Defining terms: China, The West, civilization, and modernity

In the journal First Things, David Gress reviews the new book What is the West? by French philosopher, Phillippe Nemo. In answering his own question, Nemo suggests, perhaps unsurprisingly, that we must first look to Greece:

The story begins with the Greeks, who invented scientific speculation and the ideal of the city, in which “individual lives are no longer submerged in a vast sea of humanity. . . . Each person now has individuality and character.” To this-a point of capital importance-the Romans added their “invention of private law,” whereby they “invented the individual human person.”

The next stage, of course, is Christianity or, rather, the impact of biblical religion and spirituality on ancient culture, an impact that was crucial in transforming that culture into what we call medieval. Biblical religion introduced an ethical and an eschatological revolution, “cherishing the individual, morally responsible human being, by emphasizing human individuality as desired and created by God for all eternity.” But, Nemo adds, that ethical revolution “might never have bestowed such theological significance on the individual person had these beliefs not taken root in a society that had already granted importance to the human ego.” Without Christianity, there is no civilization of human rights, but without the Greek city, Greek science, and Roman law, there is no Christendom.

I’m assuming Nemo has never heard of Mencius. Gress then suggests that Nemo uncovers a “fundamental logic of western civilization,” and here I think a comparison to China is worth mentioning. Gress writes:

The West is a civilization of borrowings and mixtures, whose result, never fixed and never self-satisfied, is more than a mere function of those borrowings.

Well, I suppose that is true. But isn’t it true of many places, including China? Certainly in what is today China there have been many groups and ideas coming and going, both changing and being changed by what was there before. The idea of static, unchanging, unyielding CHINA absorbing all who come into her borders doesn’t seem to work when compared to the historical record.

But then Gress cites Remi Brague, who I think makes a point that distinguishes at least how China and Europe interpreted their respective historical legacies:

The West, Remi Brague has written, is by definition a “secondary” culture, a culture of followers who know they are followers. Neither Greek poeitical philosophy nor Christianity were western inventions, yet their confluence created the West.

A culture of followers who knew they were followers. In one way, we could argue that this fits in China. Confucius called himself a “transmitter” of an ancient way. But I think the extent to which “China looks only backwards” has been quite overstated (beginning but sadly not ending with Weber.) It is the second line that I think gives some distinction between China and Europe: China never defined itself as a “secondary culture” to anyone. To anyone that is, until the intellectuals of the late-Qing and the New Culture Era started casting their nets wide for new ideas on how to reform old institutions in, using the words of Yan Fu, the search for wealth and power. Even then, reformers such as Yan, Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao, Chen Duxiu, or even Mao Zedong would probably have explicitly rejected the idea that Chinese civilization was “secondary” to any other. It is a kind of lasting cultural confidence that I think goes a long way to explaining why China has managed to remain (more or less and with definite gaps in the record) unified for so long. Of course, defining what we mean by “China” or “Chinese civilization” (as we saw in the recent post on “5000 years of history”), is almost as tricky as trying to define some vague notion of “The West.”

Much more controversially, Nemo’s book suggests:

Holding democracy to be a result of how Christianity evolved in the West, Nemo is equally firm in holding that modern totalitarianism was not the evil essence of the West. The West, in this semi-Marxist view, is characterized by power and exploitation, democracy being merely a sham. Totalitarianism was simply the West without the mask. Any decent political philosophy that rejects totalitarianism must, in this widespread interpretation, also reject much of the West. In both elite ideology and much popular common wisdom, modern totalitarianism and Christianity are lumped together as bad, authoritarian, inhuman ideologies of unnatural constraint that must be rejected, and, since they were western, the rejection takes the form of multiculturalism and liberal guilt.

The final stage of Nemo’s historical analysis is to ask whether western culture is universal now and, if so, what that means. “Does modernization require westernization?” asks the Indian-born economist Deepak Lal. Nemo remains agnostic but suggests that we need not wait for the final answer, if any, to the question of what the West is today and what it should do to survive.

I’m not sure I like the way Nemo, after such a provocative argument, ducks Professor Lal’s question. I’m also, frankly, not enough of a Europeanist to give Nemo’s ideas the thorough workout they deserve. But I’ll put the questions here: “Does modernization require westernization?” What does it mean to be “modern”? What does it mean to be “Western” or “Chinese”? How do we define and use these terms?
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via Arts & Letters Daily

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 72 Comments

I think that to be a well-educated Chinese in modern China often means to have a good command of English, in addition to other subjects. I don’t know if this means that person has been westernized or if it makes that person modern, but I do think there is a relationship between education, being modern and westernization.

February 22, 2007 @ 11:27 am | Comment

I think a modern society builds on at least the following elements: meritocracy, freedom of speech, and the precedence of logic.
If the society is to be a succesful one I think it also has to have the Rule of Law.
A modern person is one who believes in the above ideals.

Does modernization require Westernization? No, the West has no monopoly on the above traits. They just happen to exist here.

February 22, 2007 @ 9:31 pm | Comment

@Kevin

Broadly speaking, I agree.

It may not be enough to be statistically significant, but the few Chinese students that I’ve encountered who have near-fluent English are also the ones least likely to trot out the party agenda in conversation. In addition, this precious handful are the individuals prepared to embrace ideas from beyond the motherland. Bless ‘em all.

February 22, 2007 @ 10:08 pm | Comment

Logic is innate to all individuals and cultures. I think you might mean that modern society is built on a rational worldview.

We used to debate this when I was in the Peace Corps in Kenya. My own answer changes as I understand more about modernity and the west.

It is a kind of lasting cultural confidence that I think goes a long way to explaining why China has managed to remain (more or less and with definite gaps in the record) unified for so long.

I think this idea of a “unified China” is a myth like the “5,000 years.” Throughout its history, the Chinese culture area has never been unified, except when in the possession of a foreign power (Qing, Yuan) and briefly in the Tang, when there was a gigantic centralized state that exerted control throughout most of the Chinese culture area. But throughout most of Chinese history unity has been an ideal more than a fact.

The west never developed this cultural confidence because it was always aware of itself as the inferior area, well behind the others in organization and technology, until the 18th century when it began to catch up to China., India, and Africa.

Holding democracy to be a result of how Christianity evolved in the West, Nemo is equally firm in holding that modern totalitarianism was not the evil essence of the West.

Democracy was an invention of the Greeks; Christianity was mostly opposed to it until the 17th century. I’m always amazed by the ability of people to impute ideals of human freedom to centralized authority beliefs whose primary drive is their need for control, be they Christian or Communist or Fascist or whatever.

Michael

February 22, 2007 @ 10:19 pm | Comment

Rationality, is ok too.
Some societies place great importance on orthodoxy or tradition. A modern society challenges orthodoxy with logic (or rationality if you will).
That is what I mean.

