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Chinese History
The Son of Heaven
This is a short section provided as a little diversion for those who wish to understand the Chinese psyche and their inherent view of the world in simple terms. Although factually correct, please read this as an aside and not a serious work of history. However, by comprehending the implications of this page, you will find understanding the whole of Chinese history to be far easier.

The Son of Heaven
To understand Chinese people, you first need to understand how they see the world

Chinese culture is based around the concept of centrality. This comes from the earliest sources, and reflects the early Emperors who termed themselves as being “The Son of Heaven”. They ruled “The Known World”, and anything outside of their knowledge was the unknown world. However, unlike Egyptian rulers, there was allowance for an Emperor to ‘go bad’, and it was accepted that in such an instance, ‘god’ would replace him by another with better credentials – hence the different dynasties

There are two important things you should know:

1. Centrality:

a) One big problem people find is that they do not realise how Chinese people conceptualise China. It is a little similar in UK, where Londoners tend to think of Midlanders (80 miles away) as being on the border of Scotland (600 miles). Lets have a look at this for your comprehension of China
i. ‘The Centre of China’ has been regarded for millennia as Henan/Shaanxi + Hebei Provinces. Lets be specific: today it is called Beijing, but previously may have been called Xi’an, or another city on the middle or lower reaches of the Yellow or Yangtze Rivers
ii. When I look at a world map, I see Beijing is Northeast in China.
iii. Yesterday the news stated that ‘In the South’, Shanghai was …’Blahblahblah’. Check the world map again and sure: Shanghai is South of Beijing on the Eastern coastline, in the middle latitudes of China.
b) So what's going-on?
i. Geography. Physical geography we call terrain.
ii. Cultural Heritage over millennia
c) This all gives a distorted view of China, so let me try and simplify it for you:
i. Central China is: Beijing
ii. Northern China is: Heilongjiang Province and Harbin City
iii. Inner Mongolia is always called simply ‘Mongolia’. It is never referred to as Northern China or Inner Mongolia. The independent Country of Mongolia has a different name
iv. Xi’an is often referred to as being in ‘Western China’
v. The West of China is always called QingHai, and this should be considered as a region not simply a Province, as overlapping references to Western Gansu are often topic related
vi. The very extreme West is called XinJiang, and this is Urgar country
vii. Why is this you may wonder?
1. Well, there is one very big reason, which is called The Taklamakan Dessert. North lies The Mongols. South lies the Tibetan Plateau. And the bit in between is one of the harshest and most invasive desserts on the modern planet. Therefore it is easy to conceptualise that main China finishes before the Taklamakan dessert. Then there is the dessert itself. And finally there is another part of China that is very far to the West. Simple!
2. Hence ‘The Silk Road(s)’ Northern (Summer) and Southern (Winter) routes; both skirting the Taklamakan Dessert
viii. Tibet is always called ‘Tibet’ or XiZang in Chinese
ix. “South” is a bit complicated, because this can be generalised or specific. Normally expect ‘South China’ to mean Yunnan Province; yet be prepared for it to mean Sichuan Province, and sometimes even Shanghai!
x. Southeast China can mean many things; and Beijingers usually mean a line across Guangxi, Guizhou, Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi, and Fujiang Provinces – and both Guangdong and Hainan lie Southeast of these!
xi. Guangdong is actually in the extreme Southeast of China; but is usually referred to as Guangdong Province, or commonly: The Pearl River Delta. It is ringed by impenetrable mountains with only one pass headed north, which was often too severe even for donkeys to traverse.
xii. Hainan Island and the South China Sea Islands are … a very long way away, and are always referred to specifically

xiii. Political Map of China 2009

xiv. Map courtesy of

2. Language:

a) Chinese characters show this really well, as language is a conceptual form to Chinese people, not a logical process. Lets look at some very simple characters:

i. Looks like a man with legs together, arms down .
   1. Meaning: Mandarin = Xiao (Cantonese = Siu)
      a) Lit: small
      b) Conceptual: Small Face, small person
      c) Perception: An unimportant person or thing

ii. Looks like a man with legs apart, arms outstretched.
   1. Meaning: Mandarin = Da (Cantonese = Dai)
      a) Lit: Large
      b) Conceptual: Big Face, great person
      c) Perception: An important person or thing

iii. Looks like a large man wearing a Crown.
   1. Meaning: Mandarin = Qian (Cantonese = Tian)
      a) Lit: Grand, (Money = 1, 000 RMB)
      b) Conceptual: Ruler, King = The Son of Heaven
      c) Perception: ‘Everything Under the Emperor’ or ‘The Known World’

iv. Looks like a great man wearing a crown, with the sky above him . This is a very old character that is not used today in Simplified Chinese script (Mandarin)
   1. Meaning: (Cantonese = Maa)
      a) Lit: Space
      b) Conceptual: Heaven
      c) Perception: ‘Everything Above the Emperor’, heaven, stars; ‘The Son of Heaven’
        i. This can never be another (wo)man!
            1. So, if another man is this, then he is the new Emperor
            2. Westerners tend to get this meaning wrong, and see it as a threat to themselves, which it is not. This is conceptual Chinese thinking only.

v.   There is another similar character, with yet another line over the top – but not many Chinese scholars even know of its existence today. This character means ‘god’
   1. Meaning: (Cantonese = Maa-Maa: Coll. Mama or First Mother).
   2. Properly a reference to Nüwa or Mother Earth, which you may recognise as Gaia or Eve
   3. My persuasion is that here the preference changes, and this becomes an obviously female character

3. Perception
Our point is that Chinese history develops from a small area of land between Beijing and Xi'an cities, and from where the Yellow and Yangtze rivers come close together. This is the cradle of Han Chinese culture, and as they expanded control over millennia, so their vassal states became incorporated into the Han Chinese unit.

But China is ever the land of contradictions, which is why many find it so fascinating. For instance, Cantonese peoples are highly assimilated into Han Chinese culture, yet are the only group to be officially allowed to speak a language that is not Mandarin (Internationally approved). You may state that Tibetans also speak their own language, and you would be correct in theory perhaps. However, Beijing does not approve of Tibetan as a world language, but considers it a Chinese dialect.

Peoples that are not totally assimilated into Han Chinese culture are called 'Ethnic Minorities', and whilst they have their own unique cultures, traditions, and languages; these 57 cultural groups exist as small entities within their own right - within the Han Chinese sphere of control. If you have an open mind to understand contentious issues like Tibet, then you should start here by looking at the interactions between the mainly southern minorities of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces (Generalised). It all comes back to this concept of centrality, and if you were to consider the Sun to represent Han Chinese supremacy; then the planets and moons etc would perhaps represent minority groups and interests. This also explains Taiwan - but to understand that particular hedgehog you may need to read our Modern History of China section.

We will wrap this page up here and hope you found it both entertaining and enlightening. In our Chinese History section we have taken Chinese history apart in some ways, and detail Kingdoms and countries as separate entities before becoming a part of the Han Chinese central unit. This is difficult, as no one has attempted this before, so our page(s) detailing Independent Kingdoms (Before becoming a part of Greater China) is a work in progress, and will probably remain so - for the more we learn and relate, so the more we find left to write about.
This information is as supplied by Wikipedia, as dated March 2009 or later, and/or other reliable sources.

Maps (Unless stated otherwise) are provided in association with Thomas Lessman

Please check this information yourself as it may alter without notice, and whilst we try our best to ensure it is correct, please do not hold us responsible for any errors - this is intended as a simple guide only
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