Saturday, April 29, 2006

China’s Foreign Relations : A Historical and Cultural Perspective.

By Perry PADA

One can better understand China’s external relations, even, today, by turning back the pages of history to ancient times. Beginning with Qin dynasty and Han in the 3rd century BC up to the end of Qing dynasty at 19 century, China claim itself as a “Middle Kingdom” ( Zhungguo ), center of the world, especially in Asia. China perceived itself as the only great empire on the Earth, the only civilization and the only culture that really mattered for human being. The emperor or Son of Heaven-represents all man kind, whether Chinese or Barbarian. The emperor was the crucial link the mediator between heaven and earth, and he enjoyed the mandate to rule all men (mandate of Heaven).

The Chinese, therefore, had some good reasons for thinking themselves as the originators and heirs of the only civilization in their world. The Pacific Ocean led only to Japan, itself in culture a pupil and adopter of the Chinese civilization. The immense deserts and steppes beyond the great wall were the home of China’s traditional and ‘savage’ enemies, the Tartars--under many successive names. To the south were tropical jungles and a few centers of emergent civilizations whose cultures, when not directly from China itself, were of Indian origin. The west was barred off by the immense massif mountain of Tibet, largely too high to inhabit and such valleys were permitted settled by ‘savages’.

China traditionally divided the world into five majors region. First region, consist of 18 provinces, which is traditional region and completely under China’s control . This region spread out from the big wall in the north to Indochina in the South, and high land in the west to East China Sea.

Second region, consist of Tibet, Sinxiang, Outer Mongolia, Manchuria, shore islands, and some tributary states such as Korea and Annam. China perceived the first and second as the vital region, hence as a region requiring protection.

The third region consist of a large part of tributary states along china’s border such as Ryuku, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Himalaya, Malaysia, and a part of Kalimantan. Even though this region was claimed as china’s interest region, but the above region much more important for China.

The Fourth region consists of other Asia nations such as India, Pakistan, Papua nuigini, Indonesia, and Iran. And the fifth region, consist of Europe countries, America and Africa. China perceived these nations as barbars and therefore was never treated equally.

With this world order, China thus claimed to a position of dominance and centrality in the Asian states system. This relate to a conception of their land as a middle kingdom, to which adjoining states owed tribute as political and cultural satellites. This order is called a tributary system, which is hierarchically ordered with China as the central power (Zungguo) who arranges that order. With this order, it is not weird that Chinese people perceived themselves as more intelligent, more civilize and more capable than other nations.

Further more, it is not simply that Chinese regarded their culture as superior in a material and aesthetic sense; they believe it to be superior, and universally valid. Though non Chinese people were not forced to acknowledge and adopt Chinese superiority, they were somewhat despised if they neglected the opportunity. Hence traditional China was based on the assumptions that it was logical for all people to follow its values; also China had a special role to protect these values. These assumptions still sustain contemporary China’s Communist Party (CCP) leaders to the present.

The root of culture and ideology

The Chinese image of world order is also colored by the assumptions, values and beliefs of the Confucian moral order. Indeed, the traditional Chinese image of world order was no more than a corollary of the Chinese image of internal order, and thus really an extended projection of its self image. Hence, the chief concern of China’s traditional foreign policy centered upon the ways and means of making diplomatic practice conform to the idealized self image.

The essence of Chinese world order was sinocentric cosmology. China perceived herself to the center of human civilization - hence the name of middle kingdom and the son of heaven as the conception to have the right to reign and rule over all human affairs. Although pre-Confucian in origin, the notion a universal state ruled by a universal king developed and culminated in the state orthodoxy of the Confucian order. In the orthodox Confucian conception, the political status quo has to be preserved in the Chinese world order through a universal symbolization of harmony that was hierarchical and anti egalitarian, based on sex, kinship, age and social function. Confucianism heavy lays stress on the doctrine of superordination-subordination in the five relationships as well as in the distinction between the superior men who work with their brains and the inferior men who labor with their muscles. Thus, because of the world of Chinese as a reflection of domestic stratification, the hierarchical of social order at home provided an absolute criterion for conceptualizing China’s relations with non-Chinese states.

Limited contacts with west and the Byzantine world during the Tang Dynasty (618-906) merely confirmed the rightness of the sinocentric image. Even the Buddhist invasion, the most serious foreign challenge to Chinese culture until modern times, failed to modify Chinese perceptions. The Indian world view as expresses in Buddhism was devoid of political imperative. While Buddhism exerted a substantial and lasting influence on art and religious thought in traditional China, it had little political impact on Chinese cosmology. Even the alien conquerors--Yuan and Ch’ing-- contributed to reinforcing the sinocentric world order or in other word we may say as “signified “process or sinicization.

