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This article examines the ontological complexity of interpolity orders with a focus on peripheral polities in the Qing order. Existing multiculturalist studies of the Qing order emphasized diverse cultural representations of a single imperial reality, lacking an understanding of multiple realities experienced by peripheral participants. Our analysis reveals the ontological complexity—rather than cultural diversity—of the Qing order, in which multiple ontological agents experienced different lived worlds, from the encounter between Chosŏn Korean envoys and the Tibetan Panchen Lama at Emperor Qianlong’s birthday ceremony. By analyzing the Chosŏn envoy member Pak Chiwŏn’s travelog and Tibetan records, we argue that the Chosŏn envoys with Confucian ontology experienced the Panchen Lama as a subhuman, while the Lama experienced the envoys as ignorant lay beings. Observing this ontological dissonance, Pak Chiwŏn criticized the Qing court’s appropriation of peripheral ontologies and proposed experiencing other ontologies to foreground the presence of the pluriverse in the interpolity order. Beyond the Qing, an ontological approach will help reveal heterogeneous lived worlds of interpolity orders and reconceptualize interpolity order under the condition of ontological complexity.


This article was originally published in European Journal of International Relations in 2024.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License



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