Sunday, June 22, 2014

Korea was never a Part of China

Dear Korean,

I’m from Singapore and visited Korea for the first time last week. I went to the National and National Folk Museums in Seoul, and noticed that the Koreans talked mostly of their early relations with China as one of “international exchange” or “cultural exchange”, seemingly having forgotten that Korea was a vassal state of the Chinese empire and paid tribute to it in order to maintain autonomy. Will the Koreans never admit to having been part of China? 


Short answer: Koreans will never admit such a thing, because Korea has never been a part of China.

The confusion most comes from misunderstanding the term "vassal state." The concept of "vassal state" (alternately known as a "tributary state") does not really exist any more, nor has it truly existed in the history of the Western civilization. But it does vaguely sound like "colony" of the early 20th century vintage, which leads to the confusion that Korea was a part of China. That is simply not the case. "Vassal state" is a diplomatic concept that was unique to pre-modern Northeast Asia. The concept must be understood within that context, because it makes no sense outside of it.

(It must be noted that nationalistic Chinese and Japanese deliberately sow this confusion. By doing so, nationalistic Chinese exaggerate the reach of the Chinese Empire; nationalistic Japanese justifies Imperial Japan's invasion of Korea, by claiming that Korea was simply going from one colonial master to another.)

Depiction of Korean tributary envoys to China, by Kim Hong-do, circa late 18th century

Put yourself in pre-modern Northeast Asia for a moment. There is one nation in the center--China, or 中國 (literally, the "center country")--that has been clearly superior to all nations surrounding it in every aspect of civilization, including military, trade, arts, philosophy and science, for two thousand years

Stop there, and let two thousand years sink into your brain. Think hard about how long that time is. Think about how old your grandparents are, and think about how many more generations you have to travel upward to hit two thousand years. Think about how much of our current tradition we take for granted, and how old those traditions are. Americans love to talk about their democratic tradition, but the age of that tradition is barely more than ten percent of the Chinese empire's history. Americans look to Europe for a deeper tradition, but European tradition prior to the Renaissance--which began in the 14th century--was nothing to write home about. 

This exercise is necessary because we the modern people often get myopic, and think that beliefs of the past are dumb or absurd. Not so: if Chinese hegemony has been true for two thousand years, it is simply true to anyone living within those two thousand years in China or near China. It is like living next to the Roman Empire that never went away until the 20th century. In such a situation, it would actually be irrational to think anything other than that the world revolves around China.

In those two thousand years, Northeast Asia was a "sinosphere"--a vast region in which China acted as a center of gravity of every aspect of human civilization. Of course, other nations in the region, including Japan, Vietnam and Korea, developed their own civilization which was quite glorious in its own right. But every nation in the sinosphere shared roughly the same governing philosophy, religion, social structure and writing system, all of which ultimately originated from China.

In this sinosphere, the emperor of China naturally considered himself to be the ruler of the entire civilized world. To the Chinese empire, the entire world consisted of: (1) China, (2) civilized nations that are vassal states to China (i.e. having a diplomatic relation with China,) (3) civilized nations that are not yet vassal states to China ( i.e. having no diplomatic relation with China,) and (4) uncivilized barbarians. During the Qing Dynasty in the early 19th century, China even considered the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy and England to be China's vassal states.

Informed by Confucianism (the shared ideology in sinosphere,) there was a mutual obligation between China and its vassal states. China provided vassal states with governing legitimacy, military security and (relatively) free trade. Vassal states, in return, provided a pledge of loyalty, acceptance of the Chinese emperor as the ultimate governing authority and regular tributes.

(More after the jump.)

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Now, for the important part. Vassal states pledge loyalty to the Chinese emperor and give regular tributes. That's it. Vassal state had no other formal obligation to China. Vassal states had its own king, and had its own manner of choosing its king. Vassal states had its own government, which independently governed its own country. Vassal state collected its own taxes and had its own military. Throughout its relation with China before the modern times, all of the foregoing was true for Korea as well. China never chose any king on Korea's behalf. China had no formal role in forming Korea's domestic policies. China had no authority over ordinary Koreans, and China's authority over Korea's royal family was symbolic rather than real.

One may ask: what about the tributes? Is that not a tax that Korea paid to China?

No. The word "tribute" evokes an image similar to "tax," but it does not mean what you think it means. Recall that the relationship between China and its vassal states (including Korea) was based on Confucianism, which provides for a hierarchy with mutual obligations. Casual observers often say Confucianism is hierarchical, while losing sight of the fact that under Confucianism, there are obligations that run both downward and upward within the hierarchy. Even as the subordinate recognizes the authority of the superior, the superior must play its part to earn the authority.

