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The purpose of this book is straightforward: to remedy this lacuna by providing an introduction to the international relations of Asia looked at over a longue duree: from the seventh century through 1900, when contact with the West finally destroyed the old order. We seek to offer an accessible overview of the evolution of the East Asian international system through what might be called the “early Westphalian” history of the region, which we date to the nineteenth century. The broader purpose is not just didactic. Rather, we also want to force a consideration of the implications of these cases for international relations theory. Long understudied by mainstream international relations scholars, the East Asian historical experience provides an enormous wealth of new and different cases which promise to enrich a theoretical literature largely derived from the Western experience.
This chapter provides an overview of the international relations of historical East Asia. We begin with the Qin–Han unification of what is now central China (221 BC – 220 AD), extending into the era of contact with the West, stopping around 1900 when the system had clearly disintegrated, and Western imperialism and the rise of Japan had created entirely new dynamics. Our purposes are multiple. The first is to provide a stylized periodization and chronology of crucial events – what might be thought of as key markers – and how they reshaped the regional order. However, our second is to amplify on a number of the theoretical themes raised in the Introduction, placing them in appropriate historical context. New scholarship is overturning many of the most hoary stereotypes, starting with the presumption that the history of East Asian international relations is simply the history of China and its dynastic changes. Rather, we have to think of the history of a vast, vibrant, and diverse region encompassing a variety of political forms on China’s peripheries, from well-established kingdoms and social orders, to frontiers of settled farmers, as well as nomadic peoples.
This innovative volume provides an introduction to twelve seminal events in the international relations of East Asia prior to 1900: twelve events that everyone interested in the history of world politics should know. The East Asian historical experience provides a wealth of new and different cases, patterns, and findings that will expand horizons from the Western, Eurocentric experience. Written by an international team of historians and political scientists, these essays draw attention to the China-centered East Asian order – with its long history of dominance – and what this order might tell us about the current epoch.
IR theorizing about international order has been profoundly, perhaps exclusively, shaped by the Western experiences of the Westphalian order and often assumes that the Western experience can be generalized to all orders. Recent scholarship on historical East Asian orders challenges these notions. The fundamental organizing principle in historical East Asia was hierarchy, not sovereign equality. The region was characterized by hegemony, not balance of power. This emerging research program has direct implications for enduring questions about the relative importance of cultural and material factors in both international orders and their influence on behavior—for describing and explaining patterns of war and peace across time and space, for understanding East Asia as a region made up of more than just China, and for more usefully comparing East Asia, Europe, and other regions of the world.