Great Hall of the People, IV

Comments, anyone?

The Discussion: 56 Comments

KLS – in continuing the last thread – are you a history major? cause if so, I’ll defer, but my gut reaction is that you are on tenuous ground. scholars in the west had quite a large role, as a separate segment of the population, in just about everything, up until modern times. And they still do, although we may not think of them as the sooth-sayers of old, but we still defer to this segment of the populous for everything from dieting to nuclear policy. Think about scientists in government, policy-makers, think tanks etc.

August 3, 2005 @ 8:07 pm | Comment

KLS: intellectuals in china seem to me to have had more of a role to play, or seem to have been expected to play a certain role, than has ever been the case in the west.

Show me the money. I don’t believe it for an instant. All of our “experts,” who make up the research papers and are quoted on the news and hired by the thinktanks, are qualified “intellectuals.” In America, no class/segment is more respected than the filthy stinking ninth!

August 3, 2005 @ 8:21 pm | Comment

chinese society doesn’t have that much diversified voices, HOWEVER (thanks laowai), many people clearly understand the importance of different opinions and tranditinoally chinese intellectuals are supposed to take that responsibility.

being a dissent voice, chinese intellectuals as a group has suffered intolerance and abuses from various emperors, HOWEVER, many of them stood on their ideologies and are proud of being an “intellectual” in china.

so, the difference of chinese and western intellectuals are not how much knowledge they have, but the different roles they play in their respective societies

August 3, 2005 @ 8:43 pm | Comment

the other main difference iwould the amount of time they spend in prison.

August 3, 2005 @ 9:21 pm | Comment

the other main difference iwould the amount of time they spend in prison.

Posted by kevin at August 3, 2005 09:21 PM


kevin, which country are you from?

August 3, 2005 @ 9:34 pm | Comment

in hot summer, you need this:

August 3, 2005 @ 9:42 pm | Comment

I think that intellectuals are a separate caste no matter where they are from. I do think however, that this separation was even more pronounced in traditional China, due to the lack of literacy of most of the population and the incredibly rarified nature of literary Chinese, which I think most of you know is not Chinese as it is or was spoken by the common people. The language reform movement (I forget what it’s called) of the late 19th/early 20th century (?) was a huge part of the May 4th movement – it was all about publishing writing in the vernacular.

August 3, 2005 @ 9:47 pm | Comment

i’m from the usa.

August 3, 2005 @ 9:51 pm | Comment

The language reform movement (I forget what it’s called) of the late 19th/early 20th century (?)


bai hua wen ?

i think what you described is different from what “intellectual” means in china

those who can write is called “shi”, one of shi (or shi daifu class), nong (peasants), shang (businessman)

zhi shi fen zi (intellectual) has a very different connotation in chinese, less realted how much s/he could write or knowledge s/he has, more realted with the role s/he plays in the society

August 3, 2005 @ 9:58 pm | Comment

i’m from the usa.

Posted by kevin at August 3, 2005 09:51 PM


taht explains it

this is what you are good at:

August 3, 2005 @ 9:59 pm | Comment

Bai hua wen, yes.

I was thinking of zhi shi fenzi; wouldn’t you say that the level of knowledge is as important as the social role? Wasn’t something like 90% of the population illiterate before language reforms?

August 3, 2005 @ 10:23 pm | Comment

wouldn’t you say that the level of knowledge is as important as the social role?


the ability of reading and writing is the basis of an “intellectual”, but not all of it.

say for example, i can read and write and have some knowledge but i am not an “intellectual” in its strict definition, ony those who care for the well-beings of the whole society could be called as an “intellectual”, somehow like a “social conscience “.

August 3, 2005 @ 11:40 pm | Comment

take blogs as examples:

peking duck could be called an “intellectual”

paper tiger? perhaps

danwei? no, wangjianshuo’s blog? no

August 3, 2005 @ 11:43 pm | Comment

Bingfeng: Chinese dissidents both in the past and in present day China are only a special group of intellectuals. The traditional concept of “Shi” or “Shi Dafu” refered to a group of learned people who aspired to serve in the Government, not against the government. Those “Shi” that were esteemed in Chinese history, were mostly people who exercised their critical thinking to study, reflect or speculate on different ideas. It is on this note that I believe that the Chinese concept of an ideal intellectual is not too different from that of the Western tradition.

August 3, 2005 @ 11:45 pm | Comment

Way to change the subject bingfeng! Thanks for sharing, i’ve really learned a lot!