In the context of sinosphere, this meant that the Chinese empire repaid every tribute. In fact, this is how the tributary system worked in sinosphere: the vassal state sends the tributary gifts as a sign of respect for China's authority. Upon receiving the gifts, the Chinese emperor would send back his own gifts to the vassal state's ruler as a sign of appreciation. This is hardly a tax on Korea; it was a trade between Korea and China under a different name.

There are ample historical evidence to show that both Korea and China recognized, as a practical matter, that Korea's tribute was a trade rather than a tax. For example, in the early days of Joseon Dynasty, China's Ming Dynasty required that Joseon pay tribute once in three years. But Joseon Dynasty vigorously insisted that it would pay tribute three times a year, and did end up paying tribute three times a year, and eventually four times a year. This makes no sense if the tribute were a tax; nobody volunteers to pay more taxes. Joseon Dynasty wanted to pay more tribute because it turned a profit on the return gift. [1]

Often, Joseon paid tribute by plying horses to the Ming Dynasty, which constantly needed horses to fend off barbarian attacks. The royal records from the Joseon Dynasty show that Korea did not send its own horses. Rather, Joseon purchased the horses from the Jurchens and re-sold the horses to the Ming Dynasty for ten times the price. [2] Being China's vassal state was particularly lucrative to Korea because outside of the tribute-repayment trade, China did not allow any international trade since the Ming Dynasty. [3]

The modern parallel to this relationship is not the colonial holds that appeared in the late 19th and early 20th century. The modern institution that is the closest to the sinosphere's tributary system is the British Commonwealth. Did you know that Canada and Australia had a queen? A number of states within the British Commonwealth--including Canada and Australia--still consider the British queen to be their head of state. Governor-General of Canada, who is appointed by the British Queen, summons the Canadian Parliament; Governor-General of Australia, who is also appointed by the British Queen, has the authority to dismiss the Australian government. (And in 1975, this authority was actually exercised.) Based on the foregoing, one could perhaps make an argument that Canada and Australia were a part of the United Kingdom. But given that Canada and Australia have their own governments just like Korea throughout its history before the 20th century, few would take that person seriously.


[1] From 이덕일, <조선 최대 갑부, 역관>
[2] Same.
[3] It must be noted that some Korean historians are skeptical of the claim that the tributary system always resulted in Korea's financial profit. See, for example, 계승범, <조선시대 해외파병과 한중관계>. But even those scholars generally agree that Korea clearly benefited in the non-economic sense, in the form of China's military protection, importation of books, art pieces and luxury goods, emergency lines of credit during famine, etc.

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  1. "Americans look to Europe for a deeper tradition, but European tradition prior to the Renaissance--which began in the 14th century--was nothing to write home about."

    I'm not sure I'd agree. The Renaissance looked back to their ancients, that is the ancient Greeks and Romans. The ancient Romans has a large empire that rivaled China's, and they were certainly around 2,000 years ago. The ancient Greeks go back even further, and the advanced literature that they had (e.g. Homer, Plato, Socrates) continued to influence the ideas of Western authors past the 19th century. Unlike the cultures of China, Korea, Japan, etc, however, this wasn't a unified culture that continuously existed from that ancient time to the present, but far more fragmented. Still, if you skip over the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, I think Europe has a lot to be proud of.

    1. Why skip over the 'dark ages' and 'middle ages'? You can be proud of that too! The term 'dark ages' is a misnomer.

    2. The dark ages was named so by the people who believed they lived in better times, as usually has been the case, i.e. we call ourselves the modern era, so everyone before us must be premodern right?

      But I agree with your point, when T.K. writes "Americans look to Europe for a deeper tradition, but European tradition prior to the Renaissance--which began in the 14th century--was nothing to write home about. " he should realise he should stick to things he knows something about. It was a completely unnecessary sentence.

    3. I agree with FarFromKorea's point too. And that sentence The Korean wrote either needed to be written in a different way, either it needed further explanation, but written as it is, it's way too misleading. My intuition tells me, however, it has to do with Egypt or something, but it really needs clarification.

  2. While I largely agree with you, I have to point out that you forgot to mention the Mongolian rule over Goryeo. From the late 13th century to the mid-14th century, unlike other period, Goryeo was practically a puppet state of the Mongol Empire.

    1. I was doing research on the Mongolian Invasion of europe, It would let me assume that the mongolians had give up europe territory because it was not necessary. My professor were skeptical because he thought that they stop the invasion due to the fact that their KHAN died in the middle of their plan but It wouldn't make any sense because the plan was postponed forever even after they elected their new KHAN(king for mongolians).I would say it is because their country boundaries are being spread too wide an the new khan thought it might cause trouble for him to control.

    2. Maybe so, Kanie, but, lets also admit that the Mongolian Empire, was not Chinese.

  3. A good comment from a Korean person who has answered similar questions: "I explain it as the United Nations with five or six member states, with China being the only member of the Security Council."

