Hi, My name is Bill Hatin. I'm an associate fellow with the Asia Pacific Programme at Chatham House. I'm a former BBC journalist and I'm the author of the book The Invention of China and this is my Garden talk. It's great to be here. I want to you to imagine if covid regulations permitted that you were standing in the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing. If you were able to do that, the tour guide would probably take you to see a building called in English. The Palace of earthly tranquillity, the inner most of the three main halls of the inner court of the Forbidden City.
Now the guide would probably tell you that this was the Emperor's honeymoon suite. But if you read a book by Jeremy Bombing on the Forbidden City, you will learn that actually, its main use was for shamanistic rituals. Every morning, the imperial family would go to this building where they would pray to the gods of the Manchu ethnic group, along with prayers to the Buddha and to the Goddess of Mercy and other deities. Now, once those prayers were over, the central hall of this building would become a place of sacrifice.
A pig would be butchered and its meat would be partially cooked and then distributed to members of the imperial household on the court who were sitting around on the floor of the building, presumably required a bit of cleaning up before it could be used as the emperor's honeymoon suite. So in this, the most intimate spot of the Imperial Palace, we discover something fascinating about the dynasty, which for more than 250 years ruled the place that we call China. Now It's a piece of history that's been played down or even suppressed, I would say, because it complicates the story of China.
And this complication has major implications for the China of today, the present day crisis over Taiwan, even this week, the crisis over Taiwan or the disputes in Tibet or in Sin Jang or in Hong Kong. They all go back to this difficult period of Chinese history, and I'll try to explain what I mean by this word China and these name Chinese in in a minute. But what's important to understand is that for those 250 years, this place China was in effect a colony of an empire run by Manchu people. So right up until 1912, right up until the revolution of 1912, Manchu was the ritual language of the Imperial Court in Beijing.
The emperor's insisted that members of the court practised the traditional Manchu skills of archery and maintained other markers of Manchu identity across the whole of the Qing Empire, the Chinese empire. Let's say Manchu people were limited to certain roles, primarily in the military. They weren't allowed to become farmers. They weren't allowed to become merchants. Man choose had the monopoly on the very top most posts in the state and about half of all the senior officials in the Qing Empire were Manchu, even though they were only 1% of the total population.
And you can see the legacy of this period of division in the layout of even Chinese cities today, until the 1900 Chinese cities were divided literally by walls into areas where Manchu people could live and areas where other people could live. Sometimes the Manchu referred to the people that they were ruling as the Han, and that's a word that's still being used today and other times they used Min, meaning civilians to distinguish them from the militarist Ching. And intermarriage between these two groups was actually formally banned right up until 19 oh two.
So the court worked hard to maintain a distinct Manchu identity right to the end. So this is why we need to ask the question. How was China born now? At first hearing, that might sound absurd. I mean, those tour guides in the Forbidden City will tell us that it's been China forever, and we've watched Mulan. We know that there's a defined part of the earth's surface called China. The people who live there are Chinese, and there are many books and films tracing the history of that place. But hold on.
None of those last three things are as solid as they appear. Just because there's a country called China today doesn't mean they're always has been over the fact that there are actually two countries called China today, the Republic of China in Taiwan and the People's Republic of China, with a capital in Beijing should tell us. I think that the story is a bit more complicated than that. It becomes even more complicated when we start to think about. Who are the Chinese people? Who are they? Where do they live? How do they or anybody else define who is Chinese and who isn't? So that's what I'm going to talk about.
How these words China and Chinese came to mean what they apparently mean today. And I'll show you that the explanation isn't as simple as you might think. I'll show you how these meanings were in many ways generated by Westerners and then adopted and adapted by Chinese reformers and revolutionaries. Now that's a bold claim, and I don't blame you for being a bit sceptical. So to quickly demonstrate the difficulties of projecting the idea of China back into the past, let's talk about the name itself.
