From the Qing Empire to the People's Republic, China is concerned about separatism

From the Qing Empire to the People’s Republic, China is concerned about separatism

“We will never allow anyone, any organization or political party to remove any part of our territory at any time or in any form,” he said, standing under a giant portrait of the Sun.

It is “our solemn commitment to history and people,” Xi said in a 2016 speech that China will never be torn apart again.

Concerns about separatism can be seen in the stubborn policies adopted by Beijing in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, as well as the increasingly aggressive stance on the island of Taiwan, which XI advocated, Xi advocated unification with the mainland – by force, if necessary.

Yet such policies can often have back criticism. In recent years, especially in Hong Kong, resentment towards Beijing has been growing. In the past 12 months, as they have faced strong police action against government riots, chants such as “Hong Kong independence, the only hope“They were heard more often among parts of the protest movement.
Such a conversation is antithetical to Chinese leaders, and the need to drive out separatism is given as a key justification for new national security law. Advocating for independence – perhaps even a debate on the subject – could soon become illegal.

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

States and separatists

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, once argued that “no government has ever had a provision in its organic law for its dissolution,” not even the separatist confederate states of America it is not include in its constitution a provision allowing any member to secede.

Anti-separatism is the norm around the world, regardless of the desires of many peoples around the world for their own country or the often emphasized importance of “self-determination” as a principle of international law.

Really United Nations Resolution establishing this principle, enacted in 1960 on a wave of decolonization, it also states that “any attempt aimed at partially or completely disrupting a country’s national unity and territorial integrity is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.”
While Beijing and Moscow often blame Washington for supporting separatists in their own spheres of influence, American policy has often been equally pro-status quo. As Croatia held a referendum on independence in 1991, the US State Department declared her commitment “the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia within its present borders.” That year, President George H.W. Bush warned Ukrainians wanting to separate from the creaking Soviet Union to avoid “suicidal nationalism,” adding that “freedom is not the same as independence”.
In 1996, Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, said Russia’s brutal war in Chechnya is based on “the proposal for which Abraham Lincoln gave his life, that no state has the right to withdraw from our Union.” And in 2014, Barack Obama personally lobbied in for Scotland to vote to remain part of the United Kingdom.
This attitude, shared by almost all countries of the world – sees a strong suppression of Spain Catalan nationalism – is part of why, “for all the political noise in the last quarter of a century, the number, shape and distribution of countries on the world map has remained incredibly unchanged,” writes Joshua Keating in “Invisible countries: travel to the edge of the nation. ”

“Since the end of the Cold War, the global norm of applying the cartographic path, freezing in place of the map as it existed in the late 20th century, has prevailed,” Keating said. “This norm prevails even as ethnic and religious conflicts rage within the countries on the map.”

The performer plays the role of Emperor Qing during the resuscitation of an ancient ceremony of the Beijing Spring Festival. Much of China’s modern borders are based on the historical conquest of Qing.

Direct China

Probably nowhere is this norm stronger or more strongly avoided than in China.

State-level writing China Daily this month, Liu Xiaoming, Beijing ‘s ambassador to Britain, responded to London’ s concerns over growing Chinese aggression on Taiwan, saying the island had “been an inseparable part of Chinese territory since ancient times”.
While the People’s Republic of China has taken over sovereignty from Taiwan since its founding in 1949, the historical basis for Liu’s request can be disputed. Rejecting the fact that the island is a separable part of any country, what we call Taiwan today is experiencing long periods out of Chinese control, during the reigns of indigenous leaders and foreign colonizers, including the Dutch and Japanese.

The same is true of other parts of China that the state often calls inseparable, including Tibet and Xinjiang. Although these areas were also under Chinese control or influence, it was part of a broader imperial system that was completely removed from modern conceptions of the nation.