Western Penetration and treaty system

In the beginning 19th century, British, French, Dutch and US were the nations dealing trade with China, although their trade activities were limited to a certain region and only contact with the government was allowed. At that time western trader viewed that opium is the only commodity attracting Chinese. Therefore their activities concentrated on this commodity.

War between China and British (opium war) in 1839-1842 and along with the very fast intrusion of technology, culture, economy and politic penetration, challenged the traditional pattern in china . Qing dynasty begin to be weaken because the inability of the king to overcome the repression of domestic rebellion and west penetration in the ports area.

The defeat suffered by China in the opium war ushered in a new era of Sino-western relations. The age old tribute system was dealt a heavy blow, and a new treaty system was inaugurated by four “peace treaties” signed between Chinese and western powers. Taken together these treaties established a general frame work for commercial and diplomatic relations between Chinese and the west. At the end of 19 century, western ambition increased. China’s ports were taken over by them such as Honking and Weihaiwei to British, Qiangdao to Germany, Macao to Portugal, Guang zhouwan to French and Dahlian to Rusia. Most part of Chinese territory were claimed by western countries and were under their influence. To the north, Tsarist Rusia tried to establish its control in Manchurian and Xianjiang. Russia also succeeded to have Maritime province in Vladivostok in 1860. Through series of treaties imposed by western , particularly a series of peace treaties signed at Tiensin, however , opened “a pandora’s box” for the traditional Chinese image of world order. China unwillingly accepted and recognized the western nations in their territory widely and freely. This experience was to shape the course of Chinese international relations.

Chinese history as I elaborated above contributed a strong felling for modern Chinese leaders concerning China’s status and national integration. In fact the history of China, their belief, culture and values shaped China’s as a great nation as we see today. Chinese Communist leaders has a highly national consciousness towards their glorious and bitterness of the past. According to Mao, “China is a nation who has glorious tradition. Even though sometimes that glory is affected by Barbarian, we always succeeded to defeat them with revolutionary facilities”. Regarding the unity and national integration, in 1939, Mao Zedong expressed the same felling by saying that “Imperialist force had seized china’s territory”, such as Korea, Taiwan, Rukyu islands, Pescadores, Port Arthur, Burma, Nepal, Honking, Annam, and Macao. Mao gave his promise that “ Chinese will not be humiliated by others any more and we will struggle to the next eight years, maybe ten years, or more. And, we will show to the world, what kind of nation we are”. Therefore, the assumptions about the lost territories proved that the middle kingdom conception and tributary system still ingrained in the thinking China communist leaders.

Even though traditional aspects have a great influence, China image of the world is very determined by the characteristic of Chinese communism. This characteristic (especially Mao’s though) combined with the root of culture subsequently creates China communist image of the world order.

(1) Harry Harding, China and Northeast Asia: The Political dimension (New York: University Press of America),p.5-6.

(ii) C.P. Fritzgerald, “Chinese view the world” Year book of World Affairs, 1981, p.156.

(iii) Harding, China and Northeast Asia, p.5.

(iv) Michael H. Hunt, Chinese Foreign Policy in Historical Perspective” in Harry Harding, China Foreign Relation 1980s (New Heaven : Yale University Press,1984),p.5.

(v) North, The foreign relations,p.54.

(vi) John Crammer-Byng, “The Chinese View of Their Place in the world” A Historical Perpective,” China Quarterly, No.53 (January/Maret, 1973).p.68.

(vii) Samuel S.Kim, China, The United Nations, and the World order (New Jersey:Princeton University Press, 1979).p.20.

(viii) North, The Foreign Relations, p. 54-55.

(ix) Paul H. Clyde, The Far East (New Jersey: Prentice Hall,1958),p.21

(x) Harding, China and Northeast Asia.,p.55-56

(xi) Kim, China, the United Nations.,p.36

(xii) North, The Foreign Relations,p.56.

(xiii) See, A.Doak Barnett, Communist China and Asia: A challange to Amrican Policy (New York:Random House,1960),p.76.

(xiv) As quoted by Liu from China Digest (October 5,1946) in China as A nuclear Power.,p.15

1 comment:

Herbhayu said...

Excellent entry. one can attribute the success of China today in developing an agressive economic poliy to the culture and history of the Chinese in the past. In the future, it could be one of the most powerful nation, more powerful that it is today, that could rival the unilateralist United State, economically and politially. Cheers. Herbhayu