The first point is that no country has ever called itself China. Even today, the names of the country, it's it's Jeong Hwa in the Republic of China and John Wall in the People's Republic of China, and I'll come back to those names in a minute. But let us agree that China or variants of it like sheen in French or China in Italian or Gina in German, our foreign terms. Now some say that The original source of that name is the Chin Dynasty, which existed for about 15 years around 200 BC But that explanation is complicated by the fact that the same term the same name appears in Indian manuscripts from a period before the chin dynasty.
So there's one theory that this name actually refers to an ethnic group that lived in the Himalayas between India and China and control the flow of trade between them. But whichever theory you believe the name China or the other variations went on a global journey and became a term that Europeans used to describe a certain bit of East Asia. And in European imaginations, China became an exotic and wondrous place and other onto which they could project all kinds of beliefs. These were augmented by the tales of explorers Marco Polo in the 13th century, Jesuit priests in the 16th century Lord Macartney and British diplomats.
In the late 18th century, China became a thing in the minds of foreigners, a territory that was ruled by a Chinese empire where a homogeneous Chinese people lived and where they spoke a single language called Chinese. But none of these things were true as shipwrecked sailors and pioneering missionaries discovered the people themselves didn't call themselves Chinese. Instead, they call themselves People of the Ming or people of the Ching. As I'll explain, Ming and Ching were the names of the ruling houses of the two states that controlled the place that foreigners call thought of as China and the people that these sailors and missionaries encountered spoke many different languages.
Cantonese is as different from Shanghainese as Spanish is from Romanian, for example. Diet and dress and religion all varied greatly from from region to region. And crucially, there were massive differences in the political structures of those two states, the Ming and later the Ching. So rather than talking about empires or dynasties here, I'm going to use a term coined by the historian Tim Brooke. He wrote a book recently called The Great State. Now Tim argues that the Mongol empire created a particular way of ruling that allowed many different peoples and tribes and ethnic groups to exist within a large but flexible political arrangement so long as they were loyal to the empire.
And he argues that when the Mongol great state collapsed, that way of ruling continued to set the rules for how governments should be done in East Asia, and to cut a very long story short. The Ming Great State emerged from the wreckage of the Mongol Great state in 13 68. It ruled what we might call core China, or what foreigners later called China proper. Now I think we need a map here now. As you can see, the Ming Great State did not rule Tibet or Mongolia or Sin Jiang off in the west and the north or Manchuria the area to the top, right of the map, marked as the homeland of the church in people.
These are all areas that are now part of the People's Republic of China. Nor did the Ming Great State ruled Taiwan in the early 17th century. A group of semi nomadic tribes whom we will call the Manchu organised themselves into a powerful confederation, and in 16 35 they conquered their neighbours, the Mongols. After this victory, the Manchu leaders declared themselves to be the founders of a new great state, which they called the Ching. Now in 16 40 for this great state, the king, led by the man choose, conquered the old Ming state made it part of their empire.
In other words, China proper became a colony of a Manchu empire and remained so for the next 358 years until the Revolution of 1912, and the Manchu imposed certain rules on the people that they now controlled. The most obvious was a particular hairstyle imposed on every adult male, where they had to shave their forehead and then grow their hair long and grow it as a cue or ponytail in the back of their head. This was a Manchu style, which they imposed on every citizen on pain of death. So this is the part of the story that's been lost, even suppressed.
For most of the last century, Chinese history writing has been infected by an agenda which tries to erase this crucial part of the story. Now that history writing was carried out in the late 19th and early 20th century under the influence of Westerners, and that's why I entitled my book The Invention of China. But I'm getting ahead of myself. So after conquering the Ming Great State, the Ching went on to cover other areas. The rest of the Mongol ruled area Tibet and Sin Jiang Xin Jiang. Actually, the name means new frontier, but it's critically important to understand that these were not part of a Chinese empire they were incorporated into.
The man chews great state. The map that you can see shows all the areas of that King state that were outside the old Ming state outside China proper. Now this king great state which included all of these areas, including China proper, was not like a modern nation state in large areas. It's rule was very hands off. Its forces simply couldn't control. Everywhere in the mountains or in the more desert regions. There were no fixed borders, just zones where the rule of the Qing emperor gradually drifted away before it was controlled by another ruler.
