Print version

Sinicisation, the Tribute System and Dynasties: Three Concepts to Justify Colonialism and Attack non-Sinitic Diversity in the People’s Republic of China


Three well-known tropes of popular understanding of China are central to the People’s Republic of China’s official narrative that justifies territorial expansion and efforts to assimilate non-Han peoples. These concepts are Sinicisation, the tribute system and the exceptionalist periodisation of Chinese history into “dynasties”. Sinicisation and the tribute system are used by the PRC to obscure Han settler colonialism and its own annexation of Xinjiang and Tibet, by promoting the view that China always expanded and absorbed other people peacefully. Organising the Chinese past into a selective list of “dynasties” erases non-Sinitic peoples and states and gives a false sense of millennial political continuity that the PRC uses to justify human rights abuses. Though long critiqued by specialist historians, these concepts still appear in introductory and popular discussions of China, and are echoed by Western International Relations scholars and policymakers.

Paper produced in the framework of the project “Countering Chinese Disinformation in Italy”.

Related content