Hidden Harmonies

I’ve made it a point not to link to the Hidden Harmonies blog, let alone use it in a post title. As a rule, I refuse to read it to avoid a heightening of blood pressure. But this is one article you all have to see, even if it’s four days old already. (Link via James Fallows, who is as surprised as I am.) It begins,

After living here for more than 9 months, I have come to a most repugnant conclusion. It pains me to even think about it for I am a Chinese person who has often defended the traditions, institutions, values and dignity of the Children of Heaven. But the truth is often painful at first. I realize now that much of the problems in Chinese society, and a plethora of problems there are, are not from the Chinese government (not a surprise to me since I am a long time China watcher suspicious of the anti government rhetoric of the west). What is surprising is that the myriad problems within Chinese society comes from the behavior, values and the beliefs of its people, a people that with all their traditions of wisdom behave in the most atrocious, despicable manner towards each other today. In a sense, I’d always expected this but were perhaps too proud to admit it and needed first hand experience for verification. Now I cannot escape that basic truth.

Of course, it lets the government off the hook completely, but it’s still a surprise. The comments are almost as startling as the post, although the thread inevitably breaks down in the second half as a few desperate commenters try to steer the comments toward the “America is worse or at least equal” argument.

The blogger writes, “The Chinese people especially in the north, display selfishness, rudeness, greed, ignorance, and pettiness the likes I have never seen before.” And he gives examples for his claim. Say what you will of the content, but it can’t be denied it is well written and well documented. Having just returned from a long trip to China, I can safely say a lot of it is true even if it is getting better (which it is; I was struck by people waiting in neat lines at Shanghai subway stations, but was still incensed at the rampant line cutting while I was waiting for a taxi at the new Shanghai railroad station). The writer even acknowledges that millions starved to death in China during the Great Leap Forward without blaming it on the West (and yes, that’s what other HH posts have claimed – an embargo from the West is what killed those 30 million farmers).

Read the whole thing and the comments.

The Discussion: 135 Comments

Dunno – the surprise is that anger turns against China this time, but it has to, once in a while, when people are angry about something most of the time, anyway. Nothing would surprise me on HH. Nothing except some steadiness and skepticism.

May 9, 2013 @ 3:08 am | Comment

Yeah, I saw the same piece. My take was that, actually, China isn’t as bad as the piece makes it out to be, that (as JR points out) the anger at China seems to be mostly dissapointment over dashed expectations which were impossible high, and that the government is responsible for much that’s wrong with modern-day China.

May 9, 2013 @ 5:17 am | Comment

Hidden Harmonies are just attention seeking ABC’s pretending to be Communist chic. Basically an blog version of wearing a Che Guvara t-shirt. Now they actually visit and see the reality it doesn’t look so good.
But maybe their traditional apoplexy will come back when they read this piece in the Telegraph about why China won’t overtake the USA. It seems the expats who left China the last year may have been onto something: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/10044456/China-may-not-overtake-America-this-century-after-all.html

May 9, 2013 @ 7:23 am | Comment

So, wait. It’s not just the government, nor is it just the people? Huh.

Indeed, in my experience, people from the more developed South are better which you’d expect as the South is far more developed and better educated than the North.

By “south”, I’m assuming he means Shanghai, and not the vast majority of the south that suffers from all the ailments he mentions at least to the level of Beijing, but likely a great deal worse. Just last night, as we deftly drove our baby stroller half-into traffic to get around a douchebag (A/C on, windows down, and indifferent to the world around him) parked full-width across the bike lane (the sidewalk was a no-go, full of cars/scooters), that my Dongbei proud wife said, “The same thing happens up in Dalian, but at least in Dalian someone would hit the guy.”

May 9, 2013 @ 9:16 am | Comment

I thought it read like a disappointed lover, “You’re not the girl I thought you were!” And, wait, the government has no responsibility for environmental despoliation, the common people do? How does that work, exactly? Though I agree that a big chunk of the problem is unscrupulous polluters not obeying the laws that are on the books — still, if the government wanted to address these issues, they’d increase the enforcement budget of SEPA so SEPA could actually do its job. But there’s that whole “growth” versus “the environment” thing, which I actually think is partially a false dichotomy — as the Telegraph article pointed out, if you took into consideration the costs of pollution and environmental degradation, China’s growth rate would not look nearly so vigorous. I really think it’s more a case of whose pockets are getting lined, and it’s not that we don’t have that problem in the US, we just have a stronger system of laws and somewhat better enforcement.