Tibet wasn't directly ruled either. The Tibetan rule of the Lama had a personal relationship with the King emperor, but it was largely left to his own devices and this was an important feature of the King state. The Qing emperor acted in different ways, depending on the audience. He presented himself as a patron of Tibetan Buddhism, to the Tibetans as a Mongol Khan to the Mongol people as a Chinese emperor to the Chinese people. But in his most private spaces, such as the honeymoon suite, he and his family remained fundamentally Manchu and prayed to different gods.
Now this was the political arrangement. When the British and other Westerners arrived in Canton and the other ports with gunboats and armies during and after the two opium wars in the 18 forties, 1960 the European Attackers thought they were arriving at a place called China, where everyone was Chinese. But since they only really travelled in China proper, they didn't need to think about the other places that were part of the King. Great state. But during the last part of the 19th century, from around 18 seventies onwards, a new relationship began to develop between some of the elite Europeans who were now resident in the king, great state and King intellectuals who were interested in reform because there were so many treaty ports around the coast.
On some of the main rivers, there are now thousands of traders and diplomats and missionaries and journalists and others physically living inside the King state, and these ports became places where books and newspapers could circulate where they could be published in Chinese and other magazines and books could be translated. Missionaries and traders carried these books into the hinterland of these ports, spreading the good news not just of Christianity but also scientific theories and particular worldviews, as elite Europeans wanted to spread these so called civilising messages to the wider world.
Now one of these Europeans was a Welsh Baptist missionary called Timothy Richard. It was a very famous man at the end of the 19th, the beginning of 20 century, but now largely forgotten. Born in Camargue censure, he chose to become a missionary and arrived in Shanghai in 18 70 at the age of 25. The Baptist Missionary Society then sent him to Shandong Province, where he lived among the people, wore local clothes and learned Chinese. In 18 91 Timothy Richard was appointed the secretary of the Society for the Diffusion of Christian and General Knowledge among the Chinese, whose purpose was to translate and circulate materials in its words based on Christian principles.
But it was the society's firm belief that their mission wasn't just religious but social. They were preaching the gospel of Westernisation just as much as the Gospel of Christ. Now one of the tactics of the society was to publish a newspaper, a Chinese language newspaper called the Wanguo Gong Bao a Mix, a magazine that carried a mixture of Christian argument articles about the progress of Europe and calls for political reform. And many of them were actually written or translated by Timothy Richard.
Between March and September 18 90 for Richard devoted several issues of the magazine to excerpts from a particular history book, one that probably isn't well remembered in In in Britain, now a 463 page door stopper called the 19th Century A History by a man called Robert Mackenzie. It was all about how Britain and France had modernised from their old feudal origins and become rich and powerful. Now, 18 94 is an absolutely critical year in Chinese history. Japan provoked a war over Korea and gave the King state a thrashing, destroying its navy and defeating its army.
The war itself became proof of the central message of Robert Mackenzie's book that through reform, even a little upstart country like Japan could become strong now. The following year, 18 95 The society published a complete edition of Mackenzie's book with a preface by Timothy Richard himself, which included the words just as a clear mirror reveals the beautiful and the ugly. So new history reveals what flourishes and what needs to be replaced. So for Timothy Richard, this idea of new history was a guide to instruct modern people, modern nations and modern governments.
Now, this wasn't just any old translation. 4000 official copies were sold in a fortnight, and the historian Mary Missouri estimates that in all, around a million legal and Pirated copies were sold across the Qing Empire. And she says the book's influence cannot be underestimated. It was read by almost the entire elite, including the Emperor. The war with Japan made clear to many people that the king great state needed to change, and it appeared to some Chinese reformers that the foreigners had the answers.
Two men became critically important, can your way and more importantly, his student Liang Chow. They were both classically trained scholars who wanted the system to change, and they set up a newspaper themselves with exactly the same name as the Society for the Christian for Christian Knowledge one, the Wang Guan Gong Bao. And in late 18 95 these two men met Timothy Richard and invited him to become a founder member of their reformist organisation. And Timothy Richard also hardly, and she chose his Chinese translator.
