For the first time in history, the 2012 Noble Prize in literature was awarded to a Chinese author - Mo Yan, a novelist top-read in his home country and enjoying considerable acclaim in the West. From a wider perspective, the award reflects the increasing centrality of China to world affairs along with the literary merits of Mo Yan's writings which boast a unique style and are saturated with subtle satire. With the epicenters of global development drifting towards China and India, the histories and cultures of the countries accordingly come into the spotlight. While these days the familiarity with the Chinese realities is largely limited to the circuit of professional sinologists, chances are that in the not-so-distant future few people would be able to list several US states, but not knowing the difference between Hebei and Hubei would be a major embarrassment.
As for the Nobel committee's recent decision, it came under fire from Western intellectuals and Chinese dissenters resident in the West who charged in a chorus that Mo Yan - the vice-president of the China Writers Association which is patronized by the government – represented the official brand of the Chinese literature and therefore did not deserve the level of recognition. The Swedish Academy, it must be noted, tends to be keenly aware of the political context linked to its decisions – the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, for example, went to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese writer and literary critic with a record of human rights advocacy and politically motivated imprisonment in China.
Berlin seemed to make an effort to balance the choice made in Sweden when the prestigious Peace Prize of the German Book Trade was handed to Liao Yiwu, a Chinese dissenter now living in Germany. The invectives Liao Yiwu directs against China exceed the boldest expectations of the country's critics: speaking at the award ceremony, attended by the German political elite including President Joachim Gauck, he got a round of rapturous applause for stating nothing less than that «the empire must break apart». Liao Yiwu repeated the phrase in German six times, adding for clarity that the collapse would help humanity achieve «peace of mind» (1).
Liu Xiaobo, an outspoken opponent of Beijing campaigning on the platform of demands of political pluralism and respect for human rights in China appears to be a hopeless moderate against the background. The truth that is not deeply hidden is that, as a general rule, the traditional Chinese political culture favors centralization and rejects untamed regional ambitions. The Chinese – living in or outside of China – are for the most part proponents of strong statehood and loyalists of their homeland and original culture (2). Therefore, Liao Yiwu's outcry is unlikely to win him popularity among his countrymen, regardless of what political views they hold. In fact, Liao Yiwu who described himself as a mouse capable to sneak through any barrier (3) left China voluntarily to reach Germany via Vietnam and Poland.
The readership's comments on the ceremony showed that the hyper-emotional address delivered by Liao Yiwu, with China referred to as a «pile of rubbish» (4), left a bizarre impression in Germany (5). The appeal for the breaking apart of today's China evoked analogies with the «Delenda est Carthago» - Carthage must be destroyed – but the question that arises is who might be interested in it. The US is, judging by some of the country's official documents. The doctrine titled «Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense» which was released by the Pentagon in January, 2012, said: «... while the U.S. military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region» (6). It is also indicative of the US Administration's concern over the rise of China that the Pentagon, the Defense Intelligence Agency, etc have over the past 12 years been submitting to the US Congress the annual surveys «Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China».
Should Europe be similarly interested in the crumbling of China as desired by Liao Yiwu? This is hardly the case, at least considering the Chinese support crucial to the buoyancy of Euro. It is a curious combination of circumstances that top German political figures looked pleased to hear Liao Yiwu dream aloud how China would someday break apart, and shortly thereafter, the German and Chinese diplomacy chiefs penned a declaration on deeper strategic cooperation (7). The document was signed when German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle toured Beijing and Shenyang, the center of the Liaoning province, to inaugurate Germany's fifth consulate in China. In the meantime, Liao Yiwu who lives in Germany on a stipend from DAAD (the German Academic Exchange Service) would be happy to see Shenyang – as well as Sichuan, Yunnan, etc – become independent.
Frankfurter Allgemeine readers posted comments saying that China would not be so easy to decompose as the former USSR. The reality to reckon with, though, is that the country is fairly heterogeneous in the ethnic sense, with the potential cracks coinciding with the borders of Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia. According to the official statistics, the Chinese nation is a conglomerate of 52 ethnic groups. Moreover, the biggest one - the Han Chinese who account for 92% of the population of the country – are essentially a political rather than ethnic entirety, with members hailing from a number of regions and speaking a multitude of languages, so that for many of them the common Putonghua language is not native. From the standpoint of linguistics, Putonghua comprises six to twelve groups of dialects8. The conclusion stemming from the above is that China stays united simply due to the Chinese wanting it to be one country. Great Britain made an attempt to partition China in the XIX century, but the plan failed and the Emperor retained control over all of it. Nowadays, breaking China into peaces would take a power exceeding that of China to an extent greater than the one which Great Britain used to have in the epoch of opium wars.
It was decided in Moscow in the wake of World War II that the option of carving up China was off the table. The policy pursued by the USSR was absolutely coherent – with the above in mind, at the time Stalin refrained from backing the independence bid staked by the Eastern Turkestan Republic. The double standards looming through the West's, particularly Germany's, approach to China are attributable to divisions within the Western political class which is obviously split into the Euro-Atlantist and Euro-Centrist camps.
1. Liao Yiwu: Dieses Imperium muss verschwinden; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 15.10.2012.
2. A. Maslov. Watching the Chinese. Moscow, 2010.
3. Liao Yiwu. The mission of telling about the real China
4. Liao Yiwu: Dieses Imperium muss verschwinden; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 15.10.2012.
6. 6 Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. 2 January 2012. P.2.
7. Gemeinsame Absichtserklärung über die Vertiefung der Zusammenarbeit zwischen dem Auswärtigen Amt der Bundesrepublik Deutschland und dem Außenministerium der Volksrepublik China.
8. A. Maslov. Watching the Chinese. Moscow, 2010.