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A Brief History of International Relations

The World Made Easy

Kathleen Brush

The world does not need to be complex and confusing. It can be made simpler so that the business, political, social, and economic implications of global news briefs beaming across televisions and electronic devices can be easily grasped. Key to this is knowing that a five-hundred-year competition for global supremacy between the Chinese, European, Islamic, and Russian empires only ended in 1945. When it did, the world had 57 independent nations. After all empires were dissolved in 1991, there were 193, and each nation carried histories of empires in the form of conquest, religions followed, languages practiced, diversified populations, repressive rule, and histories of discrimination. A Brief History of International Relations: The World Made Easy explores this history of global conflict to contextualize and simplify the often perplexing relations between nations and empires.

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Chapter 4. The Chinese Empire


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The Chinese Empire was different in many ways from the other major participants in the Era of Empire. One was the configuration of a mainland and a tributary empire. The emperor directly ruled the former but not the latter. The mainland empire was a contiguous overland empire. The tributary empire was dispersed, and at times it reached beyond Asia and into Europe and Africa.

Tributes demonstrated their subordinated status by paying homage to Chinese superiority in the forms of reverence, deference, and payments in cash or kind. In return, the Chinese offered security, for example from Chinese conquest, in addition to insights into their superiority, such as Confucian practices for ordering society and administering the government.

The Chinese Empire was unremarkable in projecting power with tributary relationships. What was exceptional was the geographic vastness, a durability that spanned centuries, and the rationale. Influenced by Confucian principles, the Chinese saw the armed invasion of another state as shameful; their weapon of choice was psychology. They “attacked” by persuading other rulers that it was in their best interest to acknowledge Chinese superiority and to accept Chinese protection. The absence of Chinese interest in administering states filled with barbarians made a foreign ruler’s decision to pay tribute easier.

The Chinese were also unremarkable in seeing foreigners as barbarians. It was common for people to view anyone with foreign political or cultural ← 31 | 32 → practices as a...

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