From the Qing Empire to the People’s Republic, China’s concerns about separatism deepen

“We will never allow anyone, any organization, or political party to tear any part of our region at any time or in any way.” Said.

In his 2016 speech, Xi said, “Our serious commitment to history and people,” China will never break apart.

Concerns about separatism can be seen in the difficult policies adopted by Beijing in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, and in an increasingly aggressive stance against the self-governing island of Taiwan, which Xi promised to merge with the mainland. If necessary.

Yet such policies can often backfire. Especially in Hong Kong, anger has risen to Beijing in recent years. As anti-government unrest has been met with heavy policing in the past 12 months, manifestations such as “Hong Kong independence, single hope” have been more widely heard among parts of the protest movement.
Such a speech is antithetical for Chinese leaders, and the need to stigmatize separatism is given as a basic rationale for a new national security law. Defending independence – perhaps discussing the issue – may soon be illegal.

Carrie Lam, the city’s general manager, said the law would “ensure the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.”

Two days after the protesters entered the complex, graffiti and umbrellas are seen outside the Legislative Council main room during a media tour in Hong Kong on July 3, 2019.

States and separatists

The 16th president of the USA, Abraham Lincoln, once argued “no state had a provision for its own termination in organic law” and even separatist American Confederate States He did not include a provision in its constitution that allows any member to leave.

Separatism is a worldwide norm, regardless of the importance of “self-determination” as the principle of international law that many peoples around the world want for their country.

Really, United Nations decision The creation of this principle, set in the midst of a wave of colonialism in 1960, also states that any attempt to partly or completely undermine the national unity of a union and the territorial integrity of a country is against the objectives and principles of the United Charter. Nations.”
While Beijing and Moscow often accuse Washington of supporting separatists in their domains, US policy often maintains the same status quo. Croatia held an independence referendum in 1991, while the U.S. Department of State declared loyalty to “territorial integrity of Yugoslavia within its present borders”. That year, President George H.W. bush warns Ukrainians He added that “freedom is not the same as independence”, trying to leave the Soviet Union squeaking to avoid “suicidal nationalism.”
In 1996, Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, I said Russia’s brutal war in Chechnya was based on “the suggestion that Abraham Lincoln gave his life and that no State had the right to withdraw from our Union”. And in 2014, Barack Obama personally in the lobby In favor of Scotland votes to stay as part of the UK.
This attitude, shared by almost every country in the world – Spain’s heavy suppression of Catalan nationalism – is part of the reason, “for all the political turmoil of the last quarter century, the number, shape and order of countries” writes in Joshua Keating “, the world map is final degrees remained unchangedInvisible Countries: Journeys to the Border of the Nation. ”

“Since the end of the Cold War, a global norm has strengthened the cartographic stasis, which was freezing instead of the map, as in the late 20th century,” Keating said. Said. “Although the norms on the map have increased in ethnic and religious conflicts, this norm is valid.”

An artist plays the role of the Qing emperor during the revival of an old Spring festival ceremony in Beijing. Most of the modern borders of China are based on the Qing conquest.

Adjacent China

Nowhere is this norm stronger or stronger than China.

Writing in the state period Chinese Daily this month, Beijing’s ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming responded to London’s concerns about China’s growing aggression against Taiwan, saying the island has been “an integral part of Chinese territory since ancient times”.
While the People’s Republic of China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since its establishment in 1949, the historical basis of Liu’s claim is questionable. Leaving aside the fact that an island is an integral part of any country, what we now call Taiwan has lived for a long time. Out of Chinese controlIt was led by indigenous leaders and foreign colonists, including the Dutch and the Japanese.

The same is true for other parts of China, such as Tibet and Xinjiang, which are called integral by the government. While these regions were often under China’s control or influence, they were part of a larger imperial system, which was completely removed from modern nations.

The border that China considers to be untouchable today – the Himalayas, the South China Sea and surrounding “integral” regions – is not determined Until the end of the 18th century.
This was not due to some unique features of the Chinese state, but the same aggressive expansion that led to the growth of the British, Russian and Ottoman empires. But unlike these systems, historian Joseph Esherick writes“When the Qing Empire was converted to the Republic of China in 1911 and to the People’s Republic in 1949, it only kept the Chinese land essentially intact.”

