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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 3. The Emergence of Modern Sovereignty in the Late Qing Dynasty



In the late Qing dynasty, China was confronted with an unprecedented challenge from Western states. China’s position in the world and self-image was reversed from leading civilization to a subjugated and torn country. This chapter will analyze the transformation of this period. The first section discusses the history of how the concept of modern sovereignty was imported into China through cannons and guns leading to the crash of the Chinese traditional Tianxia order. The second section focuses on how Western powers imposed gross encroachment on China’s sovereignty. Finally, the third section analyzes how China struggled to recover its sovereignty. It stresses that this transformation period has had an unimaginable impact on today’s Chinese perceptions on sovereignty, human rights and other related political and social issues. Therefore, the analysis of this period is significant for understanding current China’s identity and China’s position on sovereignty.

Section 1. Evaporation of ‘Chinese Traditional World Order’

1. Isolated Civilization

Before the Western powers in the nineteenth century opened the Chinese boundary with canons and guns, the Chinese grew accustomed to the notion that China was the center of the world surrounded by a host of lesser states that imbibed Chinese culture and paid tribute to China’s greatness.238 Similarly, China’s international relations were based on the “tributary system”, which had as its objective the maintenance of the harmony of mankind. These hierarchical principles, resembling those of the patriarchal Chinese family, assumed the inferiority of other...

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