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Ian_Lee

Breakup of Empires

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Ian_Lee

What was the most common political phenomenoa in the 20th Century?

Breakup of Empires.

Let's count:

1900s -- After the Boxer Uprising in 1900, probably every government in the world predicted that it would take only years, if not months, that the Chinese Empire would breakup.

1910s -- Breakup of Ottoman, Czarist, and Austro-Hungary Empires.

1940s -- Breakup of Third Reich and Japan Imperial Empire.

1940s & 50s -- Breakup of British Empire

1990s -- Breakup of Soviet Empire

So in the 21st Century, actually there are only two Empires left -- US and China (Of course they are not dynasties but I mean the way of their former territorial expansion was modelled on the format of an Empire).

Since US has been great power (early last century) and superpower throughout the last 100 years, of course she can still sustain her empire status.

But how could China, which everyone joked as the "Sick Man of Asia" in 1900s, escaped the fate of the Ottoman Empire?

Here are the reasons I can think of:

(1) China was winner in both World Wars:

Unlike Ottoman and Austro-Hungary Empires, the Warlord government was smart in joining the winning camp during WWI. And of course Chiang was smart too in jumping the camp from Germany to US before WWII (though he was deserted first by Hilter). Since only losers would be placed on the chopping board, victorious nation like china escaped that fate in both world wars.

(2) Chiang Kai Shek's fictional claim:

Chiang claimed that ROC encompassed a territory which KMT had never actually governed. Even though it was a fictional claim, most major powers respected Chiang's claim. So when the time came that PRC negotiated boundary with its neighbors which based on Chiang's claim, China still retained a lot even at a discount on what Chiang claimed (actually PRC gained back some lands from Kyrgyzstan and Russia recently during boundary negotiation).

(3) Mao's political scheme:

Unlike Stalin and Tito, Mao was shrewd in not forming PRC on the USSR or Yugoslavia models -- which were unions of a bunch of Soviet Republics. When the time came, USSR and Yugsolavia disintegrated since each Soviet Rpublic in the Union was a sovereign entity itself.

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Green Pea

Ian,

Define "empire" in your words, and state why you think China qualifies as one.

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woodcutter

I agree with Ian, except that the USA is not a formal empire, and thus cannot "break up" in the same way. Also, Russia is not fully broken, witness the battle in Chechnya.

The Tibet and Xinjiang issues are shadows hanging over world peace. If China were to become truly democratic then those issues would rear their heads in an ugly way. That is the main obstacle to China becoming a fully welcome member of the international community.

China was always referred to as an empire, and without China changing its territory too much, people now think the Chinese empire is a strange concept. Why?

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wushijiao
What was the most common political phenomenoa in the 20th Century?

Breakup of Empires

One of the prevailing trends of 20th century thought was the Wilsonian idea that every ethnicity or race deserves its own nation, which was disastrous. I think there is now a resurgence of empires in the form of voluntary unions in order to form more powerful political and economic entities, i.e., the EU.

I've sometimes thought the EU could be a model that would enable Taiwan to come back to China, while still giving the island political autonomy in local affairs, and saving face for Beijing.

3) Mao's political scheme:

Unlike Stalin and Tito, Mao was shrewd in not forming PRC on the USSR or Yugoslavia models -- which were unions of a bunch of Soviet Republics. When the time came, USSR and Yugsolavia disintegrated since each Soviet Rpublic in the Union was a sovereign entity itself.

Yugoslavia was a fairly random and diverse set of countries forced into unit. The Soviet Union simply usurped everything it could get its hands on. China, on the other hand, has been a country for thousands of years, with only these frontier areas coming in and out of its control throughout the centuries. On the whole, there was much more homogeniety in China than in any other empire.

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bhchao

I am not sure a Chinese Empire really exists, or a US Empire for that matter. Whether one does depends on your political view. The current boundaries of China were formed in the late 17th and early 18th centuries during the reign of Kangxi; who incorporated Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, parts of Outer Mongolia, Taiwan, and Manchuria up to the Amur River; into the Qing empire. Excluding Taiwan, all of these regions constitute the present day boundaries on mainland China that were formed under Kangxi.

So if these areas are considered regions being incorporated into an "empire", then the Chinese Empire is the longest running empire in history. That would be a little more than 300 years!

If you accept China's present day boundaries the way they are, then the word "empire" probably would not apply. "Empire" would probably apply if one disputes the reach of these boundaries.

One of the prevailing trends of 20th century thought was the Wilsonian idea that every ethnicity or race deserves its own nation, which was disastrous

That was the same belief held by the Ming philosopher 王夫之. The fact that Mao was a great admirer of him runs contradictory to what Mao actually did.

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skylee
be placed on the chopping board

Nice expression.

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Ian_Lee

The article "The American Empire?" in the Harvard magazine can more vividly illustrate the sequence of events in the 20th Century:

http://www.harvardmagazine.com/on-line/1102193.html

Two kinds of empire existed before World War I: "old" landed empires, products of centuries-long expansion over contiguous territories (and still largely agrarian and semi-authoritarian); and overseas colonial realms. Among the first group—Russia, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman domains, China—the states were empires and were vulnerable to new forces of national self-determination. Members of the second group—the British, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese, and more recently the Japanese, Germans, and Americans—had empires. When the internal crises of the first group combined with the interlocking rivalries of the second, the result was the First World War.

