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Selbitschka, Armin (2019): Tribute, Hostages, and Marriage Alliances: A Close Reading of Diplomatic Strategies in the Northern Wei Period. In: Early Medieval China, Vol. 2019, No. 25: pp. 64-84
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Early imperial and early medieval Chinese foreign relations have been mainly viewed through the prism of the so-called tributary system. Consequently, tribute relations with the Northern Wei court are either reduced to business ventures undertaken by foreign polities, or empty ideological exercises by the Tuoba emperors, who were only interested in having their worldview confirmed. Such views disregard the actual political and diplomatic value of tribute offerings to the Northern Wei. This article will provide a corrective through a close reading of diplomatic interactions recorded largely in the Wei shu that involved tribute offerings. Since these interactions sometimes also involved diplomatic hostages and marriage alliances, they will be briefly analyzed as well. I will show that tribute, in fact, was a political tool that was successfully utilized to meet various ends by both parties involved in bilateral exchanges. In the true sense of diplomatic interaction, tribute relations were highly effective means to negotiate peace.