Suzerainty (pron.: /ˈsjuːzərənti/ or /ˈsjuːzərɛnti/) occurs where a region or people is a tributary to a more powerful entity which controls its foreign affairs while allowing the tributary vassal statesome limited domestic autonomy. The dominant entity in the suzerainty relationship, or the more powerful entity itself, is called a suzerain. The term suzerainty was originally used to describe the relationship between the Ottoman Empire and its surrounding regions. It differs from sovereignty in that the tributary enjoys some (often limited) self-rule.
A suzerain can also refer to a feudal lord, to whom vassals must pay tribute. Although it is a concept which has existed in a number of historical empires, it is a concept that is very difficult to describe using 20th- or 21st-century theories of international law, in which sovereignty either exists or does not. While a sovereign nation can agree by treaty to become a protectorate of a stronger power, modern international law does not recognize any way of making this relationship compulsory on the weaker power.
Historically, the Emperor of China saw himself as the center of the entire civilized world, and diplomatic relations in East Asia were based on the theory that all rulers of the world derived their authority from the Emperor. The degree to which this authority existed in fact changed from dynasty to dynasty. However, even during periods when political power was distributed evenly across several political entities, Chinese political theory recognized only one emperor and asserted that his authority was paramount throughout the world. Diplomatic relations with the Chinese emperor were made on the theory of tributary states, although in practice tributary relations would often result in a form of trade under the theory that the emperor in his kindness would reward the tributary state with gifts of equal or greater value.
This system broke down in the 18th and 19th centuries in two ways. First during the 17th century, China was ruled by the ethnically Manchu Qing dynasty which ruled a multi-ethnic empire and justified their rule through different theories of rulership. While not contradicting traditional Han Chinese theories of the emperor as universal ruler, the Qing did begin to make a distinction between areas of the world which they ruled and areas which they did not. The system also broke down as China faced European powers whose theories of sovereignty were based on international law and relations between separate states.
One way European states attempted to describe the relations between the Qing Dynasty and its outlying regions was in terms of suzerainty, although this did not completely match the traditional Chinese diplomatic theory. Since the Great Game, the British Empire has regarded strategic Tibet under Chinese “suzerainty”. But in 2008 British Foreign Secretary David Miliband in a statement called that word an “anachronism”, and joined the European Union and the United States in recognizing Tibet as a part of China.
Tianxia (Chinese: 天下; literally “under heaven”) is a phrase in the Chinese language and an ancient Chinese cultural concept that denoted either the entire geographical world or the metaphysical realm of mortals, and later became associated with political sovereignty.
In ancient China, tianxia denoted the lands, space, and area divinely appointed to the Emperor by universal and well-defined principles of order. The center of this land that was directly apportioned to the Imperial court was called Huaxia (Chinese: 華夏), Xia (Chinese: 夏), Hua (Chinese: 華),Zhongxia (Chinese: 中夏), Zhonghua (Chinese: 中華), or Zhongguo (Chinese: 中國), among other names, forming the center of a world view that centered on the Imperial court and went concentrically outward to major and minor officials and then the common citizens, and finally ending with the fringe “barbarians“. The center of this world view was not exclusionary in nature, and outer groups, such as ethnic minorities, that accepted the mandate of the Chinese Emperor were themselves received and included into the Chinese tianxia.
In classical Chinese political thought, the Emperor of China (Chinese: 天子; pinyin: tiānzǐ), having received the Mandate of Heaven, would nominally be the ruler of the entire world. Although in practice there would be areas of the known world which were not under the control of the Emperor, in Chinese political theory the rulers of those areas derived their power from the Emperor (皇權).
The larger concept of tianxia is closely associated with civilization and order in classical Chinese philosophy, and has formed the basis for the world view of the Chinese people and nations influenced by them since at least the first millennium BC.