Hostname: page-component-7dc689bd49-rf6jd Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-21T08:54:59.785Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Diplomatic Ritual as a Power Resource: The Politics of Asymmetry in Early Modern Chinese-Korean Relations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 January 2016


What explains Korea's success in surviving as an independent state for over 2,000 years, not annexed to China, when it shares a border with this powerful imperial neighbor? I argue that diplomatic ritual can be conducive to managing asymmetric power relations and that the Korean state and the Chinese state prior to the nineteenth century used the diplomatic ritual of investiture in a strategic manner as a signaling mechanism to manage the expectations of each side. Drawing insights from ritual studies, I offer three specific mechanisms: (1) regularity and precision, (2) strategic ambiguity, and (3) the manipulation of symbols, through which the ritualization of power relations reduces the tension arising from the disparity in power. The empirical evidence comes from an investigation of a total of sixteen investiture cases between Chosòn Korea and Ming China between 1392 and 1644. It shows that the granting and seeking of investiture on both sides was not only a way of signaling their commitment to the status quo, but also a medium of negative soft power through which the stronger side could change the status quo relations to its favor using the symbolic power embedded in the investiture ritual.

Copyright © East Asia Institute 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Arrighi, Giovanni. 2008. “Historical Perspectives on States, Markets, and Capitalism, East and (accessed May 3, 2009).Google Scholar
Arrighi, Giovanni, Hamashita, Takeshi, and Selden, Mark, eds. 2003. The Resurgence of East Asia: 500, 150, and 50 Year Perspectives. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Bang, Hyang-suk, et al. 2005. Hanchung oegyokwan'gyewa Chogongch'aekpong [Sino-Korean diplomatic relations and tribute-investiture]. Seoul: Koguryo Research Foundation.Google Scholar
Bell, Catherine. 1992. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Bell, Catherine. 1997. Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Chŏng, Sŏng-il, et al. 2007. Yŏksasok Oegyosŏnmulgwa Myŏngp'umŭi Segye [Gifts for diplomacy and the world of highest quality goods in history]. Seoul: Tusan Donga.Google Scholar
Chunjong sillok. In Chosŏn Wango Sillok [The Veritable Records of the Chosŏn Dynasty]. Compiled by Kuksa p'yŏnch'an wiwŏnhoe. Scholar
Clark, Donald. 1998. “Sino-Korean Tributary Relations Under the Ming.” In The Cambridge History of China, Volume 8: The Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, Part 2, ed. Twitchett, Denis and Mote, Frederick, 272300. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Crossley, Pamela. 2002. A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Dahl, Robert. 1989. Democracy and Its Critics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Deuchler, Martina. 1992. The Confucian Transformation of Korea: A Study of Society and Ideology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Edelman, Murray. 1985. The Symbolic Uses of Politics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
Elisonas, Jurgis. 1991. “The Inseparable Trinity: Japan's Relations with China and Korea.” In The Cambridge History of Japan, Volume 4: Early Modern Japan, ed. Hall, Johan, 235300. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fairbank, John. 1942. “Tributary Trade and China's Relations with the West.” Far Eastern Review 3: 129149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fairbank, John, ed. 1968. The Chinese World Order. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Grimes, Roland, ed. 1996. Readings in Ritual Studies. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
Haboush, Jahyun Kim. 2001. The Confucian Kingship in Korea: Yŏngjo and the Politics of Sagacity. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Hall, Rodney. 1997. “Moral Authority as a Power Resource.” International Organization 51: 591622.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Han, Myŏng-ki. 1999. Imjin waeran gwa hanchung kwan'gye [The Hideyoshi invasions of Korea and Sino-Korean relations]. Seoul: Yŏksapip'yŏngsa.Google Scholar
Han, Myŏng-ki. 2000. “Myŏngch'ong gyoch'e gi dongbuga chilsŏ wa Chosŏn jibaech'ŭng ŭi taeŭng” [The international order during the Ming-Qing transition and responses from Korea]. Yŏksawahyŏnsil [History and Reality] 37: 124147.Google Scholar
Herthorn, William E. 1963. Korea: The Mongol Invasions. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill.Google Scholar
Hevia, James. 1995. Cherishing Men from Afar: Qing Quest Ritual and the Macartney Embassy of 1793. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
Hobson, John M., and Sharman, J. C. 2005. “The Enduring Place of Hierarchy in World Politics: Tracing the Social Logics of Hierarchy and Political Change.” European Journal of International Relations 11 (1): 6397.Google Scholar
Injo Sillok. In Chosŏn Wango Sillok [The Veritable Records of the Chosŏn Dynasty]. Compiled by Kuksa p'yŏnch'an wiwŏnhoe. Scholar
Kang, David. 2003. “Getting Asia Wrong: The Need for New Analytical Frameworks.” International Security 27: 5785.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kang, David. 2010a. East Asia Before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Tribute. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Kang, David. 2010b. “Hierarchy and Legitimacy in International Systems: The Tribute System in Early Modern East Asia.” Security Studies 19, 4: 591622.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kang, Etsuko Hae-Jin. 1997. Diplomacy and Ideology in Japanese-Korean Relations: From the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century. New York: St. Martin's Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kelley, Liam. 2005. Beyond the Bronze Pillars: Envoy Poetry and the Sino-Vietnamese Relationship. Honolulu: Association for Asian Studies and University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