February 23, 2007 @ 6:34 am | Comment

Michael

You are right Christianty was never about democracy but about Theocracy where God is the King. But the idea of no human is above the Law( I mean the Law of the God) be they kings or commoner in the so called West is essentially derived from Christianity but as with most religions it is widely abuse by Kings or Priest claiming divine appointments. But if you read the first five book of the Bible the idea of justice and fairness for both slaves and kings are clearly stated and neither kings nor priest can violate these laws. If read simply and plainly and not abuse by man. So the rule of law is essentially the foundation whereby so called Western civilisation is built on.

February 23, 2007 @ 10:22 am | Comment

Turton,

Interesting. Why Qin, Han, West Jin, Sui, Ming dynasties not considered “unified China”?

February 23, 2007 @ 11:20 am | Comment

“Unified” can be a tricky term. We need to define to which territory we are referring and what is meant by control. Professor Ge Jianxiong of Fudan University had an interesting article on this subject recently. For non-Chinese readers, an English translation can found at my site.

I qualified the term “unified” in the post because there are certainly gaps, and the issue of conquest dynasties further complicates the discussion. But since we were comparing “Europe” as a general concept and “China” as a general concept, I thought that the large political units of the Tang, Song, and Ming (for example) present a different form of political and social organization than that found in post-Rome Europe. In China, larger swaths of territory were reconstituted from the wreckage of past states (albet sometimes incompletely and imperfectly) into new polities.

February 23, 2007 @ 11:58 am | Comment

Unified China is a ideology grown out of the Mandarin ruling class which I think has been the true ruler of China. The emperors and dynasty changed but the class remain stable. The class is selected by the meritocratic imperial examine but some studies have shown close kinship with in the group.

This distributed but stable ruling class wrote the history of China starting from ShiJi by Shima Qian around 200 BC. China is to be ruled by mortal, not divine, with the mandate of heaven. Heaven is defined abstractly without requirement of special bloodline and no specific doctrines. That helps the class to stay in power with dynasty changing, foreigner invasion or even overhaul of concept of governing. Regardless to who is on the top: emperors, foreign invaders, warlords, communist party, this class is in power running the countries. When Yuan/Qing took over China, the change to the Mandarin was minimum.

The culture confidence came more or less from narrow world view from examine system’s focus on specific literatures and the competitiveness of the examines. Any interest outside the designated literatures are discouraged. Most of China’s past technologies and science achievements were done by people who have passed the examines and were doing invention as leisure. Chinese simply imported those talents from other countries, for example, China imported astrology talents from India as early as 8th century and several Indians have made the head of imperial astrology.

The backward looking of the world view of the Mandarin class has come under serious attacks in the 19th century when European powers started to arrive in China showing the promise of science and technologies. Progressive got it but the inertia of the massive bureaucracy has stopped China to advance fast enough to coup with the change. The Mandarin class came under serious attack by the progressive which eventually contributed to the downfall of the Qing and almost a century of turmoils with the consolidation of the new power.

However, if one to look at the power transition from the 4th generation leaders to the new 5th generation leader who were not in the long march, the new Mandarin class has emerged, except this time, they are holding Confucius on one hand and Science/Technologies on the other. Many of the 5th generations leaders are of engineering background and the foreseeable 6th generation leaders have the similar profiles.

I think this Mandarin class have contributed much to shape the Chinese culture but few spotlights on them.

February 23, 2007 @ 12:01 pm | Comment

Understand exactly what you mean, Jeremiah. I would think normally “Unified” means “ºÏ” in ÌìÏ´óÊÆ£¬ºÏ¾Ã±Ø·Ö£¬·Ö¾Ã±ØºÏ, i.e. most of Chinese culture people under one emperor (or lately one government).

In a way the cultural confidence is like why people trust Swiss banks. If they have managed to survive centuries including wars and upheavals, likely they will be around to deliver when you really need them. China has seen ups and downs. If the past 150+ years didn’t tear China apart, likely she will be around.

Imagine heaven forbids terrorists manage to detonate a couple of atomic bombs in the US. A couple of decades later, the living standard in the US deteriorates to a third world level, will the core of the US be strong enough to keep the US together as a nation? We don’t know yet.

February 23, 2007 @ 12:52 pm | Comment

JXie,

I don’t want to get too far off-topic, but it’s fair to point out that your translation “most of Chinese culture people under one emperor (or lately one government)” would seem to suggest that Tibetans and Uighurs, among other cultural groups, are not included in your definition of “unified.”

The original Chinese sentence is, perhaps conveniently so for the purposes of PRC unity, more ambiguous.

February 23, 2007 @ 1:01 pm | Comment

David, rambling…

I would think a society that has a strong tendency to move its most intelligent people to the top, is a long-lasting and successful society. So long as the top is not an exclusive club, I don’t see a problem. Intelligent people tend to marry intelligent people, and even an outsider earn the honor to join the club will probably end up marrying another in the club. So from a distance and a slice of time, it feels like the society is ruled by a loosely knitted club.

Overall time, chaos set in. You gradually lose that “intelligent gene” in your family, or simply just some of “de-intelligent” viruses, or chemical in the stuffs you eat, etc. a family may fall out the club.

In the early Tang, the top elite families were ?Þ‚?͵л, hence a Tang poem δȕ͵л̃ǰѠ???Ɉ둰???ِռҮ (BTW, my mom is named ͵) Are ?Þ‚?͵л still elite families now? I don’t think so.

February 23, 2007 @ 1:12 pm | Comment

David the Chinese portion messed up. Let me try again:

In the early Tang, the top elite families were 崔卢王谢, hence a Tang poem 昔日王谢堂前燕,飞入寻常百姓家. (BTW, my mom is named 王) Are 崔卢王谢 still elite families now? I don’t think so.

February 23, 2007 @ 1:15 pm | Comment

JXie,

Again at the risk of getting us off-track, I’m not sure that looking at surnames over time is the best way to approach this question especially when the examples come from the Tang. Please keep in mind that a seismic shift occurred in the nature of the elite between the Tang and the Song and there is a body of literature on this subject.

Most notably, the “Great Families,” aristocratic clans that dominated official positions and high culture from the end of the Han to the mid-Tang disappear. In the Song, the expansion of the examination system along with the explosion of commerce commonly referred to as the “Medieval Economic Revolution” radically changed the nature of the elite. (Other factors in the Song also played a role: the rise of the Daoxue movement, the loss of the north to the Jin, and the spread of printing and paper.)

The question of social mobility in Chinese society is one that has been debated back and forth for a long time. You may wish to refer to my comment on the “5000 Years thread” for a brief summary of this debate and some suggested resources.

February 23, 2007 @ 1:21 pm | Comment

Jeremiah, you are absolute right. Tibet/Xinjiang (but not Mongolia, or various areas now under Russia and a few -stan Central Asian countries) belonging to PRC is more due to some historical incidents than some god-given rights.

February 23, 2007 @ 1:24 pm | Comment

JXie,

I think the “ruling class” has bad intonation but I mean it in a neutral way as a group governing the country. It’s unavoidable that top intelligence will more likely to fill up this position. Different strategies have been employed by the ruling classes across histories and the world: kinship, bloodline, religions, democracy, and etc.

