Examining the translations of the Biao (表, official letters presented to the emperors), this article focuses on the characteristics of tributes in the Song dynasty and their historical importance to the regions of southern maritime Asia. This study discusses "tribute", a concept originated in Chinese historical context, and the foreign relations based on it against the backdrop of the new regional world history, in which eastern Eurasia has received much attention in recent years.
This study starts with analyzing the extant Biao preserved in the Song historical materials and points out that they were the letters originally written in foreign languages, so-called Fanshu (蕃書), and were translated and edited through many steps. The translators of the Biăo and the sea merchants working as intermediaries all played an important role in the process of translation. Two letters written in different languages that were presented to the Song emperor from Zhenlifu (真里富) suggest that Fanshu not only were written in the letters and languages of the countries paying tribute, but probably also used a common language in regions of southern maritime Asia. This article in the end examines the significance of translation in the process of tribute-presenting and the players involved in the process, and points out that the tributes in the Song were to some extent created by intermediaries and their translations. Thus, these tributes not only served political bodies such as the states, but may also have been utilized by groups or individuals from various social strata.
This article shows that during the Song dynasty, the Chinese concept of "tribute" functioned as an economic infrastructure linking Song China with regions of southern maritime Asia. Thus, tributes can be seen as a type of "international public goods" that, as the article concludes, cultivated economic ties between Song China and other regions in southern maritime Asia. In other words, the Song dynasty provided a concept of tribute which allowed a wide variety of economic bodies, ranging from states to individuals, to participate in political and economic exchanges with the Song. In result, an economic zone that included both Song China and other regions of southern maritime Asia was created.