China, a Diverse Empire

As your token Chinaman, I hope it will not be untoward for my first contribution to this site to be – at least in part – a somewhat critical response to the stated opinions of another author on this site, BioGeoTerra, in an article titled ‘Diversity Is Our Strength?’. As BioGeoTerra says, ‘The modern left desires an environment that is diverse linguistically, religiously, and racially.’ Like him, I am wholly opposed to the imposition of such a diversity upon traditionally White countries. This diversity, driven (oddly enough) by a monoculture among a global elite devoid of patriotic attachment to any place, is indeed not ‘our strength’. Yet I contend that partitioning off each linguistic, religious, and racial group into something like its own ethnostate cannot be a universal solution, and often will not bear the good fruit it seems to promise; instead, the needs of our time may call for nationalism on the scale of empires.

Diversity in the Chinese empire

I first consider China, the country of my forefathers and the country to which I hope some day to return. My hope is that, in thinking about China, Western readers can use that critical distance from Europe and America to inform the ways in which they think of their own destinies.

From a distance, China appears to be a nation-state like those of Europe, with a similar uniformity. Through Western eyes, after all, all Orientals look alike. Hardly is an untrained Westerner able to tell apart the Chinese from the Koreans, the Japanese, and the Vietnamese, let alone distinguish the various kinds of Chinese. Perhaps Westerners also forget – except when the fear of the Yellow Peril drives them to lump Orientals together – that the world has as many Chinamen as it has Whites. In fact, however, the differences among the Chinese are not like those between Normandy and Burgundy, or even between Munich and Vienna. The Chinese province of Sichuan alone has the population of Germany, and it is hard to imagine that China would vary only about as much Germany – indeed, it does not.

The Qing empire in 1820.

China is an empire, of many ethnicities. In the peripheries are parts of Inner Asia inhabited by Mongols, Uyghurs, and Tibetans, among others. The linguistic difference is substantial. The Tibetan language, belonging to another branch of the Sino-Tibetan family, is distantly related to Chinese; Mongolian is a Mongolic language, and Uyghur is a Turkic language. The Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia has more Mongols than the Republic of Mongolia, which was once called Outer Mongolia when it was part of the same empire under the Qing dynasty and then (at least in name) under the Republic of China. But even of those considered ethnically Han Chinese, who comprise more than 90% of China’s population, there are significant ethnic differences. ‘Han Chinese’ is a macroethnic grouping, not one ethnicity. According to Robert Lindsay, linguist Jerry Norman ‘says that based on mutual intelligibility, there are 350–400 separate languages within Chinese’. These languages are usually grouped into about 8 or 9 groups, including the well-known Mandarin and Cantonese groups. Almost all of us speak at least two languages. I myself am a native speaker of standard Cantonese, though I can speak passable Mandarin when I must. My paternal grandfather spoke standard Cantonese as a second language, and with a thick rural accent, because his native language was Taishanese (or Toisanese). Taishanese, which is considered a variety of Cantonese, is only about 30% intelligible (pdf) to an average native speaker of Hong Kong Cantonese. Such is the scale of ethnic and linguistic diversity in China.

Ping and Yue (broader Cantonese) language subgroups. Yuehai (including standard Cantonese) is in salmon, and Seiyap (including Taishanese) in plum.

Some of this diversity has been a source of conflict, especially in southern China, whose isolating geography has tended to create clannish communities. Centuries ago, in response to a migration of a Chinese group that became known as the Hakka, or ‘guest families’, the ethnic Cantonese distinguished themselves as the Punti, or natives. The Hakka have their own culture: different language, different food, different dwellings, and different funerary customs. Since the land was already peopled by the Punti, the Hakka newcomers tended to take the poorer land in the hills and waterways, and often they depended more heavily on success on civil-service examinations and appointments to government posts in order to sustain a decent standard of living for their communities. So it was for several hundred years: the Punti were threatened by the dramatic population growth of the Hakka, and the Hakka were marginalized as ‘guest families’, but sometimes the Punti and the Hakka intermarried. In 1851, the failed civil-service candidate Hong Xiuquan, a Hakka, claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus and led a millenarian rebellion in Guangxi Province that quickly spread throughout southern China. Setting up a capital in Nanjing, over and against the Qing dynasty’s capital of Beijing, he proclaimed a new dynasty, the Taiping Tianguo (Heavenly Kingdom of Supreme Peace). This Taiping Rebellion was finally suppressed in 1867. From 1855 to 1867, however, related skirmishes between the Punti and the Hakka killed more than 1 million (about as many as America’s War Between the States), and thousands of villages were destroyed, especially in my ancestral county of Taishan. Similarly, the Punti and the Hakka who were in Malaya – not in China – fought the four Larut Wars from 1861 to 1874. As recently as the 1970s, my father was warned to be careful about pursuing Hakka girls, because our family might have a blood feud with theirs.

