From politics to proverb

A proverb is meant to be simple, it is meant to be insightful, and it expresses a perceived truth based on common experiences. Often figurative or metaphorical, proverbs collectively form a sort of folklore passed down by oral traditions. You may have heard of “Your mileage may vary” or “ignorance is bliss”, but how about one that is birthed from geopolitics between major world powers?

This brings us to the Russian proverb, translating to “China’s final warning”, or “Последнее китайское предупреждение”. Considering the geopolitical climate of 2022, this comes off as pretty ironic on the surface. But how did this come about? How new is it? Surprisingly, this Russian proverb did not arise from the 21st century, instead, it is something a bit older.

Conflict is not new. When ideologies clash, quite often there would be some sort of action, whether armed, digital, or information. I tend to avoid discussing politics, and this is not a politics website. But this proverb has a special origin I could not help but to dedicate a post to it.

Back in the not really distant past, the greatest rival to the Americans was the Soviets. But this was not quite the conflict in focus that made the rise of the proverb. Instead, this has got something to do with the Taiwan Straits. Skipping a lot of history, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has claimed Taiwan (or ROC) as part of its territory, leading to a lot of tension whenever political adversaries send military craft near those waters, lands, or airspace.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the United States regularly sent patrols to the Taiwan Strait, which definitely triggered some sort of political protest in PRC. Then again, this was the time when the United States recognised the ROC as the sole legitimate representative of China, so we could see how things went down. In fact, many formal protests were lodged by the Chinese Communist Party, often with a brazen tone of a “final warning”. The first “final warning” was launched on 7 September 1958, right about the period when the Sino-Soviet split occurred.

900 “final warnings” later, and we reach the end of 1964. And no formal military response was launched by the PRC to the patrols launched by the US. From this geopolitical squabble of the past, it became clear that the “final warnings” made by the Chinese Communist Party were warnings that essentially carried no real consequences.

This made its way into the Russian language, spoken in what was the Soviet Union. While its exact use in discourse was not quite clear to me, it does seem that the Soviets were having some colloquial fun in making fun of the PRC from all of its “final warnings” in that conflict. Even after the dissolution of the USSR, it still retained use in some contexts in the lingo spoken in the former Soviet states, most notably, Estonia.

Yet, it is still quite bizarre why this proverb did not quite make its way into English discourse, considering that the US was their major political rival. Perhaps it would not have surpassed the already entrenched use of “a boy crying wolf”, which originated from a fable or fairy tale, and essentially has a similar meaning or implication.

Now, considering the geopolitical climate we are currently in right now, it is likely that this post would have some rather polarised or opinionated responses. We are a language website, not a political one. We do not push for any sort of political agenda, but rather, to find quirks in languages that seem interesting to mention, and factually present their origins. Should you leave a comment regarding the politics or history, which we have heavily oversimplified, please do so in a civil manner.

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