The Day After Russia Attacks
What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond
The American breakthrough in studies of Communist China during the last decade, despite all the difficulties of study from a distance, has given us a new capacity to appraise Peking's shifts of current policy. At the same time, our very success in understanding short-term developments tends to foreshorten our perspective, as though Chairman Mao's new China were actually as new as he so fervently exhorts it to be. If we ask the long- term question-What is China's tradition in foreign policy?-our query may provoke two counter-questions: Did the Chinese empire ever have a conscious foreign policy? Even if it did, hasn't Mao's revolution wiped out any surviving tradition?
To answer these questions is easy in theory, difficult in practice. Theoretically, since China has had two millennia of foreign relations (the longest record of any organized state), her behavior must have shown uniformities-attitudes, customs and, in effect, policies. In fact, however, the Chinese empire had no foreign office, and the dynastic record of "foreign policy" is fragmented under topics like border control, frontier trade, punitive expeditions, tribute embassies, imperial benevolence to foreign rulers and the like, so that it has seldom been pulled together and studied as an intelligible whole.
Again, one may theorize that Maoism is only the latest effort to meet China's problems of national order and people's livelihood on Chinese soil: the scene, the wherewithal, even the issues are largely inherited, and the violent shrillness of Mao's attack on Chinese tradition indicates to us how difficult he has found it to break free of that tradition. But for this very reason we cannot in practice look to Maoism for a realistic definition of China's foreign policy interests and aims over the centuries. Most of the record is simply condemned and brushed aside, except as parts of it may fit into current polemics. If Peking's foreign relations have left a still potent tradition, we have to discover it ourselves.
To deal with a major power without regard for its history, and especially its tradition in foreign policy, is truly to be flying blind. The fact that in the case of China we have flown blind and still survived does not guarantee our future. Even with us, tradition provides the base-line for foreign policy and even the most novel of our policies has points of reference in the past. Washington's farewell address, the Monroe Doctrine and the Open Door may lie well back in our tradition, but they are part of the historical matrix of our thinking. Stereotypes like the freedom of the seas and most-favored-nation treatment form part of our foreign policy repertoire. Has China inherited no comparable repertoire? No stock of shibboleths that spring to mind? No classic models of success and failure in foreign affairs? No foreign policy truisms bequeathed to posterity?
The danger in flying blind, ignorant of an antagonist's inherited style and propensities in making war and peace, lies in our resulting lack of objectivity. Not sensing the values and modes of his culture, we impute to him those of our culture. To North Viet Nam, for example, we offer a rational choice, the carrot of billion-dollar economic development or the stick of limited-war bombing, and then we are frustrated to find Hanoi thinking in terms of either-or, we-or-they absolutes rather than hurting-or- not-hurting calculations of material interest. We bomb to parley. They resolve to outlast us. We state our case in time-tested (though culture- bound) terms of self-determination, collective security, pacta sunt servanda, and other solid concepts from our own tradition. Hanoi denies them all. Eventually we realize we are fighting on a cultural frontier, the frontier in fact of the Chinese culture area.
No one, I hope, will suggest that tradition governs Peking's foreign policy today (however much it may seem at times to govern ours). It is stale and unprofitable to argue for continuity against discontinuity, and equally so to argue the reverse. Continuity and discontinuity are with us every day, in our personal lives as much as in great events. They coexist as constant aspects of change, the new and the old intertwined, however we may define and perceive them. History alone, therefore, cannot give us an image of current reality; yet to imagine Peking acting completely free of history would be the height of unrealism. Tradition is one ingredient in China's foreign policy today, but it seems to be the missing ingredient in our effort to understand that policy. Our difficulty is the very practical one that we are ignorant of the Chinese tradition, and no one article, book, specialist or school of thought can adequately up-date us; yet the effort must be made.
Great traditions have to be seen first in their context of world history. China has been the great hold-over, the one ancient empire that, largely because of its isolation in the Far East, survived into the twentieth century. Its anachronistic tardiness in modernizing has now intensified the stress of China's revolution-there is so much to change and do in order to catch up. At the same time the great tradition is hardly out of sight around the corner, back no farther than grandfather's day. No wonder Mao's generation, who were born under the last Son of Heaven, have violently denounced it. We do not know how far Chinese communism, like other great revolutions, will see a post-revolutionary swing back to certain earlier norms. Granted that many changes are irreversible, still many old wines may prove palatable in the new bottles. A new Chinese order that from 1860 to 1960 has learned much and rejected much from Britain, Japan, the United States and Russia in succession is likely to create its new synthesis and national style by salvaging what it can (perhaps too much) from its own rich tradition. As Peking's communism shakes down into its distinctively Sinified version, foreign offices dealing with it will need to know more of the history of China's foreign relations.