I am interested in looking for the ruling class in China and their strategies. I think we are overly focusing on the emperors and dynasties while looking at China. In the past two thousands, China was unified as much as it’s separated. And there were two major invasions by Manchu and Mongol. What’s the underlying force preventing China from further separations in those separated eras?

Families do move in and out of the class but the speed of China is gradually; however no large scale purges of the class has been recorded in the history. While Mongolian (Yuan) took over Song and Manchu (Qing) took over Ming, they both inherit the mass bureaucracy. Would also be interesting to look at the class transited from separated period like Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms into Song.

A couple hundreds years would allow a strong separation to develop. Look at France and British today, it’s hard to image that just in the medieval time, large numbers of ruling classes in England spoke French and were of French origins.

I think it’s interesting to ask why Chinese did not develop into separated countries like Europe given ample opportunities in her history. I don’t think a Han race along is enough to explain that. A Fin and a Den today probably as strong a opinion to the other as a Shanghainese and a Sichunnese.

February 23, 2007 @ 2:07 pm | Comment

No one has to “westernize” to modernize. Each nation has had its own ways, and should follow the rule of keeping the good and abandoning the bad.

If China were to truly “westernize” in the sense that all things happening in the past of Europe were to be repeated, strictly in a death-toll-in-percentages vs. growth per capita sense, they would have killed everyone on three continents and enslaved them.

Unfortunately the reality of the world in this current age doesn’t allow G8 living standards without blood and toil; whether it’s that of underpaid Chinese laborers or that of African slaves and dead Natives. In a sense, “modernity” leaves a lot to be questioned.

I’d say modernity represents a state in which growth that is valuable to humanity has occurred, approaching or surpassing historical human standards, but there is some leeway in how equal standing can be defined for individual bodies.

February 23, 2007 @ 11:28 pm | Comment

Individuals and societies often make judgments based on past experience, not unlike a precedent-based legal system. In the Chinese’s collective memory, when China was unified, people were happier. What has glued the Chinese together, and from outsiders’ vintage point that seemingly obsessive desire of unification, are because of that yearning of a repeat of the past peaceful and prosperous times when China was unified.

Speaking of historical precedents, what will the new “democratic” Taiwan draw upon, when the de facto nation is in any serious trouble?

February 24, 2007 @ 1:35 am | Comment

ferins: If China were to truly “westernize” in the sense that all things happening in the past of Europe were to be repeated…

Has anyone ever suggested that this is something China should do? I see this as a very odd proposition. If I were to suggest that China should “Westernize” (something I do not), I would say they should only take from the West that which succeeded. Not Stalin’s gulags or Hitler’s gas chambers or other nightmares, but that which worked, that which proved beneficial to the vast majority of the people – habeas corpus, no taxation without representation, an independent judiciary, checks and balances, free speech, etc. Why on earth would anyone want to emulate the dreadful stuff? Learn from the bad things, of course. But go out and consciously repeat them? That’s bizarre.

JXoe: what will the new “democratic” Taiwan draw upon, when the de facto nation is in any serious trouble?

Is this inevitable? The only serious trouble I can see threatening Taiwan comes from the “motherland.” And are they not democratic? I would say they are, and that nearly every citizen there is grateful for that. And hasn’t the US, for better or for worse, been there for Taiwan to lean on when necessary?

February 24, 2007 @ 10:01 am | Comment

Is this inevitable? The only serious trouble I can see threatening Taiwan comes from the “motherland.” And are they not democratic? I would say they are, and that nearly every citizen there is grateful for that. And hasn’t the US, for better or for worse, been there for Taiwan to lean on when necessary?”

The serious trouble of Taiwan is the perception that its only serious problem is from the “motherland” and Taiwanese politicians are playing to the tune. Wanna see corrupted elected officials, look at Taiwan today, everyone is on the take!

Democracy came too early for Taiwan and elections are not about issues or policies. It’s about kinship. Chen was elected on the platform of “native son” and purged all of his opposition out of the DDP. If one wants to see how fast democracy can screw up a nation, Taiwan will make textbook example along with Philippine. Chen is on the same path of Marcos. Elections in Taiwan made Florida look like kids’ play.

More then a million of Taiwanese voted with their feet and moved to China. There is estimated about 1 million Taiwanese living in Shanghai now. Even DDP hardliners are investing heavily in China owning properties and business.

The US State department has publicly stated that US is not obligated to assist Taiwan in the event of China invasion and Taiwan has to “protect” itself. Oh, the statement was made while AIT (American Institute in Taiwan) pushed Taiwan’s legislators to pass an USD $18 billion budget to buy weapons from the US. With friends like that…

Don’t play Taiwan like this cute little happy “democratic” island threaten by big bad China. It gets screwed by both sides of Pacific.

February 24, 2007 @ 10:28 am | Comment

Don’t play Taiwan like this cute little happy “democratic” island threaten by big bad China.

Don’t put words in my mouth – I have criticized Taiwan’s leaders many times here and find their system often serves its politicians more than its people (not that the Mainland would ever tolerate such nonsense, of course). All I said above was they do have a democracy and most people there – if not everyone – believes it is better than the dictatorship and martial law they knew before. Repeat, everyone.

February 24, 2007 @ 10:55 am | Comment

I am not putting words in your mouth. Just give you a Taiwanese’s perspective on the statement “The only serious trouble I can see threatening Taiwan comes from the “motherland.”

All I said above was they do have a democracy and most people there – if not everyone – believes it is better than the dictatorship and martial law they knew before.

1 millions Taiwanese out of 22 millions. That’s 5% voted with their feet to move to China. Many Taiwanese over 40 remember the good old days. Ask anyone over 30 living in Taiwan, few of them would tell you they see a future in Taiwan and a lot would move to China if there were opportunities.

Having elections do not mean democracy. I grew up around the early democratic movement in Taiwan under the dictatorship and the martial law. Several of my relatives were founding members of DDP. I have seen DDP went from a issue oriented oppositions to a kinship based pseudo dictatorship preying on the public fear of China and ethnic conflicts.

February 24, 2007 @ 11:23 am | Comment

Not every country is right for dfemocracy and it is no panacea. In Taiwan, however, it’s working reasonably well, considering the fewrocity of the different factions. Not perfect, dfeply flawed, poblematic, messy. And yet, I will repeat again – ask anyone there if they would prefer to have it or not to have it and see what they say. And luckily, you can ask that question there without fear of being arrested. Elections do not always mean democracy. But in Taiwan the system is at least functional, and less dreadful than most alternatives, considering all governments to some extent suck deeply.

February 24, 2007 @ 11:37 am | Comment

And luckily, you can ask that question there without fear of being arrested.

What kind of questions? DDP has made China issues into such a moralized issues, medias are in fear to report high level DDP officials who blasted China and preach independence on TV and went to Shanghai to close business deal next day. Ever watching DDP’s Formosa TV? It makes Fox News look “Fair and Balanced!”

ask anyone there if they would prefer to have it or not to have it and see what they say.

Some 30% would tell you they move to China if they could find opportunities; the percentage is even higher for people between 30 and 40.

