Organized Hypocrisy in nineteenth-century East Asia

Every international system or society has a set of rules or norms that define appropriate behaviors. These norms are, however, never obeyed in an automatic fashion. Perhaps more than any other setting the international environment is characterized by organized hypocrisy. Actors violate rules in practice without at the same time challenging their legitimacy. In nineteenth-century East Asia this was true for countries embracing the European sovereign state system of formal equality and autonomy, and the Sinocentric Confucian system of hierarchy and dependency. The West imposed the treaty port system which violated the sovereign principle of non-intervention. China accommodated the West, tacitly jettisoning demands for ritual obeisance. Japan chose those principles that were most suitable for its material interests. Korea, however, dominated by a literati class whose position was associated with Confucian principles, failed to pursue policies that might have maintained Korean independence.