Brill’s Encyclopedia of China

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Tributary System
(2,411 words)

One of the most spectacular and exciting re-evaluations of Chinese history has been the questioning of the theory according to which the tributary system shaped all the foreign relations of the Chinese Empire.

1. The Tribute Theory

The tribute theory was first presented in detail by John K. Fairbank (1907-1991) in the 1940s. During the 1960s he revised it, although it had alread…

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Aubin, Françoise, “Tributary System”, in: Brill’s Encyclopedia of China, Managing Editor English Edition: Daniel Leese. Consulted online on 30 November 2022 <>
First published online: 2008
First print edition: ISBN: 9789004168633, 20121018

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