David Brooks’ China Wisdom

One of my favorite writers reveals just how shallow Brooks’ “analysis” of China is. Go there now.

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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: 19 Comments

I think Brooks’ biggest faux pas was using the term “Asians” when I think he meant to “Chinese.” James Fallows may be a talented writer, but it’s amazing how similar his judgements and arguments are to Brooks. Oh, by the way, if we are going to talk about contributions to the modern world, I think there is no doubt the West and particularly the US in the last hundred years absolutely blow away the meager inventions of the last 5000 years of China. Yes, they have been around for 5000. Yes they have a 1.3 billion people. So what? What have they done lately? Polluted their entire country. Produced a mountain of useless junk (albeit at the desire of the US consumers). Created a rabid consumer class that values acquisition of wealth above all else. I think real criticism of Brooks should be his conclusion that collectivist ideology may be the way to go. Yeah…..right…..just keep marching.

August 12, 2008 @ 11:20 pm | Comment

The Beijing Olympics need a new event: A “Who Understands China More?” competition between Western writers, journalists, bloggers and assorted sinophiles.

Who would make it to the podium?

August 12, 2008 @ 11:39 pm | Comment

After the many ups and downs of this eventful year, I start to get a headache when anyone tells me “We Chinese think…” or any similar variation. (Including some journalists who urge “The West” to do XXXXX….since when has “The West” done anything all at once?)
So I’d like to say “Good on ya, James Fallows, lay the boot in”

August 13, 2008 @ 12:22 am | Comment

Yeah, I’m onboard with Fallows on this one (and I’ll ignore Not_a_Sinophile).
What frustrates me isn’t just the old cultural stereotypes about “collectivist” versus “individualist” societies, but any lack of real thought on what collective values China supposedly has beyond obedience to the government.

Surely, northeastern workers’ revival on Maoist class rhetoric (arguably “collectivist”) is a source of tension between the State and the People. Does this fit Brooks’ model of a smoothly functioning machine? And surely some of China’s “individualist” traits make things pretty easy for the government and business?

August 13, 2008 @ 4:58 am | Comment

Oops–make that “..but the lack of any real thought…”

Damn grammar.

August 13, 2008 @ 5:01 am | Comment

PB, the judging for that would be impossible. What might work is “who believes they understand China more” – just need to measure the size of their heads then.

August 13, 2008 @ 5:29 am | Comment

What makes China sick today is the blind adoption of restless consumerism – the core of American contribution to the modern world. The world as we know of will either end with the climate change which started with the Industrial Revolution or, more spectacularly, in a nuclear exchange. Take your pick, both western products.

August 13, 2008 @ 6:04 am | Comment

Actually China is the most individualist country in East Asia. Japan, the Koreas, etc are a lot more collectivist. I see more similarity than difference between US and China.

August 13, 2008 @ 10:18 am | Comment

I’m no tall poppy. I take the view of the collective on this one.

August 13, 2008 @ 11:06 am | Comment

I haven’t been to Japan or the Koreas, but that’s certainly my impression. China and the U.S. are often frustrating in the same ways and, at their best, intensely likable in some of the same ways.

August 13, 2008 @ 11:06 am | Comment

Nisbetts book “The Geography of Thought” is acctually very interesting and inspiring. It helps to understand quite good some of the problems westerners and asians (from the confucian circle of influence) have understanding each other. To apply his findings in such a simplistic way as Brooks does is neither interesting nor inspiring.

It seems he saw the opening ceremony, pictures from Berlin and North Korea poped up in his head and thought: there we have it again, good old collectivism at work. Wasn’t there a book I read recently about Chinese thinking different from Westerners, more in contexts. Wait. Contexts? Isn’t that very close to collectivist? That’s it. I have the intro for my next column.

Wonder how he explains the Nazis, Faschists and all the Communists in Europe?

August 13, 2008 @ 10:45 pm | Comment

David Brooks’ is primarily a partisan political commentator whose goal is to influence people to vote for the Republican party and not vote for the Democratic party. Everything he does, says, and writes is motivated by US domestic politics and a certain political ideology. He is not writing as a historian, sociologist or anthropologist. He is expressing an uninformed opinion driven by partisan ideology. His intended audience for his comments are his fellow american conservative Republicans. I wouldn’t get too upset about the opinions he expresses, he is only trying to influence American voters in the upcoming presidential election.

August 14, 2008 @ 12:44 am | Comment

His article is blatantly saying there are two kinds of people in the world “Us” and “Them”. “Us” being individualistic freedom loving loyal american white anglo-saxon conservative republicans vs “them” the collective loving disloyal foreign liberal democrats. Vote for McCain in November!

He went to China for the express purpose of writing partisan political commentary to support a viewpoint he already has. It is doubtful that he made any attempt to learn about or appreciate Chinese or Asian history or culture. He was not attempting to expand his own cultural awareness or learn anything that might challenge his own viewpoint.

The sole purpose of his article and writing from china is to give a false sense that he is writing from authority of having visited china, but in reality he probably had alread decided on what he would say and went to china merely as a formality or possibly as a paid vacation.

In the US we refer to this as “preaching to the choir” in other words he is just repeating an opinion he already had to share with people who already agree with his opinion. It is not meant to challenge or educate people about a new idea or share a cultural insight.

Others more familiar with asian culture and history see more complexities to the issue he raised and more nuances, but those do not fit within his narrow partisan agenda for influencing the american voters in the upcoming election.

David’s only real expertise would be in recent history of the republican conservative movement in the US. Also possibly general US political history and the history of US elections. Also possibly he has expertise on all the recent polling of the american electorate. He is paid to represent the conservative Republican ideology and provide commentary supporting the election of conservative Repbublicans on US television programs and on the editorial pages of US newspapers.

Unfortunately the US media has too many David Brooks providing endless politcally motivated commentary about things they actually no very little about and do not really care about. He is motivated to help his republican team win and get paid well to provide his uninformed partisan opinions to newspapers and television.

By his very nature David Brooks clashes with Asian and Chinese cultural values and turns them off to western media and politcal institutions. He is an english major or journalism student who can formulate a grammatically correct sentence and express an opinion coherently, but is not actually competent to do much else and will never achieve anything remotely resembling the confucian ideal of a gentleman.

August 14, 2008 @ 1:28 am | Comment

Apparently David Brooks is also incapable of reading/correctly interpreting the scientific reports he uses as ‘evidence’. See: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=478#more-478

August 14, 2008 @ 2:40 am | Comment

dish beat me to it. Rip Brooks’ idiocy to shreds.Don’t miss it, Richard.

August 15, 2008 @ 2:47 pm | Comment

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August 19, 2008 @ 2:22 pm | Pingback

The strange this is I have had Chinese students quote this same study to me over and over,

Although I think that Brooks really dropped the ball here writing about cultures he knows little or nothing about, what news company on Earth doesn’t. CCTV, CNN, and the Murdoch empire do it daily.

August 21, 2008 @ 10:48 am | Comment

Cheating, cheating, that is the 5000 years of expertise being perfected by the China Gymnastic Association. Shame on you!

August 24, 2008 @ 12:35 am | Comment

Oh look, whitey with his injured race ego

US in the last hundred years absolutely blow away the meager inventions of the last 5000 years of China.

Back when you were illiterate savages in dunghuts or miserable slaves working for your Lords, the Chinese were perfecting the inventions that eventually freed you from some of your ignorance. Gunpowder alone ended the feudal era for the unwashed European masses.

October 20, 2008 @ 7:48 am | Comment

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