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China practiced hegemony over a number of its surrounding states including Japan, Cambodia, Korea and Vietnam, among others. They operated under what was called tribute system whereby the states had to pay tribute to China. They reacted to this in different ways, and Vietnam and Korea are typical examples that I want to explore. They had fascinating relations with China, and their reactions to Chinese political and cultural influence differed considerably.
Korea resisted strongly Chinese attempts to assert cultural and political hegemony. The mighty North Korea protected its territory as well as that of its neighboring South Korea from Chinese invasion. It considered itself an equal territory to China, refusing to pay taxes and fees that Chinese authorities charged other states. In this way, the Chinese government reacted harshly by invading their supposed enemy, North Korea. The Chinese weakened them significantly. Finally, the Korean leadership and the Chinese government reached an agreement to bilateral terms that giving them an opportunity to trade.
On the other hand, Vietnam rather embraced a number of Chinese cultural practices, the sign that they had succumbed to China’s efforts to assert power in that region. The two countries enjoyed peace most of the time, but not always. Vietnam attained its independence in the 10th century after about 900 years as one of the Chinese dynasties. The country had even adopted classical Chinese as its official, literary language. The adoption of Chinese customs and culture meant that Vietnamese view of the world was largely dependent on how China perceived the world. This waned slowly with the emergence of the powerful French empire that substantially weakened the Chinese influence.
Whereas the Vietnamese willingly cooperated with the Chinese, the Koreans firmly opposed their opponent and fought relentlessly. Vietnam remained as a dynasty of China until their plunge in the 10th century while Korea tried to keep its status as a sovereign state with its own powers.