August 3, 2005 @ 11:50 pm | Comment

Laowai & Richard: bingfeng is saying the things about chinese intellectuals that I would have if I was more sure about it all.
and I thinktheir role is different from that of their counterparts traditionally in Western Europe.
but you two know the US obviously better than me, so what I said earlier may not apply to the US, just western europe. so perhaps this is just one more in the long and growing list of similarities between the US and China for me to note down.

however I am still a bit sceptical. the US, “as we know”, has an oppositional democratic government system and it seems to me that intellectuals can be coopted for the republican or democrat or any other cause.
but in china where traditionally opposition to the government has been thin, the intellectuals have the potential to play this role.

ps laowai I didn’t “major” in anything! nor did I read history at university.

August 3, 2005 @ 11:51 pm | Comment

i agree with fat cat that in its broadest definition, intelectualls in china and the west are the same thing, but the connotations of “intellectual” in china are perhaps different from those of it in the west

not sure when the term get this connotation, but it’s definately before the 1949 communism revolution in mainland china

and i think it’s changing, with less and less implications of “social responsibilities” but more and more materialistic symbols like a degree or a profession

now in china everybody could become an “intellectual” by writing a blog of social concerns

August 4, 2005 @ 12:07 am | Comment

Bingfeng: if what you said about Chinese intellectual today is true, then I really feel very sad. In the West, as I know, intellectuals are not equivalent to academics. Many intellectuals are critics of the academia.

August 4, 2005 @ 12:20 am | Comment

The term intellectual was first used by Georges Clemenceau ( for the freedom-fries fraction, that was the frenchman who said nice things about the US, like: “America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization”), in 1892 to describe the group of people who supported Alfred Dreyfus (the jewish officer who was accused of spying for Germany). Clemenceau himself one of them.
(from the German Wiki on intellectuals)

August 4, 2005 @ 1:54 am | Comment

the US agrees to work together with china to fight against the G-4 proposal of expanding the UNSC

August 4, 2005 @ 2:33 am | Comment

August 4, 2005 @ 2:42 am | Comment

I’m still very skeptical about claiming a lack of a role for intellectuals in Europe. There was a time when the number of people who could read and write in Europe was at a bare minimum, and it wasn’t really that long ago. During this time, the scientists and the philosophers were really very important people – Descartes rocked the Western world with his proof of “God,” and Newton, Copernicus, Gallileo, etc., and Hooke’s own book of drawings of things (eg – the flea) from his studies under the microscope were bought up by every household in Britain at one time. These people were very important and valuable to society and to their patrons, especially the philosophers, at first, and then, gradually, the hard scientists more and more.

It might not be that way so much now, but it once was. When China has very few peasants instead of the current 900 million, and everyone is extremely literate, I’m sure things will change over there too.

August 4, 2005 @ 2:48 am | Comment

India doesn’t sound too different from America. I mean, George Bush defecates on the American public all the time.

August 4, 2005 @ 4:42 am | Comment


I have that photo for you

August 4, 2005 @ 4:53 am | Comment


good job, now a bigger challenger for you – a chinese baby sh*t on the ground.

next time i visit US, i will take a few photos of the sh*t in the street.

now back to the topic of “intellectual”.

August 4, 2005 @ 6:01 am | Comment


when swimming tonight, i recalled a book i read before, it might explain the “prudence” i was talking about towards japan, the name of that book is , forget the author’s name

August 4, 2005 @ 6:04 am | Comment


when swimming tonight, i recalled a book i read before, it might explain the “prudence” i was talking about towards japan, the name of that book is *the evolution of cooperation*, forget the author’s name

August 4, 2005 @ 6:06 am | Comment

A review from Amazon of the book Bingfeng mentioned.

“If you read this book as long ago as I did, you probably first heard about it from Douglas Hofstadter’s “Metamagical Themas” column in _Scientific American_, or the book in which his columns were collected. (If you’re just now being introduced to this book, check out Hofstadter’s too; his discussion of it is very helpful and insightful.)

What Robert Axelrod describes in this book is a novel round-robin tournament (actually two such tournaments) in which various game-theoretic strategies were pitted against one another in the game known as the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma. Each strategy was scored, not according to how many times it “beat” its “opponent,” but according to how many points it accumulated for itself. The surprising result: a strategy dubbed TIT FOR TAT, submitted by Anatol Rapaport, cleaned everybody’s clocks in both tournaments.