“The borders of modern China do not correspond to the historical borders of the common culture of the ethnic Chinese (or Han) people, or to the borders of the premodern Chinese state,” writes Esherick, “How Qing became China.”

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“Half of today’s Chinese territory was bought by the conquest of the ruling house during the Qing dynasty, which was a dynasty where Manchu went beyond the Great Wall, not Han China. Most of this expansion took place only in the 18th century.”

Sam Crane, head of Asian studies at Williams College, said that many provinces and territories that paid tribute to the Qing Empire would not be accepted by China as part of China or Chinese civilization.

“The imperial political control has not received a singular, common, modern national identity,” he said. “By 1949, the claim that Tibet and Uighurs are part of the” Chinese nation “is established to a much greater extent than Qing’s, and therefore the relevant political bets that demand more autonomy are much higher.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping was spotted at a meeting in December 2019. As a leader in China, Xi gradually developed a nationalist policy.


The idea of ​​a modern nation state – a person united by common culture, language or ethnicity – has traditionally been fixed in a series of agreements in the mid-17th century when the Holy Roman Empire recognized the independence of the two non-monarchic. states, Switzerland and the Netherlands

According to Keating, this is the point where nation states have become “the most important units in international politics” after the point where nation states have become more important than governments or empires with the rise of nationalism across the continent.

This did not happen immediately, and the disintegration of the great empires of Europe would not be complete until the 20th century. In Asia, the understanding of empire did not appear to change in a similar direction until challenged by new ambitious nation states such as Qing, New Britain, France and Japan.

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Despite adopting the imperial borders, since the fall of Qing, China has completely reinvented itself as a modern nation-state and has developed the idea of ​​an unlimited Chineseness, a language and education system that transcends its borders. China.

Since the transition from socialism to a market-based economy in the 1980s, nationalism has emerged as a more important source of legitimacy for Chinese leaders, and many traditional symbols of the imperial past have been rehabilitated as part of it. Beijing’s claims to speak for China and the Chinese people often go far beyond the borders of the country, and citizenship of the People’s Republic is infused with ethnicity.

The concept of the nation-state has also been extended backwards over time, so that ancient imperial regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang have become “part of the country since ancient times,” whose traditional peoples had little ethnic or linguistic or cultural ties to those in eastern China. As Liu and other Chinese officials argue.

However, the boundaries of the Qing dynasty have not been proven to be completely untouchable under republican rule. Mongolia after the collapse of the empire, official independence With the support of the Soviet Union from China in 1921. While some nationalist Chinese figures have been talking about winning back “outside Mongolia” from time to time, Beijing has long been recognized Ulaanbaatar and developed strong trade and diplomatic ties with its northern neighbor.

“It was the assumption that Pandora would open the dangerous separatism box, if the departure movements were allowed to succeed,” said Keating, who wrote about the global norm in favor of the status quo.

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This is especially true in China, where a single pro-independence domino can initiate a series of territorial unrest.

Beijing addressed the desire for independence in Xinjiang and Tibet, in part by promoting the mass immigration of Han China to both regions, as well as advancing education, language and religion Sinemation policies. The changing ethnicity of both areas makes it difficult to defend the right to self-determination, based on the idea of ​​racial or cultural difference compared to China, where millions of Han Chinese live in both regions.

Hong Kong and Taiwan threaten the status quo differently. Both are predominantly Han China, and their dislike against Beijing in these areas is based on the rejection of the political system on the mainland, not nationalism. To be completely independent in both regions, this could undermine legitimacy claims, as the PRC was based on the idea that a historic China always existed and should always be.

Challenging this idea is controversial everywhere – as in China as Scotland in China, Spain over Catalonia or Russia and Ukraine over Crimea. But as Keating wrote: “The countries in the world are not good on their own; they are beneficial to the extent that they help provide security and general well-being for the people as well as for the people who live in them.

“When they can’t do that, our first urge should be to ask how they can be improved, not just to indicate that they should be protected.”

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About the Author: Abbott Hopkins

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