And the article actually approves the concept of empire:

What, after all, distinguishes an empire? It is a major actor in the international system based on the subordination of diverse national elites who—whether under compulsion or from shared convictions—accept the values of those who govern the dominant center or metropole. The inequality of power, resources, and influence is what distinguishes an empire from an alliance (although treaties of alliance often formalize or disguise an imperial structure). Distinct national groupings may be harshly controlled within an empire or they may enjoy autonomy. At least some of their political, economic, and cultural leaders hobnob with their imperial rulers and reject any idea of escaping imperial influence. Others may organize resistance, but they, too, have often assimilated their colonizers' culture and even values. Empires function by virtue of the prestige they radiate as well as by might, and indeed collapse if they rely on force alone.

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Ian_Lee

Per above article, probably China is not eligible to be an empire any more:

(1) It is not an "old" style land empire:

The old style "land" empire has the attribute of frontier. But after rapid sincization in the past decades, the old froniter area disappears.

Russia is still quite eligible though.

(2) It is not a "new" style empire:

Unlike US, PRC does not form alliance nor does it radiate much cultural and financial influences outside of its boundary.

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Green Pea
Per above article, probably China is not eligible to be an empire any more:

Well, I guess that answers your first question.

I agree with Ian, except that the USA is not a formal empire, and thus cannot "break up" in the same way.

Slightly off topic, but the biggest political story of this century will the the dissolution of North America into 5-7 countries.

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woodcutter

Off-topic and extremely eccentric!

Sinicization is the key. Nations with fixed borders and homogenous populations are somewhat artificial, and have been created everywhere by ruthless suppression of such minorities and differences as exist within them. (Korea is the only possible exception) At present sinicization has not gone far enough to prevent an explosion of tension in Tibet/Xinjiang in a free speech China. The government has always been in a race against time to populate those provinces heavily enough with the Han, before the next time the mandate of heaven starts to shift.

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Ian_Lee

Woodcutter:

There is no noticeable persecution in Korea because Korea is one of the few countries in the world with a homogenous population (except a neligible Chinese population in Seoul).

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woodcutter

You don't have to tell me Ian. I am currently punching keys in South Korea, surrounded by the homogenousness. Anyway, there may be other good examples of unenforced homogeneity, but I can't think of any.

Anyway, the good news for the Chinese is that inner Mongolia has been thoroughly Han-ized.

By the way, I agree with the poster who said that the Wilsonian ideal is over-rated. Despite the EU and globalization, however, I think it has never been closer to people's hearts than it is today.

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Ian_Lee

I seriously doubt about the Wilsonian ideal. The reasons are:

(1) The principle of self-determination that President Wilson advocated at the beginning of last century just applied to the Empires in Europe and Asia but not to US which was in reality an Empire itself at that time.

(2) When that ideal was applied in the Versailles Conference, the method was arbitrary. For instance, many national groups in the Ottoman Empire could gain statehood with the exception of Kurds.

(3) Actually what group should be entitled to that right? An ethnic group, a society with distinct identity or just any colony?

If such principle refers to a certain ethnic group within a multi-ethnic country, then apparently it may not work. Since there are more than 2,000 ethnic groups but only 200+ countries in the world, I am afraid even democratic countries like India and Indonesia will seriously object the universal application of such principle.

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woodcutter

Again, I agree, but then neither of us are part of a minority slowly losing all sense of identity and deprived of political power, are we?

The Kurds are a good example of people who have the Wilsonian dream firmly in their heart, who we sympathize with, but who are also a grave threat to world peace.

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wushijiao
3) Actually what group should be entitled to that right? An ethnic group, a society with distinct identity or just any colony?

If such principle refers to a certain ethnic group within a multi-ethnic country, then apparently it may not work. Since there are more than 2,000 ethnic groups but only 200+ countries in the world, I am afraid even democratic countries like India and Indonesia will seriously object the universal application of such principle.

That was the point I wanted to make in my first post.

One of the prevailing trends of 20th century thought was the Wilsonian idea that every ethnicity or race deserves its own nation, which was disastrous.

It's worthy to note that even if you consider the US an empire, it is an ideological empire. Without getting too specific, this just means that the binding glue of the country is the democratic principles laid out at the founding of the nation. From left-wing femenists to talk-show paleo-conservatives, everybody argues about the ideals of the country and how they should be applied.

(This also has unique problems. Such writiers like Mexican writer Octavio Paz predicted that because of the ideological nature of the US, the country has difficulty tolerating non-likeminded countries. Thus, to some degree, it is inherently warlike. Perhaps, the same could be true of other countries that had ideological binding glue...ie. Soviet Union 1917-1950, Iran 1979-now, China in the Mao years...etc.)

In any case, I firmly belive that whenever possible majority ethnicities or linguistic majorities should try to accomodate minorities by democratic means. Warfare and ethnic partition are not good solutions.

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马杰
Ian' date='

Define "empire" in your words, and state why you think China qualifies as one.[/quote']

None of the land that is today's PRC was joined under any willingness of any sort, and you can still see the struggle in Tibet and XinJiang, as well as mumbles of how well of the old Kingdom of Wu would be if on it's own.

Beijing has even managed to get an angry eye from both Koreas when mentioning China's former position and current right to claim northern korea as part of China, when orginally Korea's northern borders ran almost to Mongolia.

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woodcutter

Nations are seldom put together by a coalition of the willing.

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