China Invasions? Wrong Readings of History

First of two parts
China, unlike other superpowers, had been the most peaceable of the powers unlike what has been portrayed by some “experts” and columnists. It does not mean that absolutely it has never been an aggressor, but there are corrections in facts and interpretations that will help us understand and respond better to current events.

Invasions that were not by the Chinese. 
Some writers point out to the Yuan Dynasty and its attempted invasions of Japan, Korea and Vietnam. They fail to note that the Yuan Dynasty was a foreign-led dynasty of the Mongol Empire and that period is 800 years ago. They point out to the invasions of Korea of the Qing dynasty, but fail to mention that it was a period of China controlled by the foreign-led Manchus. It would be like saying that when Japan controlled the Philippines, invasions staged from the Philippines in Southeast Asia were invasions by the Filipinos.

A very different attitude toward relations, war and governance by the Chinese themselves. After the Yuan Dynasty in the 1200s, the Ming Dynasty in the 1400s, ruled by Han Chinese, was by far the richest and most powerful country in the world (Europe was just emerging from the Dark Ages). Zheng He’s seven voyages sent 20 thousand-men navies in ships five times larger than Columbus’ a hundred years later, gave gifts, opened trade and diplomatic relations, and did not subjugate far weaker nations it visited, from Southeast Asia to Africa.

In contrast, the Vatican divided the world between Spain and Portugal. Western powers invaded countries around the world and entire populations were decimated in the tens of millions, enslaved, and their resources taken over. Is China “like the other powers?”

“Tributary states” mean different things to different countries in different periods. “Vassal” economies to China benefited through trade and transfers of technologies, skills and cross-networks. The “suzerainty” was a recognition of the rules of order, and a nominal recognition of the Chinese emperor not only as a maker of rules but also as a protector against aggressions by others.  It did not, like it did for the Europeans, mean ownership of all the resources, direct rule over and abuse of peoples. Half the time, China was not even really that powerful militarily, however, all the areas that traded with the Chinese became more prosperous and stable than the areas that did not. These included the Manila Galleon Trade and the Ancient Silk Road, the richest trade at that time.

The gifts and trades were generally more beneficial to the vassal state, as records show. The Philippines experienced this in the sultans of Sulu and Southern Philippines. While considered “vassal states,” they were treated as royalty, given more valuable gifts than delivered, and treated like brothers.  Sultan Paduka Pahala of Sulu was accorded a royal tomb in China, and until today, his descendants continue to thrive in the land the emperor donated to the Sultan’s family in the 1400s. Japan’s Ryukyu Kingdom also accepted the vassal status to increase its trade and became a periodic conduit for Japan trade.

In contrast, the Spaniards immediately tried to subjugate the Philippines and exact material and labor tribute from the Filipinos; the Americans immediately took over the
Philippines and the pacification cost some estimated 300 thousand to 1.5 million Filipino lives; and the Japanese conquest and later “liberation” cost an estimated 800 thousand to 1.5 million lives. The resources of the Philippines were subject to the conquerors’ control and extraction without necessary compensation, instead of “free trade,” with credit, from the Chinese traders.

Reinterpreting some “invasions”.
Vietnam and Japan both had dreams of empire and periodically tried to conquer China or parts of China, and were viewed as real threats. Several attacks on Vietnam were actually to protect other “client states” like Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia from Vietnam, and Korea from Japan. Should not the Japanese’s various invasions of Korea and China warrant mention, as legitimate dangers being addressed by China. The unmatched ferocity of the Japanese in the Sino-Japanese war where more than 20 million Chinese were killed, more than the entire population of the Philippines at the time, should this be considered when saying China is just “like the other powers?”

The modern day “invasions of Vietnam and Korea” referred to actually were civil wars of the North and South.  China assisted one side since these countries were artificially divided by the United States and the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the other side was being assisted by the US to try to take over the North.  If these are considered as Chinese invasions, what should we consider the US’ role? Are these comparable to the US’ annexation of Mexico, Hawaii and the Philippines? To the regime changes worldwide?

Indian border war.  Kissinger’s “On China” clearly narrates the Indian documented extended entries beyond the agreed demarcations with China. Upon China’s counter-attack, it was able to move even into Indian claimed areas, when China unilaterally withdrew back. The same with many other “invasions” where China contents itself with achieving a limited objective, whereas other powers will try to maximize all gains and the humiliation of the other party. (Tibet is a longer story and can be discussed in another time.)

We are not saying China is right in all these cases or all the time, we are saying compare it with others, and as Jimmy Carter and most historians will point out, it is exceptionally NOT “like the others,” and can be understood and dealt with productively — probably more so than other powers, if we base on actual history.Part of Series: Invasions by other powers vs China

The Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI) promotes productive, multi-dimensional perspectives that are pro-development. It works with a global network of organizations and businessmen, scholars, government officials, media, institutions and universities. Its advocacies have resulted in significant changes to the agenda and decisions made by organizations, government and legislators. IDSI welcomes logical feedback and possibly opportunities for working together with compatible frameworks. (

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