The number will go up even more in 2008 when Taiwan will have the most negative presidential campaigns and China will host the 2008 Olympic.

February 24, 2007 @ 12:07 pm | Comment

David, I thought you were from Taiwan.

The exodus of Taiwanese only exasperates the fiscal deficit of Taiwan, which likely made another new high in 2006. Actually the most alarming part is not those 1 million Taiwanese who are among the most skillful. The college-age youths among the remaining ones now are now less likely getting college education than those in Jiangsu and Guangdong (don’t even compare to Beijing or Shanghai). The deterioration of Taiwan’s competitiveness will only speed up in the coming years… But hey (*sarcastic mode on*), you always can fall back to selling per pay view to mainland those delicious fighting matches in Parliament. We speak the same language, you know. We understand the story lines and delicate subplots.

From this Mainlander’s standpoint, there is an ongoing new Cultural Revolution in Taiwan. If you think about it, the communism ideals are as appealing on paper and in theory as the democracy ideals.

February 24, 2007 @ 12:23 pm | Comment

The many “Taiwanese” in China are there for several economical reasons. That “5%” isn’t simply “vote” on China. Many really are just enjoy being the opportunistic expats. Some will stay, of course. But, hey, that’s more like the Globalism phenomenon.

February 24, 2007 @ 1:46 pm | Comment

Chen was elected on the platform of “native son” and purged all of his opposition out of the DDP.

Are you on crack? The DPP is thick with Chen’s opponents. The DPP is not the CCP.

If one wants to see how fast democracy can screw up a nation, Taiwan will make textbook example along with Philippine.

Been living here since 1989 and have seen Taiwan improve ten thousandfold. The current government is by far the cleanest in the island’s history, and almost every aspect of the island’s life has improved, except for the worsening income equality.

Chen is on the same path of Marcos.

ROFL. What are you Taiwan hating types gonna do when Chen steps down on time in ’08 and the populace elects another DPP President? This kind of hyperbole can only make one laugh.

Elections in Taiwan made Florida look like kids’ play.

Actually, elections in Taiwan are many times cleaner than those in Florida. Vote buying is a problem in local elections, but the vote itself is totally accounted for and the counting process is open and public. Can’t say that about Florida.

Michael

February 24, 2007 @ 2:23 pm | Comment

The many “Taiwanese” in China are there for several economical reasons. That “5%” isn’t simply “vote” on China. Many really are just enjoy being the opportunistic expats. Some will stay, of course. But, hey, that’s more like the Globalism phenomenon.

Well, if there were just Taiwanese business men in China, the opportunistic expats argument would make sense. However, in the past two years, the wives and kids are arriving and kids get enrolled in the local elementary and high schools. With 1 million Taiwanese in Shanghai, Shanghai doesn’t have a single Taiwanese school like Dongguan which teach Taiwanese school curriculum to prepare the kids to go back to Taiwan. Many Taiwanese schools across China are in financial troubles because they are losing students to local school. These are taking roots in China, rather then simply exploit the business opportunities. Oh, large percentage of the Taiwanese here are “Taiwanese,” not the mainlanders who’s grandfather came to Taiwan with KMT.

Regardless, if 5% doesn’t sound an alarm for trouble in Taiwan… When was the last time such a scale of migration took place without a war in any country?

February 24, 2007 @ 2:40 pm | Comment

Are you on crack? The DPP is thick with Chen’s opponents. The DPP is not the CCP.

Name ONE!

My uncle is one of the DPP front runners for 2008 and several family members were DPP founding members. I grew around Tangwai people and I was there in the DPP’s founding meeting in 1986.

The current government is by far the cleanest in the island’s history

Cleanest in what sense? Less bribing? Less corruption? Chiang Ching-kuo’s government built the key infrastructures in Taiwan under incredible budget constraint. The DDP government can’t not even build the public transit in Kaohsiung without everyone in the city government on the take.

elections in Taiwan are many times cleaner than those in Florida.

You absolutely have no ideas how elections are run in Taiwan. Only if Bush had taken some of the tactics, Florida won’t look half as bad.

February 24, 2007 @ 3:11 pm | Comment

Okay…where did the wheels come off the wagon on this thread?

February 24, 2007 @ 4:14 pm | Comment

David Li, you are simply wrong about Taiwan in just about every way. Unlike Michael, I don’t have the patience to argue at length; I learned long ago Taiwan is one of the topics that creates an instant shutdown in critical thinking, resulting in a guaranteed regurgitation of Party talking points.

Just one point that especially irked/amused me: Those Taiwanese citizens you reference who want to move to the Mainland are doing so only because right now that’s where the money is; no one – repeat, no one – is going there because they are so enamored with the CCP. No one in Taiwan is hiring snakeheads to slip them into Fujian. People only do that when they need to flee repressive governments, to the point where it’s worth risking death to get out. Lots of people die every year trying to get out of China. Precious few give up their lives to get in.

Personally – and Michael will hate me for this – I do think there will be an eventual Taiwan-Mainland reconciliation and a one country/two systems arrangement. But it will be based solely on economic self-interest on Taiwan’s part, and will in no way signal any great love for communism with Chinese characteristics. All Taiwanese I ever spoke to – and I know many on both sides of the political aisle – scoff at Mainland China’s one-party system and literally laugh at the thought of Taiwan agreeing to be subsumed into such a system. Some of these same people do say, however, that Taiwan should and will join China, Hong Kong-style, simply because it will be smart economically. China’s market is simply too huge, and Taiwan’s increasing economic isolation is not something its people can easily live with long-term. It will be a pragmatic decision, devoid of any deep love for “the motherland.”

February 24, 2007 @ 5:15 pm | Comment

Okay…where did the wheels come off the wagon on this thread?

Well, kind of taking this a bit of the track but I think the situation of Taiwan could shine line on defining Chinese. Taiwan was separated from mainland for more then 100 years with 50 years of colonization by Japan and another 50 years by KMT. However, the sense of unification with China has always being mainstream in Taiwanese society even during the Japanese colonization because that’s what “Chinese” do. What’s that in Taiwanese society driving this tendency would shine a light on the question we are asking here? What define “Chinese?”

February 24, 2007 @ 5:32 pm | Comment

David, we’ve talked about this issue many times before on this site. Do we really need to rehash it yet again?

February 24, 2007 @ 5:38 pm | Comment

OK I’ll try to get the wheels back on again.

What Nemo describes here as the West is one important string of Western idea history and political thought. There where always others (think not only of Athens but also of Sparta, or have a look at Plato’s philosopher’s state, Hitler and Stalin would have liked it). Fortunately it was this string, which eventually became the mainstream and which we today describe as “The West”.

I myself am a big fan of Westernization. Germany itself had a long way to go before it was fully “Westernized” (It had the justice system but not the democracy). A long time during the late 19. Cent. and the first half of the 20. cent. nationalist thought stated the otherness of Germany. It was talked of a special “German culture” which had nothing in common with “western civilization”, a special “German essence” not compatible because superior to “The West” and it’s democratic system.