Let us analyze three major traditions: the strategic primacy of Inner Asia, the disesteem of sea power, the doctrine of China's superiority, and then ask what remains of these traditions today.[i]
I. THE STRATEGIC PRIMACY OF INNER ASIA
The fulcrum of ancient China's foreign relations, even before the first unification of 221 BC was the irreparable difference between the Chinese who tilled their fields within the Great Wall rainfall boundary and the tribal nomads of Inner Asia who pastured their flocks and herds beyond it. Climate and terrain sustained these two ways of life as irreducibly separate but interacting entities for over two thousand years down to the nineteenth century. China of course developed nearly all the population, wealth and higher civilization in the area, but meanwhile Inner Asia never ceased to play a vital military-strategic role on her continental frontier. China's maritime frontier occasionally produced rebels and sea-raiders but no major invasion ever came by sea. In contrast, Inner Asia produced mounted archers raised in the saddle, under tribal leaders who periodically united for invasion. The nomad cavalry invasions of North China grew more powerful and irresistible century by century. Early invaders were absorbed into border states. Later they set up Sino-barbarian dynasties-first along the Great Wall (the Liao dynasty of the Khitan Mongols 907-1125), then in North China (the Chin dynasty of the Jurchen 1125-1222) and finally over the whole country (the Yuan dynasty of the Mongols 1279-1368, and the Ch'ing dynasty of the Manchus 1644-1911). Sparsely populated Inner Asia-the arc running from Tibet and Sinkiang around to Mongolia and Manchuria-thus became a strategic component of an East Asian empire that centered on China but in the last thousand years has been ruled half the time by non-Chinese emperors.
The first aim of China's traditional foreign policy has therefore been defense against Inner Asia or, preferably, control over it. Chinese rulers of the Ming (1368-1644), after they expelled the Mongols, remained obsessed with the Mongol problem. But Inner Asian invaders, once in power, faced it too. Thus the Manchus were first vitally concerned with the Eastern Mongols and eventually with the Western Mongols. The great strategic feat of their Ch'ing dynasty was to conquer and finally incorporate the whole of Inner Asia within the East Asian empire: the Manchus kept Manchuria as a homeland preserve; they took over Eastern Mongolia through early alliances, and gradually dominated Tibet through expeditions of 1720, 1728 and 1750. This was a strategic move so that Peking could control the Buddhist Church under the Dalai Lama at Lhasa, through which in turn Mongol life could be stabilized. The capstone of imperial control was laid through the final destruction of the rebellious Western Mongols in Ili in the 1750s, and the establishment of Ch'ing rule over the Turkestan oases to the south.
Thus Inner Asia took strategic precedence over the nascent maritime threat from Portuguese, Dutch or British warships at Canton, Macao, Amoy, Ningpo or elsewhere on the China coast. Even after the Opium War and the Anglo- French war of 1858-60, Ch'ing strategic thinking saw the Inner Asian frontier as more vital than the maritime frontier. When Li Hung-chang in 1875 wanted to build naval strength against Japan's influence in Korea, Tso Tsung-t'ang wanted instead to finance his expedition to defeat rebels and keep Russia out of Ili, three thousand miles to the west. The Court decided in favor of Tso and Ili, as against Li Hung-chang and the Japanese menace.
The People's Republic during its twenty years in power has consciously expanded the Han-Chinese nation to fill out (except in Outer Mongolia) the old area of the Ch'ing East Asian empire. Chinese farming colonies have changed the population balance in Sinkiang and Tibet. Like military colonies of old and criminals banished to the frontier, contingents of young people and refractory intellectuals have been shipped out to populate and develop Inner Asia. Chiang Kai-shek agrees with Mao Tse-tung that Outer Mongolia should be part of this Chinese national realm inherited from the Ch'ing empire. Plainly, Communist China's early turning inward away from the sea, trying to reduce the prominence of the greatest ex-treaty port, Shanghai, and cut down China's dependence on maritime trade with the West, was no new thought but followed an ancient pattern. So does her present-day concern for her land frontier-the world's longest-with the U.S.S.R. and Outer Mongolia.
