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From the Qing Empire to the People's Republic, China's worries about separatism run deep

June 29, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

In a speech on the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sun Yat-sen -- seen by many as modern China's founding father -- President Xi Jinping pledged to "resolutely oppose" any attempt to divide the country.

"We will never allow anyone, any organization or political party to rip out any part of our territory at any time or in any form," he said, standing under a giant portrait of Sun. A key tenet of Xi's rule has been his pledge to restore the country to greatness, undoing the "century of humiliation" during which the Qing Empire and later the Republic of China were laid low by foreign powers, with territories including Hong Kong, Manchuria and much of Shanghai shaved off into colonies and concessions.

Writing in the state-run China Daily this month, Liu Xiaoming, Beijing's ambassador to the UK, responded to London's concerns over growing Chinese aggression against Taiwan by saying the island "has been an inseparable part of China's territory since ancient times. "

"Modern China's borders do not correspond to the historic boundaries of shared culture of the ethnic Chinese (or Han) people, nor to the boundaries of the premodern Chinese state," Esherick writes in "How the Qing became China. "

Sam Crane, chair of Asian studies at Williams College, said many states and territories which paid tribute to the Qing Empire and were under its sphere of influence would not have been regarded as part of China or Chinese civilization by Beijing.

The modern idea of a nation state -- of a people united by common culture, language or ethnicity -- is traditionally pinned 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

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

Beijing's claims to speak for China and the Chinese people often extend well beyond the country's borders, conflating ethnicity with citizenship of the People's Republic.

The nation state concept has also been expanded backwards through time, so that former imperial territories like Tibet and Xinjiang, whose traditional peoples had little connection ethnically, linguistically or culturally to those in China's east, become "part of the country since ancient times," as Liu and other Chinese officials have argued.

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