It cracked me up, in a sad way, the defense of China’s industrialization as not doing as badly with the pollution issue as other countries did. Yeah, major industrial powers polluted as they industrialized. But I don’t think the commenter gets how much more severe and widespread the problems are in China — the scale is completely different, there’s much more human industrial activity as a whole and the entire planet is in much worse shape than it was in the 19th century — did we have garbage patches of plastic the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean back then? I do think that “First World” countries like the US really have a moral obligation to lead in this regard, and we’ve been pretty terrible about that, and it’s inexcusable. But that doesn’t let China off the hook. After all, the consequences are weighing most heavily on Chinese people.

The funniest comment to me was that the government should teach more in school about the problems in American society, except that would be labeled “propaganda.” Heh.

China has a problem in that it’s trying to do a whole bunch of things really fast, including the construction of a civil society. But at its core, authority is still based on personal power, and so many of the Maoist movements tore apart the civil society that there was. The lack of a real rule of law, the lack of transparency in government and the lack of political competition or a watchdog press has led to corruption that pervades Chinese society on so many levels. Also, what I’ve heard from more than one Chinese friend is that the biggest problem in Chinese society is a different lack — the lack of trust, outside of your immediate circle of family and friends. You don’t know if the food you’re buying is safe to eat. You don’t know if the water is safe to drink. And when the government tells you it’s a “Blue Sky Day,” can you actually believe them?

I agree that there is an incredible “macro” corruption in the US — laws are written to benefit the powerful few, and this has led to a massive redistribution of wealth over the last three, four decades, and we’ve had a sad and shameful history of imperial adventures also designed to benefit the few. What does work better here, though, are daily interactions and the expectation that contracts will be honored, that there is some sense of the commons and of common interest (although this too has been eroded over the last 30 years).

FWIW, I find that people line up at subways much more now in both Beijing and Shanghai. But like Fallows, I’ve learned to use my elbows at times…

May 9, 2013 @ 10:20 am | Comment

“FWIW, I find that people line up at subways much more now in both Beijing and Shanghai. But like Fallows, I’ve learned to use my elbows at times…”

I will approach anybody at any time if they do not line up. The metro has definitely improved in recent years, but there are still free-for-alls that occur at busy stations such as People’s Square and Century Park.

People haven’t been educated to be polite, that’s all.

May 9, 2013 @ 1:30 pm | Comment

meh, if Chinese orderly waiting in a straight line, you’ll probably accuse them of being mindless robotic conformists.
A lot of Northern Chinese are descendents of Altai nomads and are wildly individualistic. They are not domesticated citizens, they are like the bandits in Water Margin.

May 9, 2013 @ 3:12 pm | Comment

It’s really sad that the HH blog was founded by a Taiwanese guy, because what he writes and says is very far away from the mainstream thinking here.

My wife would probably say: He made Taiwan lose face.

May 9, 2013 @ 3:23 pm | Comment

I didn’t have the patience to read through all the comments on the original HH piece. It does read like someone who has only imagined China from afar and gotten most of his information from China Daily, Tom Friedman, and HH itself. Then, once he actually sets foot in Beijing, he quickly realizes how much of that is bullshit.

Letting the government off the hook takes a pretty amazing leap of logic. I like how he even tries to put a good word in for the local police, while any actual Chinese person (except the rich and connected) will quickly tell you how useless the police really are.

If the writer actually gets a chance to interact with some local officials while trying to accomplish something, he will hopefully stripped of his love of Chinese government.

Let’s try this syllogism: Chinese people are ignorant and “low quality”; the Chinese government is run by Chinese people; therefore the Chinese government is: __________________.

May 9, 2013 @ 6:56 pm | Comment

These guys have been on my radar for a few years now.
Remember when they made a big deal about chinalawblog?

I hope you HH jokers are reading this now,
I want yall to feel this and understand

you give the 五毛党 at a bad name

May 9, 2013 @ 7:25 pm | Comment

+1 to Kedafu

But I really do think that the piece lacks any spirit of charity or any real liking of China. It reads a lot like the expat-rants that are (or perhaps we should say, used to be) the staple of expat blogging. The author is castigating China for not being as he (and I’m assuming they are a “he”) imagined it to be before they moved there.