And for several months the two men worked alongside each other, swapping ideas on political reform. Now, by the late 18 nineties, Liang Chow was probably the most influential person writing in Chinese. He founded a new newspaper called the She Will Bow, which was heavily influenced by the thoughts of Timothy Richard. And when these reformers published a collection of articles in February 18 98 1 3rd were written by Leon Shekau, one third by Kanye Way and one third by Timothy Richard. So for people like Timothy Richard, it was only natural that there should be a Chinese nation as Westerners.
They simply assumed that that was the key to a successful society, and they passed that idea onto the reformers. Now maybe I should explain what I mean by nation here. Now, people have been trying to define the meaning of the word nation for a long time and why it's different from a word like tribe or people or constituent part of an empire. Benedict Anderson, the historian, famously define the nation as an imagined community because it requires the creation of a sense of community between people who will never meet or know each other.
But it's imaginary, said Ben Johnson, but also, when it's imagined, it becomes extraordinarily powerful now to create a sense of nation among our people requires modernity and the physical and the intellectual connections that modernity brings. So roads and railways, newspapers, books, schools and universities, literacy and mass culture For Leonte, Chow and Kanye Way. There was no Chinese nation in the 18 nineties, and Liang later called this a conceptual error lodged in every Chinese person's brain.
They criticised those people who only thought about their families or the emperor and had no sense of nationalism. Now the influence of these two men and their supporters, including Timothy Richard, grew hugely after the Sino Japanese war. They appeared to have the answers to all the big questions. Canyon Liang were invited to meet the emperor himself in 18 98 and shortly afterwards the emperor announced wide ranging reforms to education, to government and to social rules. Unfortunately for the reformers, this provoked a coup by conservatives in the palace, and the emperor was placed under house arrest by his aunt, the Dowager emperors Sur Sha, and others who were opposed to the reforms.
Six of the reformers were executed, but Kang and Liang managed to flee the country. Probably helped by Timothy Richard. The two reformers managed to get to safety in Japan, where there was already a small community of like minded people, including refugees from colonial Vietnam from Hawaii from the Philippines and other places. All of these people were debating how best local resistance could be generated against imperialism. The importance of Japan in this period can't be overstated. It was like a cultural exchange where European ideas were flooding into Asia and being translated into Japanese, much of which could be read by Chinese intellectuals and then argued over and adapted and turned into a political theories.
All these people were strongly influenced by the dominant idea of the time social Darwinism, the idea that the races of the world and these were described as the whites, the yellows, the browns, the blacks and the reds were locked in an evolutionary struggle for supremacy. Now you might think that such a theory wouldn't be well received in Asia among people who were described as part of the yellow race. But actually the opposite is true. In both Japan and Qing, China. The idea of a yellow race locked in a death struggle with the white race actually became very popular.
European racial thinking became a key foundation of Asian nationalism, so I hope you're starting to understand what I mean. When I say that Westerners helped invent China, they introduced the idea of a Chinese nation and of the yellow race to the elite reformers of the era. People like Liang Chow and Kanye Way became the intellectual rock stars of the Chinese nationalist movement. They wrote thousands of newspaper articles to spread their views. In 19 oh one, Liang Chow published what became the founding text for a new way of writing Chinese national history.
In it, he laid down the intellectual foundations upon which a nation would be defined and built, he writes of a place which he calls John Wall, and he declares that this John whoa is comprised of a single people with a history that binds them together and then, crucially, makes them different from their neighbours. He tells his readers what should be included in the history of this John Whoa! And what should be left out and the correct terms in which to discuss it. The following year in 19 oh two, Landau co founded a fortnightly newspaper, and each edition sold around 10,000 copies distributed in Japan but also smuggled into China and elsewhere.
