The United Kingdom is looking distinctly disunited. With the deep fractures of Brexit still not mended, the latest faultline to re-emerge is the desire by many, perhaps a majority, of Scots to secede. Yet the death of the three-hundred-year-old Union is not inevitable. What might save it is a lesson taken from a country many would consider an unlikely source of good ideas about public policy, and one that many in the West look at with increasing suspicion. That may be true, but China certainly knows a thing or two about keeping a country together.
“No issue preoccupies Chinese leadership more than the preservation of national unity.” So wrote the famed American diplomat Henry Kissinger in his book, On China. Given the country’s history, its rulers are right to worry about the country staying united. China has broken up and come back together many times since its first unification in 221 BC, each dividing event accompanied by the deaths of thousands, and sometimes millions. Tellingly, one of the most famous literary quotes in China, taken from the classic text Romance of the Three Kingdoms, is “the Empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide”.