Why was this surprising? First, because TIT FOR TAT was such a simple strategy. It didn’t try to figure out what its “opponent” was going to do, or even keep much track of what its “opponent” had _already_ done. All it did was cooperate on the first move, and thereafter do whatever its “opponent” had done on the previous move. And second, because this strategy can _never_ do better than its “opponent” in any single game; the best result it could achieve, in terms of comparison with the other player, is a tie.

So it was odd that such a simple strategy, one that went up against all sorts of sophisticated strategies that spent a lot of time trying to dope out what their “opponents” were up to, should do so much better than all the “clever” strategies. And it was also odd that a strategy that could never, ever “beat” its “opponent” should nevertheless do so much better _overall_ than any other strategy.

As Axelrod is careful to point out, this isn’t always true; how well TIT FOR TAT does depends on the population with which it’s surrounded, and in fact it wouldn’t have won even _these_ tournaments if certain other strategies had participated. But TIT FOR TAT is surprisingly robust, and its success does offer some tentative political lessons.

Axelrod spells them out, in the form of principles like “Be nice and forgiving” — which means: never be the first to defect; be quick to forget what your “opponent” has done in the past. And in a follow-up computer simulation, he shows that it’s possible — under some conditions — for a little cadre of “cooperators” to increase their numbers and “take over” a population that practices other strategies.

Axelrod’s research was and is important for several reasons, one of which has to do with evolutionary theory: it shows that, under the right conditions, natural selection can tend to generate cooperation rather than competition, even among actors who act solely out of self-interest. Another has to do with the spontaneous growth of cooperative behavior in predominantly competitive or hostile environments (Axelrod’s examples include holiday cease-fires in the trenches during the First World War). Yet another has to do with the need (or otherwise) for external authorities to _enforce_ cooperative behavior — a point not lost on Axelrod’s libertarian and/or Hayekian readers, including myself.

Nevertheless, as groundbreaking as this work is, the results are modest and Axelrod states them very cautiously. TIT FOR TAT doesn’t _always_ “win,” and in any case not all of our social interactions can be modelled as Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemmas. It’s a _very_ hopeful book, but readers will want to be careful not to claim more for Axelrod’s results than he claims for them himself.

In short, this volume is a solid piece of political-sociological-mathematical research that has stood the test of time and stimulated all sorts of follow-up work. I expect it will be read for a long time to come — this conclusion being a simple extrapolation from the fact that I’ve been reading it for almost two decades now myself. It’s fascinating.”

It sounds interesting. It doesn’t sound like China is doing this (“be quick to forget what your “opponent” has done in the past”), but perhaps Bingfeng can illuminate this.

August 4, 2005 @ 6:20 am | Comment

It sounds interesting. It doesn’t sound like China is doing this (“be quick to forget what your “opponent” has done in the past”), but perhaps Bingfeng can illuminate this.


sure, wait a few minutes till i finish my work

August 4, 2005 @ 6:40 am | Comment

from my personal experiences, i find japanese people tend to adopt different social norms when they are with foreigners.

for example, when they work within japanese communities, they believe in win-win philosophy and could give up short-term personal gains for long-term group success, but when they work with foreigners, they are believers of laws of jungle, play the zero-sum game with you and try every method to diprive you. this is especially correct to describe the national behavior of japan before and during wwii

cooperation only exist between those who believe in win-win philossophy, or those understand the consequence of tit-for-tat strategy

china gave up the demand for war compensation from japan and hopes that could lead to a virtuous circle between the two countries. japan, on the contrary, doesn’t respond in a similar way of tit-for-tat strategy and take every chance to get advantage to itself

you know why japan as a nation could work with america so well?

August 4, 2005 @ 7:09 am | Comment

chinese humor, about china, about the world, highly recommended

August 4, 2005 @ 7:31 am | Comment

Are you saying that Japan and America “take every chance to get advantage to” themselves and China is not?

August 4, 2005 @ 7:36 am | Comment

bingfeng, sorry, I forgot to thank you yesterday for the link to the article you posted. Thanks very much. I was thinking of doing a quick and easy translation for TPD open thread–as it’s definitely worth reading.

I also see you’ve a decent debate about Japan going on at the Teahouse. Has AM commented yet? It’s a pity JR no longer posts here but I see that he’s alive and well at the Teahouse.