These elements also exist in China today. The incompatibility of Chinese culture with western democracy is often stated, also the special Chinese essence (guocui). A lot of that is nationalistic rhetoric.
On the other hand it’s true that China has a long and very own history of political thought and practice. So it is perhaps true that it would be very hard to implement a democracy quickly because the idea of individualism that is needed for a democracy is not so big yet.
Perhaps we will see the authoritarian system in place for long time to come or a mixture of democratic and authoritarian elements. I don’t know.
I am also not so sure if you really need a democratic system for a modern state. The authoritarian and paternalistic model of Singapore might be working for a larger state too.
But what I am sure you really need is a functioning justice system. Without that it will be difficult to sustain the actual development.

February 24, 2007 @ 6:53 pm | Comment

David, we’ve talked about this issue many times before on this site. Do we really need to rehash it yet again?

Probably not. From your response “you are simply wrong about Taiwan in just about every way”, I can guess how they are.

February 24, 2007 @ 7:06 pm | Comment

A couple of quick points:

Shulan,

I tend to agree with you. Whether or not China wishes to have an American-style democracy is not for me to say, but I agree that for any society to operate effectively and in a way that protects all equally under the law, a functioning (and independent) judiciary is essential.

David,

Moving away from Taiwan for a moment, if only because it IS such an emotional issue for many people, there does remain the more general question of how to define “China.” Obviously this has implications for the Taiwan issue but this question also frames the debate on Tibet and Xinjiang as well. Frankly, I’m not sure how to answer this question.

Nor is this an issue affecting China alone. The riots last year in the Paris suburbs reflected the difficulty French society has in defining just what it means to be French. YJ lived in France for the last two years and I visited there often, and it seemed that for many (not all) French people, their definition did not include the blacks and Arabs who lived in France as being “truly French.” (Though I did notice that when it came time to pick the starting 11 for the national football side for the World Cup, this narrow definition of “French” widened quite a bit. Messrs. Henry and Zidane, your car is waiting…)

February 24, 2007 @ 7:23 pm | Comment

Jeremiah, those from Fujian paying snakeheads to sneak into developed countries, are more seeking economic opportunities than escaping a repressive government, if at all. Fujianese are a sea-going gambling lot — why you don’t see many from other coastal provinces such as Liaoning (less developed as Fujian)? Or, why don’t they escape to India?

The Old World is different from the New World. French, or Italian, or Chinese means both ethnicity and nationality. On the other hand, Canadian, Brazilian, or American only means nationality.

February 24, 2007 @ 10:02 pm | Comment

Jeremiah,

Moving away from discussing Taiwan is probably a good idea. I think Taiwan issue is different from Xinjiang and Tibet as the later two can easily define themselves culturally and religiously distinct from Chinese. However, for Taiwanese, the issues are not as black and white. I was involved in pro-independence movement while I was in high school back in the 80s and we organized study groups for activists in high school and colleges in Kaohsiung. One of the key issue which still remind to today is how we would define Taiwanese to be distinct from Chinese. It wasn’t a easy exercise; the more we did the soul search, the closer we get to China.

Speaking of French, I have sit on the board of an open source organization based in Paris for about 3 years now and 11 out of the 14 board members are French. The organization is supposed to be “international” but often the board decision came down to “it’s not the French way.”

February 24, 2007 @ 11:48 pm | Comment

I just returned from China. How are you? I had a good time.

Anyway, I think everyone wants to keep the current situation in Taiwan. The US, China, and the Taiwanese gov’t want to keep this current status.

But because Taiwan is “democracy”, leaders need to use some issues to win public’s emotions and win votes. So it’s normal for this party or that party to keep use this “You are an enemy of Taiwan if you support China” during election time. Just like Bush use “You are an enemy of the USA if you don’t support war on terror”. But USA, China, and Taiwan all know in the deep of their hearts that a war is very stupid and against any side’s interest.

So my prediction is, there will always be many “tough and unfriendly” talks between China and Taiwan, but this will only remain talks. No one will move to start a war. Everyone today is too smart for that. Econonmy and living is too important.

So I think this current situation of words but no war is perfect.

February 25, 2007 @ 3:54 am | Comment

JXie,

I wasn’t the one to refer to “snakeheads,” that was another commenter. Frankly, I don’t know as much about contemporary Taiwanese politics as Michael, Richard, or David so I try to stay out of those arguments.

February 25, 2007 @ 8:23 am | Comment

When I see all the countries America has conquered and opressed it makes me cry.

Japan, Germany, Italy, Taiwan, South Korea, etc.

I hope Iraq doesn’t get that kind of opression from America. It will destroy them. In fact America is set to destroy the whole Middle East.

Americans are ruining Middle Eastern culture.

There is no doubt that Iraq was better off under Saddam.

February 25, 2007 @ 10:49 am | Comment

Shulan,

I think in the early stages of development an authoritarian government is required so that the inequality development generates does not cause problems.

Sadly Pinochet is the most recent model. Taiwan and South Korea earlier models.

However, Chile is developing like no other country in South America.

We have already seen the results in Taiwan and South Korea.

As China gets wealthier the pollution will get cleaned up. The tipping point on that is an economy that generates $3K to $4K of GDP per citizen.

As long as China sticks to the capitalist road its future will get brighter and the CCP’s future will be limited. For now they are the only game in town.

February 25, 2007 @ 11:01 am | Comment

M. Simon:

“When I see all the countries America has conquered and opressed it makes me cry.”

Japan, Germany, Italy, Taiwan, South Korea, etc.”

The failure of so many to acknowledge the US role in stripping 3 of these the evils of Fascism and building just democratic governments in their place makes me cry.

As for Taiwan and South Korea, I also get a bit weepy because so few people acknowledge how unfettered access to US markets and US military and diplomatic protection made these countries so wealthy and how, despite some indefensible foot dragging, the US ultimately supported democracy in these places.

Sorry, off topic but I hate to let such gross distortions of history stand unchallenged.

Tissue please :)

February 25, 2007 @ 1:28 pm | Comment

Excellent points, Buddah. But it won’t click with those who want to see the US as purely evil. We’ve done a lot of bad things, as have all governments, and also more good than most. Tragically, we have very bad leaders at the moment who seem bent on making it harder than ever before to defend America. But we have to keep it in perspective and avoid the trap of seeing America, and China et. al., in black and white.

Jxie I made the snakehead comment earlier, not Jeremiah. True, those who hire snakeheads do it for economic reasons, but political repression is still a major (the major?) aspect of the story. If the government allowed these people entry and exit privileges, there would be no need for snakeheads, who can only exist when their customers live under a government that represses their fundamental freedoms.

February 25, 2007 @ 2:17 pm | Comment

Some quick points:

M. Simon:
As surprising as that might be for you. I am very happy that the USA “opressed” us Germans. Otherwise I had perhaps to live under a Nazi-Regime which I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy.
JXie:
Read about the Marshall-plan and think of how Western Europe would have done without it after WWII.

From a “certain angle” you can compare apples and eggs and find no difference.

