The nomadic other: Ontological security and the Inner Asian steppe in historical East Asian international politics
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 September 2015
A growing literature in IR addresses the historical international politics of East Asia prior to Western influence. However, this literature has taken little note of the role of Eurasian steppe societies and empires in these dynamics. This article offers a corrective, showing that relations between China and the steppe played an important role in regional politics. I argue that Chinese elite conceptions of the steppe as other played an important role in maintaining China’s ontological security. Imperial Chinese elites pursued a deliberate strategy of ‘othering’ steppe societies, presenting them as China’s political-cultural opposite. Doing so both provided a source of stable identity to China and justified their exclusion from the Chinese ‘world order’. Empirically, I proceed in three sections. First, I consider Chinese identity building, framed in terms of ontological security, both under the founding Qin and Han dynasties, and under the later Ming dynasty. Second, I address recent historiography of the steppe, showing Chinese conceptions of it were inaccurate. Third, I address the long history of hybridity between the two regions.
- © 2015 British International Studies Association
I would like to thank Simon Pratt, Christopher David LaRoche, Lincoln Rathnam, three extremely helpful reviewers, and the editors of the RIS for help in preparing this article.
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47 By this time, the states were states, in the sense of being centralised and bureaucratised. For example, civil service exams dated from the Han dynasty, and were formalised during the Tang dynasty (618–907). Woodside, Alexander, Lost Modernities: China, Vietnam, Korea, and the Hazards of World History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), pp. 1–2Google Scholar. East Asian state consolidation thus predates equivalent processes in Europe. It occurred in China, Korea, and Vietnam, and to a lesser extent in Japan, where a feudal warrior aristocracy persisted. Kang, , East Asia Before the West, pp. 25–53Google Scholar.
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