China, Zhongguo, the Middle Kingdom, or probably more accurately the Middle Country, was so named by the Chou empire some 3000 years ago on the North China Plain. As with so many isolated societies around the globe, the Chou people understandably felt that they were the center of the earth, surrounded by barbarians. It would seem that in the minds of China’s current rulers, times may not have changed much.
Mention the top rulers of China and westerners are likely to think of the Forbidden City in Beijing, with that giant portrait of a benevolent Mao Zedong over its massive entrance gate facing onto Tiananmen Square. Actually, the Forbidden City is pretty much China’s version of the Smithsonian Museums, generally open to the public. Much less known, and purposely so, is the adjacent lakes and garden complex of Zhongnanhai. Now that really is forbidden to all but a very select few who live, work, and rule in luxurious isolation. And how might the world be viewed from within these ancient walls? Some clues might be revealed by looking at a map.
Take a map of China and its surrounding…oh, you don’t have one? Yeah, they’re hard to come by. By the way, speaking of geocentric cultural orientation, have you noticed most world maps have the “0” degree longitude in the center, which of course runs through Greenwich, England, which is why China is way over to the east, even though it is really just over to the west of North America, even though it does not usually show up there on most wall maps…a digression for another time.
Getting back to the map of China: In order to get some appreciation of how the world might be viewed from within China’s power structure, turn the map upside down. Now the fourteen contiguous frontiers of foreign countries create a 3/4 encirclement, leaving only a watery exit out into the world. But wait. Look over the short horizon at the “top” of the map. There’s an encircling Armada of potential competitors out there: South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, with American gunships in among them.
How would you feel if you were responsible for the defense and security of China, having at your back Russia, North Korea, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, and with access to the sea lanes confined by potential blockade of conflicting international maritime claims? Maybe you would be just a bit edgy yourself. From China’s viewpoint, it may look like all America has to contend with on its land borders are sombreros and snow shoes, while fending off the naval powers of the Bahamas and Catalina.