    1. Although it may seem like probable analogy, but it in fact fails to go deeper. United Nations is basically an aggregation of several nations to serve as a mediator for a common purpose that will theoretically lead the world into better place, UN in fact does not have its own citizens to serve for, UN does not have its own foreign policy, UN does not have nationality. It's just an abstract term to describe the Union of several nations.

      China on the other hand in historical perspective has her own citizens to serve for.

  4. IIRC, the closest ancient China ever got to Korea was the Hansagul or - but this just covered parts of the Liaodong peninsular, which (after some back and forth) is still part of China today. So no part of the two modern states of Korea were ever part of China.

    That said, the vassal state status seems like a bit of a crapshoot - Korea and Vietnam were vassal states and are now clearly independent countries, but Tibet and the Ryukyu Kingdom were also vassal states and today the former is considered an "inseparable part of China" and the later is clearly part of Japan. Unless there is something else I'm missing which explains the otherwise apparent inconsistency between the treatment of former vassal states Korea and Vietnam on one hand, and Tibet on the other. (Okinawa was allowed to vote on the matter IIRC, so that's explainable.)

    The British Commonwealth system is a bit weird. The Queen of Britain is also the Queen of Canada and the Queen of Australia, but the three countries maintain separate governments and the Queen is just a figurehead. I remember reading something about a disagreement between Canada and the UK, and the Queen came out in support of the UK position. Later, the Queen appears in Canada supporting the Canadian position.

    Also, during the 1975 constitutional crisis, the Governor-General exercised his powers, but the Queen herself stayed out - even when she was invited to use her powers. Sure, the GG is appointed by the Queen, but I think that's largely a formality - IIUC the GG is nominated in his/her original country and then the Queen accepts the original country's choice. What I'm trying to say (and TK hasn't stated otherwise about this AFAIK) is that the governments of Canada, Australia, et al. are fully de facto independent already. The power of the GG doesn't really change this.

    1. The Hansagul actually covered most of northern Korea, see map:

    2. Weren't Tibet and Ryukyu outright invaded and conquered by China and Japan respectively?

    3. Oops. Well, it looks like no part of South Korea was never part of the Commandery.

    4. Another map (with Chinese bias):

    5. FarFromKorea,

      The Four Han Commanderies covered present day Pyongyang up the southern Manchurian tip and Liaodong.

  5. Whether "vassal state" means "part of China" is a question of semantics and not very meaningful. It's clear that China was the hegemon in Asia (actually, by no means for 2000 years -- their power was waxing and waning and you're forgetting that both the Mongols and the Manchus conquered China) and they very likely could have conquered Korea and administered as a colony at various times. Just the same they could have conquered lots of territories, who knows what would have happened if the Zheng He expeditions would have gone just a bit farther to either America or Australia? But they simply had no intentions to do so, which ultimately led to the "century of humiliation" from the mid 19th to mid 20th century.

    I do agree, though, that Europeans tend to try to view everything from their perspective and its difficult to fathom for them that China (Korea and Japan, to a lesser extent, too) as a culture and political entity in East Asia goes back more than two thousand years. People can still read Sun-Tsu in its original, whereas the average English speaker would have difficulty to even try to read Shakespeare, not even to talk about Plato (similar age as Sun-Tsu).

    1. Minor nitpick - Sun Tsu is written in an old form of the Chinese language known as Classical Chinese. It was the lingua franca of the area for a long time, having roughly the status as Latin did in the post-Roman period in Europe. And it's still taught in schools in East Asia today. However, most Chinese are not fluent in this language and probably would have a hard time reading Sun Tzu in the original in its entirety. They'd be more likely to go for a Mandarin translation.

    2. It is astonishing when you consider that China is one of the original civilizations of the world, yet still going strong and getting stronger now. For comparison, one can imagine that the Pharaohs had lasted up until the present day, and Egyptians were still using hieroglyphics.

      Yet it is not true that European civilization goes back only to the Romans and Greeks, but, through them, it is heir to the Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Anatolian civilizations, which are far older than any others, as more and more archaeological discoveries are confirming.

    3. "Yet it is not true that European civilization goes back only to the Romans and Greeks, but, through them, it is heir to the Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Anatolian civilizations, which are far older than any others, as more and more archaeological discoveries are confirming."

      I guess it all goes back to Sumer?

      You are correct that the European civilizations of the ancient Greeks and Romans were heirs of the ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, etc. However, mesopotamia was in the middle east, not Europe. Egypt is still in Africa. (Both are physically very close to Europe, though, but a line is drawn excluding them from it.)

      Also, while China is the oldest continuously existing civilization still in existence, there are African tribes which are thought to be far older (thought to be 15,000 years iirc) and have continuously preserved their way of life for that entire period.

