Everything Under Heaven

Howard French on China’s geopolitical ambitions

There was once a country at the very center of the world, whose position was recognized as such by peoples both far and wide. Today, we call that country China.

Using the very word “country” is actually deceptive. The nation that we now instantly identify on the map as China hasn’t existed long. Throughout most of its history this dynastically ruled land would not even have recognized itself as a country, let alone seen its neighbors as such. It was an empire, and a largely borderless one, both in its geographical form and in what it considered to be the relevance or applicability— what the French would call the rayonnement of its ideas. One could argue that there has never been a more universal conception of rule. Practically speaking, for the emperors of the Central Kingdom, this place we call China, the world could be roughly divided into two broad and simple categories, civilization and non-civilization, meaning the peoples who accepted the supremacy of its ruler, the Son of Heaven, and the principle of his celestial virtue, and those who didn’t— those who were beyond the pale.

Little Red Podcast

Policing the Contour Lines

China’s cartographic obsession – Louisa Lim

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to give Chinese President Xi Jinping an antique map, she unleashed a Pandora’s box of cartographic tensions. The 1735 map – printed by a German publishing house but made by French cartographer Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville – depicted a China without Tibet, Xinjiang, Mongolia or Manchuria. In addition, the borders of Taiwan and Hainan were shown a different colour from China. At a single glance, this document undermines Beijing’s claims that these regions have been inalienable parts of its sovereign territory since ancient times.

To many Chinese, this gift was at best a shocking breach of etiquette, at worst a slap in the face.

Chinese Corner

Sober, My Favorite Kind of Beer

Mandarin malapropisms across the Taiwan Strait – Ash Henson

Words mean what they mean. Or, do they? Say you're an American on vacation in England. You go to a restaurant and ask the nice waiter for a “napkin.” You might get a look of horror instead of a cloth or paper to dab your lips with. That’s what a napkin is in American English, but in British English, it can also mean a sanitary pad. We may both be native English speakers, but your “napkin” isn’t my “napkin.”

Now imagine going to a pub in Taipei with your friend. We'll call him Harvond. When the waitress asks him what he wants to drink, he says, in perfect Mandarin, “Nothing for the moment.” Thirty seconds later, she puts a bottle of Carlsberg in front of him. He and you look at each other with that, “Wait. What?!” look on your faces. Are we speaking the same language?


The Death of China’s Reform Era

Matt Schiavenza reviews End of an Era by Carl Minzner

In terms of shock value, the announcement on Sunday 25 February that China would abolish term limits for its president and vice president – thus setting the stage for Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely – registers several notches below Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential election. China’s presidency, after all, is only Xi’s third-most important position, ranking below his chairmanship of the Chinese Communist Party and leadership of the country’s Central Military Commission – neither of which have ever been bound by term limits. Sinologists have referred to Xi as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong since the early days of his presidency, a status only solidified when Xi neglected to anoint a successor at last October’s 19th Party Congress. Removing presidential term limits is, itself, a move of little consequence, acknowledging changes that seem to have already taken place.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t significant. Now is as good a time as any to declare that the most recent period of Chinese history, one that replaced Maoism with Deng Xiaoping’s nascent market reforms in 1978, has come to an end. A new period – one some observers have dubbed “the Xi era” – has begun.