August 4, 2005 @ 7:44 am | Comment

I’m with KLS in the above debate. The role of “intellectuals” has lessened quite considerably in China since the 1980s … but traditionally, the intellectuals, in the guise of the Confucian gentry, were always a FAR more significant factor in China than in any other country I can think of. Just by passing the civil service exams, you became an instant noble, exempt from corporal punishment, and certain taxes … and even if you never even entered government service, you became the leading figure in your local community. The creation of the western civil services was (in part) inspired by European’s admiration for the Chinese state.

August 4, 2005 @ 8:48 am | Comment

My coleagues and me here at the Berlin Center for Research on Inellectuals in the Blogsphere (BCRIB) think that intellectuals think to much. That gives you headaches and the result of thinking with a headache can be as frightening as dialectic materialism. Our adwise would be to stop thinking imediatly when you feel the headache comming and to ease the pain roll a big joint.

head .. hurt

August 4, 2005 @ 9:27 am | Comment

I thought that every nation always seeks to maximize its advantage over others was a basic tenet of international relations…why should anyone ever absurdly insinuate that only Japan and USA (and as long as we’re going on the hate-America’s-‘puppets’ bandwagon, Israel) would do such things while other states selflessly strive for a Kantian perpetual peace?

August 4, 2005 @ 10:33 am | Comment


I think that there is difference between the Chinese word “zhishi fenzi” and the word “Intellectuals”.

In west the word “Intellectuals” refer who write articles in the media, books, give interviews and so on. Most are notable people in academic or media and have great influence on people’s opinion regarding various issues.

The word “zhishi fenzi” in China since 1949 turns to refer people work in white-color profession or people with university education. I am not sure if people used this word before 1949. During Mao’s era, the “zhishi fenzi” class is thought to be less loyal comparing to working class and peasants. Mao asked “zhishi fenzi” to be re-educated by send them to the countryside.

August 4, 2005 @ 10:33 am | Comment

“china gave up the demand for war compensation from japan and hopes that could lead to a virtuous circle between the two countries. japan, on the contrary, doesn’t respond in a similar way of tit-for-tat strategy and take every chance to get advantage to itself.”

Thanks for the insight BF. I disagree with your attitudes and beliefs, as usual, about China being somehow more honorable a nation than Japan or the US (although on the topic of honorable nations, I think post-WWII germany gets a big ‘ol prize), since rampant piracy is not indicative of a nation that is engaging in altruistic behaviour.

Japan, on the other hand, has given Fricking billions in international aid, without any of the shady back-room dealings that China is currently energetically engaging in, in places like Sudan and Zimbabwe. Remind me how supporting these ventures is altruistic?

Yes, the US sucks balls in many ways. But China isn’t really in a position to call itself somehow honorable. The massive corporations in the West have gotten considerably burned by Chinese piracy.

August 4, 2005 @ 12:10 pm | Comment

“fenzi” always makes me think that the name accompanying the “fenzi” carries a negative connotation. Is this correct? I just think of “kongbu fenzi” and “fenlie fenzi” and “jiduan fenzi”. But does this mean “jiji fenzi” has a negative connotation too?

August 4, 2005 @ 12:13 pm | Comment

Sorry another correction:”During Mao’s era, the “zhishi fenzi” class is thought to be less loyal comparing THAN working class and peasants”.

August 4, 2005 @ 12:31 pm | Comment

Interesting question Laowai. I just consulted my lass and she’s 100% sure sure that “fanzi” has no negative connotations whatsoever. She used the Chinese for ‘top student (jiji fenzi) as an example.

August 4, 2005 @ 12:32 pm | Comment

To much flattery for the German soul here. That is a slippery slope. If Germans start to think they are the nicest of all people – and I asure you Germans are quite susceptible to flattery- they could get the idea that all people should become Germans. And then … how
Like a German poet said in an attack of romantic nationalism:
Am deutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen.

August 4, 2005 @ 12:56 pm | Comment

Shulan – point taken. I flatter Germans here but if they ever started flattering themselves I’d probably stop. 🙂

August 4, 2005 @ 1:09 pm | Comment

OK I’ll do the first step.
We are already pope.
Next year we will be football world champion.
Ähm.. yeah .. forgot what comes next, but there was something.

August 4, 2005 @ 1:28 pm | Comment

To clearify this. There realy was a German tabloid, the Bild Zeitung, with the headline: We are pope.
Though not proud to be pope I thought it was quite funny.

August 4, 2005 @ 2:08 pm | Comment

Yes, I heard that the German pope story went down really well in (particularly Southern) Germany.

