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Chinese imperialism

Over the last four thousand years Chinese imperialism and expansion has been a central feature of the history of East Asia. Since the recovery of Chinese strength in the late 20th century, the issues involved have been of concern to China's neighbors to the east.

Early Chinese expansionsEdit

In Chinese political theory, relations between foreign states were governed by the tributary system. Since the Emperor of China held the Mandate of Heaven, his rule was universal and extended to All under heaven. Sometimes neighboring states were actual protectorates or vassal states over which China exerted large amounts of influence, while in other cases foreign states merely acknowledged China's nominal suzerainty in order to gain access to Chinese trade, which took place through the tributary system.[1]

The king of the ancient state of Qin first unified the Chinese empire in 221 BC by conquering all of the other states in what was then considered China and proclaimed himself the "First Emperor" and became known as Qin Shi Huang.[2]

The ancient Han dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) established control over northern Vietnam, northern Korea, and the Tarim Basin of Central Asia. The short-lived Sui dynasty (581–618 AD) reinvaded Annam (northern Vietnam) and attacked Champa (southern Vietnam), while they also attempted to conquer Korea, which failed (see Goguryeo-Sui Wars).[3]

The later Tang dynasty (618–907) aided the Korean Silla Kingdom in defeating their two Korean rivals, yet became shortchanged when they discovered Silla was not about to allow the Tang to claim much of Goguryeo's territory (as it had been under the Chinese Han dynasty's control a few centuries before, the Han having wrested it from native kingdoms at that time). The Tang Dynasty established control over the Tarim Basin region as well, fighting wars with the new Tibetan Empire and stripping them of their colonies in Central Asia (which was abandoned after the An Lushan Rebellion). The Song dynasty (960–1279), in securing maritime trade routes that ran from South East Asia into the Indian Ocean, had established fortified trade bases in the Philippines. The Mongol-led Yuan dynasty (1279–1368) made attempts to invade Japan after securing the Korean peninsula through the vassaldom of the Korean Goryeo dynasty, yet both of these military ventures failed (see Mongol Invasions of Japan).[4]

Qing territorial expansionEdit

By the late 19th century, in response to competition with other states, the Qing government of China attempted to exert direct control of its frontier areas by conquest or, if already under military control, conversion into provinces.

Ming-dynasty loyalists from China invaded Taiwan and expelled Dutch colonialists from the island during the Siege of Fort Zeelandia and founded the Chinese Kingdom of Tungning. The Ming loyalists quickly moved to replace the institutions and culture of Dutch colonial rule with Han Chinese colonial rule. Language and religious institutions left by the Dutch were closed and replaced with Confucian temples and Chinese language schools for both Han Chinese and aboriginals. Officials encouraged new immigration of Han Chinese from China into territory further inland, turning aboriginal lands into new farmland.[5] After fighting between the Ming loyalists and the Qing during the Revolt of the Three Feudatories, the Qing attacked the Kingdom of Tungning. the Qing won the Battle of Penghu and the Ming loyalists submitted to Qing rule. Tungning was annexed as part of Fujian province. The Qing were "reluctant colonizers" but became convinced of Taiwan's value to their empire due to the threat the island posed if used as a base by rival powers, and by its abundant resources. [6] The Qing turned Taiwan into its own province in 1885, after Japanese interest and a defeated French invasion attempt.

After British troops invaded Tibet in the waning days of the Qing dynasty, the Qing responded by sending Zhao Erfeng to further integrate Tibet into China. He succeeded in abolishing the powers of the Tibetan local leaders in Kham and appointing Chinese magistrates in their places by 1909–10. Qing forces were also sent to Ü-Tsang in 1910 to establish a direct control over Tibet proper, though a province was never established in this area.

Process of expansionEdit

The ability of Qing China to project power into Central Asia came about because of two changes, one social and one technological. The social change was that under the Qing dynasty, from 1642, China came under the control of the Manchus who organised their military forces around cavalry which was more suited for power projection than traditional Chinese infantry. The technological change was advances in artillery which negated the military advantage that the people of the Steppe had with their cavalry. Zunghar Khanate (Зүүн гарын хаант улс) was the last great independent nomadic power on the steppe in Central Asia. The Dzungars were deliberately exterminated in a brutal campaign during the Zunghar Genocide by Manchu Bannermen and Khalkha Mongols. It has been estimated that more than a million people were slaughtered, and it took generations for it to recover.[7] The Manchu ruling family (Aisin Gioro) was a supporter of Tibetan Buddhism and so many of the ruling groups were linked by religion.