II. THE DISESTEEM OF SEA POWER
By the time China's original river valley civilization had expanded southward to the seacoast, the Yangtze delta and Canton, the empire's institutional mold had long since set. Rulers and their scholar-bureaucrats looked upon merchants as dangerous parasites, as fair game to squeeze for profit, the lowest of the four occupational classes. Confucian philosophers pointed out that scholar-officials, farmers and artisans labored with mind or muscle but merchants only moved things about. Maritime traders were even more shady characters, sailing about with no fixed abode, out of administrative control. Until the eighth century, although maritime trade of course developed, there was no sanction, much less a policy, for China's expansion overseas.
As the tribal invaders from Inner Asia set up their Sino-barbarian dynasties in North China, the Chinese dynasty of the Southern Sung (1127- 1279) became more interested in foreign trade revenues. By this time China's silks, porcelains, lacquerware, teas and other superlative products were being eagerly sought in the first great oceanic commerce of world history, that between the Near East and the Far East through South and Southeast Asia. Arabs, Persians, Indians, Chinese, Koreans and eventually Japanese joined in this commercial revolution centuries before the Europeans broke into it. Sea trade gave the Southern Sung not only revenue but a merchant fleet capable of being used for naval power. There ensued, from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries, a competition within the Chinese state between the new sea power and the older land power, with fateful results.
Hard pressed from the north, the Southern Sung began to develop maritime policies. Against the Mongol conquest during the thirteenth century, they (the Southern Sung) relied heavily on their naval forces on the Yangtze. The Mongols did not achieve victory until they had bought over many Chinese merchant vessels and created a fleet of their own of several hundred sail. In the end, the Mongols' Yuan dynasty inherited much of the Sung fleets. They provided the wherewithal for the spectacular maritime assaults upon Japan in 1274 and 1281 and the even more distant attack upon Java in 1292. Thus in the late thirteenth century the overflow of the Mongol conquest sent Chinese fighting ships into Southeast Asia and even the Indian Ocean. Mongol envoys reached Ceylon and South India by sea. In the 1280s ten small states on the coasts of southern India, Sumatra and the Malay peninsula sent tribute to the Yuan court at Peking.
This accumulated maritime experience helps explain China's amazing naval feats, once the Mongols had been driven out. At its height in the early decades of the fifteenth century, the Ming navy had coastal guard fleets that cruised out to sea, naval bases with large garrisons on coastal islands, and a system of communication by means of dispatch boats and beacon fires. Each major province had a fleet of several hundred ships. War junks carried primitive explosives in the form of grenades and rockets, making use of China's invention, gunpowder. Big warships carried up to four hundred men. Ships were built with as many as four decks and a dozen watertight compartments and were sometimes four hundred feet in length. Captains of this period had well-proved capacities for seamanship and navigation. They used detailed sailing directions as well as the compass, another Chinese invention.
Ming China's naval capability was most clearly demonstrated in the seven great voyages captained by the court eunuch, Cheng Ho, and others in the period 1405-1433. Carrying as many as 28,000 men in 62 vessels, these fleets all went to India. Two of them reached Aden, and three sent Chinese vessels all the way to Hormuz on the Persian Gulf. They also touched the coast of Africa. In 22 years the Yung-lo emperor sent out 48 missions, nearly all headed by court eunuchs as his personal agents. They arranged for fifty new places to become his tributaries. Tribute missions went back to China from Hormuz and the African coast four times and from Bengal eleven times.
Patently, Ming China was a naval power capable of dominating Southeast Asia a full century before the Portuguese arrived there. Compare China and Europe as of about 1430: the exploring ships of Prince Henry the Navigator had not yet even reached the bulge of West Africa at Cape Verde and neither Columbus, da Gama nor Albuquerque had yet been born. China was superior in size and wealth, in many lines of technology and in the art of bureaucratic government. Her demonstrated sea-power in the Indian Ocean was a natural expression of all-around capacity at home. Yet after the 1430s her maritime expansion ceased. What went wrong?
