What does international hierarchy look like? The emerging literatures on hierarchy and international orders remain overwhelmingly focused on the contemporary era and on the great powers that comprise the top of the hierarchy. This article addresses that gap by examining diplomacy, war, and domestic politics in the premodern Vietnam–China relationship under the hierarchic tributary system. Specifically, we construct a unique data set of over 1,200 entries, which measures wars and other violence in the region from 1365 to 1789. The data revealed the stable and legitimate nature of tributary relations between formally unequal political units. The Vietnamese court explicitly recognized its unequal status in its relations with China through a number of institutions and norms. Vietnamese rulers also displayed very little military attention to their relations with China. Rather, Vietnamese leaders were clearly more concerned with quelling chronic domestic instability and managing relations with kingdoms to their south and west.
Ronan Tse-min Fu is a Ph.D. Candidate and Sherman Fellow in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Southern California. His research interests lie in the intersection of international relations theory and security studies, with a specific focus on grand strategy, East Asian security, Chinese foreign policy, and the historical basis of contemporary relations in East Asia. He has published in International Security, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Conflict Resolution, and Political Geography. His current book project examines how East Asian states perceive and cope with China’s rise. He received a BA in Diplomacy at National Chengchi University and an MA in Political Science at National Taiwan University.