And he was explicit about the purpose of this newspaper. It was dedicated to bringing a new nation into existence, and the very first edition included the first of six instalments of a major essay in which Liang Chow explained how a new history needed to be written for this new nation. And he began it by borrowing exactly the same metaphor that Timothy Richard had used in his preface to Robert Mackenzie's book seven years earlier. The writing of history is the mirror reflecting the nation. It is also the source of patriotism in other words, the way of writing Chinese history that Liang Chow advocated a way that was intended to give members of an imagined community a sense of connection between them was directly derived from the work of a British historian, Robert Mackenzie, filtered through the missionary work of Timothy Richard.
This is what I mean by the invention of China. Now I don't want you to think that this is all the work of just the people I've referred to. There were many, many other people involved in this process in many of the treaty ports, for example, and many other people who students who left China. So, for example, Yan Fu was a naval officer who studied at the grey in each naval college and later becomes the person who translates Thomas Huxley's version of Darwin's evolutionary theory. Social Darwinism in effect, into Chinese.
And there were many, many other people. But this the story of Timothy Richard in the anchor chair is perhaps the strongest of the lot. But for those who could not get access to Western thinking from someone like Timothy Richard, there was another crucial vector for foreign ideas. The experience of exile, or at least of long periods overseas. Liang Chow remained in in Japan with trips to the U. S. And elsewhere until the Revolution of 1911 12, and he was joined by 10 excuse me tens of thousands. He was joined by tens of thousands of fellow countryman, mainly men, during the 19 hundreds.
After the emperor's assertion, and her supporters belatedly realised that the empire did in fact need reform, they sent huge numbers of students to Japan to learn Western technical skills. But once there, the students were exposed to all kinds of radical ideas. Many of them became rated reformers or even worse revolutionaries. This seems to have been absolutely critical in creating the ideas of Chinese nationalism. It was by being outside the country or being in contact with people from outside the country that intellectuals began to see what was different and what was special about their own culture and community.
Now the leading revolutionary was Sun Yat sen. He was slightly older than Liang Chow, but had experienced the outside world at a much earlier age. His family had sent him to study in Hawaii and then to medical school in Hong Kong. He lived in an English speaking world. He was taught in Anglican schools. He became a Christian of a sort and adopted an outsider's view of his native land. For him, the experience of watching the king defeat in the Sino Japanese war turned him into a revolutionary. In November 18 94 he founded a society dedicated to the overthrow of the king, Great State and its replacement by a democratic government.
From this small origin sprang the other major current in Chinese nationalist thinking, thinking Where's Leonte? Chow and Kanye Way were reformists. Sun Yat sen and his supporters were revolutionaries. He wanted a constant, whereas whereas Liang Chow wanted to reform and a constitutional monarchy and the preservation of many of the old ways, Sun Yat sen wanted to get rid of all of that, including the emperor, and abandoned the old ways. The two currents led to a decade long argument about the best way forward for China and the creation in those arguments of new ways of thinking about China, the Chinese nation, Chinese history and Chinese national territory.
So the final part I'm going to talk about these ideas in my book. I do this through the history of words before 1900 or so. There simply were not words in the Chinese language for key terms such as nation or citizen or territory. These were all coined by people like Liang Chow or supporters of Sun Yat sen to translate and spread the ideas of nationalism. So let's start with the name of the country. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the various radicals and reformers and revolutionaries were very worried that their country didn't have a proper name.
They didn't want it to be called the King Great State anymore. Under the influence of Westerners, they decided they wanted something geographical. Some wanted to call it Gina, copying the Westerners named China. Others wanted something with greater historical resonance. There were many candidates, but to became popular Jeong Hwa and John Wall. Now John here literally means centre or central and what it means literally flowering or a fluorescent. But in this context, it means civilised. So, John, what it really means the central civilisation Whoa means state.
So, John Whoa means Central State Now. It's true that John whoa was used in the far past to refer to a geographical area. But it was never used as the name of a country. It really expresses the idea of a state being at the centre and surrounded by barbarians. Now some translate John Whoa! As Middle Kingdom. But I think that sounds too much like Tolkien. I prefer centre of the world because I think that's its political meaning. The Chinese word for nation Minju was invented by Liang Chow in 19 oh one, and he did so because he was trying to explain the ideas of a Swiss German political thinker called Johann bluntly to the readers of his newspaper and bluntly wanted to explain the difference between a people and a nation.