    4. The Manchus and the Mongols didn't try to fully integrate Korea probably because they didn't have the population. Nomadic peoples have far less food density than agrarian civilizations like China and Korea. For the Mongols in particular, Korea was an especially difficult nut to crack. Five invasions over 30-40 years and their victory wasn't complete. It took another dozen years, with active cooperation of the Koryo royal family to root out Choe military dictator die hards.

      Making Korea a vassal and/or protectorate was the cheapest way the Mongols and Manchus could have gotten what they wanted (i.e. mostly security on their eastern flank) for the cheapest price while they carved up China (the bigger prize) like the proverbial Christmas turkey. Making Korea a colony would have meant unceasing guerrilla warfare and would have tied up precious military resources that could be used to conquer the richer states of southern China.

    5. Matt and FarFromKorea: by what criteria is China the "oldest continuously existing civilization"?

      If by territory, there have been regular, long periods of history when the core Chinese homeland was controlled by foreign dynasties; these have been incorporated into Chinese historiography but they represent major discontinuities of territorial integrity.

      Capital cities have also moved around. Beijing was originally the capital of the foreign Yan kingdom and subsequent northern dynasties, but never the capital of Qin, Han, Tang or Song dynasties. The historical capitals are all inside of modern China, at least, but there is not direct geographical continuity between them.

      In terms of ethnicity, the genetic composition of the modern multiethnic Chinese state - even the Han majority within it - is not the same as ancient Chinese Han and non-Han groups; as much as there is continuity in the Han (漢) ethnonym, there have been regular influxes and absorption of other peoples.

      If by language, nearly all surviving languages have been continuously spoken (whilst evolving and changing at the same time) in some related form since ancient times. Modern Mandarin is a quite different language to Old and Literary Chinese both in terms of pronunciation and structure. If surviving in situ is a determinant, then the Celtic languages (Irish and Welsh), Greek, Persian, Cambodian and probably Korean are all strong contenders, though of these only Persian and Greek had writing early on..

      The longest continuity seems to be Confucianism and Taoism, which Communist China lost and has been preserved better in Korea and Taiwan. Ancient China - i.e. the Shang dynasty - was pre-Confucian and had shamanism, which was lost relatively early on.

      I'm not saying the above changes and plurality are bad things but I'm not sure with which aspects of civilization we could define a "continuity of existence" which can't be found amongst many other regions and peoples of the world. The strongest contenders seem to be writing and historiographic tradition.

      This is not an attack on your comments; I genuinely wonder about these points, especially the question of ethnic continuity.

      (Andrew Logie)

  6. There are some who go as far as to state that even Japan was a vassal state of China, e.g.

    No one ever says Japan is part of China! Clearly, the vassal state status is something very different from a colony.

  7. Interesting stuff. I never understood how the whole "vassal state" thing worked.

    I remember a scene from a historical drama I watched (황진이) where a representative from China forces the Koreans to burn the musical scores to some of their traditional songs, arguing that China is a greater nation and the Koreans' cultural items are inferior. I have no idea how historically accurate that scene was, but it gave me the impression that the Chinese had a greater degree of control than what's described here.

    1. 'Vassal state' is, historically, an ambiguous term that can range in meaning from virtually complete independence to almost total subjection. Precisely the advantage of the Chinese relationship with its 'tributary' neighbours was that it allowed both parties to the relationship to view it in a different way. Yet at the same time it confirmed both in their view of China as the centre of civilization, and the view of the Chinese Emperor as, ultimately, 'the' Emperor: even if his authority on Earth might become exiguous in the outer provinces, he was still the representative of Heaven, whose word would be absolute if only virtue and harmony were restored to the world. It was even fitting, in a way, that the further you traveled from the imperial throne the less people paid attention, because that was part of what made them barbarians.

      Korea, I believe, viewed itself not as an outer barbarian state, but as a junior partner in civilisation, and was so regarded by at least some Chinese.

    2. To add to my previous post, you might think of China's propagation through diplomacy of this view of itself as the centre and seat of Heaven's appointed ruler on earth as a species of 'soft power'. Of course, it helped that China genuinely was the source of civilization, and its cultural products added to this soft power.

      Unfortunately for China, foreign acceptance of its self-centred view didn't necessarily help: invading enemies would simply cast themselves as new and more legitimate emperors-of-the-earth-as-mandated-by-Heaven and, look, see how Heaven favours us with this big army and sweeping victories? The emperors of Rome were regarded in a not dissimilar way by barbarian kings who aspired to be 'Caesars' and rule civilized provinces in the 'central', and more favoured, regions of the earth.

    3. The term was 소중화 (小中華) Sojunghwa, "Small China".

    4. After the fall of the Ming dynasty, many Koreans thought that they were the last inheritors of Chinese civilization. They started calling the Manchu Qing Dynasty "northern barbarians" (胡, 호). This legacy is still found in a few Korean words today: 호빵 (Chinese buns) and 호떡 (Chinese pancakes). Of course, diplomatically, things were largely the same as before.

