The Nomadic Other: Ontological Security and the Inner Asian Steppe in Historical East Asian International Politics

Review of International Studies

Author/s (editor/s):

Joseph MacKay

Publication year:

2016

Publication type:

Journal article

Find this publication at:
Cambridge University Press

Joseph MacKay, ‘The Nomadic Other: Ontological Security and the Inner Asian Steppe in Historical East Asian International Politics’, Review of International Studies, 42(3) 2016: 471‒91.

A growing literature in International Relations addresses the historical international politics of East Asia prior to Western influence. However, this literature has taken little note of the role of Eurasian steppe societies and empires in these dynamics. This article offers a corrective, showing that relations between China and the steppe played an important role in regional politics. I argue that Chinese elite conceptions of the steppe as other played an important role in maintaining China’s ontological security. Imperial Chinese elites pursued a deliberate strategy of ‘othering’ steppe societies, presenting them as China’s political-cultural opposite. Doing so both provided a source of stable identity to China and justified their exclusion from the Chinese ‘world order’. Empirically, I proceed in three sections. First, I consider Chinese identity building, framed in terms of ontological security, both under the founding Qin and Han dynasties, and under the later Ming dynasty. Second, I address recent historiography of the steppe, showing Chinese conceptions of it were inaccurate. Third, I address the long history of hybridity between the two regions.

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