I think Germany remains my number one desired travel destination. I’ve never been. I could probably scrape by with my compulsory school-taught German I reckon.

Berlin, I’d love to visit Berlin. Bavaria also. My German team is Kaiserslautern and I’d also love to watch a Bundesliga game as well.

August 4, 2005 @ 2:21 pm | Comment

I love you. Kaiserslautern is my team. I come from that region (saturday bundesliga starts again). How did it come you like Kaiserslautern?

August 4, 2005 @ 2:35 pm | Comment

I love Germany too! sausages and beer and beer and barmaids and oompa bands and the little bows older businessmen seem to give each other as they shake hands. and bread and courtesy and farting jokes. and landes and finanzplatz deutscheland and banken and naked people in the summer and bach.
and bribery and corruption, apparently, among the higher ranks of german business according to the latest news.

August 4, 2005 @ 2:50 pm | Comment

oh & martyn, if you’re still awake, I noted elsewhere you said you agreed with some of what I’d said. not that I’m surprised, you come across decent enough for a northern bloke. but was it 99% or 99.9% of what I said that you agreed with?

August 4, 2005 @ 2:52 pm | Comment

laowai, I’m surprised you get so peeved about piracy. I remember you made a v good point on your blog a while back about pirated drugs, if constructed to less than full strength, opening the door to nastier diseases.
and perhaps there are other piracy problems that have other safety demerits; these too would not be good things in my book.
but as for ripping off dvds or clothes or consumer electronics, these seem very venial sins, if they are sins at all.

however, this is an isolated opinion — I’m not saying you shouldn’t cast aspersions on china’s claim to be an honourable nation.

August 4, 2005 @ 2:58 pm | Comment

Hi KLS. There’s corruption among all the filthy rich and all the politicians, and it’s hardly unique to Germany. We’ve got more than we can handle here in the US with Tom Delay and the Indian ca$inos. Luckily, it’s “white-collar” corruption, which, while it hurts us all financially in fairly subtle ways, doesn’t cause much if any bloodshed, and it’s often exposed and punished, as seems to be the case in your reference to Germany. Thank God for rule of law.

August 4, 2005 @ 3:17 pm | Comment

Hey Richard. forgive me if I’m jumping to conclusions richard but it seems a little like in your last sentence you’re suggesting that I might be playing down the level and the detrimental impact of corruption in China, by talking about corruption in Germany.
I wasn’t, but I can see why my past practise may have led to you believe so…

no, Germany has had some high level political corruption in the not to distant past and now murky business practices are coming to light — see the Guardian story “Bribes, corrupt chiefs and paid-for sex … corporate Germany is in crisis” of a couple of days ago.

nothing on the china scale though.

I don’t normally bang the drum for Britain, or at least not without tongue in cheek, but I do think we’re remarkably uncorrupt.

I mean, don’t just look at Germany. The leaders of France and Italy would both face prosecution tomorrow if they weren’t currently immune thanks to their jobs!

I don’t think these things matter too much in the long run, though, because they don’t really affect the average person.
unlike in china, for example, where corruption is low level too.

August 4, 2005 @ 3:33 pm | Comment

No, honestly I know you are not doing that. It’s just that if I admit wer have “corruption” in America, certain readers instantly come back, “See! What you criticize in China takes place in your country!” I just wanted to make it clear to them (not you) that there is corruption and then there is CORRUPTION.

August 4, 2005 @ 3:35 pm | Comment

I getcha. anyway, we agree, on the low-level high-level thing. that’s good. I’m far too agreeable these days!!
on that note, goodnight.

August 4, 2005 @ 3:44 pm | Comment

Sorry KLS, why do you think getting peeved about piracy is at odds with pointing out what happens when drugs are pirated? I’m TOTALLY
for more flexible generik-isation of armaceuticals to respond to poverty and plagues of disease, but it seems to me that pirated pharmaceuticals leading to resistant diseases should only bolster the argument for cracking down on piracy more.

Anyway, I’m also pretty selective about piracy faulting – pirating drugs is very dangerous. Pirating technology and not punishing the
transgressions, like the case of Ford’s manufacturing techniques etc. maintains the incentives for Chinese companies to keep screwing the innovative, be they Chinese innovators or others, and keeps China from
progressing towards a healthy economy. Pirating cds and movies is just good practise. People get paid way too much for crappy acting.

August 4, 2005 @ 5:58 pm | Comment

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