War and Peace in Early Modern East Asia: Hierarchy and Legitimacy in International Systems

David C. Kang
Content Type
Working Paper
Centre for International Peace and Security Studies
Between 1368 and 1841 – almost five centuries – there were only two wars between China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. These Sinicized states crafted stable relations with each other, and most of the violence and instability arose between these states and the nomadic peoples to the north and west of China and Korea. Building on the “new sovereignty” research in international relations, I argue that the status quo orientation of China and established boundaries created a loose hierarchy within anarchy that had much to do with the period of peace. Built on a mix of legitimate authority and material power, the China-derived international order provided clear benefits to secondary states, and also contained credible commitments by China not to exploit secondary states that accepted its authority. Korean, Vietnamese, and even Japanese elites consciously copied Chinese institutional and discursive practices to craft stable relations with China, not to challenge it. International systems based on legitimacy and hierarchy are not unique to early modern East Asia, and incorporating these insights into our theories of international society has implications for the contemporary world as well.
Conflict Prevention, International Relations, Regional Cooperation, Treaties and Agreements, War, International Security
Political Geography
Japan, China, Israel, Asia, Vietnam