And Liang adapted, blanch these ideas slightly and said that the nation could be defined by three cultural markers, language, script and tradition. For him, there was the Chinese native for him. The Chinese nation was defined by the way people spoke by the fact that they used Chinese characters and the fact that they followed certain traditions. But this set up arguments over who was really Chinese. Some wanted to define Chinese nous in ways that would exclude the man choose and the other groups the Tibetans and the Muslims and so forth.
They would have been happy to say goodbye to large air areas outside China proper goodbye to Mongolia. Manchuria Tibetan singer sang in order to have a pure car to court. China, if you like a pure China proper. But others wanted to include these are these areas and all the natural resources that they contained. The result was a very contested definition of nation. How could it include all these different people who didn't speak Chinese, who didn't write with characters and didn't follow Chinese traditions? And we can see these same problems today in the suppression of tigers in Sin Jang or the suppression of Tibetans in Tibet.
Although the debate has evolved considerably over the past century, we now have a Chinese government under Xi Jinping that wants to eradicate differences between groups of people in China. Hence, his government has locked up over a million people in reeducation camps in Xinjiang and they've tried to instil a sense of the what they call the five. Identification is required of Chinese citizens. They have to identify with the motherland with the Chinese nation with Chinese culture, the Chinese Socialist road and the Communist Party.
It's a policy also rolled out in Tibet, and this fundamentalist attitude towards nation and nationalism, concepts originally acquired through contact with Western thought, continue to cause major problems today, Leon Shekau also invented the Chinese word for territory. It followed a similar path, so it followed a familiar path into Chinese. It started its journey in English in the writings of the most famous social Darwinist of them all, the British biologist Herbert Spencer. It was then translated into Japanese with the word as the word rio dot literally governed land.
Liang Chow took the same characters the way they were written in Japanese and then used them in Chinese, where they're pronounced Lyngdoh. And from there the word was picked up by one of Sun Yat sen's followers and adopted for discussions about territorial sovereignty. These men felt there was no word in Chinese that had the same meaning as territory, with its meaning of a defined piece of the earth's surface. Under the rule of a central government, it was distinct from older imperial terms such as January or domain, which is really about the control of people rather the control of land.
Now this translation led to yet more difficult discussions about the rightful territory of China. Some radicals wanted a small country confined to China proper, the old Ming territory where they could be in their view ethnically pure. Others wanted a big china. But after the Revolution of 1911 1912 Taiwan Sin Jiang and Outer Mongolia, uh, sorry. Tibet, Xinjiang and Outer Mongolia all broke away from central control, making the discussions moot. The Soviet Union grabbed a bit of Mongolia, Um, and Tibet remained independent right up until 1950.
Taiwan had been outside of Chinese control ever since the Sino Japanese War 18 94 18 95. But almost no one in China was talking about wanting Taiwan back. That wouldn't happen until part way through the Second World War. In between in the early 20th century, the Chinese government didn't know where the actual borders of the country were. There were political arguments about what they really should be. And there were also very precise cartographic problems about defining exactly where the borders lay.
When the newspaper Shane Bauer attempted to organise an expedition to the borders in 1930 it's headed to learn that that was impossible. So instead they commissioned a new atlas of the country, and you can see one of its pages here. At the time it was printed. These borders were really expressions of desire rather than facts. Large areas were actually outside the control of the Chinese government. The history of Chinese territory is far more contested and poorly defined than the government in Beijing now asserts.
So when we talk about apparently simple concepts such as Chinese history and Chinese territory, we need to remember how new these terms are and how they were deliberately constructed in the image of Western ideas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These were times when ideas about race and nation and history and territory were used to justify imperialism and war and even genocide in Europe. After a blood soaked century, we jettisoned many of these ideas, and we found new ways forward. So it's distressing to realise that the heirs of these ideas are still alive and guiding government policy in China.
