Geopolitics is the study of the interaction of organized people and place over time. As nations (and states) emerge, their evolution is shaped by their location, by resources, ease or difficulty of movement, by neighbors and by their own history. As we look at these, we can identify strategic imperatives, elements of constraints and compulsions on a nation that largely exist outside of a specific moment in time, a specific political system or ideology. These broader imperatives are the hidden hand in geopolitics. They are not deterministic, but they do shape opportunities and costs for acting upon or ignoring the imperatives and their underlying realities.
When we look at China, and at the Han core in particular, we see four successive imperatives, each with differing priorities over time. The fourth imperative is a reflection of China’s current position in the modern era and has rarely surfaced in Chinese history.