The simplest explanation is that China's long development had already reached its height and maturity on a self-contained and stabilized basis, while Europe's great expansion was just getting started along the far more dynamic lines of national competition, religious zeal, government support of overseas trade, and adventurous individual enterprise, none of which was so prominent in the Chinese scene. Even more simply, China remained self- sufficient and land-based while Europe became acquisitive and seafaring.
Without pretending to put all this world history in a nutshell, let us note one fact that pulled Ming China back from maritime expansion-the continued menace of Mongol power in Inner Asia. In the very years when the Yung-lo emperor was sending out the first six fleets, he was obliged to lead five enormous military expeditions out into Mongolia. He took along cannon to reduce Mongol strongholds and great squadrons of cavalry. The expedition of 1422 used a host of 235,000 who needed a supply train of 117,000 carts. Even so, the enemy escaped westward and China's Mongol problem thereafter increased. By 1449, Ming vitality was on the ebb after less than a century of power; when Mongol invaders captured the emperor himself, Ming dominance of East Asia was permanently damaged. All capacity for maritime expansion had thenceforth to be sacrificed to self-defense at home. By the time the Portuguese arrived in 1513, the great Ming voyages had been all but forgotten, for scholar-officials, jealous of the eunuchs' power, had actually suppressed the record. The overriding demands of land power had eclipsed China's potential but superficial sea power.
After 1644 China's new Manchu rulers, intent on building their continental empire, ignored the sea. To suppress Ming remnants they even applied tactics once used by the Ming to discourage Japanese pirates: the Ch'ing shut down maritime trade, evacuated coastal islands and moved the coastal population ten miles inland behind a patrolled barrier. One could hardly be more anti-maritime.
To be sure, British gunboats after 1839 inspired an effort to buy and build a modern Chinese steam navy. Indeed, four navies were begun, based on Tientsin, Shanghai, Foochow and Canton. But the French destroyed the Foochow fleet in a few minutes in 1884. The Japanese destroyed the northern fleet in 1894-95. China's potential sea power was eclipsed again and has not re-emerged. Peking's submarine fleet, reportedly being built today, seems hardly more than a defensive force.
III. THE DOCTRINE OF CHINA'S SUPERIORITY
Since ancient China began as a culture island, it quite naturally considered itself superior to the less cultured peoples roundabout, whom it gradually absorbed and assimilated. The striking fact is not that China's universal kingship originally claimed to be superior, but that this claim could have been so thoroughly institutionalized and preserved as the official myth of the state for more than two thousand years.
The central problem was how to make superiority credible at times of military inferiority-a trick that any foreign office would like to master. Of course, China's predominance in size, population, settled wealth and literate culture gave her a constant advantage both over the Inner Asian nomads who lacked urban culture and over the small satellite states of the Chinese culture area. Even so, a considerable rationale and supporting practices had to be developed.
The emperors of the Han (202 BC-220 AD) subscribed in theory to the Confucian doctrine of rule-by-virtue. As the "Analects" said: "If distant people are not obedient to China, Chinese rulers should win them over by cultivating their own refinement and virtue": by his own supremely cultivated and sage-like example, the emperor would command respect and allegiance. Unfortunately, this basic tenet of the Confucian faith, like modern political doctrines, worked best within the confines of the culture, among the indoctrinated, and was not efficacious across the cultural gap in Inner Asia.
During most of four hundred years the Han court faced the warlike Hsiung- nu, ancestors of the Huns, along the Great Wall boundary. They were bested at times by Chinese arms but did not respond to Confucian preachings of "civility and etiquette." At other times the Hsiung-nu defeated the Han, who then had to buy them off with money and goods plus an imperial princess or two. Then the Han emperor might have to accept the egalitarian brother- to-brother relationship with the Hsiung-nu chieftain. But however bitter the facts, the Chinese court consistently rectified the record by using tributary terminology, preserving the written tradition of Chinese supremacy.
The myth of the emperor's superiority beyond the Wall was part of the Confucian ideology by which he ruled within it. People who had once been brought to accept the Confucian teachings of the primacy of social order, hierarchic status and the duty of obedience, could be more easily controlled from the top down. The trick was therefore to bring foreign rulers to participate in the Confucian network of "civility and etiquette." This was done most notably at New Year's in the rituals of the state cult of imperial Confucianism. After the emperor had kowtowed to Heaven, tribute- bearing envoys of lesser rulers kowtowed to the Son of Heaven. By the time T'ang armies of the seventh century had pacified East Asia in all four directions, dynastic historians solemnly concluded that peoples inside and outside the empire had all submitted because of the imperial virtue, or te, the power that Confucianism attributed to the superior man's edifying example.