If we want to understand Chinese actions towards Hong Kong, Taiwan Tibetans in Jiang, we need to know more about the ideas that underpin them. Thank you. Okay, well, let's get to the questions from our Garden members in the first one comes from Kate, and she wants to know why some of the most important parts of Chinese history have been suppressed because there's still live issues. I think Kate is a really good question. The Chinese government has put a lot of money into an Institute for the Study of King history for the study of the previous dynasty.
Now in. In doing this, what they're doing is partly copying the model of previous Chinese states. One of the things that they did was to to sort of legitimised themselves was to write the history of the state that came before them, Um, and by the communists, whose state basically started in 1949 writing the king history. They're writing out of history the Republic of China, which existed from 1912 up until 1949 in the main part of China. So they're basically saying that they are the legitimate inheritors from the king.
But they are also writing that king history in a way about it as a Chinese empire, not as a king empire, and playing down the ideas that these areas Manchuria, Mongolia, Tibet, Xinjiang were separate. So yes, there is definitely a case of, as Mao said, let let the past serve the present perfect. Thank you very well, explained then Our next question is from Mourad, who wants to know whether the Chinese are Mongoloid race or a different kind of race. Well, that's a very good question. And what's fascinating about this is this whole idea of racial science emerges in Europe, and then it goes around the world.
And yet it gets discredited back home in Europe. You know, because, you know, I guess the second World War, all that racial thinking becomes very unpopular and unpleasant, and then the scientific basis for it are attacked and undermined. So the idea that there are races and that there we are distinct. You know, it's kind of that idea has been blown out of the water you in most scientific discussions. But if you use a different term like ethnic identity or this kind of thing, then it's clear that that people have migrated into East Asia at different times and from different places they've moved around that there are, you know, I mean, we have now increasingly d n a evidence for the old origins of people, and we can see, uh, in the DNA of modern cities in China.
They there have been different migrations and movements since, um, but trying to find a single defined origin of Chinese nous is impossible. But actually, this is, I think, in China itself, there's an assumption that there is. There is a Chinese ancestor, and in fact, you can find quite serious academics in China who do argue for a separate evolutionary idea. The idea that the Chinese were somehow a different branch of humanity, that they came out of an ancestor in a way that was earlier or different from the ancestors of Europeans or Africans or other people.
So this racial thinking does have very strange, uh, successors in China. But I think outside outsiders who are able to kind of look at this in a less ideological way would see a much more diffuse set of origins. For, uh, let's say, the Chinese people, the people who live in China today. Awesome. Thank you, Bill. We've got another question from Guiyang. Who says, Do you mean that the Manchu imperialism is somehow different from the hangings? Imperialism? So they say the Chinese today in P. R. C in Taiwan seem to think it's still the same empire just under a different dynastic rule.
Yeah, okay, I think this is Sang a colleague from the From the BBC. Um, yes. So I think this is my argument is yes. Is that this? That the king? You know, we're a Manchu people. They came from an area outside the Great Wall. They were part of a process in the history of this part of the world where you had repeated invasions from the Inner Asia area. You know, the Tang Dynasty was originally from Inner Asia, the church and Jin Dynasty again the same. And so you know the idea that there's been this sort of Mulan idea of history, that there are these people who wear silk, who kind of live in the lowlands, and then the people who wear furs, who live in a kind of inner Asia and periodically ride in and smash everything up.
This is this is kind of a very modern way of writing the history, and it sets up these two utterly separate civilisations. And I think increasingly we see the idea. There was a dialogue between Inner Asia and China proper to use that word, the Ming Ming state. And so, yes, there is. And I would say the Ming is quite different to the people that the empires that were there before and the one that followed them because it compressed itself down to a rather a small size and was able to define it itself as different from the people of in Eurasia.
