Co-constructing Empire in Early Chosŏn Korea: Knowledge Production and the Culture of Diplomacy, 1392–1592

Sixiang Wang
Political, military, and economic power alone cannot explain how empires work, for empire-making is also a matter of theories, narratives, ideas and institutions. To sustain themselves, empires both coerce and persuade. Tools of persuasion, however, were seldom the monopoly of those who sought to dominate, for they could also be contested and appropriated by those who sought to resist. This dissertation on Chosŏn Korea's (1392–1910) interactions with Ming China (1368–1644) offers a cultural
more » ... ory of interstate orders and diplomatic institutions in early modern Korea and East Asia. I illustrate how Chosŏn appropriated the persuasive technologies that sustained Ming empire as a political imaginary to contest Ming imperial claims and ultimately reshape imperial ideology. Chosŏn-Ming relations have long been described in terms of "tributary relations." This paradigm, as conceived by John K. Fairbank and others, understands these relations as the logical consequence of a shared Confucian ideology and illustrative of Korea's historical status as China's model tributary. These approaches privilege a metropole-centered vantage and have failed to account for Korean agency. They treat Korean envoy missions, ritual performances, and literary production as scripted gestures that can only reflect stable ideology. Meanwhile, they miss how these acts were contesting and transforming ideology in the process. I argue that the Chosŏn court in fact exercised enormous agency through these ritualized practices. The discourses of the Ming as moral empire and Korea as a loyal vassal, long held to be emblematic features of the tributary system, were a large part reified products of Chosŏn diplomatic strategy. They did not reflect a pre-existing political order, but constituted its very substance. They were part of the "knowledge of empire" produced by the Chosŏn court for comprehending the Ming and its institutions and influencing imperial ideology. Facilitated by institutional practices at the Chosŏn court, this "knowledge of e [...]
doi:10.7916/d84x56wm fatcat:nykyca3itfcvxjj2g6363d4pfu