  8. The monarchy in England is separate from the monarchy in Canada and the monarchy in Australia etc. The role of monarch is held by the same person, but they are distinct and equal.

    They don't consider the British queen to be their monarch. They consider their own queen to be the monarch. Queen Elizabeth is Queen of the United Kingdom, Queen of Canada and Queen of Australia simultaneously. She's also Queen of Barbados, Queen of Papua New Guinea, Queen of Antigua and Barbuda and a number of other states.

    Since Elizabeth II resides primarily in the UK, she has appointed governor generals to carry out most of her duties. But again, she is not appointing those individuals using her role of Queen of the United Kingdom; She is appointing those individuals using her role as monarch of the respective countries. i.e. The Queen of Canada, not the Queen of the United Kingdom, appointed the Governor General of Canada

  9. By that logic, do the mafioso have a virtuous confucian relationship with the shopowners they provide "protection services" to?

    1. "By that logic, do the mafioso have a virtuous confucian relationship with the shopowners they provide "protection services" to?"

      Well, mafioso generally don't follow Confucian practices or beliefs.... and shop owners generally don't turn a profit on paying others for those kinds of "protection services".

  10. Never?

  11. "European tradition prior to the Renaissance--which began in the 14th century--was nothing to write home about"
    I would be very curious to hear what made you write this sentence.
    What are these "traditions" prior to the "Renaissance" for you ?
    Do you really think that all Europe suddenly changed when Filippo Brunelleschi built the dome of Florence's cathedral ?
    You talk about continuity of China's empire, but you don't see the continuity between the Roman empire, Charlemagne's empire, and so on.
    Modern historians said that the Roman empire ended in 400 or so, but contemporary people didn't see it like that, there was no "end" for them.
    I think that you could easily guess where the "Roman" in the "Holy Roman Empire" (which lasted until the 19th) came from.

    By the way, thanks for that interesting post.

    1. I don't see the continuity between the Roman Empire and say, the Holy Roman Empire (i.e. the "kingdom of three lies.") I suppose one can say there is a thread that connects the two, but by that measure, there are a thousand threads that connect the Han Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty.

      In my opinion, Rome is not exactly a part of the European history, since Rome encompassed the Middle East and Northern Africa as well. After the fall of the Roman empire, Europe went through a long afterglow of Rome until Renaissance, when it finally started doing something original from a global perspective.

    2. From a language perspective, the Romance languages of Spain, France, Italy, Romania, and various other regions of Europe are part of the legacy of Rome, as was the use of Latin as a language of culture and of the Catholic church throughout Europe.

      The thread connecting Rome and the empire of Charlemagne or the 'Holy Roman Empire' was a tenuous one, but it at least demonstrates the persistence of the idea of Rome, and the idea of a universal emperor.

      As for medieval Europe, it's easy to sneer at it and point to Tang dynasty China or the Islamic world, but in judging it we are generalizing about a large area and a period of over a thousand years, one that did after all produce cathedrals, castles, illuminated manuscripts, and parliaments, to name just a few examples.

    3. There's also the small fact that Rome is in Italy, which makes it a bit weird to say 'Rome is not exactly a part of the European history'. Sure, they took over the whole Mediterranean basin, but it's the nature of empires to take over foreign territories...again, it's weird to use that to deny Rome is part of European history.

    4. @T.K. Thank you for your reply.
      I have the feeling that you underestimate Rome's legacy over Europe (by the way, the very fact that, for centuries, historians tended to think that everything that wasn't referring to Classical antiquity was of no interest is a great proof of Rome's legacy), and how much the early Middle Age was a rich period (in all aspects).
      About Rome's legacy, I'll take as example Saint Gregory of Tours.
      He was a Gallo-Roman historian, he was born after Rome's fall, under the Merovingian dynasty.
      One might think that this kind of person as nothing to do with "Rome" anymore, but actually he still was deeply roman (from an upper family, son of a Senator).
      But, at the same time, he was Christian, and that's what's interesting.
      The eclosion of Christianity is not a thing to neglect.
      The early Middle Age wasn't a "dark" era at all, if we look closely.
      Monasteries were founded across all Europe (and later Universities), and became huge cultural and intellectual centers, as never before (in western Europe I mean).
      No need to wait until Renaissance to see great achievements.
      And speaking about originality, in the art for example, the Gothic art was much more "original" than Renaissance (as it was something new, not a revival of Classical antiquity), and it was also global as it spread across all western Europe.

      That said, I wasn't trying to minimize what connects the Han Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty, this is another story.