And that's really where I think we have this sort of Mulan version of history, which is one I think, which then becomes adopted by outsiders, and it becomes the idea of an authentic Chinese state. The Ming is the sort of perfection one. But the idea of kind of saying that every single state that has ruled this bit of the Earth's surface going back two or 3000 years was Chinese just kind of takes away all of the complexity and ignore so much of the evidence about the different origins of these states and the fact they control different pieces of territory and often had very different cultural practises.
Great, thank you. I think we probably got time for maybe two more questions, So I'm going to take this one from Bush. Who says, How would China have developed if Japan hadn't invaded China in 1937? That's a really good question. A really good. What if I mean, it was clear that the, you know, there was a reform agenda was underway. I mean, the King state was pretty weak. I mean, even before the British showed up in 18. 40 with the gun boats, Uh, it was suffering. The effects of overpopulation and soil degradation and little crises, rebellions breaking out here and there.
I mean, the type Ping rebellion in the 18 fifties 18 sixties killed people estimate 20 million people and vast conflict. So there was plenty of things that were tearing that the king state apart. So in that sense, the fact that the British were able to implant themselves through force The fact that the Japanese were able to win the war was more or less a symptom of the decline of this state. So maybe it would have lingered on before falling over in a different way. But I think probably it would have would have come to an end somehow.
I mean, there was an attempt. Liang Chow himself wanted a reform process. He wanted to keep the emperor in fact, founded a group called to Save the Emperor Society Later on when the emperor was arrested. Um, because he wanted a gradual transition. He travelled around America, and he thought that in no way with the Chinese ready for an American style democracy. Um and so, yeah. I mean, fascinating to think of what could have happened. Perhaps, uh, you know, those those Ching and Manchu Tibetan weaker parts of the empire might have broken away and kind of remain separate.
And we could have retreated to a core china. And that core China itself might might have fragmented, for example, in the way that we saw in the 19 twenties when what was called the Warlord era, different parts different in effect, language areas kind of broke away from central government under warlord control. That might have been the outcome. It could have been a dissolution. I mean, compare what happened, say, with the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, you know, which really retreated with the Arab revolts.
You know, the Arab states became independent, and you and the Ottoman Empire retreated to Turkey and, you know, and you now you see all these separate states where once there was a single Ottoman Empire, maybe that could have been the outcome. Thanks, Bill. I think we'd all like to keep you talking for a lot longer. But we only really got time for one more question. So we're going to take this last one from Louise. Who says Is there anything at all that would encourage China to relinquish its grip on Tibet? And she says what geopolitics would need to happen? A very good question.
And I think the problem, certainly under Xi Jinping, is that he's created this idea of national rejuvenation, that China will only be truly reborn once it has re acquired all the territory which, in his view, was taken from it. And that includes the tiny little rocks and reefs in the South China Sea, but above all Taiwan and also some bits of land in the Himalayas which are in effect on the frontier between Tibetan and India. Um, and for him, it's very ideological. So I think it's, you know, it's almost, you know, kind of, you know, as important as the survival of the Communist Party itself, you know, short of you know, uh, an actual war which arrested, you know, physical control of the territory.
I can't really see China giving it up and and given the sort of the disparity in numbers between the the population of the hand population, let's say, in the Tibetan population, um, it's a It's a very kind of sad prospect for the Tibetans, Really. They're kind of being swamped by immigration from the lower lowland parts of China and kind of, you know, feeling very much like a sort of, um, they're basically being sort of confined to a reservation, you know, in a kind of North American style, in a way of of existing.
So, yeah, it's very difficult, but I you know, kind of. I'd like to think that by challenging this sort of conventional idea of history, one can try to show how a Tibetan civilisation and state has existed and could potentially exist again in the future. Thank you so much, Lou, For that question, that was a perfect one to end on, actually, and that is, sadly, all we've got time for today. So thank you to all of you who asked questions, including those that we didn't have time to get to. And Bill, it's been an absolute pleasure to have you in The Garden.
Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you. It's been a really great time talking to you and to everybody. And thanks for the great questions and thank you to all of our members for joining this talk. It's been a truly fascinating one that I hope has given you plenty of food for thought, and we hope to see you at your next Garden gathering. But until then, stay curious.