Guys with statements like these I am sure you are very welcome as gues speakers at the next NPD (the German NeoNazis) party congress.

February 25, 2007 @ 6:05 pm | Comment

sorry should read “guest speakers”

February 25, 2007 @ 6:07 pm | Comment

JXie, I’ve had respect for you even if I haven’t agreed with you. But then I read your last comment in which you write of the American victory over the Nazis (although America was by no means the sole victor): “From a certain angle, it was merely an evil defeated another evil.” I will find it less hard to respect you if you don’t come back and say you were wrong in writing this. The America that had exterminated the Indians was not the America of 1945, and while my country, like all countries, was and is still capable of doing terrible things, to put it on a parallel with Hitler’s Germany is utterly, mind-numbingly stupid and inexcusable. As a Jew who grew up in America, I can tell you you are wrong beyond belief, and if you were literate on the evils of Nazi Germany you would never say such a thing, no matter how much you hate America (and if you are going to make such a comparison, there’s no denying you do hate America, again throwing into question your reasoning on everything else). Do you stand by this statement? Or maybe, when you said “From a certain angle,” you meant from the angle of sheer stupidity and ignorance? I hope that’s what you meant, because from every other angle, your statement is simply insane. Really.

February 25, 2007 @ 7:34 pm | Comment

This is JXie’s comment I just referred to – I did not delete it, but due to an attempt to correct his double-posting it accidentally got lost. Here it is:

Sorry that I misread the author of that post. Richard, exit is never a problem, entry is. If they can get a visa to enter the US, other than 1 case out of 1 million, they will be permitted to travel.

The 20th century saw by far the most contributions in human advancements from a single country, by the US. Scientific discoveries, moon landing, air travel, computer, radio, Internet, etc. etc. you can go on and on.

Having said all these…

The old days were a cruel time. In Nazi SS’ training material, the mass murdering of Native Americans was shown as a case of racial superiority and the proof of lebensraum. Black American soldiers had to give up their seats to German prisoners. From a certain angle, it was merely an evil defeated another evil. Speaking of which, a part of the Japanese wartime propaganda was that Native Americans were of the same race as East Asians, and its war against the US was a just cause. Many Indians
(Indian Indians) actually welcomed Japanese to force out their colonial master Britain.

But from the Chinese angle though, the US was a great ally. My point is the world is different shades of gray instead of black & white.

Japan & Germany were powerful nations even before the World War II. Despite after the World War II, their countries were devastated, the people were highly trained and well educated. For instance, close to 100% of Japanese after the WW2 were literal (compared to less than 20% of Chinese at that time). America certainly helped, but on their own, they should’ve been able to quickly recover regardless.

Taiwan’s and South Korea’s cases proved that capitalism works and authoritarianism in early stage of capitalism works. IMO, the key difference between them and the Philippines (a far longer ally (and once colony) of the US), is that the latter didn’t invest enough in education.

We are all humans, capable of doing good and evil. It’s hubris that drove the US into Vietnam then and Iraq now. According to Stiglitz, the Iraqi War will end up costing $1 to $2 trillion. What are you getting exactly? Iraqis are far more likely to die and their daily lives are
overall more miserable than before. If you ask me, get out and stop playing god. Put whatever left in that $1 to $2 trillion in education. That will determine how much the US will contibute to the human
advancements this century.

February 25, 2007 @ 7:49 pm | Comment

Last question, Jxie. About snakeheads, you write “Richard, exit is never a problem, entry is.” Are you aware that one of the main ways snakeheads make their money is by getting their clients illegal Chinese passports? Do you really not know this? Do you honestly believe that, asin a free society, any CHinese citizen who requests a passport will be giveon one by their government i they pay for the paperwork?

Okay, sorry if this takes the discusion even further off track. Maybe it’ll be time to close this down soon

February 25, 2007 @ 7:53 pm | Comment

Richard, first, thanks for keeping the thread open so at least I can defend my statements. BTW, I misspelled “literate” as “literal”. That was stated in my next post.

Here is an angle for you: what if you had been a black man in the Tuskegee Experience? Of course overall Nazi was one of the worst evils the human history has ever seen, if not the worst. Why would I ever defend that? The WWII overall, is good defeated evil, no doubt about it.

Shulan, I realize the sensitivity of the Nazi topic among Germans. Your reaction and Richard’s probably shed some light on why many Chinese react so strongly to statements made on China, without carefully understanding the finer points being made.

Look, my whole point is, there are good and evil inside of ALL of us. We need to be vigilant about the notion that one people is the chosen one that immune from evil deeds — if evil deeds are ever committed, they are by a few bad apples. Nazi wasn’t created out of a vacuum. If you look at it this way: what it had done to Jews and Gypsies was not unlike what the American government had done to some of the Native American tribes, but with extremely sickening engineering proficiency. Or, if you want, you can give some Chinese examples.

About snakeheads: today you can spend 2000 yuans to join a cheap oversea tour group and you will have a passport just about everywhere in China, other than in some Fujian villages that are known to produce a large number of illegal immigrants to other countries.

February 25, 2007 @ 11:28 pm | Comment

About the Marshall Plan: in 4 years the total aids were $13 billion (1945 dollar), about 5% of the annual American GDP then. It certainly helped, but IMHO it wasn’t the deciding factor if Western Europeans weren’t already highly educated and well trained.

February 25, 2007 @ 11:35 pm | Comment

Richard, out of respect to you, I will never bring Nazi up again, and I shall sign off from this thread. I sincerely hope you understand my point.

February 25, 2007 @ 11:56 pm | Comment

Tuskegee Experiment, not Experience. I happen to know a black woman who has a family connection back to an experiment subject, trust me on that “angle”. What the world sometimes needs, is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

_off_

February 26, 2007 @ 12:23 am | Comment

those who hire snakeheads do it for economic reasons, but political repression is still a major (the major?) aspect of the story. If the government allowed these people entry and exit privileges, there would be no need for snakeheads, who can only exist when their customers live under a government that represses their fundamental freedoms.

richard, where was the last time Chinese political refuges got accepted anywhere in the world? Getting a Chinese passport costs about RMB 400 these days and any Chinese citizen can get it. The restriction you referred to has been abandoned a couple years ago. Getting individual Visa to any developed country is the problem.

Since you are talking about Fujian, there is an interesting article Villa Envy
about Fuqing, Fujian about the latest reason for illegal immigrations. It’s not about poverty or political. It’s about getting bigger villa then the neighbors.

I wonder what you base your claim on sneakhead getting illegal Chinese passport for their clients? Or people are fleeing China for political reason?

February 26, 2007 @ 12:24 am | Comment

I never said people were fleeing China for political reasons. Never. And I know all about the wealth in Fujian, and the contrasting poverty. Did you read about the cockle pickeror s killed in the waters off of England last year (two years ago?) They had nothing, while their neighbors had villas. They paid snakeheads to get them passports and slip them into places where they could do work. I have not followed the snakehead stories since then, I admit. If now the government is handing out passports to all Chinese citizens who request them, no questions asked, I am delighted. For now I am a bit skeptical, based on a personal friend’s experience here, but it may well be true. If so, it’s good to see the government becoming more reasonable.