The Chinese empire’s integrity

Even so, the idea of narrow ethnostates has never crossed the minds of most ordinary Chinamen. Neither Hakka nor Punti separatism has ever been heard of, from the 19th century down to the present. Indeed, even the Taiping Rebellion, which killed something on the order of 23 million, was not an ethnic-separatist movement but an attempt to overthrow the Qing dynasty altogether. An attempt against a dynasty that appears to have lost the Mandate of Heaven is traditional, and successful attempts have been justified in these terms since a thousand years before Christ; an attempt against the entire system of Chinese imperium, however, rather than the building of a regional power base to claim the imperium of ‘all under Heaven’, simply is not done. When the Qing finally put down the rebellion and also stopped the Hakka-Punti wars, it moved some of the Hakka away from the coastal peoples they clashed with. But never would the Qing under the non-Han Manchus have envisaged regional separatism among its subjects, and neither have the Hakka themselves, so proud of their identity, ever identified even implicitly as a non-Han people.

The Hakka dialects in China.

Regional and smaller ethnic loyalties, of course, continue to matter. As T. S. Eliot says in ‘Notes Towards the Definition of Culture’,

It is important that a man should feel himself to be, not merely a citizen of a particular nation, but a citizen of a particular part of his country, with local loyalties. These, like loyalty to class, arise out of loyalty to the family. Certainly, an individual may develop the warmest devotion to a place in which he was not born, and to a community with which he has no ancestral ties. But I think we should agree that there would be something artificial, something a little too conscious, about a community of people with strong local feeling, all of whom had come from somewhere else. I think we should say that we must wait for a generation or two for a loyalty which the inhabitants had inherited, and which was not the result of a conscious choice. On the whole, it would appear to be for the best that the great majority of human beings should go on living in the place in which they were born. Family, class and local loyalty all support each other; and if one of these decays, the others will suffer also.

I myself have a hard time with the Mandarinization of Guangzhou and now, gradually, Hong Kong. Not only is the power of Mandarin asserted over that of the other Chineses (Sinitic languages), including Cantonese – even in Hong Kong, Cantonese is losing ground to Mandarin as the medium of instruction for Chinese-language classes in school – but Cantonese itself, as spoken in mainland China, is also often Mandarinized in word choice, in a way that often feels culturally threatening to a speaker of Cantonese from elsewhere. (To be fair, many of the Anglicized word choices common in Hong Kong also feel threateningly foreign to me, and I try to maintain native vocabulary against both English and Mandarin.) And the ‘simplified’ character system used in mainland China since the 1950s, unlike the traditional character system, works only with dialects of the Mandarin group, because it conflates words that sound the same in Mandarin but completely different in, say, Cantonese. Some objections to language policy in favour of Mandarin are silly, of course; others are more reasonable, though often manipulated by the Western media for reasons that have nothing to do with concern for the Cantonese. But extreme Mandarin supremacy has never been the only way the Chinese empire has maintained itself; otherwise, Cantonese might not have the 60–80 million speakers it has today (120 million in the broader Yue language group). In our time, however – unlike the days when government officials communicated largely in writing, and specifically in classical Chinese, which was no one’s native language – there can be no other choice for the empire’s unity and well-being but to promote competency in Mandarin. Undeniably, the challenges are great for a population so large. A senior education official said in 2006 that full Mandarinization was impossible; moreover, only 7 percent of China can fluently speak relatively standard Mandarin, and 30 percent speak no Mandarin at all. Nevertheless, I think it entirely possible to speak (say) Cantonese, Mandarin, and English, and that is the kind of goal that Hong Kong officials should strive toward.

The Alternative

Chinese warlord coalitions, 1925 (mislabelled 1935), before the Kuomintang (KMT)’s Northern Expedition.

The alternative is Balkanization. Peaceful ethnic separation may be what occurs first to a White nationalist. The experience of the Balkans, however, teaches us that separation of peoples once bound in a political union, even when the state agrees to it, often does not promote peace. And in China, in the end, a complete segregation between Punti and Hakka, even after wars that killed a million between them, would have failed to achieve all of its intended ends: succeeding in one thing, it would have failed in another and caused greater suffering.

Here it is useful to hear the mature reflections of Reformed statesman and political scientist Johannes Althusius, who served the German city of Emden and wrote the great work Politica Methodice Digesta (1614):

Its right [the right of the realm] is the means by which the members, in order to establish good order and the supplying of provisions throughout the territory of the realm, are associated and bound to each other as one people in one body and under one head. This right of the realm (jus regni) is also called the right of sovereignty (jus majestatis). It is, in other words, the right of a major state or power as contrasted with the right that is attributed to a city or a province. …

What we call this right of the realm has as its purpose good order, proper discipline, and the supplying of provisions in the universal association. Towards these purposes it directs the actions of each and all of its members, and prescribes appropriate duties for them. Therefore, the universal power of ruling (potestas imperandi universalis) is called that which recognizes no ally, nor any superior or equal to itself. And this supreme right of universal jurisdiction is the form and substantial essence of sovereignty (majestas) or, as we have called it, of a major state. When this right is taken away sovereignty perishes.

