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The Features of “Empire” in Ancient China - An Examination of Ideological Aspects

Jinmook Choi 1

1서울대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This paper examines from an ideological perspective whether or not it is possible to call the ancient society of China an "empire", which has so far been commonly the case. Since it was ruled by an emperor, ancient China is an empire (帝國) in a literal sense, but the question posed by this paper is whether or not the translated Western term of "empire" is an equally appropriate name. Also, if ancient China was indeed such an empire, this paper seeks to address the problem of how many empire-like traits it had, and what type of empire it was. From the perspective of ideology, the thought of dayitong (大一統) won over in the end in the Qin and Han dynasties, so that ancient China in actuality appeared in the shape of a united nation. This ancient nation considered tienxia (天下) to be the ideologically appropriate and necessary domain of rule. Slogans such as tianxiayijia (天下一家) or jiatianxia (家 天下) were ideological devices that tied the united nation into one culturally and ideologically homogeneous common empire. At the same time, Confucianism as an integrating philosophy did not stop at traditional family ethics, but developed into an ethics of society and nation. As a result, ancient China can be classified within the translated term of "empire" in terms of its expansion of territory and the fact that it extended itself on the basis of ethnicity, culture, and homongeneity.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.

This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.