Three key themes consistently play a role in the study of early state formation in eastern Inner Asia. First, scholars have frequently argued that China exerted a disproportionately strong influence on steppe polities, serving as a source of goods and ideas for neighboring pastoralist societies. Although Chinese states did very significantly influence steppe polities, interactions were complex and highly variable. Rather than being dominated by Chinese states, exchanges and interactions were often on a level of parity or were under the control of the steppe polities. It is frequently argued that the fragility of the pastoralist economy required steppe polities to acquire agricultural products, which in turn fostered a dependency on agricultural societies in the south. New evidence, however, suggests that the traditional distinction between pastoralist and agriculturalist economies may be insuficient to characterize the complex sets of interactions. Second, steppe polities are often described as short-lived entities that succeeded each other in rapid succession. This description deemphasizes the economic and cultural continuity that transcended the rise and fall of individual political entities. The third theme concerns the construction and maintenance of order. How, in other words, did rulers legitimate their power and maintain political and organizational control of populations and territories? Most interpretations argue that steppe polities looked to neighboring states for the cultural knowledge that allowed them to create and maintain order. That knowledge, however, came from multiple sources—especially the internal traditions that linked successive steppe polities.


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pp. 249-274
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