    5. My point is not that the European Middle Age was a barbaric period, nor is it that Rome had no influence in the subsequent European history. Both are plainly false. When I wrote that "European tradition prior to the Renaissance--which began in the 14th century--was nothing to write home about", the point was whether the European tradition produced anything that was world-leading in terms of sophistication or advancement prior to the Renaissance (again, excluding the Roman Empire because the Roman civilization is greater than the European tradition) such that there is something truly grand to look back on. I don't think it did. Don't get me wrong; I love Gothic art as well, but was it world-leading at the time? Not really, if one considers the incredible sophistication of the Islamic world or the Chinese empire in the same time period.

      Obviously, that is a lot to pack into a sentence that was nearly a throw-away. But it is interesting to see how many people seem positively offended by that one little sentence. The whole comment board is driven by that discussion for some reason.

    6. "the point was whether the European tradition produced anything that was world-leading in terms of sophistication or advancement"
      I see.
      But do you consider Christianity as an European tradition ?
      Of course Jesus wasn't born in Europe and all. But that said, most of what we consider as the Christian traditions were born and matured in Europe, through all the Middle Age.
      I'm French (not a believer) and I think that, in a lot of aspects, traditions that comes from this period are fundamental even to this days (at least in my country, and in most Europe). Not less than the legacy of the Renaissance, "Le siècle des lumières" ("Age of Enlightenment" ?), etc.
      What we tend to consider as "good" or "bad" is still deeply influenced by these traditions for example.

      But I think I start to understand what you meant.
      The Middle Age was completely mystic. People of those times were concerned by the salvation of their souls, this wasn't really "scientific" (but still, it's quite a sophisticated question).
      In this way, it sure contrast with the Islamic or the Chinese world of that time, which were more "modern", I agree with that.

      "But it is interesting to see how many people seem positively offended by that one little sentence."
      Well, you just said that we had nothing to refer at thousand years backward (on the contrary of the Chinese world). I think it's false, so I tried to argue.
      This sentence is the most controversial part of your post I think.

    7. I do not object to the claim that 'European tradition' did not produce 'anything that was world-leading in terms of sophistication or advancement' in the Middle Ages. And perhaps it is not so odd to think of Rome as distinct from 'Europe', because Europe was in many ways born out of the Middle Ages, albeit under heavy influence from Rome's legacy. As Antony states, 'traditions that come from this period are fundamental even to this days'.

      Antony is also correct, of course, that it is difficult to draw a sharp dividing line between the age of Rome and the age of Medieval Europe, especially in France, the European country par excellence. The late Roman empire was also Christian; the unity of the Mediterranean world continued unbroken until the onslaught of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries; people in France spoke a language that could for a long time be described as simply vulgate Latin. A new species of animal called 'Europe' somehow evolved from the previous animal 'Rome'...

    8. I'm getting all of your points, more or less, "your" as anyone who wrote in this reply, and I kinda agree with Antony's statements. But I still find it illogical and nonsense (no offense) to split Rome from Europe, because Rome IS Europe. It might have conquered a little bit of Africa and Asia, but it did have almost the whole European continent and it DOES found it roots in Europe. The intercontinental thing is merely an expansion.

      Also, Greece seems to be unfairly ignored here. Antique Greece has had a highly developed philosophy and literature and it even carries the roots to nowadays' politics of the "well developed world", yes, in global terms.

    9. Sorry but what T.K. is writing about Europe is simply false. The European culture is extremely ancient and deep, and has continuously evolved in the last 5.000 years, from Etruscan to Greece periods to the Roman republic and empire, to Middle Ages , to Renaissance, to Baroque, to Illuminism, to Romanticism, to the Modern age and now to contemporary age. The traditions and cultures of th Old Continet are very ancient and comes mostly form roman period and Middel Ages. Actually the middle ages has produce so much from the way we sit on chair or in front of a desk, for instance, to the fork and knife, even to the way we type now the latin alphabet, to the mechanical watch, to water mill, to the glasses we still wear, to the heavy plow, to the Republic-States, to the type printing, to Dante and the divine comedy, to the romantic art, to the mechanical engineering,to christmas festivity, to Saint Francis and Saint Clara revolution, to school system, to Benedictus, to the scolastica philosophy and so on for thousand other stuff.
      I think is better to avoid writing down things like "european culture has nothing to do with Rome, European tradition' did not produce 'anything that was world-leading in terms of sophistication or advancement" Those kind of sentences make the rest of the answer definetely questionable.

  12. if korea was never part of china, why in the hell are there chinese characters in korean language??? you might eliminate the trail. otherwise it's kinda dumb.

    1. You mean Hangul? I don't see it. Hangul was a magnificent achievement and I think it made China pretty mad

    2. He means HANJA (old korean word), still using today for koreans traditional ceremony, hanja is chinese character , you google it, you will found hanja hanzi kanji.

  13. One of the things I like about Korea is that they managed to keep China at bay for centuries. That, I'm sure, took serious work.

    1. That's such a clever comment on this. But many people just constantly fixate on something peripheral in regard to this kind of topic.

