Gift Exchange among States in East Asia during the Eleventh Century
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In the year of 1005 the Liao and the Song concluded the Shanyuan treaty and it initiated the peace between these two states, which was conditioned to exchange biannual envoy missions: on New Year's day and imperial birthdays. After the Shanyuan Treaty was formalized, diplomatic relations between the Song and Liao courts brought them to an equal status, and the stage for their competition and diplomacy moved to issues regarding tributary protocol and diplomatic gifts. Song and Liao rivalry required not only Song and Liao but also Goryeo and Xi Xia to make some adjustments on their diplomatic politics and gradually all four courts had a certain level of flexibility in managing their relationship. Diplomatic gifts of these states provide a good way to examine dynamics among these four states in East Asia during eleventh century. To secure their political position and economic benefits, all four states actively managed the guest ritual and diplomatic gifts. Song and Liao devised several ways to maintain mutual respect and coined a neutral name for their "tribute" to each other as "ritual gifts." The Goryeo, caught between the Liao and the Song, tried to prepare similar but appealing diplomatic gifts to both courts, and the Xi Xia utilized its strategic position as a strongman in the trade to Central Asia to receive commercial benefit under the name of Song "return gifts." Through these dynamics, whether an item was named "ritual gift" or "tribute," the common element of diplomatic gifts was self-interest through reciprocity. Throughout frequent diplomatic contacts, Song agencies responsible for diplomacy were institutionalized and operated efficiently with various specialized departments. When they prepared and exchanged diplomatic gifts, the kinds and quantity of material objects were carefully managed. Although basic principle of gift exchange was reciprocity, diplomatic gifts displayed multifaceted characteristics. Items holding commercial value were highly welcomed by all four courts - horses were a major representative of such kinds - but the objects without direct commercial benefit were also exchanged. Musical instruments and the Buddhist canon were more important for the messages they conveyed about Song culture than their financial cost, and active exchanges of these cultural items contributed to form a shared culture in East Asia.
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