As I said a few comments up, this thread needs to get back to the subject. Thanks.

February 26, 2007 @ 8:22 am | Comment

To JXier, the Tuskegee experiment was another vile aberration, exposed by a free media and taught in our schools as an example of the abuse of power and the dangers of racism. Just like the Cultural Revolution is taught in Chinese schools as an example of — oh, wait….

February 26, 2007 @ 8:26 am | Comment

Excellent point Richard.

Educators in the US and Europe often seem to go out of our way to make sure that our students never forget the bad things. It is not history in service of the state, it is instead history in the service of the nation. (Differentiation between the two not being a strong feature contemporary Chinese politics) As Nausicaa quoted in a brilliant comment on past thread, “Criticism is more than a right; it is the highest act of patriotism.”

One of the differences between education in China and the United States/Europe is that we go out of our way to criticize our own history. Most of the academic monographs and articles published in the US in one way or another attack our national mythologies. Perhaps it is because our culture is a “secondary” one, we feel free to look at it objectively. Perhaps it is because one of the signs of being a true Great Power (Da Guo) is having the confidence in yourself sufficient to be able to view one’s own history and problems objectively, without the histrionics of hyper-nationalism and “face” masquerading grotesquely as “patriotism.”

February 26, 2007 @ 8:47 am | Comment

I don’t know about you, but it was up to me to look into the full scale of Native American genocide by biological warfare, the extent of the death tolls from the African Slave trade (starting from Africa, not from Europe which was as far as the curriculum took us), female servitude, child labor, economic/social ramifications of anti-black racism, etc.

All that is lip-service though, as god knows Europe hasn’t repatriated the billions they stole. Just hollow words.

February 26, 2007 @ 9:57 am | Comment

Ferins,

I have sat in the lower-division US history surveys at my university (large, west coast, state) and those subjects are covered. Can’t speak for all universities obviously. But I think a key point is that you WERE able to do fill the lacunae. The books were available in the library. Online journals discussing the topics were not blocked. Seminars and conferences on issues of reparations are freely attended without interference from local authorities. Researchers are not subject to arrest for exposing the incredible crimes and horrors perpetrated against the Native Americans and in the African slave trade. (They can however be arrested for jaywalking–see the recent incident at the AHA meeting in Atlanta).

The free discussion of ideas–what a spectacular concept. I think it says too little of the Chinese people to argue that they are “not ready for it” or “not able to handle it” as some commenters on this board seem to imply. Could somebody please explain to me, the ignorant laowai, just what is the danger in free ideas? Surely, China as an emerging Great Power should have the political and cultural confidence to accept debate within society. Or is this a culturally-specific value?

February 26, 2007 @ 10:17 am | Comment

Just like the Cultural Revolution is taught in Chinese schools as an example of — oh, wait….

I am curious about this one. How exactly is Cultural Revolution is taught in the schools? I also wonder how Civil War was taught in the South 30 years after?

Educators in the US and Europe often seem to go out of our way to make sure that our students never forget the bad things.

How long did it take for US and Europe to archive that confidence after the current regimes were established? And how long did it take for the academics to archive the kind of independency from the state?

being a true Great Power (Da Guo) is having the confidence in yourself sufficient to be able to view one’s own history and problems objectively

The question would be is China (PRC) a Great Power yet? By all counts, it’s still a developing country and a very young regime.

I am not arguing for China here. just want to put a perspective in term of timing. Western societies had centuries to archive its advanced but often expect others to do them with in one or two generations. PRC is barely 50 years old and the move from a agriculture to a industrial society just started 25 years ago and is still in progress.

I see a parallel between Chinese’s clinging to glorious historical account and Intelligence Design movement in the US. Both are trying to hold down to faiths that will eventually lose to reason and progress of the societies. This issues will be emotional because people are taking those beliefs on faith in the face of evidences.

Jeremiah, taken from your blog, There are three authorities in the land: Heaven, the sovereign, and the historiographer (shiguan). So, in that order, PRC is at the stage of the sovereign. Given time (probably soon after 2008 after Olympic), historiographer will take priority.

February 26, 2007 @ 10:22 am | Comment

It is curious to me that in matters of cultural pride, 5000 years is trotted onto the stage but when it comes time to defend the indefensible there is a hasty retreat to a more reasonable number–50 years? 60 years? Hence my statement about both political AND cultural confidence.

2008? David, I hope you are right. I really, really do. And we have seen so much progress. The GPCR is acceptable, for the most part, as a subject for historical discussion. It is my belief that in 10-15 years time (when all the key figures finally pass on, and so removing issues of face from the equation), scholars will be able to reexamine June 4 as well. But for all the progress being made, there is so much yet to be done and it hurts China’s status as an ‘emerging Great Power’ to be so insecure about its own past.

And you are correct in noting that the US educators has only gradually–and often with considerable gritting of teeth from different interests–been successful in getting the darker chapters of the American experience included in the curricula. That said, as I mentioned in my earlier comment, the ability to debate these ideas freely was instrumental in this endeavor.

Finally, thanks for the attribution, but I can’t take credit. If you read my post, you will no doubt have seen that the quote was from Su Che, the brother of the famous Song dynasty writer Su Shi (Su Dongpo).

February 26, 2007 @ 10:32 am | Comment

Jeremiah,

Your complain about “5000 civilization” or “claim on Tibet’ is really much ado about nothing. You are confused about the sound bite with academic teaching.

The difference between “5000 civilization claim” and your view all hinges on the definition of civilization. If you actually read chinese text book, when 5000 is referred, it usually referring to events mentioned historical document, 有文字记载的历史。 If I understand you correctly, you would like to see real artifacts to prove the existence. I really do not see that is a big deal.

As to chinese claim on Tibet, I do not think CCP fabricated history. However, China does stress, the exchange of cultural between Tibet and Han can be traced back to a long time ago.

There is a difference between telling a lie and not telling the whole story. This is also typical of US media. For example, when Chinese products are mentioned, forced labor and slavery labor will always be mentioned. How many percentage of chinese products are actually having anything to do those outrageous claims?

I am sure you are proud of history teaching in US. Just a story. During a dinner with a US citizen and a Canadian citizen, I asked about how 1812 war was taught in Canada. The Canadian guy said that was the last time US tried to invade Canada. Well, for US, that was a courageous fight with Briton.

February 26, 2007 @ 11:51 am | Comment

Thanks Steve. I agree with you about the 5000 year claim (you may want to review the discussion on the ealier post on the topic.)

As for Tibet and the misleading claims of the media, I am also in agreement. Just this past week a story has been floating around that a “Chinese historian disputes China’s claim to Tibet.” I posted a long piece on my own blog, along with a translation of the original article, that showed that the quote was taken out of context and furthermore that the larger article contained a number of worthy points not mentioned in the Western blogger/press accounts.

These are both complicated issues and there is no black and white here. That is my larger point.

