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As Sinocentrism ( Chinese  中國中心主義  /  中国中心主义 , Pinyin Zhōngguó Zhongxin Zhǔyì ) refers to the ethnocentric ideology which declared their nation and Chinese culture in comparison with other nations for superior and unique. In relation to the epoch, the Yugong diagram was created


Up until the 19th century, China saw itself as the only “civilized state” in the world against the background of its own cultural values ​​and worldview, but valued other nations and peoples as “barbarians”. In this form, Sinocentrism was for a long time the basis of the order of international relations valid in East Asia . Comparable ideas for Europe are called Eurocentrism . This order was only replaced when equality under international law was introduced in the 20th century based on the principles of the Peace of Westphalia . Since then, Sinocentrism has tended to limit itself to giving China priority over other nations.



At the latest since the unification of the empire by the first emperor Qin Shihuangdi in the 3rd century BC, China as the center of the world, as the only civilization at all, has felt superior to other peoples - regarded as "barbarians". This is already exemplified in the self-designation Zhōngguó ( 中國  /  中国 ), which in German is translated as "Middle Kingdom". The origins of this thinking are Confucian -influenced cosmological ideas.

Concentric model

Emperor Qianlong (1736–1796)

Main article: Tianxia

At the center of the model is the emperor ( 皇帝 , huángdì ), who derives his legitimation as the sole ruler of the world ( 天下 , tiānxià  - "under heaven") from a mandate from heaven that has been given to him . The rulers of other states had to be content with the title of king ( , wáng ).

A series of concentric rings ran around the emperor. The first of these was the Imperial Palace, which in turn was mostly divided into inner and peripheral zones. Then came the capital - the seat of which has changed many times over the course of history, as well as the surrounding heartland, then Han Chinese China, and finally the areas of the minority peoples living in the empire .

Outside the borders of the empire came the neighboring tributary states next. At the time of the Ming Dynasty , there was even among these, an internal ranking: At the head of the "southeastern barbarians" to which about Korea , Japan , the Kingdom of Ryukyu , Annam , Cambodia , Vietnam , Siam , Champa , and Java included . The second group formed the areas of Sulu , Malacca and Sri Lanka . The “northern”, “north-eastern” and “western barbarians” took the lowest rank. The matter was made more complicated by the fact that some tribute states themselves took tribute from other states, such as Vietnam from Laos.

The next concentric ring after that of the tribute states was that of those countries that had trade relations with China, initially Portugal and the Netherlands , later also England and other European countries. Finally, all other states followed.

Economic impact

Ultimately, the Sinocentric tribute system made a positive contribution to the development of economic structures in the entire East Asian region: In the wake of the exchange of tribute gifts from the vassal states ( 貢 物  /  贡 物 , gòngwù ) and the emperor's gifts in return ( 回 賜  /  回 赐 , huícì ), land developed like at sea there is a brisk trade in other goods based on the Chinese silver currency. Conversely, entering into a tribute vassal relationship for other countries was an indispensable prerequisite for any trade with China. Insofar as they were not prepared to do so due to their own validity claim, such as the Roman and Byzantine empires in particular , they only had indirect trade with China through intermediaries such as Persian traders.

Cultural impact

The entire Chinese sphere of power was consequently "sinized", that is, adapted to its own culture. Conversely, the Chinese twice succeeded in Sinizing the cultures of foreign conquerors, namely the Mongols in the Yuan and the Manchu in the Qing Dynasty . Even if, as an exception, foreign teachings were imported, these were sometimes so consistently sinised that in the end they had little in common with their model. Examples of this are Buddhism and, more recently, the Chinese Communist Party as a Chinese form of communism .


End of classical Sinocentrism: The 1st Opium War (1842)

The Sinocentric system was only shaken when, from the end of the 18th century, European powers insisted on equal trade relations. After the Macartney Mission failed miserably in 1793, the Titsingh Mission, led by the Dutch businessman Isaac Titsingh, was more successful the following winter . In the 1850s, after their victory in the First Opium War , the Europeans enforced their cause in a warlike manner and turned Sinocentrism into its opposite. Mainly as a result of the unequal treaties , China sank from the Asian hegemonic power to the status of a semi-colonial area. After Japan's victory in the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894, the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 was crushed by the eight United States .


The rulers of the Qing dynasty already emphasized that of harmony instead of the earlier concept of supremacy . The People's Republic of China has always emphasized that it does not strive for hegemony ( 永不 稱霸  /  永不 称霸 , yǒngbú chēngbà ).

Nevertheless, it is sometimes claimed that the Sinocentric concept has by no means been extinguished, but that a strictly Sinocentric worldview still lurks behind numerous modern Chinese concepts of history and identity. The reannexion of Tibet and Xinjiang, which formerly belonged to the Qing Empire but is now de facto independent, by the People's Republic of China after the Second World War is often cited as evidence of this . From the Chinese point of view, this was of course only a legitimate expression of their own sovereignty, as both areas were recognized as part of China under international law.

Sinocentric elements are sometimes suspected in relations with Japan and Korea. In 2004, for example, Chinese historians demanded that the history of the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo, traditionally part of Korea , should be treated as part of Chinese history, insofar as the kingdom was on the territory of today's People's Republic. The Korean colleagues reacted with indignation.

On the cultural level, Chinese scientists occasionally claim, without conclusive evidence, that “Western” inventions and discoveries were originally based on older Chinese models. Examples of this are the seismograph , the model of which is a Han period water trough with several spouts, or the sea route around the Cape of Good Hope , the discovery of which the Chinese attribute to their Ming-era navigator Zheng He . Joseph Needham is considered to be the originator of this transfusion theory from China , but his sinocentric conclusions are rejected by modern technology historians.

Criticism of the sinocentrism concept

Critics of this theory argue against the concept of sinocentrism that it was created solely to foment anti-Chinese sentiments. China has been a peace-loving state for almost its entire history, which posed no threat to its neighbors. The territorial expansion of the empire took place mainly in times of foreign rule, especially during the Mongolian Yuan and Manchurian Qing dynasties. China has also never imposed its culture on other peoples, rather it has been received by Korea or Japan on a voluntary basis. The achievements of other peoples have also been recognized. In Beijing, for example, great honors were given to the Korean inventor of printing with movable type. Even Marco Polo and the first Jesuits , regardless of ideological differences, the Chinese met with great respect for their abilities.

It is also doubted that the concept of "sinocentrism" is a good explanation for all interactions between China and the rest of the world. Subjectively shaped mentalities would have less influence than historical realities. What is often perceived as a claim to cultural or moral superiority is rather due to the need to control and defend one's own borders and to regulate China's contact with foreigners. The sometimes very negative attitude of the Qing emperors towards the Europeans is based, for example, on a deep-rooted distrust of the loyalty of their own people, which could have been further fueled by contact with the West. Chinese foreign policy should always be seen in the light of domestic policy guidelines.

Related concepts

Unlike so-called Han chauvinism , sinocentrism in no way goes back to ethnic or even racist roots; rather, it was supported in the course of history by a multitude of different peoples such as the Xianbei , the Jurchen or the Manchu.

Sinocentrism must also be differentiated from Chinese nationalism : While this, as the more modern conception, aims only at a united, solidarity-based and powerful China as one nation among others, Sinocentrism rather emphasizes China's universal claim to absoluteness.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. Matthias Messmer, Hsin-Mei Chuang: China at its borders: explorations on the edge of a world empire . Stuttgart 2019, Sinocentrism n.p. [1]