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  18. As pointed out by numerous other people like Seneschal and Edward, Korea was ruled by China during the Han dynasty under the Lelang commandery, which extended into the Korean peninsula around modern day Pyongyang in North Korea. Western scholars accept this, its only nationalist Koreans who try to deny this.

    1. Sreem,

      The Han Dynasty did not rule the entirety of the Korean peninsula and/or proto-Koreanic peoples under the four Han Commandery system. Within 30 years the commanderies of Lintun and Zhenfan were abolished due to native resistance. The size and functionality of Xuantu was highly curtailed due to the same reasons. It acted more as a administrative outpost to monitor and placate the various native tribes in its area. Lelang commandery, which occupied the northern center of the peninsula, persisted for four hundred years and had a strong Han dynasty civilization presence centered around Pyongyang. Lelang then spawned Taifang commandery in 204 AD and it lasted a little over 100 years.

      Both Lelang and Taifang occupied a fairly modest part of the peninsula and their urbane Han Dynasty civilization did not extend too far beyond urban centers of Pyongyang or Daifang Prefecture. The presence of Leland and Taifang does not mean that all of Korea "was a part" of China. It really means that China had several outposts of its civilization on the peninsula for a relatively modest period of time.

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  20. There are some things in this post I disagree with.

    One is the portrayal of China's tributary and vassal policy as an equal exchange. This article concentrates too much on the semantics of being a "vassal", and downplays the significance of Sino-Korean relations by comparing the view of the Qing towards Britain as a vassal state.

    Forget the word "vassal" or "tributary" for a moment and consider the following to show the hierarchy at the time.

    - Korea paid tens of thousands of taels in copper over hundreds of years to China. China did not return the favor.
    - Korea sent 4 or more tributary missions a year to China, and visited the Emperor for his birthday on some occasions as well. This is basically ass kissing. China did not do this for Korea.
    - All vassal states, including Korea, had to kow tow 3 times and pledge allegiance to the Emperor on their tributary missions.
    - Korea built Yeongeunmun Gate(영은문;迎恩門 "welcoming gate for obligation") specifically for Chinese envoys.

    I believe the confusion may lie in the "mutual gift exchange", because in addition to taels of copper, Korean envoys would also give some personal gifts such as rare herbs etc. Chinese emperor would reciprocate with some personal gifts as well.

    Basically you can think of the tribute as a form of tax. The benefits of the vassal gained for this tax was access to China. For Britain or Korea, access to China meant trade and business. Access to Chinese technology. However, due to the close relationship with Korea, the added benefit was military support (as seen in the Imjin Wars).

    1. You must have trouble interpreting the liberal stance the Korean kingdoms took for most of its history. Do you really believe the societal personalities of the Northeast Asian peoples would engage in the so called "Ass-Kissing"? Their hidden motives are what you cannot see. Even to this day, North Korea benefits more in trade with China economically. Simple reason being North Korea would have collapsed long time ago without the Chinese support.

      The trade deals between China and South Korea always benefits South Korea by a mile. Check the stats. Most of Chinese money is leaving the country and their federal reserve is bunk. Not to mention the ghost towns and empty shopping center they are accumulating.

      Keep in mind, ancient China's economic source was the silk road. And this gateway was never always under the Chinese control. Many different groups controlled this road.

      The most important aspect of China's history that you don't understand is that the tributary or vassal relation for the most of it had more benefit on the Korean soil than it would have for China. China never needed anything from the groups they labelled as the barbarians. Nevertheless, each time China halted trade with those kingdoms, China faced invasions. Invasions that would later permanently change the racial landscape of Northern China.

  21. Another thing I would want to discuss is the assertion that Korea was fully independent.

    To say Korea was never a part of China is semantics. Does "part of" mean an official state or can "part of" mean within the Sinosphere. In any case, let's not debate semantics and instead focus on the claim that Korea was fully independent. I would submit that it is not. Let's look at the facts.

