Territory, Sovereignty, and Empire/State in China Proper, Inner Asia, and Taiwan, 907-1949

Huang, Chih-Jung, Law - School of Law, University of Virginia
Setear, John, School of Law, University of Virginia

This dissertation aims to enrich our understandings of some, historical and current, Chinese and neighboring East and Inner Asian states/empires by discussing the related facts and issues (e.g., their formation, governance, territory, ethnic attribute, diplomacy, continuity, extinction, and succession) from the perspectives of the applicable traditional East Asian and modern European international laws. Surprisingly (to some at least), there had long existed Chinese-originated international norms that not only defined the territorial limits of Chinese empires but also largely regulated the interactions between independent states/polities in historical East Asia and beyond.

The main observations and arguments are as follows: (1) upholding the Chinese–Barbarian dichotomy, the pre-modern Chinese saw “China” or Zhongguo (lit. central state/states) as the world’s civilized center and regarded the neighboring non-Chinese domains as “barbarian” peripherals outside China; (2) the traditional Chinese concepts of “state” (guo) and “territory” (jiangyu) surprisingly resembled the modern Western definitions; (3) rather than asserting “universal sovereignty,” the native Chinese empires (e.g., the Han, Tang, Song, and Ming) realistically claimed quite well-defined “limited territories” within their effective control, while generally regarding the non-Chinese populated tributary areas outside their dynastic borders; (4) the unified Chinese empires were only capable of maintaining stable territories roughly within the traditional Chinese lands or “China Proper” (i.e., the regions lying south of the Great Wall and east of the Tibetan Plateau), which, therefore, constituted the geographical sphere of “historical China”; (5) several non-Chinese Inner Asian “conquest empires” (e.g., the Khitan Liao, Jurchen Jin, Mongol Yuan, and Manchu Qing) had conquered parts or all of China, but they were not simply transformed into “Chinese” dynasties, nor did their traditional non-Chinese domains in Inner Asia and Taiwan become parts of “China”; (6) the post-1912 Chinese republics could not and cannot use the histories of those non-Chinese conquest empires to legitimate modern China’s historical territorial claims over Inner Asia (particularly, Manchuria, Mongolia, Qinghai, Xinjiang, and Tibet) and Taiwan; and (7) because Taiwan has become an independent sovereign State (arguably, since the end of 1949), any People’s Republic of China’s invasion and unilateral annexation of Taiwan will be illegal under contemporary international law.

SJD (Doctor of Juridical Science)
International law, Territory, Sovereignty, Empire, State, East Asia, China, China Proper, Zhongguo, Taiwan, Inner Asia, Manchuria, Mongolia, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Tibet, Chinese–Barbarian dichotomy, Chinese dynasties, Non-Han conquest dynasties, Khitan Liao Empire, Chinese Song Empire, Tangut Xia State, Jurchen Jin Empire, Mongol Yuan Empire, Chinese Ming Empire, Manchu Qing Empire, Republic of China, People’s Republic of China, State of Taiwan, Legal status of Taiwan, Legal status of Tibet
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