This theory uniting Chinese power with Chinese culture was shattered by the Mongol conquest, for it was a triumph of naked power without any pretensions to culture. All three Sino-barbarian dynasties-Liao, Chin and Yuan-now had to be accepted as legitimate and their histories compiled in the traditional terminology, but historians avoided comment on how they had achieved the imperial power. It remained for the Ming, after expelling the Mongols, to prove anew that the Son of Heaven's universal kingship, his all- compelling virtue, emanated from a fusion of power and culture, force in reserve plus right conduct in practice.
The first Ming emperor, a man of enormous vitality, sent envoys to all known rulers, announcing that he viewed them all with impartial benevolence (i-shih t'ung-jen) and included them within the bounds of civilization (shih wu-wai). His successor, the Yung-lo emperor, with his great maritime expeditions pushed this idea of inclusiveness to the limit. He not only conferred Chinese titles and seals and the use of the Chinese calendar on tributary foreign rulers in the usual fashion, in some cases-Korea, Viet Nam, Malacca, Brunei, Japan, Cochin in South India-he even decreed sacrifices to the divinities of their mountains and rivers, which might therefore be added to the map of China, or else he enfeoffed their mountains, a ceremony which brought them in a cosmic sense within the Chinese realm. While I hesitate to interpret the full significance of such literary deeds, they suggest that the Yung-lo emperor, following out the principles of impartiality and inclusiveness, was laying the theoretical foundations for a world order emanating from China.
It is equally noteworthy that after 1433 the Ming bureaucracy, ever jealous of the very personal role of eunuchs, failed to carry forward Yung-lo's expansive, eunuch-led beginnings overseas. After 1644, when the Manchu conquest repeated the Mongol disaster in less drastic form, the Chinese bureaucracy soon cooperated in the Manchus' Sinification, so that in the end power and culture remained united under the Ch'ing dynasty.
Thus the doctrine of the emperor's superiority, symbolized in tributary ritual, had many uses. When force was available, it rested on force; when Chinese power was lacking, it could rest on the retrospect or prospect of Chinese power; or it could rest solely on the lure of trade. If foreign rulers were within reach, the Son of Heaven could legitimize them, protect them, honor them, pay them or punish them, all within a context of benevolent admonition or righteous wrath from the apex of the human pyramid. Within the Chinese culture area, toward North Viet Nam (Chinese Annam), Korea, the island kingdom of Liu-ch'iu (Ryukyu), and Japan, his supremacy was sanctioned by the whole Confucian civilization in which they participated. Among the pastoral and increasingly Buddhistic peoples of Tibet and Mongolia it was sanctioned by his patronage of the Dalai Lama. Among the Islamic traders of the Middle East and the Turkestan oases, it rested on the emperor's control of trade.
Word spread all across Asia that the lucrative foreign trade at Peking was utilized for politics, and so any merchant could trade with China by becoming or claiming to be a tribute-bearer. Joseph Fletcher has described how the Central Asian trade with China was funneled through the tribute channel. When every merchant to Peking had to enroll as a "vassal," this "left Central Asian trade in Central Asian hands but under imperial control. . . . For Central Asia, relations with China meant trade; for China, the basis of trade was tribute." This point remained true right down to New Year's 1795 when the last Dutch embassy kowtowed at Peking so vigorously in hopes of trade concessions. Most of their kowtows were performed along the main axis of the great capital, where today China's rulers stand with foreign guests atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace to watch the celebration of the new order's birthday on October First.
Few on either side were fooled by this Chinese use of material means to buy political prestige-foreign profit, Chinese face-but the institution of China's universal kingship was thereby preserved in ceremonial form. The political theory of the Son of Heaven's superiority over foreigners, in short, was part and parcel of the power structure of the Chinese state. Supreme within his empire, he claimed never to have dealt with equals outside it, and this helped him remain supreme within it.
Historians today are actively showing up this claim: Yung-lo of the Ming actually wrote to the Central Asian ruler Shahrukh as an equal in 1418; the Ch'ing treaty of Nerchinsk with Russia was on equal terms in 1689; Manchu envoys performed the kowtow in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1731-32; and the Ch'ing emperor addressed the ruler of Kokand as "my son"-i.e. not as a vassal-after 1759. Meanwhile, Peking between 1663 and 1866 solemnly sent eight missions to invest the kings of Liu-ch'iu as loyal tributaries, although the lords of Satsuma had made Liu-ch'iu their vassal and controlled it behind the scenes ever since 1609. None of these anomalies, however, was publicized in China.
