1       Semper enim Sinas habetis vobiscum

       In 2020 we have been fundamentally shaken by the covid-19 “pandemic”, originated from Wuhan, People’s Republic of China (PRC). This writer, entrapped in the covid-19-induced economic depression, feels an acute urge to skip the remainder hujus anni horribilis and jump immediately into an uninfected annum novum.

         Next year also, however, the PRC shall still stick around you. The Chinese Communist Party will celebrate the glorious 100th anniversary of its proud foundation (in July 1921 its founding congress was held in Shanghai (the venue was in the unpatriotic French Concession, though (see Miyazaki Ichisada, Chinese History II (2 vols.) (Iwanami, Tokyo, 2015), p.280))) with a ruddily healthy economy unscathed by the indigenous covid-19 and is expected to further strengthen its benevolent grip on such still-to-be-educated nations as the Uyghurs, the Tibetans, etc., that happen to exist within the sphere of the PRC. (see “Torment of the Uyghurs”, October 17th, 2020, The Economist)

         As to the minority nations in the PRC, Article 4 of its Constitution solemnly stipulates: “Each autonomous region of such nation constitutes an inseparable part of the PRC. (各民族自治地方都是中華人民共和國不可分離的部分)” (this writer’s translation. The PRC Government’s translation is: “All ethnic autonomous areas are inseparable parts of the People’s Republic of China.”) Id est, those non-Han nations are deemed to be integral elements of the PRC.

         In coming years, we seem to be destined to ask ourselves again and again this one haunting question: “What is China?”


2       Washington Conference, Nine-Power Treaty, and Root Resolution

         The year 2021 also marks the centenary of the Washington Conference of 1921-1922, at the end of which (February 6th, 1922) the Treaty between the Nine Powers concerning China (Nine-Power Treaty) was signed. (The Nine Powers are: Japan, the United States of America, Belgium, Great Britain, the Republic of China (ROC), France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Portugal) Though scoffed as “actually an agreement on its [China’s] despoliation” (Jian Bozan et al., A Concise History of China (Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1986), p.151), in the said treaty “The Contracting Powers, other than China, agree / (1) To respect the sovereignty, the independence, and the territorial and administrative integrity of China” (Article 1). Consequently, during 1930s and 1940s, the Nine-Power Treaty was repeatedly invoked by those who scolded Japan’s “imperialist” adventures inside the ROC. (For example, as the Manchurian Incident was in progress, a note of U.S. State Secretary Henry L. Stimson dated January 7th, 1932 and addressed to both the Japanese government and the ROC government stated: “[the American Government] cannot admit the legality of any situation de facto nor does it intends to recognize any treaty or agreement entered into between those Governments, or agents thereof, which may impair the treaty rights of the United States or its citizens in China, including those which relate to the sovereignty, the independence, or the territorial and administrative integrity of the Republic of China, or to the international policy relative to China, commonly known as the open door policy”. In the “Quarantine” speech of October 5th, 1937, when “Without a declaration of war and without warning or justification of any kind, civilians, including women and children, are being ruthlessly murdered with bombs from the air”, “ships are being attacked and sunk by submarines without cause of notice”, and “Innocent peoples and nations are being cruelly sacrificed to a greed for power and supremacy which is devoid of all sense of justice and humane consideration”, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt lamented: “It is true that they [the questions] involve definite violations of agreements, and especially of the Covenant of the League of Nations, the Briand-Kellogg Pact, and the Nine Power Treaty.”) Given such censures, one supposes naturally that an authentic definition of “China” must have been agreed on at the Washington Conference. In other words, precise delineations of the territory of the ROC must have existed as the logical and indispensable precondition when the respect of its very integrity was made a treaty obligation.

In fact, however, the clause was made intentionally vague and the very word “China” was used to that effect.

