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Tributary state: Wikis

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The term tributary state refers to one of the two main ways in which a pre-modern state might be subordinate to a more powerful neighbour. The heart of the relationship was that the tributary would send a regular token of submission (tribute) to the superior power. This token often took the form of a substantial transfer of wealth, such as the delivery of gold, produce, or slaves, so that tribute might best be seen as the payment of protection money. Or it might be more symbolic: sometimes it amounted to no more than the delivery of a mark of submission such as the bunga mas (golden flower) that rulers in the Malay peninsula used to send to the kings of Siam. It might also involve attendance by the subordinate ruler at the court of the hegemon in order to make a public show of submission.

Tributary relations involve no element of administrative control or interference by the hegemon. At most, the hegemonic power might intervene in succession issues and might ratify the accession of a monarch. For this reason, the extrapolation from pre-modern inter-state relations to the modern international system is problematic. The modern-day heirs of tribute hegemons tend to claim that the tributary relationship should be understood as an acknowledgement of the hegemon's sovereignty in the modern world, whereas former tributary states deny that there was any transfer of sovereignty. For instance, Tributaries of Imperial China implies Chinese sovereign claim over territories not now regarded as Chinese.

An unusually elaborate and formalized tribute system developed in East Asia. Historically, the Emperor of China saw himself as the emperor of the entire civilized world. It was not possible for such an emperor to have equal diplomatic relations with any other power, and so all diplomatic relations in the region were constructed by the Chinese as tributary. The disdain of the state ideology of Confucianism for trade, and the conceit that Chinese civilization had no need of products or technology from outside meant that trade, when it was permitted, was also constructed as tributary. Diplomatic missions and trading parties from non-Chinese regions were interpreted in Chinese records as being tributary, regardless of the intention of those regions. Under this construction, the goods received by China constituted a tributary offering, while those that the visitors received were interpreted as gifts that the emperor in his kindness had bestowed upon his distant tributaries.

In the Western colonial system, non-Western states were sometimes incorporated into a European empire as protectorates.

For modern forms of state subordination, see puppet state, satellite state and client state.

See also

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Simple English

A Tributary state is a state that is subordinate to a more powerful neighbour. It was a form of subordination in pre-modern times.

The tributary sent a regular token of submission (tribute) to the superior power. This token often took the form of a substantial transfer of wealth, such as the delivery of gold, produce, or slaves, so that tribute might best be seen as the payment of protection money. But there were other ways to show submission as well. A perfect example of a state like this is the Himalayan territory of Sikkim.


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