Sunday, September 4, 2011

China - Five Thousand Years Old? No, One Hundred!

Whiling reading Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part II and the historical background essays, I was struck by the tenacity of many usurpers or claimants's efforts in establishing their kinship connections to earlier and legitimate rules, or invented such blood connections.  Without exception, they all styled themselves the Kings of England, and not as a King of York, or King of Lancaster.  Dynasties changed with their family names, but the Kingdom was always England.  England's monarchs can be trace back to 927 A.D.

This is decidedly different from the historical events took place in the land now called China.

People often believe that the history of China is four thousand to five thousand years old.  In a sense, it is correct - the land and people and its continuous, predominant culture can be traced back as far as four to five thousands years ago.  However, during those ancient and imperial times, the concept of China didn't exist.  The land the emperors of various dynasties ruled, gradually grew into the size and shape largely overlapping with current China, was simple called the world (天下).  The succeeding dynasties had no connections to one another except for the land and the people they ruled.  The emperors were the Emperors of Qin, Emperors of Han, Emperors of Tang, Emperors of Ming, and Emperors of Qing, etc., but never Emperor of China.  As a matter of fact, a new dynasty always made great effort to sever any connections, if existed, from the ones they superseded.  The one they replaced was inevitably bad and must be condemned and destroyed and never to be spoken of in any good light.  It was purely incidental that they ruled the same land and people.  Inevitably they claimed their mandates from the Heaven to rule the earth.  The world belonged to their houses.  They didn't need consent to rule from the people lived in that land.  They owned the world and only the by their grace that the people live.

China, (in Chinese 中国), means Middle or Central Country.  This term was used as early as more than two thousand years ago.  However, at that time, it simple meant capital.  Many kingdoms and empires in that land had mentioned themselves as Middle Kingdom, mostly in an egotistic way.

Flag of the Republic of China 1912-1928
China, was really a modern concept came into existence with the overthrown of the last dynasty (Qing) and the birth of the Republic of China in 1911.  When the Republic of China was founded in January 1912, its national flag had five color stripes (red, yellow, blue, white and black), representing the five main ethnic groups - Han, Manchu, Mongol, Muslim Hui and Tibetan.  The land was called China, instead of the World.  The president was the President of China, not the President of the World.  Arguably, the concept of China was a one-hundred-year-old modern concept.

To modern Chinese people, politicians and scholars alike, whoever ruled that land and the people lived on that land, was considered part of the history of China, including the period the land and people was conquered by foreigner invaders and the majority Han was treated slightly better than slaves, such as during the entire Mogol's (Yuan Dynasty) and the early Manchu's (Qing Dynasty) rules.  Chinese generally proudly took pride in their ancient and continuous history and unbroken governance from legendary time through dynasties and republics.  That really bends the truth a bit.  Those conquered periods were really like the conquered Poland during World War II, which at that time, as the political entity, ceased to exist, though the land was still the same land, and the people were still the same Polish people.  Or to imagine that Japan had succeeded in conquering China and called it its province, even if the Japanese capital moved from Tokyo to Beijing or Shanghai.

Of course, in ancient times, the term China had been used in other part of the world to refer to many ancient Chinese dynasties, or the land and the people.  But it was merely a point of reference.  It didn't have the geopolitical meaning in it.  Some people called that land china, other called it silk or tea.

The history in that vast land is long.  But China as a political concept, is still very young.

No comments:

Post a Comment