The Vietnamese Confucian Diplomatic Tradition and the Last Nguyễn Precolonial Envoys’ Textual Communication with Li Hongzhang
Keywords:Vietnamese Confucian diplomatic tradition, last Nguyễn precolonial envoys, Sinocentrism, Nguyễn Thuật, Phạm Thận Duật, Li Hongzhang
The Vietnamese envoys’ records during their diplomatic journeys to Beijing, especially poems and prose, have attracted increasing academic attention, from both international and local scholars. Some studies have comprehensively examined the Vietnamese envoys’ routes when visiting China, literary works, diplomatic strategies, and Confucian beliefs, such as the Taiwanese scholar Chen Yiyuan’s (陳益源) journal paper, which specifically problematizes the absence of filial expression related to the envoys’ journey in Xiaogan (孝感), Hubei Province. The systematic works of Liam C. Kelley and Peng Qian (彭茜) chiefly delineate the harmonious and normal communication based upon the long-developed cultural congruity between Vietnam and China. Their studies and other relevant research show the sophisticated impact of Chinese Confucianism on the Vietnamese envoys. However, there is so far insufficient investigation into the official representatives’ transformation and violation of Confucian manners and thoughts at specific historical moments. Hence, this paper intends to specify the practices of Confucian discourses in the final negotiation between the states of the Nguyễn and the Qing in 1883, both of which encountered the military threat from France and other Western countries. Our findings suggest that although those last envoys, including Phạm Thận Duật and Nguyễn Thuật, utilised a Sinocentric and Confucian manner to bargain with the Chinese for military aid, overall the Nguyễn adopted a Machiavellian approach instead. This means there was a division between political utility and ritual ethics, and the Vietnamese envoys, as pragmatic politicians, prioritized national security while discussing military aid in terms of Confucian rhetoric and values.
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