Lesson 1 认祖归宗 – to acknowledge one’s ancestors and stand with them.
In May 1940, France was invaded by German forces and their ally, the Italians. Within a month, France was clearly losing the war. An armistice was signed on June 22, 1940 resulting in France being divided into 3 zones, namely a German occupied zone in the North, Vichy, a French governed zone in the South and a small demilitarized Italian occupied zone in the Southeast.
German control would go further. In November 1942, the Germans occupied the Southern Zone and continued the ongoing actions to arrest and exterminate Jews. Thousands of Jews fled into the Italian Zone to escape persecution. Their safety was short-lived. On September 8, 1943, the Germans entered and occupied the now former-Italian Zone. The whole of France effectively became Nazi territory.
On June 6, 1944, the Allies invaded the coast of Normandy in Northern France in an audacious amphibious operation across the English Channel named Operation Overlord. In August 1944 Paris was liberated, and by the later part of the year, France was free again.
The Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force during World War II was American General Dwight Eisenhower. Interestingly, Eisenhower’s great grandfather’s name was spelled Eisenhauer when he first arrived in America from Germany. While General Eisenhower spoke fluent French and needed no French translator, he only spoke a little German. Of course, he also didn’t 认祖归宗 and sympathise with the Germans. Operation Overlord was executed with total commitment, making him a hero in the eyes of both Americans and Europeans. Eisenhower would later become POTUS and he made sure that Germany would not be up to mischief again.
When Western imperial powers colonised the developing world, they had to send envoys and governors. The police and military who kept law, order and suppressed independence movements were recruited from the local population. Not only were these powers spreading themselves thin, they had to keep ensuring that the subjects were submitting to their rule. This strategy is inherently problematic. The British Empire experienced it firsthand.
China is a rising power and it has the same ambitions as the former British Empire, but as they say, as long as there are people living there, you’ll find Chinese people. There are 60 million ethnic Chinese people living overseas. Instead of controlling these countries through official channels, the budding Chinese empire is getting the Chinese diasporas in all these countries to acknowledge their ancestors and stand with China.
In October 2022, the FBI conducted a raid on a Fujianese (known as Hokkien in Singapore) community centre in New York’s Chinatown. Two men, Lu Jianwang and Chen Jinping, both US citizens, were accused of using the premises to run an “unofficial police station”. In their clan association meetings, these men had often referred to China as their “great motherland”. Their clandestine operations included the stalking and harassment of Chinese dissidents. Speeches, essays and internet postings not in line with the PRC’s ideology are reported to the Chinese authorities who would then warn or even persecute family members under their jurisdiction in China.
Likewise, police in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada have opened investigations into similar allegations in their countries. Authorities in these countries view there allegations with great concern. And the foreign ministry strongly deny the clandestine acts, the police in China are not hiding the fact that overseas Chinese can report any violation of “Chinese interests” in any country in the world. The local mafia will take care of it. Some dissidents have even been kidnapped, only to appear later in Chinese police custody. Such operatives might be better described as mafias rather than police stations.
Confucian Institutes in foreign countries, pretending to act like the British Council, are also playing secret police. While they encourage ethnic Chinese to learn the language, they also secretly monitor Chinese nationals who attend rallies held by dissidents like Ai Weiwei.
Attendees at these rallies or conferences are often tagged and identified. The Confucian Institutes then report to the police in China who would then warn the families of these Chinese nationals living overseas not to attend these functions. Family members in China are taken to police stations to video call the “offenders” to make sure they see the threat. Action will be taken against these individuals when they return to China.
It’s hard for Westerners to imagine how anyone born and brought up in Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia would align themselves with the PRC, but thanks to the propaganda on People’s Daily, Xinhua News Agency and even English medium CGTN, the number of misinformed pro-PRC, anti-US posts from these countries on social media have grown by leaps and bounds during the Covid pandemic. A debate with one of these “patriots” typically ends with “you’re a disgrace to your ancestors”.
Unlike Western imperialism and colonisation which consumes an enormous amount of resources, the PRC is now using the concept of 认祖归宗 to recruit “patriots” and “enforcement officers” in foreign countries. It’s the ultimate violation of another country’s sovereignty and some acts perpetrated by the “patriots” can even be considered treasonous. Nevertheless, the trick will work if there are enough individuals among the diaspora who 认祖归宗.
认祖归宗 is not restricted to the Chinese race. Russian leader Vladimir Putin has been applying the same dirty trick in recent years. Before we get to that, there are two things which we must bear in mind.
Third Rome refers to the doctrine that Russia or, specifically, Moscow succeeded Rome and Byzantium Rome as the ultimate center of true Christianity (Orthodox) and of the Roman Empire.
First image, the Byzantine symbol. Image right, Russian Federation coat of arms.
As we’ve studied in history, first came the Western Roman Empire, capital, Rome. Second was the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine, capital, Constantinople. Will there be a Third Rome? Who has more legitimacy? Italy, Christian Turks or Russia? Although Russia was never a part of the Roman Empire, it was the torch bearer for Orthodox Christianity after the sacking of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks.
There are 25 million ethnic Russians living outside present-day Russia in the former Soviet republics. Putin knows this much better than the ignorant Asians who support him. He has invoked Emperor Peter of the Russian Empire (1721 – 1917) and mentioned that Russia is the world’s most divided nation. His ambitions are more than a little obvious even though he has been playing that “national security” card to hide them.
The USSR may have collapsed, but there has been no lack of migration between Russia and its republics during Soviet times. Ukraine has over 8 million ethnic Russians. Kazakhstan has over 3 million. Tiny Latvia has over 24% of its population ethnic Russian. Invasion through “special military operations” may be a last resort or a final move, but a far more convenient approach would be to appeal to the Russian communities in these former republics to break away and join Russia.
In early 2014, a revolution in Kyiv ousted pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. He is now living in exile in Russia. To avenge this indignity, an army of unidentified uniform invaded and took over government buildings. After a rigged referendum, Russia subsequently annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.
A couple of months later, the same unidentified troops invaded the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. Putin’s success can be attributed largely to the support from local ethnic Russians who 认祖归宗 . One year into the all-out war in Ukraine with hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers killed and Russians forces rapidly losing ground in the face of unexpected Ukrainian resistance, Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings at home remain at a dizzying high of 83%. This is the power of ethno nationalism. Unless ethnic Russians in these former Soviet states have a strong sense of belonging to their home country and do not identify with a strongman like Putin, countries with a sizable population of ethnic Russians at risk f being Putinised.