Today Mao extols egalitarian straggle, not hierarchic harmony. He uses a language of all-out revolutionary militancy, not "civility and etiquette." But the ancient idea of China's central superiority flourishes under his care. As in former times, the doctrine can be used to abet power abroad or equally well to substitute for it.
IV. WHAT REMAINS OF THESE TRADITIONS TODAY?
Six decades of change in the nineteenth century and six in the twentieth have destroyed China's inherited order and created an unprecedentedly new one, yet those who see China as broken loose from her old moorings and adrift on the flood of revolution are using an inapt metaphor. One can better say the old structure collapsed, its foundations washed out, new plans were imported and rebuilding is under way, but the site is recognizably the same, the sense of identity remains and continuities as usual reappear, mixed in with discontinuities.
First, as to China's feeling of superiority. Her dimensions in time and space so far outstrip all other countries in sheer size of population and time-span of organized government-a contemporary of ancient Rome, bigger than ever and still vital among us-that intense national pride was to be expected. But history has compounded this self-esteem. To begin with, China was creatively self-sufficient and never a borrower on any scale until very recently. Buddhism was borrowed, to be sure, but quite early, and it was soon Sinified in the process while it also declined in the land of its origin and had an independent development in China. Second, the tribute system saw to it that foreign contact generally seemed to reinforce the idea of Chinese supremacy. Outsiders were welcomed at court and recorded for posterity only when they accepted the forms of the system. Thus the Chinese people were insulated and seldom even heard of a ruler who was equal to the Son of Heaven, Third, the classical education in the imperial Confucian orthodoxy year after year indoctrinated China's literate élite in a philosophical-religious ethnocentrism that went so much deeper than "nationalism" that we need another word for it entirely. The "national- culturalism" that has been inherited by Chinese patriots of today is roughly equivalent to an amalgam of modern Europe's notions of Christianity, the classical tradition, individualism and nationalism, all combined. Fourth, this whole package of Sinocentrism-of society-and-state, learning-and-politics, culture-and-power, integrated in the Chinese Way-has remained to this day walled off in East Asia behind the barrier of the Chinese writing system, through which foreign ideas filter only at the cost of Sinification. (The social influence of Chinese writing is a topic still awaiting intelligent study. Its effect is still so profound that Sinologists are almost incapable of recognizing it.) Students of other cultures can of course chip away at this thesis of Sinocentrism by citing similar aspects of "centrism" elsewhere in history, but they cannot point to any of comparable magnitude.
The tradition of Chinese superiority has now been hyper-activated, both by a new consciousness of the past century's humiliations and by the peptic euphoria of revolutionary leadership. It will confront us for a long time to come.
It follows that policies of "bringing China into the world," getting the Chinese to "take their place in the international order," may be a long time getting results. "Containment without isolation," our recent effort to improve on mere "containment" (itself of dubious value from the beginning when applied to China), has a spotty future. Whenever we try to negotiate China's participation in international arrangements, whether journalistic, tourist, commercial, scientific or nuclear, she will retain a bargaining advantage because of her size and self-sufficiency, and also because of her implacable self-esteem. We shall continue to meet righteous vituperation, arrogant incivility. In the end, we outsiders will probably have to make many more adjustments to China's demands than we now contemplate.
Second, as to the aborted tradition of Chinese sea power, I suppose that nuclear power now has the symbolic and potentially strategic value that the nascent Chinese navy once had. After all, the gunboat appeared on the China coast in 1840 as the decisive weapon of its day. Japan later responded to the Western impact by building a battle fleet, and China began to do the same. Missiles are today's rough equivalent, at least in prestige and in military theorizing. The real question here is whether modern China, having failed to develop naval power when it counted, will now succeed in creating the diversified armaments of a first-class power of the late twentieth century, nuclear missiles and all. This protean question we cannot answer here except to appraise how far China's tradition may make for expansion.