Instead, he insults the Chinese people by imaging that all the problems mentioned (which are over-stated) somehow just appeared amongst them rather than being the result of a society which the government was the creator of.

May 9, 2013 @ 7:36 pm | Comment

I’d like to add something about the “sleeping and shopping” phenomenon, which is, in fact, quite real. I have found that many a Chinese young person has few to no real hobbies (this is not exclusive to females but you will find many young Chinese males who at least proclaim interest in basketball and video games), but this is a byproduct of a system in which children/teenagers are encouraged to do absolutely nothing outside of study and therefore never have a chance to develop outside hobbies. That system is rooted in Chinese culture and propped up by the government in a sort of chicken/egg scenario.

If you spend ages 4-22 with no interests other than schoolwork, why would you suddenly have a hobby at age 23? Especially if, at age 23, you need to spend at least 12 hours a day at work or commuting to/form work, and maybe working 6 days a week? Furthermore, most Chinese cities are cultural wastelands, so it’s not like all the kids are going to go out and see indie rock shows and then want to go start punk bands. Even if they wanted to, their parents wouldn’t let them because it’s not “serious.” Those same cities are also devoid of anything resembling nature, so it’s hard for people to take to hiking or skiing on the weekends because the opportunities are incredibly limited. And of course, we know there is basically no civil society in China because the government is scared of it, so that rules out people forming communities around hobbies, charities, churches, whatever.

As an aside, when I first moved to Guangzhou, many Chinese friends were excited to take me “hiking” on Baiyun “Mountain”. Having lived in Colorado, I was excited for the opportunity, until I found that “hiking” actually meant “meandering on a concrete path with high heels and jeans” and “mountain” meant “hill.”

May 9, 2013 @ 8:23 pm | Comment

@Other Richard – I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely fair to say that most Chinese young people have no hobbies. When I first arrived in Nanjing I wrote articles for a local expat rag (which I see is still going) – it was a pretty easy way of getting free drinks in bars and so-forth, but I also got to go to punk gigs played by local students, art events and so-forth, and found that a lot of people do have something approaching a hobby, even if only singing Karaoke. The big problem is that most people have neither the time nor the money to indulge in the kind of hobbies that are almost stereo-typical of the British. Not just this, but different to the British who are given to seeing themselves as a nation of eccentrics and excuse all sorts of pastimes on this basis, China’s culture (and political climate) slants to conformism that discourages both in engaging in and admitting to having a hobby.

The real issue here seems to be the disappointment of the author that China hasn’t lived up to their expectations. The author has responded with what is actually a common trope amongst pro-government circles in China – that the Chinese people are ‘low quality’ but their government is great.

May 9, 2013 @ 10:14 pm | Comment

Lisa, thanks as always for your incredibly insightful comment, and to the others who have chimed in.

Truthteller: “meh, if Chinese orderly waiting in a straight line, you’ll probably accuse them of being mindless robotic conformists.” Utter rubbish. I’ve constantly praised China’s improving social skills. And it works both ways: doesn’t rampant line-cutting also indicate “mindless robotic conformists”? I see the waiting on lines in the subway station as a society maturing and learning the meaning of respect for others, even if the system breaks down at rush hour at some Shanghai stations. No one here would ever look at the lines and say it’s robotic conformism,” and your remark is reminiscent of some of the comments I’ve read over the years at HH.

May 10, 2013 @ 2:39 am | Comment

Great comments, and I agree with FOARP — the author doesn’t seem to like China, at all. Which is sad, on a lot of levels.

May 10, 2013 @ 2:57 am | Comment

“China a cultural wasteland” as the ever-excellent Chris Devonshire-Ellis just pointed out “Where is the Chinese Shostakovich” : http://www.china-briefing.com/news/2013/05/09/where-is-the-chinese-shostakovich.html

May 10, 2013 @ 7:18 pm | Comment

It’s funny how the bloggers think the Chinese Communist Party is the upholder of ancient Chinese virtues and values. When in fact the opposite is true. I think more of them HH bloggers should go and live in China for a long period amongst the common people to see things for themselves. But they’re probably be too afraid to do that as the reality may turn out to be so different from their fantasies of China. Very sad indeed.