On November 16th, 1921, at the first meeting of the Committee on Pacific and Far Eastern Questions (CPFEQ) of the Washington Conference (for the regret of this writer, official minutes of the CPFEQ were not made (Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (JMOFA), Japanese Diplomatic Papers: Far Eastern Questions at the Washington Conference (Tokyo, 1976), p.45)), Sao-Ke Alfred Sze of the ROC delegation proposed, as a première diplomatic manoeuvre of theirs, several general-principles as the basis of the CPFEQ’s discussion, Item1. (a) of which read as follows:


The Powers engage to respect and observe the territorial integrity and political and administrative independence of the Chinese Republic. (JMOFA, pp.45-46)


        On November 19th, 1921, at the second meeting of the CPFEQ, a general discussion concerning the Chinese question was held; wherein future Nobel Peace-Prize Winner (of 1926) Aristide Briand of the French delegation put forward the crucial question: La Chine, qu’est-ce que c’est? (What is China?) (JMOFA, pp.53, 55-56)

Following the general discussion, Nobel Peace-Prize Winner of 1912/13 and former U.S. Secretary of War, former U.S. Secretary of State, and former U.S. Senator Elihu Root of the U.S. delegation took the floor and, while proposing to draft himself a resolution concerning the Chinese question, observed as follows:


… while Mr. Briand asked what China is, it would be practically convenient for the proceedings of our talks if it can be understood to mean China Proper and a draft resolution thereon can be allowed to be produced accordingly. (JMOFA, p.56 (original: Japanese))


       Though Arthur James Balfour of the British delegation concurred with the U.S. Plenipotentiary, V. E. Wellington Koo of the ROC delegation objected:


         The Chinese territory is firmly defined by the Chinese constitution. Hence, it is difficult for the Chinese Plenipotentiaries to discuss such items that would entail alterations of the said provision of our constitution. China means both China Proper and the Outer Vassal Territories. China Proper comprises the Twenty-two Provinces. (JMOFA, p.56 (original: Japanese))


        Root rejected Koo by the following words and the committee chairman mandated the former U.S. State Secretary to compose a draft resolution.


         Here, we do not discuss the issues as Chinese citizens. Therefore, we are not bound by the Chinese constitution. I bear my own responsibility for the talks by myself. (JMOFA, p.56-57 (original: Japanese))


At this point (November 1921), Article 3 of the Provisional Charter of the ROC of March 11th, 1912, that was then in force (restored by President Li Yuan-hung on June 29th, 1916, superseding the May 1st, 1914 Charter of Yuan Shikai), stipulated as follows:


The territory of the ROC shall comprise the Twenty-two Provinces, Inner and Outer Mongolias, Tibet, and Qinghai. (中華民國領土爲二十二行省,内外蒙古,西藏,靑海。)


        Koo referred to this clause. The “Outer Vassal Territories (外藩)” he mentioned were Inner and Outer Mongolias, Tibet, and Qinghai. Xingjian (East Turkestan) was not included. The reason of Xinjian’s anti-intuitive exclusion was its administrative reorganization into a Province of the Manchu (Qing) Empire in 1884 after the internally and externally tumultuous 1870s (Moslem rebellions, Russian occupation of the Ili region, Ili treaties, etc.). Administratively, while a Province was ruled directly from the Imperial Capital, an Outer Vassal Territory was not. In addition, distinction and separation among the Provincial area and the Outer Vassal Territories were maintained as the linchpin policy of the Manchu Imperium.

        On November 21st, 1921, at the third meeting of the CPFEQ, Root produced his draft resolution, explaining: “…there is nothing novel in the contents. As to the ‘What is China?’ question, to avoid numerous disputes, I have adopted the simple expression of ‘China’.” (JMOFA, p.57 (original: Japanese))

        The first part of Root’s draft resolution read as follows:


          It is the firm intention of the powers attending this Conference:

1. To respect the sovereignty, the independence and the territorial and administrative integrity of China. (JMOFA, p.57)


        As the ROC delegation asked if “respect” included the meaning of “observe”, Root responded that “respect” was in fact a stronger expression than “observe”. (JMOFA, p.58 (original: Japanese)) The maintenance of the ROC government in Beijing is said to have been common interest of such powers attending the Washington Conference, since “The various imperialist powers continued to freely exploit the Chinese people and impose their will on Chinese affairs by manipulating the so-called ‘Central Government’ at Beijing …” (Bozan et al., p.133) John Hay’s famous Open Door policy of 1899 was in essence, as U.S. State Secretary Stimson explained to U.S. Senator William E. Borah in his letter of February 23rd, 1932: “(1) equality of commercial opportunity among all nations in dealing with China, and (2) as necessary to that equality the preservation of China’s territorial and administrative integrity.” (The underline is this writer’s)

        Since the powers that would express “the firm intention” in the resolution were, strictly speaking, those other than the ROC, on the request of the ROC delegation, an expression clarifying such intent was added to the original draft. (JMOFA, p.60)

        The Root Resolution (as modified on November 21st) was formally adopted at the fourth plenary session of the Conference on December 10th, 1921. (JMOFA, p.60)

        On February 2nd, 1922, the Root Resolution was transposed as “Article 1” into the draft Nine-Power Treaty. (JMOFA, p.353)

          On February 6th, 1922, the Nine-Power Treaty was signed.

         Later, with the evolution in the interpretation of the Nine-Power Treaty as an integral part of the disarmament-including Washington System, which was believed to be the precursor of the global Kellogg-Brian Pact of 1928, the object of attention concerning the respect of the territorial integrity of the said Treaty shifted to the means of infringement, rather than the location of the territory infringed. In 1932, according to the understanding of the then U.S. State Secretary, the Nine-Power Treaty was a treaty that “assured the nations of the world not only of equal opportunity for their Eastern trade but also against the military aggrandizement of any power at the expense of China” and was based on “the policy of self-denial against aggression by a stronger against a weaker power”. (Stimson to Borah, February 23rd, 1932)


3      Outside China Proper

        Though purposefully intended to avoid controversies, with the Root Resolution once published, the vagueness of the concept of “China” in the said resolution did not escape the notice of the talkative press. The Japanese delegation in Washington reported to Tokyo that many of them were questioning in their articles how far the so-called “China” encompassed territorially and whether Manchuria and Mongolia were included therein. (JMOFA, p.61)

        The intentional vagueness puzzling the press notwithstanding, it must have been well understood among the Nine Powers (the ROC included) that Taiwan (the Pescadores included), then being a legitimate part of the Empire of Japan, did not belong to “China”.

  As to the Outer Vassal Territories, at the time of the adoption of the Root Resolution, it must have been widely known, at least in the diplomatic circles, that they were no longer ruled effectively by the ROC Government in Beijing. Xinjian was administered as a de facto independent state by Yang Zeng-xin. Tibet had declared independence under Dalai Lama XIII on January 10th, 1913. Outer Mongolia, having first declared independence on November 30th, 1911, was then under the Bolshevik influence. (It would later become a satellite state of the USSR.)


4       Last Emperor’s Last Dictum

         Why did the ROC delegation to the Washington Conference still insist on the inclusion of the Outer Vassal Territories (and the non-Han nations therein) into “China”?

         A traditionalist or Imperialist explanation might be made: They had gladly accepted and were loyally following the last decree of the last emperor of the late Manchu Empire.

         On February 12th, 1912, as the Manchu Empire finally expired, Emperor Puyi issued a rescript declaring his abdication, which stated inter alia:


        …Then, We have Yuan Shikai organize a Provisional Republican Government with plenipotentiary powers(卽由袁世凱以全權組織臨時共和政府)…accordingly, be the Five Nations of the Manchus, the Hans, the Mongols, the Moslem, and the Tibetans united; be the territories thus complete; and be one Great Most-Civilized Republic established. (仍合滿漢蒙回藏五族完全領土爲一大中華民國)