On this point one can only state personal impressions: (1) China's bureaucrats through the centuries have shown much interest in taxes but little interest in religious proselytism or individual adventure abroad and not much faith in the expansion of commercial enterprise. Missions, exploration and trade, three of the main engines of European expansion, have not bulked large in China's values. (2) Despite Mao's best efforts at "permanent revolution" against any ruling class, China will have to remain some kind of bureaucratic state, essentially inward-looking (because of the sheer mass and growing complexity of the body politic) and concerned with social order more than mere growth. Even at the recent apogee of revolutionary ardor under Mao, "politics in command" has put order above growth, orthodoxy above production.
"Expansion" of course does not occur everywhere the same, like gravity, but only in certain areas, with certain aims and means. Within the Chinese culture area, the formula of Korean or Vietnamese local autonomy and China's cultural superiority has long been acknowledged on both sides. For example, after North Viet Nam had been ruled by China from III BC to 965 AD, there were major invasions from China half a dozen times, but each time, even after Ming government had lasted twenty years, China found it preferable to give up local control and accept tribute relations instead. "Tribute" of course did not mean a European-type feudal vassalage with economic payments and military support, and patriots today who mark Southeast Asia on a map as formerly part of the Chinese empire are asserting nonsense. Today's equivalent of tribute is more political- ideological than military-administrative.
In the Inner Asian area, which is now part of the Chinese national realm, expansion has already occurred, most notoriously in the case of Tibet. When Britain decided, after the Younghusband expedition of 1904, not to assume a protectorate over Tibet, it was kept out of Russian hands by recognizing it as part of China, and on that basis the Tibetan state and people have now been swallowed by the Han. Outer Mongolia, on the other hand, with Russian protection has avoided this fate in power politics.
Meanwhile in the third sector of Inner Asia, the Turkic and other ethnic minorities of Sinkiang (Uighur, Kirghiz, Kazakh, etc.) now find themselves subordinated on a frontier of Chinese development, facing a rival Soviet communism across the border. If it is true as many believe that Peking today accords strategic primacy to Sino-Soviet relations on their long frontier, this Chinese concern with Inner Asia should not surprise anyone.
For us, China's possible expansion into Southeast Asia is now of chief concern. But Communist China's westward movement of today follows a more ancient precedent and is more feasible than would be a Chinese southward movement. Central Asia has seen Chinese armies and garrisons in successive eras of Chinese vigor ever since the Han, and no modern non-Chinese nations have grown up there. To be sure, the Moslem rebellions of the nineteenth century all showed latent anti-Chinese potentialities. But they were never realized and have now been smothered.
In contrast, Ch'ing invasions of South or Southeast Asia by land (Nepal 1792; North Burma 1766-70; and North Viet Nam 1788-89) were not attempts at conquest but merely over-the-border chastisements to reëstablish the proper order in tributary capitals. There is even less tradition of Chinese invasion of Southeast Asia by sea. The Mongols' warlike expedition to Java in 1392 was almost the first and last major attempt at maritime conquest from China. The Ming fleets under the eunuch admiral Cheng Ho, seeking tribute, not conquest, might have led on into colonialism, but they were never followed up. Western shippers and planters facilitated the nineteenth- century migration of Chinese coolie labor but the response of the Ch'ing government was simply to renew its ban on Chinese going abroad. Consequently, overseas Chinese communities in Manila, Cholon, Bangkok, Singapore or Batavia were on their own and never expected or received Chinese government acknowledgment or support until the very last years of the dynasty. The fears of the late 1940s that the overseas Chinese would serve as Mao's fifth column have not been borne out. In country after country of Southeast Asia, nationalism has proved itself a barrier to Chinese expansion, both in theory and in practice, and not least in North Viet Nam.
One may conclude that the best way to stimulate Chinese expansion is for us to mount an over-fearful and over-active preparation against it. History suggests that China has her own continental realm, a big one; that Chinese power is still inveterately land-based and bureaucratic, not maritime and commercial; and that we are likely to see emerging from China roughly the amount of expansion that we provoke.
[i] This article is indebted to the recent volume edited by me, "The Chinese World Order: Traditional China's Foreign Relations" (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968), especially to the articles therein by Professors Wang Gungwu of the Australian National University at Canberra, Suzuki Chusei of Aichi University at Toyohashi, and Joseph Fletcher and Benjamin Schwartz, both of Harvard. For data on the Sung and Ming navies I am indebted to Professor J. P. Lo of the University of California at Davis.