May 10, 2013 @ 8:01 pm | Comment

The CDE commentary noted in #16 is a pretty good read and on a subject which is rarely, if ever, covered in the blog world.

No doubt, there will be some who will claim that that rotten old fantasist CDE outsourced the whole thing.

That aside, no matter how you look at it, the artificial distinction between the people (potentially good, and showing signs of improved goodness by no longer spitting in public) and the Govt (corrupt, authoritarian, manipulative etc) is wearing a bit thin.
Read: I respect and enjoy the people while detesting their system of governance. This is a pervasive mindset among western commenters and one designed to bypass charges of racism.

“5,000 years of civilisation”, common language heritage/prison (the bearer of values, ethics, and deeply ingrained ways of describing the big and small things in life). The only difference between the shoving, spitting housewife in the supermarket and the princeling is a bundle of cash and the opportunity to put those shared values and ethics into practice.

Rather badly stated I know, ….

May 11, 2013 @ 9:11 am | Comment

One suspects CDE knows what he’s talking about and always has done. It’d be hard to outsource someone to write about Russian opera history I reckon! And I agree, it was a good and balanced read. China Briefing has an editorial team but Chris’s pieces there always have a certain ‘panache’, if that’s the right word.
The differences between the Soviet approach to the arts and that of China – well China has gotten worse hasn’t it? The Chinese Minister of Culture being an ex-coal miner says it all really.
Maybe if they had a Musician as the Minister of Coal, Beijing’s air quality wouldn’t be so bad.

May 11, 2013 @ 11:38 am | Comment

In summary on this article so far, Hidden Harmonies have finally had the scales lifted for their chic Californian-Taiwanese Communist ideologistic eyes.

Plus, interesting comments by CDE elsewhere that the China Government today is worse than the Soviet Government 30-40 years ago. More censorship than the Russians, less care about our culture, more pollution too. I actually agree with that.

Time to worry, look what happened to that regime. I saw what happened, and no-one thought it would. It took just a year.
Is Xi Jinping the next Gorbachov? Discuss.

May 11, 2013 @ 12:59 pm | Comment

Most people have a motherland – me too. When it comes to that, ones perception tends to become special. It doesn’t need to be inaccurate or blindly based on emotion, but it happens more easily in this kind of context. When you compare your country with that of others, with feelings of ambition, envy, or whatever, your perception of the world becomes inaccurate, and that doesn’t lead to a constructive attitude.

When people call a place home, they will want to choose the furniture and the decoration. At times, people from the HH crew want to decorate the U.S. according to their ideas. At other times, they want to decorate China in accordance with their wishes. That’s narcissism – because every country is a place with many inhabitants, and you can’t ignore their ideas. To arrive in a (rather foreign) country, full of ideas about what it should be like says a lot about people with such ideas, and little about the country.

Countries and cultures are important. If we want to explain ourselves, we need to understand where we are from. But that doesn’t make us – it only helps to explain ourselves.

Two men sat in a bar. One said to the other, “Do you like Americans?” and the second man answered vigorously, “No.”
“Do you like Frenchmen?” asked the first.
“No,” came the answer with equal vigor.
There was a pause and the first man, raising his glass, asked, “Well, who do you like?”
Without hesitation the second man answered, “I like my friends.”

Louis Bromfield, “The Rains Came”, 1933 – 1937

May 11, 2013 @ 1:53 pm | Comment

Is Xi Jinping the next Gorbachov?

No. Unless the circumstances push him onto that road. And if so, he’ll probably succeed in making sure that his family’s fortunes won’t suffer in the process of change. (I think this might describe Jelzin’s Russia, too – does it?)

May 11, 2013 @ 1:59 pm | Comment

Okay, CDE is now undergoing rehabilitation after getting hammered by a couple of site lords. And I suspect many major operas wouldn’t get past the Chinese censors without some major butchery.

To the point that Chinese culture does not exist in progressive calendrical time, but in its own repetitive self-referential universe:

No different from the sorcery practiced in New Guinea and parts of West Africa which has been hitting the headlines of late.

May 11, 2013 @ 2:49 pm | Comment

Apol. To continue.

And when you include the 80 plus million Chinese christians in the mix, you have a race which exhibits the full panorama of western and eastern superstitious cult behaviours.

