is able to exercise an absolute political power’.34

Law and politics have similarities and differences. They are similar in that they are broadly concerned with the problem of power. “Law is politics, not because law is subject to political value choice, but rather because law is a form that power sometimes takes”.35 Political concepts may more emphasize the empirical rather than the juridical, the de facto rather than the de jure, attributes of statehood, the internal supremacy rather than independence from outside. Legal concepts may focus more on legal status, rights and duties. Certainly, sovereignty embodies power and authority; it is a politico-legal concept.36 No matter how one defines sovereignty, whether from a legal angle or a political one, the core meaning of sovereignty is the same: “the supreme authority within a territory”. These simple words contain the most complicated and controversial connotation. At first, the holders of sovereignty are various, represented by diverse authorities, which mean kings, dictators, peoples ruling through constitutions, and the like; how the holders of sovereignty are chosen is relegated to ‘domestic matters’. Therefore, the form of government that exercises sovereign powers could legitimately be a monarchy, an aristocracy or a democracy. Regardless of the type of government, the sovereignty of the people is widely accepted in the current world.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (March)
Ancient China Tianxia Order Wufu System Qing Dynasty One China Policy Non-intervention
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 233 pp.

Biographical notes

Yonghong Yang (Author)

Yonghong Yang studied Law at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing, China, and earned a Master of International Trade Law as well as a Master of International and European Law at the University of Amsterdam. At the University of Marburg she achieved a PhD and works as an Associate Professor at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law.


Title: Sovereignty in China’s Perspective
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