The Chinese Tributary System and Traditional International Order in East Asia during the Ming and Qing Dynasties from the Sixteenth to Nineteenth Century
Journal of Chinese Humanities
Throughout the history of East Asia, various polities in modern-day Korea, Japan, and Vietnam accepted investitures bestowed by the Chinese royal court. Many of these states also established their own vassal structures based on this tributary system. In light of this, it would be more accurate to describe the traditional international order of East Asia as a system of investitures and tributes, an "investiture-tribute system." The significance of this system is the royal court being revered by
... ts tributaries, which acknowledge it as the superior power. Looking at the vassal relationship between the Ming [1368-1644] and Qing [1644-1911] courts and the states of Joseon 朝鮮, Ryukyu 琉球, and Vietnam under various names, it is clear that the tributary system was a basic mechanism that facilitated bilateral trade, cultural exchange, border control, and judicial cooperation. Moreover, when vassal states encountered threats to their national security, the Chinese government assisted them with diplomatic and military resources befitting its position as the imperial court. Yet, although the tributary system enabled a relationship in which the royal court enjoyed a position of superiority and its vassal states an inferior one, none of the vassal states formed an alliance that revolved around the Chinese empire. Hence, in the near-modern period, the system struggled to contend with both the great world powers that made use of the treaty system and the expansion of Japan in East Asia.