Burma (Myanmar)Edit

The Qing campaign against Burma (Myanmar) (1765-70) was its most disastrous and costly frontier war. It ended in a stalemate but the Qing rulers could not accept Burma as an equal, and when diplomatic relations were resumed in 1790, the Qing court considered this was a restoration of Chinese suzerainty.[8]

Recent tensionsEdit

With the 1978 Chinese economic reform launched by Deng Xiaoping, China has increased its political stance, its influence and its power abroad.[9] On one side, China remains deeply neutral and not involving in any conflict, and the land borders are stable. China has increased its influence, while using military and economic wealth and claims to island territories that have caused anxiety in neighbors to the east, such as the Philippines and Japan. [10][11] Jeffrey Reeves (2018), argues that since 2012 the Xi administration has demonstrated "a concerted imperialist policy" towards its developing neighbor states to the south and west, especially Mongolia,[12] Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. [13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Warren I. Cohen (2000). East Asia at the Center: Four Thousand Years of Engagement with the World. Columbia University Press. p. 28. ISBN 9780231502511.
  2. ^ Spencer C. Tucker (2009). A Global Chronology of Conflict: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East. ABC-CLIO. p. 419. ISBN 9781851096725.
  3. ^ Spencer C. Tucker (2009). A Global Chronology of Conflict. pp. 108, 196. ISBN 9781851096725.
  4. ^ James I. Matray (2016). Crisis in a Divided Korea: A Chronology and Reference Guide: A Chronology and Reference Guide. ABC-CLIO. p. 13. ISBN 9781610699938.
  5. ^ Wills J. Jr (2006), "The Seventeenth Century Transformation", in Taiwan: A New History, Rubinstein, M. ed., M. E. Sharpe. ISBN 978-0-7656-1495-7.
  6. ^ Tonio Andrade, How Taiwan Became Chinese: Dutch, Spanish, and Han Colonization in the Seventeenth Century, Columbia University Press.
  7. ^ Christian Tyler, Wild West China: The Taming of Xinjiang (Rutgers UP, 2003) p. 55
  8. ^ Yingcong Dai, "A disguised defeat: The Myanmar campaign of the Qing dynasty." Modern Asian Studies 38.1 (2004): 145-189.
  9. ^ Asle Toje (2017). Will China's Rise Be Peaceful?: Security, Stability, and Legitimacy. Oxford University Press. pp. 24–25. ISBN 9780190675417.
  10. ^ Humphrey Hawksley, Asian Waters: The Struggle Over the South China Sea and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion (2018)
  11. ^ See "Beijing says it could declare ADIZ over South China Sea" The Japan Times July 13, 2016
  12. ^ Jeffrey Reeves, "Rethinking weak state behavior: Mongolia’s foreign policy toward China." International Politics 51.2 (2014): 254-271.
  13. ^ Jeffrey Reeves, "Imperialism and the Middle Kingdom: the Xi Jinping administration’s peripheral diplomacy with developing states." Third World Quarterly 39.5 (2018): 976-998.

Further readingEdit

  • Chan, Steve. China's Troubled Waters: Maritime Disputes in Theoretical Perspective (Cambridge UP, 2016) excerpt
  • Chang, Chun-shu. The Rise of the Chinese Empire: Nation, State, and Imperialism in Early China, ca. 1600 B.C.–A.D. 8 (Volume 1, University of Michigan Press, 2007).
  • Cohen, Warren I. (2000). East Asia at the Center: Four Thousand Years of Engagement with the World. Columbia University Press. p. passim. ISBN 9780231502511.
  • Hawksley, Humphrey. Asian Waters: The Struggle Over the South China Sea and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion (2018) excerpt
  • Mancall, Mark. China at the Center: 300 Years of Foreign Policy (1984)
  • Reeves, Jeffrey. "Imperialism and the Middle Kingdom: the Xi Jinping administration’s peripheral diplomacy with developing states." Third World Quarterly 39.5 (2018): 976-998.
  • Setzekorn, Eric. "Chinese Imperialism, Ethnic Cleansing, and Military History, 1850-1877." Journal of Chinese Military History 4.1 (2015): 80-100.
  • Tucker, Spencer C. (2009). A Global Chronology of Conflict: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East [. ABC-CLIO. p. passim. ISBN 9781851096725.
  • Toje, Asle. Will China's Rise Be Peaceful?: Security, Stability, and Legitimacy (Oxford UP, 2017). excerpt
  • Westad, Odd Arne. Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750 (2012) excerpt