    1. King Taejong had to acquire case vassal status with China to legitimize his rule, because he took power in a coup and had no royal blood.
    2. King Taejon had to ask China for a new name for his country. He asked the Ming emperor to choose between Joseon"朝鮮" and Hwanyeong“和寧”. This does not seem like an independent state.
    3. In Korea's meetings with Japan, Korea had no flag and felt they needed one to represent themselves. They had to ask the Qing if they could use their flag. The Qing declined and in turn gave them the design of the Bagua which was later modified at the suggestion of a British diplomat to it's current state (notice how the colors and removal of 4 trigrams give the current flag the X shape and colors of the Union Jack?). Asking for permission for a flag does not seem fully autonomous.
    4. Japan attacked China in the first Sino-Japanese war for control of Korea. China lost and signed away Korea's tributary status in the treaty of Shimonoseki.
    5. Korean court and political system was in Chinese style all the way down to the dress
    6. Korean Joseon emperor wore red given to them by Ming and Qing. Red and blue were the colors of lower officials in Confucian political system. Yellow as the color of the emperor and his robe had more dragons.
    5. In the Samguk Sagi, the Korean historian stated "we are a vassal state of China"
    6. The Independence Gate (독립문;獨立門) has a statement proclaiming that Korea is finally independent "Korea was a vassal state of the Qing Dynasty for years. However, Korea has been able to be an independent nation in favor of God"
    7. Korea society in the past viewed themselves as Sojunghwa, or Little China. They took pride in the founding of "higher" Korean civilization by Jizi (Gija). Whether you discredit Gija or not, what is undeniable is that Koreans viewed Gija favorably as the person who gave them their high culture while Dangun was the mythological founder of their ancient clan. Some clans even claimed to be descendant from Gija as a sign of their superiority.
    This only changed during the Nationalist Movement, when historical revisionism started. After all, it is hard to be proud of an independent nation when your founding father is a foreigner.

    The last point is a little more cultural than political, but I included it to round out the whole picture.

    1. You did not look deeper to see whether the modern region "China" was ever fully independent throughout much of its entire history.

      Constant invasions from the steppes for the last 2000 years and foreign imperialists that governed the upper class of China since the Qin Dynasty. Most dynasties in China and its states were toppled over by foreign military intervention who often fought against each other on the Chinese soil for wealth and territory, creating political unrest, famine, and chaos for the ethnic Chinese people who wanted peace. The groups I'm talking about are the Xianbei, Khitan, Manchu, and Mongol who are of Non-Han Chinese stock whom the Chinese saw as barbarians.

      You need to open your eyes and realize the diversity in China is not due to some Chinese expansionism but rather the invasions and conquests they faced unwillingly that often resulted in assimilation. This assimilation was also not some Chinese strategy. These barbarians just borrowed the Ancient Chinese ideas and technology but never did they see them as equals. Just looking at the transitions of the language Mandarin which is newer than most Chinese languages shows the dreadful bastardization Chinese had to unwillingly accept.

      Korea for the last 2000 years did quite well fending off most of its rivalries. And most importantly, their "GDP per capita" was always higher than Ancient China. China on the other hand never had enough resources to sufficiently feed its population due to its perpetual overreach. And the gap in inequality was so large, people never had a chance at life until the Cultural revolution during Mao's era. That took 2000 bloody years. Historically, no one has ever wanted to immigrate to China. Aside from its capital city, rest of it was a rust-belt filled by malnourished peasants.

      The only major change we saw in East-Asia is that Japan became a powerhouse with a GDP per capita worth admiring. No ethnic group in that area has ever controlled the amount of wealth to the level the Japanese are controlling relative to its population today. Not since the fall of the Manchus of the Qing Dynasty.

    2. Further to your misunderstanding on Gija is that both Gija and Dangun are offshoots of Dongyi tribes. The so called Eastern-Barbarians. They are non-Han Chinese peoples.

      Truth is Dongyi peoples have ruled China before.

  22. OK, I can't tell whether signing in ate my post; since this is being moderated, please delete this copy if you got the previous one.

    "The concept of "vassal state" (alternately known as a "tributary state") does not really exist any more, nor has it truly existed in the history of the Western civilization." Um? Both "vassal" and "tributary" have Latin roots, and as that implies, there are tons of examples of states tributary to and vassals of Rome. Mauretania, Numidia, Egypt, Judea and points nearby, Palmyra, Lazica, Iberia, Armenia (which was also sometimes a vassal of the Arsacid Parthian and Sasanid Persian Empires, and was ruled by an offshoot of the Arsacid dynasty)... This is *not* a complete list. Adiabene? Osrhoene? It's been a while.

    You may have meant that vassalage never worked the same way in the West, and aside from the trivial level that they were conducted in different languages, with different ceremonies, etc., an argument can be made for that. For example, only the relatively inaccessible ones in the Caucasus, and to a lesser extent the others on the Roman/Iranian frontiers (Palmyra and those last two), lasted more than a few generations. But then, if you see divided China through a vassal-state lens, wrong though that probably is, then the Chinese vassals that lasted more than a few generations were also inaccessible - Korea, Vietnam, Tibet. (Was Mongolia a vassal, before or after its empire?) Another distinction is that Rome ended up absorbing most of its vassals, but Tibet shows that China can do the same thing. (For that matter, Xinjiang was sometimes vassal too.) Either way, that isn't what you said.

    It's never safe to assume that an English term exists without any Western antecedents behind it.

  23. The closest contemporary analog the historical Sino-Korea relation is the one between the United States and its vital military, special or familiar allies like UK, Canada, Japan, Philippines, etc.

    Now can we say those countries of part of the USA? Of course not!


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