Was there a wave of Chinese culture

What if the Chinese had conquered Zurich

The eunuch Zheng He had made seven voyages on behalf of the Chinese emperor. Between 1405 and 1433 he reached the south coast of Vietnam, Java, Sumatra, Malacca, Ceylon, Kalikut, the Arabian Peninsula and the East African coast with over 300 sailing ships and 27,000 seamen. After the seventh voyage, the Chinese emperor decided, for unexplained reasons, to stop the voyages of discovery and pursue a policy of isolation that would last for several centuries. What would have happened if he had ordered the expeditions to continue instead?

By the end of the 16th century, Chinese sailing ships reached all of the world's coasts. Overwhelmed by the huge fleets, tribes and peoples recognize the sovereignty of the Chinese emperor. Columbus is greeted in America by a Chinese advisor to the indigenous people there.

When China's population grew suddenly in the 18th century, many Chinese emigrated. Countless Chinese family businesses scattered across the globe bring all of world trade into their hands. They hardly interfere in the political and religious affairs of the host peoples. Imperial administrators of the Chinese emperor reside everywhere. To preserve the neutral appearance, they copy the Vatican and have themselves protected by Swiss Guards.

Admired by the European Enlightenment, Confucius became as popular as Jesus. Streams of tourists from Europe made Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, after Bethlehem the most important spiritual center in the West.

After the French ruling family died out at the beginning of the 18th century, Neuchâtel did not elect the Prussian king, but the Chinese emperor as head, on the grounds that he was even further away.

Two devastating wars raged across Europe in the 20th century. Both are ended by the intervention of the Chinese armies. Because Helvetia had Swiss neutrality guaranteed by the Chinese emperor at the Vienna Conference in 1815, the country survived the wars unscathed. After the second European war, a wave of Chinese culture swept across Europe. Chinese is becoming a fashion language. In Helvetia, the first program on the central radio broadcasts almost exclusively Chinese folk music, interrupted here and there by Helvetic yodelling songs. At the annual European festival of folk tunes, only the representatives from Samalia, the large tribal group of the Scandinavian Sami, sing in their own language. All other songs are performed in Chinese, some of which are incredibly bad.

At the beginning of the 21st century there is a global “Middle Kingdom” with Beijing as the shining center. Large Indian peoples rule the American continent, which is called "Aztekia" after the most splendid and powerful people. Europe is overpopulated because people have never been able to emigrate to colonies.

Every year representatives of the Allhelvetian Diet in their traditional costumes travel to the Chinese Emperor on a specially reserved Trans-Siberian train, fully loaded with Emmental cheese, and offer him the devoted greetings from the Confederates with flag waving and flagella. The cheese is packaged in perfumed paper in China and sold overseas at a high profit.

The German language is interspersed with so-called sinisms, which means that individual German words are replaced by Chinese characters. Even the largest conservative newspaper in German-speaking Switzerland, the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”, has bowed to the fashion trend. Since January 1, 2000, its title has contained the Chinese characters for “new” and “newspaper”. The Chinese characters for bears, lions and bells are emblazoned on many inns in Helvetia. Germanized Chinese phrases are rampant. So instead of “immediately” they say “on horseback” (Chinese: “mashang”). Nobody speaks of “bagatelles” anymore, but of “chicken feathers and onion skins” (Chinese: “jimao suanpi”). In the spring of 2008, there was a Swiss Juchzer at the top of the so-called Liädergipfeli (there is of course no word like “Hit parade”). It shows that there are still certain impulses of independence. But its title is taken from a Chinese poem: "Dr Himmel isch Höüch, and dr Chaiser isch färn."

Harro von Senger is Professor of Sinology at the Albert Ludwig University in Freiburg i. Br. He lives in Einsiedeln and Neuchâtel.

This article comes from the NZZ Folio magazine from August 2008 on the subject of "What if ...". You can order this issue or subscribe to the NZZ Folio.