By the way, that is a great 1812 anecdote and, with your permission, I’d love to crib it for a class. It’s a good example of the tricks in historical memory.

February 26, 2007 @ 12:28 pm | Comment

Steve: For example, when Chinese products are mentioned, forced labor and slavery labor will always be mentioned.

This is simply false, and an excellent example of casually dropping outrageous falsehoods into arguments and putting them forward as self-evident truths. It is SO absurd and SO erroneous that it should instantly make it clear that Steve cannot be trusted to egage is serious arguments. Simply do a search of any news aggregator for stories on Chinese business news, then see how many of the stories mention in any way slavery or slave labor or forced labor. Go ahead, check for yourself. You may be able to find a couple – maybe. But “always”?? I wonder if you were the president of your college’s debate club.

February 26, 2007 @ 12:46 pm | Comment

“Hence my statement about both political AND cultural confidence.”

PRC is a young regime even tho it rules a land of very old culture. It seems that you’d like to see China to behave and hold responsible as a Great Power as it once was. But that China was in the past and probably as much a myth as the 5000 years history. We have to examine the reality of China today being a young regime and a developing country. It does shoulder quite a big legacy. Not many regime has the luck of US to basically start all from scratch to define itself culturally, socially, and diplomatically.

It wasn’t smooth sailing for America in the early days either. British pretty saw Americans as low wage labors. Dicken complained a lot about his works got pirated in US and he was bashed by Americans to be ungrateful because that pirating made him famous in the US. Does the theme sound familiar?

Take the statement by Su Shi “There are three authorities in the land: Heaven, the sovereign, and the historiographer (shiguan)” and examine the US history. The Declaration of Independence is your Mandate of Heaven. For sovereign, you guys fought one of the bloodiest civil war in human history. And when did your historiographers get to look at all these objectively?

2008? David, I hope you are right. I really, really do. And we have seen so much progress.

Anyone want to bet? I said 2008 because Olympic will be the symbolic event for Chinese to archive enough confidence to deal with the mismatch of legacy and reality.

it hurts China’s status as an ‘emerging Great Power’ to be so insecure about its own past.

Reality check here. Is China an “emerging Great Power” a media spin, arguably by the US medias or a reality? China’s GDP is $2.225 trillion last year and one company Wal-Mart alone probably responsible for 2% of it. France and Britain is at $2 trillion and Japan at $4 trillions. France, Britain, and Japan all have military budgets twice to three times of China. What index does qualify China as “emerging Great Power?” The 5000 years history?

As a political entity, PRC has every reason to be insecure: it’s young and poor and it rules over 1 billion people with a legacy of 5000 years everyone is holding them against to.

February 26, 2007 @ 12:52 pm | Comment

D.L. it’s young and poor and it rules over 1 billion people with a legacy of 5000 years everyone is holding them against to.

Would you say it’s the rest of the world, and not China itself, which has advocated the “legacy of 5000 years”? As far as I can tell here, this is something the Chinese are very proud of (not without justification) and very quick to put forward.

Similarly, the concept of “China emerging” is one put forth, again, by China’s media as much as the global media. You hear it all the time on CCTV, and to say it’s a “spin” of Western media is not accurate. I am working with Chinese companies now, and they constantly refer to China’s rise. Are they all brainwashed by the NY Times?

February 26, 2007 @ 1:06 pm | Comment

“Are they all brainwashed by the NY Times?”

I think Kim Jong IL is also singing the “Emerging of Great DPRK” but I don’t see NY Times dance to that tune.

What do you expect Chinese government to say in it’s official line? It has always been “China Emerging” since 1949 in PRC. ROC’s official line had been “Taking back the mainland” since the same time until a couple years ago. Every government spin. “Mission Accomplished!” ;)

However, it’s more curious to look at why respected journalists like NY Times, Washington Post and others (except Fox News) to follow the tune. Let’s not fight like five years olds and arguing about who said what first. My point is that every government spin its own stories; the curious matter is why China Emerging got so much traction and attention?

Yes, the 10% growth for 20 years is impressive but Japan had done more then that. And for all evidences we have today, China still far from what Japan had archived. Look where Japan is today. The success is not guaranteed. Super Power? Far from it!

February 26, 2007 @ 2:22 pm | Comment

David, take a goofd look at your argument. I am not saying China should not be saying these things. All I said was:

As far as I can tell here, this is something the Chinese are very proud of (not without justification) and very quick to put forward

This was in response to your amusing claim that it’s the West that is holding up this legacy! Take a deep breath and come back to earth. Repeat: I am not blaming China for saying this. I am criticizing you for amusingly arguing that this legacy is something that was generated over in the West. Sigh….

Also, I have never said China is a superpower, and am not sure who you are now arguing with.

February 26, 2007 @ 3:01 pm | Comment

Richard,

I am not arguing the West medias are holding up the 5000 years legacy. Just the “Emerging China” thing and really has blown the story out of proportion. This is what I said.

Reality check here. Is China an “emerging Great Power” a media spin, arguably by the US medias or a reality?

I was talking about “Emerging China” so widely discussed in West medias has made China seems so much bigger then it really is.

Anyway, try not to go too far from the subject here. I think we will leave the legacy to somewhere. I think we may not agree whether it’s 5000 or 3000 verifiable history but the 5000 legacy does play an important role in shaping the Chinese culture and the society. I sometime wonder if the 5000 history account didn’t start with a mortal who won a war but someone who parted Yellow sea or did some magic trick turning sand into rice, it would make it easier for Westerners to accept that it’s just part of Chinese faith as much as the 2000 years old fantasy novel still have tremendous impact on the West.

I don’t think Chinese could be defined without that legacy. It’s just part of the culture and faith.

February 26, 2007 @ 4:20 pm | Comment

First of all I’d just like to say that for the past couple of weeks TPD has really been compulsive reading, and the comments have been fantastic.
Ok back to the topic and Jeremiah’s original question:

I think one could take a look at Singapore or Hong Kong (which I’m pretty sure we can all agree on as being modern places in most senses of the word) and ask are they “Chinese with Western characteristics” or “Western with Chinese characteristics”?
When considering either case it shows that the terms “Western” and “Chinese” are both problematic – not to mention the strong Indian influence in both places (do we consider India to be modern? Western? Chinese?) Cast the net wider and you could drag in Saudi Arabi, in many ways quite modern but in many others not at all. Or South Africa, both western and African.
My point (and i think Jeremiah’s too) is that it’s all to easy to bandy such terms about but how often do we actually try to define them? It seems the more we try the harder it becomes but it is only by questioning them that we can free ourselves from the narrow confines of thought that are all too often used against us.

February 26, 2007 @ 6:20 pm | Comment

“it’s all to easy to bandy such terms about but how often do we actually try to define them?”

My point exactly. Thank you, Andy.

February 26, 2007 @ 7:38 pm | Comment

“westernization” in a sense of it’s exclusive concepts, at least in terms of development, has a clear historical meaning.

February 27, 2007 @ 12:00 pm | Comment

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