The common denominator is the reliance on other-worldly-forces to shape and organise the Han vision of individual happiness and worldly success.

Sure, its a risky business being a cult leader in China, but if you were to succeed, you would enjoy unparalleled wealth, power and many wives.

This is not a far-fetched vision of China’s future.

May 11, 2013 @ 3:40 pm | Comment

@KT – No, what I strongly suspect is happening is that CDE is posting links anonymously as a way of driving traffic to his site. No rehabilitation here – last we all heard he was leaving China for good – but like a lot of things he says, that didn’t seem to happen.

May 11, 2013 @ 8:27 pm | Comment

@FOARP. Beg to differ. It was neither a case of misplaced credentialism nor the above.

More like a statement on the blueblood – other ranks divide.
Some sort of class resentment thing.
Polo and opera versus Oasis and Thatcherism (and in bjc’s case, NBA and that global virus Andrew Lloyd Webber).

May 12, 2013 @ 6:12 am | Comment

Spam comment – please cut the crap.

May 12, 2013 @ 8:33 pm | Comment

Richard, I’m getting the impression that you’ve got a very illustrious guest on your blog.

May 12, 2013 @ 8:59 pm | Comment

I feel like HH is written by expats who are long removed from their homeland.

These expats — whether old Brits in Hong Kong or 2nd-generation Muslims in Europe — sometimes hold onto old, romanticized beliefs much longer than people actually living back home.

My British friends often laugh at how Hong Kong Brits still regularly have high-tea with scones, while most modern Londoners don’t have time for such traditions, and much prefer a curry at the pub. Also, old British families here seem to be still hold onto divisons like “expat” and “local,” whereas a modern Londoner is really quite multicultural.

Same with some overseas Chinese. I was visited by a 3rd-generation Chinese-American who has long been filled with (frankly, vague) anger about the discrimination China faces in the West, particularly the media. She’s the kind of person who would get indigiant if a joke T-shirt in America showed a Chinese person delivery chop suey take-out, or a Hollywood film didn’t have a Chinese actor. If you made any sort of generalization about Asians or Chinese — even positive ones, like “thin” or “good at school” — she would take offense. Why she felt such an affinity, and defensiveness, towards a place she’d never lived in long-term was beyond me.

Then, when she actually got here, traveled around, and came into contact with people physically beating their way in front of her at the train customs line, she was shocked. She was shocked by the lack of manners, the lack of civility, the greed, the pushiness. She couldn’t believe people didn’t give way to pedestrians. And, quite quickly, she changed her tune on her perceptions of fellow Chinese.

I can’t say that it became negative — since there are many wonderful things to love about China — but it became more balanced. She realized that there was some truth in many of the criticisms of Chinese people and China.

I feel like that’s kind of what this blog post author was going through — a sort of reverse culture shock.

May 13, 2013 @ 2:22 am | Comment

This latest spat between Taiwan and Philippines could get ugly soon if the later doesn’t do something about it quickly. Apparently a Philippine coast guard gun boat gunned down a Taiwanese fishing boat in overlapping areas of territorial water. killing one of the crew member, they clearly used heavy machine gun and was shooting to kill, both in huge violation of any and all international rules.

It is not a surprise that there’s a huge outrage and Taiwan, normally one to shy away from any serious confrontation, can no longer do that this time around.

An ultimatum was already issued to the Philippines to make very serious gesture and apologies this week, if that doesn’t happen, a lot of ugly things could follow, such as.. the ROC navy simply park into these waters.. and things can only go downhill from there.

This isn’t really a new thing, the Philippine government boats have long threatened the Taiwanese and sometimes Chinese once as well, often confiscating them for ransom… errr.. fines for entering cross claimed water. (and in the Taiwan case, that claimed water goes pretty much right up to our southern shore.)

Stay tuned, the Philippines hold a election today which may be why they have been unwilling to make moves at this sort of time, however if history is much guide, it seems unlikely they’ll back down too much.

May 13, 2013 @ 10:23 am | Comment

As for the HH article, in Chinese world we call this “Fighting over North South” and it’s an… ancient tradition to say the least, no later than the Song dynasty was there already severe dispute on these matters (in the imperial court over allocation of number of officials from different regions. which is really like 80% of the whole Wang An Shi reform conflict is really about that.)

