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Sovereignty in China’s Perspective


Yonghong Yang

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.

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Chapter 2. Sovereignty in Ancient China



It is widely accepted that sovereignty originated from modern Europe through the development of a system of sovereign states, culminating at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Thus, sovereignty did not exist in ancient time in either the West or the East. It is also dominant in both western and Chinese academes that ancient China did not have the conditions to create the idea of sovereignty. However, a number of scholars have argued that the ancient Chinese system in the period of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States shows the emergence of territorial sovereignty and the formation of inter-state anarchy which was similar to the early modern European system.77 That being said, except for this period, it is generally admitted that sovereignty, as either a political or legal concept, did not exist before China’s colonial period.

In this chapter, the first focus will be about the earliest period of China and the development of Chinese statecraft, and mainly on the polity in ancient China as a final and absolute political authority over a certain territory and no final and absolute authority exist elsewhere78. Secondly, the emerging of sovereignty in Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods is discussed. Finally, an analysis of the typical Chinese foreign policy for the understanding of characteristics of imperial China and the foreign policies of contemporary China is presented.

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