Kertzer, David. 1988. Ritual, Politics, and Power. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Kim, Han-gyu. 1999. Hanchung kwan'gyesa [The history of Sino-Korean relations]. Seoul: Arche.Google Scholar
Kim, Yŏng-su. 2006. Kŏn'gukŭi Chŏngch'I [The politics of the founding Korea]. Seoul: Yuhaksa.Google Scholar
Krebs, Ronald R., and Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus. 2007. “Twisting Tongues and Twisting Arms: The Power of Political Rhetoric.” European Journal of International Relations 13 (1): 3566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kwanghaegun ilgi. In Chosŏn Wango Sillok [The Veritable Records of the Chosŏn Dynasty]. Compiled by Kuksa p'yŏnch'an wiwŏnhoe. Scholar
Kye, Seung-bum. 2009. Chosŏnsidae Haeoep'abyŏngkwa Hanchungkwan'gye [The dispatch of troops during the Chosŏn period and Sino-Korean relations]. Seoul: P'urŭnyŏksa.Google Scholar
Lake, David. 2009. Hierarchy in International Relations. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Larsen, Kirk. 2008. Tradition, Treaties, and Trade: Qing Imperialism and Choson Korea, 1850–1910. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Lee, Ji-Young. 2013. “Understanding Hierarchy in International Politics: The Chinese World Order in Practice.” Paper presented at the annual convention for the International Studies Association, San Francisco, April 3–6.Google Scholar
Mancall, Mark. 1984. China at the Center: 300 Years of Foreign Policy. New York and London: Free Press and Collier Macmillan Publishers.Google Scholar
Marshall, Gordon, ed. 1998. A Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010. “ (accessed March 16).Google Scholar
Millward, James, et al., eds. 2004. New Qing Imperial History. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Mingshi Chaoxian Liezhuan [K. Myŏngsa Chosŏn Yŏljŏn; Records on Chosŏn in Veritable Records of the Ming Dynasty]. 2004. In Chungguk Chŏngsa Chosŏnchŏn vol. 4 [Records of Chosŏn in Official Chinese History vol. 4], translated in Korean and published Kuksa P'yŏnch'an Wiwŏnhoe. Seoul.Google Scholar
Muir, Edward. 2005. Ritual in Early Modern Europe: New Approaches to European History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Parisse, Michel. 2001. “Investiture.” In Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, ed. Vauchez, André. London: James Clarke.Google Scholar
Park, Wŏn-ho. 2002. Chosŏnchogi daemyŏng kwan'gyesa yŏngu [Study on Chosŏn' foreign relations with early Ming]. Seoul: Iljogak.Google Scholar
Perdue, Peter. 2005. China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Pocock, J. G. A. 1973. Politics, Language, and Time: Essays on Political Thought and History. New York: Atheneum.Google Scholar
Price, S. R. F. 1984. Ritual and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Robinson, Kenneth R. 2000. “Centering the King of Chosŏn: Aspects of Korean Maritime Diplomacy, 1392–1592.” Journal of Asian Studies 59 (1): 109125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roosen, William. 1980. “Early Modern Diplomatic Ceremonial: A Systems Approach.” Journal of Modern History 52, 3: 452476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rosabi, Morris, ed. 1983. China Among Equals: The Middle Kingdom and Its Neighbors, 10th–14th Centuries. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Sim, Jae-sŏk. 2002. Koryŏkugwang Ch'aekpongyŏn'gu [The investiture relations of the Koryŏ government of Korea]. Seoul: Hyean.Google Scholar
Swope, Kenneth. 2005. “Crouching Tigers, Secret Weapons: Military Technology Employed During the Sino-Japanese-Korean War, 1592–1598.” Journal of Military History 69: 1141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
T'aejo sillok. In Chosŏn Wango Sillok [The Veritable Records of the Chosŏn Dynasty]. Compiled by Kuksa p'yŏnch'an wiwŏnhoe. Scholar
Thucydides, . 1996. The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War. Translated by Crawley, Richard. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
Toby, Ronald. 1984. State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan: Asia in the Development of the Tokugawa Bakufu. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
Wang, Yuan-Kang. 2011. Harmony and War: Confucian Culture and Chinese Power Politics. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Wang, Zhenping. 2005. Ambassadors from the Islands of Immortals: China-Japan Relations in the Han-Tang Period. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
Wendt, Alex, and Friedheim, Daniel. 1995. “Hierarchy Under Anarchy: Informal Empires and the East German State.” International Organization 49: 689721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wills, John. 1974. Pepper, Guns, and Parleys: The Dutch East India Company and China, 1622 [i.e. 1662]–1681. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Womack, Brantly. 2006. China and Vietnam: The Politics of Asymmetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yi, Ik-ju. 2003. “14 segi yuhakchaŭi hyŏnsilinsikgwa sŏngnihak suyongkwajŏngŭi yŏn'gu” [A study on the Confucian scholars' awareness of the reality during the fourteenth century and the Acceptance process of neo-Confucianism]. Yŏksawa Hyŏnsil [History and Reality] 49: 125153.Google Scholar
Yi, Ik-ju. 2005. “Taeoeinsikgwa Chŏngch'aek” [Perceptions and policy on foreign relations]. In Han'gukchŏngch 'isasangsa Munhŏncharyo Yŏn'gu (1) [Archival research on Korean political thought (1)], ed. Kang, Wang-sik et al., 198214. Paju: Jinmundang.Google Scholar
Yu, Keun-ho. 2004. Chosŏncho taeoesasangŭi hŭrŭm [Flow of foreign diplomatic ideology during the Chosŏn period]. Seoul: Sungshin Women's University Press.Google Scholar
Yun, Peter. 1998. “Rethinking the Tribute System: Korean States and Northeast Asian Interstate Relations, 600–1500.PhD diss., University of CaliforniaLos Angeles.Google Scholar