Implications of Chinese empire discourses in East Asia: critical studies on China
Abstract China is characterized by the long history, vast land, huge population and diversity unprecedented in world history. In addition, she is a unique case which has successfully completed transition from empire to the nation-state. Therefore, her historical independence and continuity becomes one of the very important subject areas for research, and the concept “empire” reemerges as a major means to explain it. The essential defining features of empire are tolerance and expansion. I have been reviewing discourses on “China as Empire,” looking at studies of the tributary system, the civilization-state, and the Tianxia view raised from both inside and outside of China. A common characteristic of these discourses is the perception that the past, present and future of China cannot be fully explained by Western concepts like nation-state. They also reveal that the supposed continuity with the past which is overemphasized in many studies does not necessarily always correspond with historical reality. The key focus of the empire discourses is the project of future China. Finally I put a particular emphasis upon the “perspective of peripheries” in order to find ways to demonstrate the benefits of viewing China as empire, while also to overcome the weaknesses of empire theory. It is the reason why I apply to the analysis of the empire discourses the “compound state” theory incubated as a way of reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
Keywords: empire tribute system civilization-state Tianxia-zhuyi compound state
Baik Youngseo [白永瑞]is a professor of Chinese modern history at Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea. His main works are Return of East Asia : Questioning the Modernity of China [동아시아의귀환: 중국의근대성을묻는다] (2000);East Asia as Intellectual Thought: History and Practices from the Perspective of the Korean Peninsula[思想東亞: 韓半島視角的歷史與實踐](2009); Rethinking East Asia in Core Locations [핵심현장에서동아시아를다시묻다](2013); The Way to Social Humanities: Learning as an Institution/movement [사회인문학의길: 제도로서의학문, 운동으로서의학문](2014). He is also a managing editor of the Quarterly Changbi [창작과비평], a leading quarterly literary magazine in Korea. He is currently interested in the East Asian networks being explored among critical scholars in the region, and engaged in new researches onthe discourses on East Asia as well the modern historiography of East Asia.