        The new successor-republic under Yuan Shikai was expected to be a union of the Five Nations (Manchus, Hans, Mongols, Moslem, and Tibetans) and the corresponding Five Areas (Manchuria, China Proper, Mongolia, Xinjian, and Tibet) as the former Manchu Empire used to be. Hence, Yuan Shikai, who would later become an unsuccessful pretender to the traditional Imperial Throne in Beijing in 1916, composed Article 3 of his 1914 Charter of the ROC as follows:


The territory of the ROC shall consist of the territories possessed by the former Empire. (中華民國之領土依從前帝國所有之疆域)


5       Long March of Civilization

         An explanation of the translational difference between “the Most-Civilized Republic” and “the ROC” may be here demanded by careful readers, as both the Most-Civilized Republic and the Republic of China are transcribed in the Chinese characters identically as “中華民國 (Zhonghua-minguo)”.

         It is the common semantic equation of “Chinese” with “Han” that has required this writer to resort to the translational sleight of hand. (The English word “China” is said to have originated from Qin, the name of an ancient state situated in the present-day Shaanxi Province and of the first empire in China Proper (221-206 B.C.E.). The actual usage of the word in English is said to date from the 16th century, when the Ming Emperors reigned in Beijing, with their realm not extending to Mongolia, Turkestan, or Tibet.)

        The title of a new multinational republic (minguo means a republic) conceived by the last Manchu (not a Han) Emperor must not be construed to claim, so long as he did not intend a self-denial of his own nation  (“Sinae captae ferum victorem ceperunt.”), the new entity’s exclusive Chinese-ness (Han-ness). Hence, such translations as “the Republic of China” or “the Chinese Republic” are to be rejected. In fact, zhonghua means, literally,  as an adjective “most civilized” or “of the center of civilization”. It differs semantically from either “China” (a proper name) or “Chinese” (a proper adjective). (Besides, before its transformation to a geographical proper noun in antiquity, the word Qin () had originally meant rustically: “verdant growth of rice plants”.) This writer has thus adopted “Most-Civilized Republic” to designate Puyi’s new, universal Great Republic. (Unfortunately, he can neither access the Manchu version of Puyi’s abdication rescript nor understand the Manchu language.)

        On the other hand, it must have been the Han politicians in Nanjing or Beijing, who adopted “Chinese”, instead of “most-civilized”, as the English translation of zhonghua. They may have wanted humbly to avoid being seen hubristic (or ridiculous) in the English-speaking world; or they may have simply and innocently assumed that the most civilized in the world were exclusively the Hans (Chinese) and the Hans were so supreme among the Five Nations that they were entitled to uniquely represent, roughly comprehend, and kindly absorb the lesser nations.

        The evolution of the nationalistic thought of Sun Yat-sen, a leader of the revolution movement of 1911 (which started in Wuchang, a part of present-day Wuhan) and famous for his Three People’s Principles (Nationalism, Democracy, and the People’s Livelihood), may shed some light in this regard. At first, his nationalism was confined to that of the Hans and he thought it permissible to let other nations and their territories go once a new Han republic was established. (His foremost objective was then the expulsion of the Manchus.) Next, after the start of the revolution, he adopted the Five-Nations Unionism under the new situation. At last, the dream nation of his zhonghua nationalism had evolved, with some influence of communism, to an internationally competitive (anti-“imperialist”) amalgam of the majority Han nation and those dependent nations that was to be molded together under the civilizing Han leadership. (see Miyazaki, p.287) Sun died on March 12th, 1925 in Beijing, attended by his wife, Soong Ching Ling, who would later become a Vice-Chairwoman of the PRC, and by a Japanese friend.

        In the preamble of the current PRC constitution, the PRC is defined as “a unified multinational state, that the peoples of all nations therein have jointly founded (中華人民共和國是全國各族人民共同締造的統一的多民族國家).” The English translation of the PRC Government, which is shown below, is, however, somewhat different from this writer’s rudimentary translation.


        The People’s Republic of China is a unified multiethnic state founded by the Chinese people of all ethnic groups.


“The Chinese people” of the governmental translation seems to this writer as a creative interpolation of improvement.
        Mais, les Chinois-ci, qui sont-ils?