How Britain divided China

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CHINA is a giant, geographically and population-wise.

But as big as it is, it could have been much larger had it not been for the meddling of foreign powers, particularly Britain, in their land.

The loss of Chinese territory to foreign powers began as far back as the 16th century.

The first Europeans to arrive in China did so around 1513 and their first trading post was Tamao in Hong Kong.

They clashed with the Chinese authorities to the point of being expulsed and banned. 

Stubbornly, they left Tamao for nearby areas to continue their trade, eventually leading them to a small collection of coastal islands called Macau in Portuguese and Aomen in Chinese Mandarin meaning bay gate. There the population of the settlers grew. 

In 1554, formal trade relations between China and the settlers began, followed by a permanent lease of Macau to Portugal in 1557.

Almost three centuries later, the British arrived in China from the south-eastern coasts. They were concerned with trading opium, a drug that is psychoactive and has dangerous side effects. 

This they did to address the trade imbalance between the two parties.

Europeans treasured Chinese goods such as silk and ceramics but the Chinese had no need for European-made products.

China resisted the trade in opium, which they called yapian, and had never been grown or used in the land prior to the coming of the British. 

In 1839, Lin Zexu, an imperial commissioner, was commissioned to completely destroy the opium and seize its trade.

The British sailors were backed by the British Government and received arms and troops to retaliate against the Chinese authorities.

This culminated in a war remembered as the First Opium War. China lost the war and, as a result, it became a semi-colony to other European powers besides Britain.

Hong Kong was ceded to the British and Shanghai began having foreign settlements from France and Britain.

The Chinese attempted once again to stop the trade in opium and were again faced with resistance from the British, which led to the Second Opium War.

Again the Chinese lost and the foreign settlements increased.

Shanghai became flooded with opium lounges that were coupled with brothels.

The youth became lazy and unproductive as they were only concerned with getting high.

Kowloon Peninsula and Stone Cutters Island were also added to Hong Kong. 

Many affluent Chinese nationals fled the war in the mainland for Hong Kong and this made the colony stronger.

In 1898, Britain received a 99-year lease of the territory which had grown into a major port area.

It was only in 1979, during the time of Deng Xiaoping, that negotiations of returning Hong Kong to China began. 

Britain agreed to return it in 1997, at the expiration of the 99-year lease.

Over two decades have passed since the British have transferred the governance of Hong Kong to China. But, still, the citizens of Hong Kong prefer to be called Hong-Kongese or Hong-Kongers instead of Chinese.

Besides their mother language of Cantonese, widely spoken in southern mainland China, half of them speak fluent English. This is one of the reasons they deem themselves superior to the common Chinese. Mandarin is also spoken by about half the population, but its importance is largely overlooked.

It is the UK’s supposed First World stature that makes the population of Hong Kong unwilling to abandon their colonial master’s heritage.

About half the population has dual citizenship; one for Britain and the other for China. However, many of them treasure their British nationality over that of China.

In fact, towards the end of Britain’s 99-year lease, many Hong Kong citizens left the land for UK for good.

Today, Hong Kong still comprise of a largely Han Chinese population whose mother language is Chinese, yet the citizens dislike being associated with China.

The island has the world’s largest number of skyscrapers and is among the world’s largest trading entities.

This territory is so detached from China that it is classified as a special administrative region, regardless of being officially returned to China in 1997. 

They are going by a ‘one country, two systems’ policy, showing that the divisions caused by the presence of the British amongst a common people are often irreconcilable, even after they leave. 

They are like a stubborn virus which continues to exist even after treatment and the symptoms in the various victims are consistent and almost identical. 

Besides an unwarranted superiority complex over the Chinese, Hong-Kongers often display a relative lack of patriotism and nationalism. To skip bureaucratic trade regulations, numerous Westerners trade goods intended to arrive to or from mainland China via Hong Kong.

Espionage has also been conducted on China from places like Hong Kong and the two system policy makes it hard to regulate or control.

As for Macau, the former Portuguese colony was returned to China in 1999. 

It too is classified as a special administrative region and goes under a ‘one country two systems’ policy.

It has become a resort city where gambling, gaming and tourism are widespread. 

It is even bigger than Las Vegas and is one of the world’s highest recipients of revenue from tourism.

Such places are coupled with vices like prostitution and drug trading. 

But because of the formalisation of illicit activities like gambling, these dark forms of entertainment are tolerated.

Besides, these colonially induced special administrative zones, the West has supported the breakaway of other special administrative zones like Tibet and Xinjiang.

Tibet and Xinjiang comprise ethnoreligious groups not identical or even similar to that of mainland China. 

The Xinjiang population is Muslim. They are Uyghur and not Han. They have a language and phenotype similar to Turks and only became a part of China recently.

Tibetans are likewise not Han, but have an ethnicity similar to the Japanese who they are more genetically related to. 

Inner Mongolia, on the other hand, has people of a varying language and culture to the Chinese but became a part of China owing to its proximity to mainland China.

Xinjiang and Tibet are far from east and central China and are closer to Kazakhstan and Nepal respectively.

The West has sighted these differences as reasons enough for these special administrative regions to become sovereign states independent of China.

They have used Western media to demonise the Chinese presence in these places.

For these and more such reasons, Western mainstream and social media are often discouraged and restricted in China.

If the special administrative regions are allowed to break away, China will become geographically smaller and also more susceptible to foreign invasion.

Taiwan was historically a part of China until it declared itself a separate state when members of the Kuomintang defected from the mainland with two million plus Chinese people, including soldiers, affluent businessmen and officials.

The United Nations refuses to accept Taiwan as one of its members. 

Yet the island has received recognition from the West, particularly the US and SA, to the displeasure of the Chinese.

The consolidation of near lands and islands into what is present day China was an effective measure taken to avoid colonisation.

This unity is attacked by the West because it is a clear source of power and influence in China.

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