Small is Beautiful?
From Scotland to China, the empire must break apart.
Europe is relieved after Scotland voted no to independence. Had the result been different, it might have created a chain reaction in Spain’s Catalonia, France’s Basque, Corsica, and Brittany, Belgium’s Flanders, and Italy’s South Tyrol. And how about Bavaria? Those guys don’t believe they are a part of Germany! On the one hand, nationalists want to join the big European family, while on the other, separatists want to just be themselves, with their own ethnic identity, enjoying the wealth and resources that belong “only” to them. History teaches us that it took the Europeans more than three hundred years to learn that a nation’s self-determination does not have to be achieved by war or violence, but can be reached peacefully. The reasonable and quiet dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993 into two republics – Czech and Slovak – demonstrated that separatism is an art of negotiation and compromises that can be achieved at a round table. But now we have Ukraine and Russia, who can knock the heads off each other and ignoring the lessons of history.
Material benefit and national pride are important, but in historical and global context the Scottish people made a wise choice to reject independence. Great Britain and the European Commission respected their will. The Scottish people were free to make the political decision. The dramatic referendum has had much impact on not only the European community, but also to a certain extent, the Beijing regime and the Chinese people.
- During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison til 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
- Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners, and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.
For decades, the power center in Beijing has invested huge amounts of money in Tibet and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The financial measures reduce taxes, and build up modern transportation and communication infrastructure, all while suppressing indigenous culture and language. Slowly but surely, natives are becoming minorities in their homeland as China’s migration policy encourages Han-Chinese to rush to these regions and change the population and social structure. Chinese language and culture is overwhelming ethnic identities, and all the administrative and financial power is in Beijing’s hands. Additionally, the political suppression of ethnic groups is now stricter than ever.
It is a pity that the Chinese, who suffered under Western imperialism and colonialism for a hundred years, did not develop a sense of solidarity or sympathy for the victims of their own colonization policies. Instead, from a victim psychosis incarnate to a mastery mentality, they treat the minorities with arrogance and an iron fist, explicitly enjoying the taste of power. The ancient Chinese Empire used to mollify their tribute states with generous gifts. Sometimes, a Chinese princess married to a “barbarian” could produce political harmony, as in the 8th century, when Princess Wencheng married the Tibetan King Songtsam Gampo. Even with the end of imperialism in 1911, and throughout the time of the Republic of China, the country did not have problems with the minorities. Politicians knew that appeasement worked better than military force.
Ever since the Mao-era, the CCP believes that the new socialist China must show superiority and strength. With this ideological stance, Mao’s People’s Republic abandoned the laissez-faire attitude to minorities and began to force them to their knees. Now, the Beijing government is acting on the Chinese proverb: “If you have money, you can make the devil push your grindstone.” This may work for the pragmatic Chinese mentality, yet it does not resonate with other ethnicities. Beijing wonders why the people in Tibet and Xinjiang are unsatisfied and rebellious, despite the amount of money it’s poured into the remote regions. The Tibetans never stop longing for the return of their Dalai Lama, and the Uyghurs dream of independence. The Mongolians want to have their grasslands and nomad lifestyle. The Han-Chinese are too busy making and spending money to remember that human dignity is inviolable.
A story in the Book of Rites tells of a great famine in the Qi dynasty. A hungry man, named Meng Mei, wandered along the roadside. A rich man, Qian Ao, offered him food by calling: “Hey, you, come and eat!” Meng answered: “I don’t eat any hey-you food.” The rich man apologized, but Meng still refused to accept the food, so he starved and paid for his dignity with his life. The CCP destroyed Chinese tradition and wisdom when it allowed over 36 million people to die of starvation during the Great Famine. Now it offers its minorities “hey-you food,” and fails to understand their rejection. The Chinese writer and poet Liao Yiwu, winner of the 2012 German Book Trade Peace Prize, said in his acceptance speech at St. Paul’s Cathedral that the Chinese empire must break apart because it shows no respect to human lives. History has yet to prove Liao’s prediction, but at present the world knows that the British Empire will not break apart because it respects the will of the people. The United Kingdom must continue to show respect to the Scottish people to keep them a member of its nation.