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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sui-Tang foreign policy: four case studies Pan, Yihong


The foreign policy of imperial China had two major aspects: 1) ideological purity, based on the Chinese cosmological view of the state, and emphasizing the all embracing rule of the Chinese Son of Heaven. 2) Practicality and flexibility, which provided imperial rulers the justification for conducting foreign relations on an equal footing with their neighbors, and allowed for retreat from claims of Chinese superiority, or even paying tribute to "barbarians." These two aspects have been noted and studied previously. In this dissertation I examine the interplay of the twin aspects in Sui-Tang foreign policy decisions and their implementation, how they clashed with or accommodated each other both when China was strong and when it was weak. Chapter I provides a survey of the tribute system, its roots in the pre-Qin period, its development in Han and the challenges it faced in the Period of Division. The Sui-Tang policy of resettlement of the Turks who had submitted, is the theme of Chapter II. The chapter examines the Tang system of the "subordinated area commands and prefectures." The Sui-Tang settlement policy was intended to bring the "barbarians" under Chinese administration and to use the nomads as a military force against other "barbarians." It also drew a distinct line between the non-Chinese and the Chinese so that the "barbarians" would not disturb the Chinese and would undergo a gradual process of sinification. But the success of the policy depended basically on the balance of power. The war policy of the Sui-Tang Chinese towards Koguryŏ, its motives and result are studied in Chapter III. For the better part of a century the Chinese made persistent efforts to establish their administration on the Korean peninsula through force. While there is a contrast between the pragmatism of Emperor Wen on the one hand, and the obsession with military glory of Emperor Yang and Taizong on the other, all three emperors insisted on Chinese superiority over the Koreans and all haconsiderations for frontier security. The differences in their attitudes lay mainly in the extent to which China should claim the superiority. Eventually, the Chinese were quite happy to withdraw beyond the Yalu River and accept Korea as a peaceful tributary. The alliance between Tang and the Uighur empire is the topic of Chapter IV. While before the outbreak of the An Lushan rebellion in 755 the Uighurs were at times subjects of Tang, the period after 755 saw the growth of the Uighur empire and the weakening of Tang superiority. In both periods their relations were characterized by an alliance based on common interests. In the latter period the Chinese had to treat the Uighurs as an equal power but the relationship was still maintained under the tribute system, which served to maintain the outward form of Chinese superiority. The seven Tang-Tibetan treaties are discussed in Chapter V. Compared with Tang relations with other peoples, the Tang-Tibetan relationship was remarkably equal. This was shown both in diplomatic reciprocity and in the conclusion of treaties. Nevertheless, some Chinese officials still held strongly to the idea that the Tibetans were "barbarians," which hindered the maintenance of the treaties. In the making of foreign policy in imperial China, the two major aspects, ideological purity and practicality, were reflected in two principles of Confucian doctrine: "the king leaves nothing and nobody outside his realm," and "having the various states of Xia within, and keeping the Yi and Di barbarians out." While the first principle represented the ideological purity and provided justification for Chinese expansion, the second stressed practicality, thus the two aspects achieved a balance.

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