The border that China now considers inviolable – in the Himalayas, the South China Sea and around various “inseparable” territories on its periphery – has not been set until the late 18th century.
This is not due to some unique characteristic of the Chinese state, but through the same aggressive expansion that initiated the growth of the British, Russian and Ottoman empires. Yet unlike these systems, writes historian Joseph Esherick, “Only China kept its territory intact as the Qing Empire was transformed into the Republic of China in 1911, and into the People’s Republic in 1949.”

“The borders of modern China do not correspond to the historical borders of the common culture of the ethnic Chinese (or Han) people, nor to the borders of the premodern Chinese state,” Esherick writes in “How Qing Became China.”

“Fully half of the territory of present-day China was acquired by conquest during the Qing Dynasty, a dynasty in which the ruling house was not the Han Chinese but the Manchu intruders outside the Great Wall. Most of that expansion did not occur until the 18th century.”

Sam Crane, chairman of Asian Studies at Williams College, said many states and territories that paid homage to the Qing Empire and that were under its sphere of influence, Beijing would not consider part of China or Chinese civilization.

“Imperial political control has not taken over a single, common, modern national identity,” he said. “Once we get to 1949, the claim that Tibetans and Uighurs are part of the ‘Chinese nation’ is established to a much greater extent than under Qing, and the accompanying political roles in seeking greater autonomy are, therefore, much greater.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping was seen during a meeting in December 2019. Xi has progressed toward all nationalist policies as a Chinese leader.


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

This, according to Keating, marked the point after which nation-states increasingly became “the most significant units in international politics,” becoming more important than rulers or empires amid the rise of nationalism across the continent.

This did not take hold immediately and the disintegration of the great European empires would not happen completely until the 20th century. In Asia, too, the conception of empire only took off in a similar direction when the Qing questioned the new assertive nation-states, especially Britain, France, and Japan.

Despite the adoption of imperial borders, since the fall of Qing, China has completely invented itself as a modern nation-state, advancing the all-encompassing idea of ​​Chineseness – a language and education system that encourages everyone within its borders to identify with part of China.

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

The concept of the nation-state also expanded backwards, so that former imperial territories such as Tibet and Xinjiang, whose traditional peoples had little ethnic, linguistic, or cultural connection to those in eastern China, became “part of the country since ancient times”. as claimed by Liu and other Chinese officials.

Despite this, the borders of the Qing dynasty did not prove completely inviolable under Republican rule. After the collapse of the empire, Mongolia disintegrated and achieved formal independence from China in 1921 with the support of the Soviet Union. Although some Chinese nationalist figures from time to time talk about the return of “outer Mongolia”, Beijing has long admitted Ulaanbaatar and nurtured strong trade and diplomatic ties with its northern neighbor.

Writing about the global norm in favor of the status quo, Keating said “there was a presumption that if secession moved, Pandora’s box of dangerous separatism would succeed.”

This is perhaps especially true in China, where one domino for independence could trigger a cascade of territorial unrest.

Beijing has partly addressed the desire for independence in Xinjiang and Tibet by encouraging the mass migration of Han Chinese to both territories, as well as advancing sinification policies in education, language, and religion. Changing the ethnic composition of both areas makes it difficult to discuss self-determination based on the idea of ​​racial or cultural difference in relation to China itself, and millions of Han Chinese live in both regions.

Hong Kong and Taiwan threaten the status quo in a different way. Both are majority Han Chinese, and the antipathy to Beijing in this area is not based so much on nationalism, but on the rejection of the mainland political system. Whether the territory has become completely independent, it could undermine claims about the legitimacy of the PRC, based on the idea that historical China exists and always should.

Challenging this idea has been controversial anywhere – in China as well as in Great Britain over Scotland, Spain over Catalonia or Russia and Ukraine over Crimea. But as Keating writes: “Existing countries in the world are not good in themselves; they are useful to the extent that they help ensure security and the common good for the people who live in them, as well as for the world as a whole.

“When they don’t, our first impulse should be to ask how they can be improved, not just claim that they must be preserved.”

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