In the past few years, the world has witnessed Beijing boorishly press-gang a succession of international companies into acquiescing to its “one China” principle. This has manifested in the adoption of Chinese state-approved nomenclature on some companies’ Web sites, so that “Taiwan (China)” now appears alongside “Hong Kong (China)” and “Macau (China)” in country listings.
Another example involved Taiwan-based bakery cafe 85°C, which last month was pressured by Beijing into declaring its support for the so-called “1992 consensus.” Only last week, Swedish retail giant IKEA — which lists Taiwan as a separate country on its Web site — was thrust under the microscope in an editorial by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-run Global Times.
Last week, I finished reading The Firmament of The Pleiades, a 500,000-word historical novel by celebrated Japanese author Jiro Asada. The novel is set in Qing Dynasty-era China in the 22nd year of emperor Qianlong (乾隆) — 1757 — when Qianlong dispatched Zhaohui (兆惠), a senior general in the Qing army, to put down a rebellion by the Turkic people in Xinjiang, today known as the Uighurs.
Zhaohui captures a lot of money and property, which, along with the Turkic people’s leader and a beautiful princess, are taken to Beijing. The princess, known as the Fragrant Concubine (Xiangji, 香妃) or Iparhan (“Musky Woman”) in Chinese legend, is taken as consort by Qianlong and enters the imperial harem.
In accordance with the Uighur version of the legend, Iparhan stubbornly refused to submit to the emperor’s advances. Despite numerous gifts of gold and silver, pearls and precious stones, the construction of a mosque and a Uighur palace — even recreating Iparhan’s Uighur village in the courtyard of the imperial palace and arranging for fellow Uighurs to keep her company — Iparhan never relented. After five years of illness from depression, she died.
Real or imaginary, the legend is a fine illustration of the indomitable spirit of the Uighurs.
In 1996, then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) won re-election as the nation’s first popularly elected president. Prior to the vote, then-Chinese vice premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基) attempted to disrupt the election by threatening to fire missiles at Taiwan, while he also lead a delegation to Toronto, Canada.
At the time, I was chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party’s Overseas Branch and a member of the Taiwan Benevolent Association. Alongside several hundred Taiwanese and supported by Tibetan refugees and displaced Uighurs, I took part in a demonstration outside the hotel in Toronto where Zhu was staying. Many of us maintained contact after the event.
Tibetans and Uighurs have their own languages, customs and cultures, and their appearance is markedly different from Han Chinese. Furthermore, the US’ independence from British colonial rule in 1776 established an important precedent: One people can establish more than one nation state.
US independence unleashed a wave of democracy around the world, and throwing off the shackles of an authoritarian regime in the pursuit of liberty and self-determination has become the sacrosanct right — and duty — of all of humanity.
Last month, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination accused the Chinese government of turning the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region into a secretive “massive internment camp,” detaining up to 1 million Uighurs in so-called counterextremism centers and forcing another 2.2 million into “re-education camps.”
Less than 10 days after the committee’s report was released, the new mayor of Urumqi — groomed by the CCP — published an article in local media in which he stressed the importance of new laws to “preserve the stability of the region” and claimed that Uighurs are not descendants of the Turkic ethnic group, but have a blood lineage connected to the Zhonghua minzu Chinese ethnic group.
The mayor also rebutted the findings of the UN committee’s specialists, turning himself into Beijing’s flunky and a mouthpiece for the CCP’s “greater China” unification policy.
There is a parallel with Taiwan in this respect. In contrast with Xinjiang, since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Taiwan has never been under the administration of Beijing. Still there are many people in Taiwan who, despite eating the rice and drinking the water native to this land, have chosen to side with the enemy.
The name “China” is really an anachronism — an artificial construct created out of the dying ashes of the Qing Dynasty.
From the first emperor, Qin Shihuang (秦始皇), and the Qin Wars of Unification, through the Han, Tang, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, whenever society was at peace, tax revenues flowed into the government’s coffers and officials, gorging themselves on the finest food and wine, would invariably indulge in annexing weaker states.
However, now more than ever, due to the interconnected, globalized nature of the modern world, gains and losses are mutually shared between countries. As a result, saber-rattling can only be empty posturing, designed to intimidate and bully.
If Beijing were to risk starting a war, Chinese dissidents, who have been quietly biding their time, would inevitably seize the opportunity to rise up in revolt against their leaders. There would never be a better opportunity.
Shih Ming-hsiung is a political victim.
Translated by Edward Jones
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