Some reflection reveals that a nominally independent Hong Kong or larger Cantonese area would be no more sovereign than it is today, and perhaps even a good deal less. To even have proper provisions in food, energy, and military defence, such a state would have to remain in the Chinese orbit or – like (West) Germany since the Second World War, and many countries besides – enter the American orbit. Successful American interference in Hong Kong, in turn, would undermine the security and independence of China as a whole, subjecting it to foreign domination. Emboldened by the example of Hong Kong, aided and abetted by the CIA and the State Department, separatists in Chinese Turkestan (Xinjiang) and Tibet could deprive China of resources everyone needed for independence. Of such a Balkanization, the issue would be disastrous. These are the considerations that face those in Hong Kong who call for independence from China, and many of these independence advocates are blind to the Americanist colonial mentality that drives their calls for ‘freedom’ in the shape of an ‘independent’ Hong Kong.

In 2015, colonial-era flags fly on the July 1 march, a symbol of calls for Hong Kong independence. Photo: Felix Wong.

The principle of necessary scale for sovereignty – or, viewed another way, vitality – is articulated by Jean Thiriart in ‘Europe as Far as Vladivostok’ (1992), the orientation of whose project of unity is directly opposed to EU Atlanticism:

History knew city states: Thebes, Sparta, Athens, later Venice, Florence, Milan, Genoa. Today, it knows territorial states, France, Spain, England, Russia. Finally, it discovers continental states such as the United States of America, China today, and the USSR of yesterday. Europe suffers a period of transformations today. It must pass from the more or less stable stage of territorial states to the stage of the continental state. For the majority of people, this transition is hampered by mental inertia, without speaking of the idleness of the spirit.

Although not larger than a piece of tissue, Sparta had a strong vitality, from a historical point of view, living above all for its military aspect. Its dimensions and its resources were sufficient to create an army capable of winning the respect of all its neighbors. Here we approach the basic problem of the vitality of states. The historical city state was supplanted by the territorial state. The Roman Empire supplanted Sparta, Athens, Thebes. And without great effort.

Today the historical vitality of the state depends on its military vitality, which in its turn depends on its economic vitality, which leads us to the following choice: First hypothesis: the territorial states are obliged to become satellites of the continental states. France, Italy, Spain, Germany, England only represent a fiction of independent states. Because for a long time, since 1945, all these countries have become satellites of the United States of America. Second hypothesis: these territorial states will transform themselves into a sole continental state: Europe.

So it is with the great space of the Chinese empire, that Balkanization is decidedly unsatisfactory. God has blessed it with a long history of coming back together after every split, and of having a common imperial civilization and imperial consciousness with the power to keep it together, if only this power is used wisely. Thus the prologue of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms says, ‘The empire [or oecumene], long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been.’ Strong and virtuous, it unites; weak and degenerate, it divides. A ruler with the favour of heaven is one whose virtue can unite a divided empire. And China, for all its troubles as a continental empire, is large enough to have and maintain what Althusius centuries ago called the ‘supreme right of universal jurisdiction’, which is ‘the form and substantial essence of sovereignty’. Thus, each typically long and stable dynasty since the Tang, each lasting about 300 years (Tang, 618–907; Song, 960–1279; Ming, 1368–1644; Qing, 1644–1912), has seen (at the height of power, at least) what we now call China united with a single emperor and a single cult of heaven and a single code of law. Such a gift of God is not one that the Chinese people ought to squander on petty-nationalist designs of independence in name only; nor is it one that most of the Chinese intend so to squander, when they have known, however dimly, a larger vision of great nationalism, of empire nationalism. Against those who use American muscle (as they once used British muscle) to project their power abroad with an array of damnable hypocrisies, who (as Tacitus puts it in Agricola) ‘make a desert and call it “peace” ’, the Chinese empire – as long as it is not encircled – has the people and many of the basic resources to stand strong and independent as a continental empire.

One does not simply escape geopolitics; for, as John Donne said, ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were.’ No Chinaman is an island, but every piece of the continent must serve the integrity – the wholeness – of the whole.

About Lue-Yee Tsang 2 Articles
Lue-Yee Tsang is a second-generation Chinaman in America, who hopes some day to see a China that confesses Christ without Americanist corruptions of the catholic and apostolic faith. Speaking Latin, and reading Vergil on the destiny of the Romans, makes him huwhyte and redpilled. He thinks Anglicans are the master race.

2 Comments

  1. This was very informative. The approach you’ve outlined does appear to be the only way a multiracial/multicultural ecumene can sustain itself without fracturing into petty tribal politics. Keep up the good work, sir.

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