I remember in the early 90s, my family was in the US studying and we met this Chinese family, who’s husband is a hotshot from CCTV and they’re on a brief stint in the US to study up a master I guess. anyway, the wife casually dropped that “Southern Women are short and ugly” when in fact, we’re at least 25% from Guangdong, (and 75% from Jian Su) oops. (they’re not bad people though, this is just so ingrained into everyday Chinese life. ) though it is true that on average, Northern Chinese tend to be taller, especially in the past. not a surprise given that they usually have greater access to dairy products and what not.

To be fair though, in the US there’s also plenty of jokes on Southern rednecks / Northern Yankees and what not. it happens in every country, even one as small as Taiwan.

It is also true that 2nd+ generation ABCs tend to have an unrealistically romantic view of their homeland, again, this is not entirely limited to just China either.

May 13, 2013 @ 6:26 pm | Comment

This was my comment on twitter: “6~half12. A country with more civic/social capital wld probably choose a more humane form of gov’t. @hiddenharmonies”. In other words, it’s not “the people or the government”, it’s a case of people getting the government they deserve. This is why I don’t waste a lot of time complaining about how awful the Chinese government is to the Chinese people (while I do waste time complaining about the way the Chinese government treats Tibetans). The government is popular. As H.L. Mencken had it, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” Obviously, no small number of individuals are exceptions.

I have to admit I didn’t read the whole HH article. It was surprising to find that someone had posted it there, but I didn’t expect the discussion to be any more meaningful than the usual HH boilerplate. The comments here about the psychology of ABC “long gun” nationalists are probably spot on.

May 14, 2013 @ 4:42 am | Comment

@ Hong Konger

I think that romanticised belief is inevitably more linked towards the country/culture of their actual residence, instead of the heritage. It serves a purpose of making them standing out of the local crowd, giving one a sense of importance.

I also read in some study that the third generation, which is for the most part removed from outright racial discrimination that suffered by their 1st and 2nd generation ancestors, tend to be the most vocal about it. This makes sense – actually being angry towards injustice (whether imagined or real) costs a lot of mental energy and precious time, and people who really struggle with making a living on a daily basis (especially from an introvert culture like the Chinese one) cannot afford to do it in the public and too often.

Also I’m being a little bit confused lately over the word expat. Never heard/read of it before coming to the Chinese blogsphere. I was under the impression that this word is used exclusively for Westerners in other parts of the world, whilst people moving the other way around are called immigrants…looks like my English still needs a lot of improvement…

May 15, 2013 @ 1:51 am | Comment

Besides, I’m quite tired of the whole “people deserve the government they have” idea. People who do not have the right to choose, whether they are poor women in states like Texas who want abortion service, or Chinese citizens happen to dislike their/our government intensely but have very little means of escaping it, doesn’t deserve the treatment. Giving ethnic minorities (like Tibetans) a pass and dismiss all other mainlanders – honestly, this reads both discrimination and racism to me.

May 15, 2013 @ 1:55 am | Comment

@Cathy: I don’t think the difference between “expat” and “immigrant” is so much on a word level, as the fact that most “expats” don’t plan on staying longer term. The thing is, being an immigrant is a much greater undertaking than being an expat, from blending in to adjusting to the local culture. You have more obligations and it’s a greater challenge. Personally, I don’t like the term expat because it seems to imply that as a Westerner, you should behave a certain way.

Expat does seem to correspond to words commonly used for Caucasians in other parts of the world, like “gringo,” “laowai,” and “farang.” 🙂

As for the “people deserve the government” idea, there are quite a number of commenters here who talk about the presumed problems of Chinese culture that causes all these issues. I don’t know why people like to focus on something they dislike so much, but I guess that’s up to them.

May 15, 2013 @ 6:19 am | Comment

An update on the Taiwan / Philippine story.

The Philippines reacted very late yesterday (actually, it dragged into early hours of today.) though the answer seem to be … risky at best. as in they made general vague agreement on part of the issue but generally avoided the core issue here.

So today would be another interesting day to see what exactly happens, as both sides are expected to make some further announcements. One of the main problem remains Taiwan’s general ambiguous status internationally, as the representative in Taiwan’s status as an official diplomat remains questionable, while even if he was, we were generally looking for the Philippine President to do the apology in international press conference towards the ROC/Taiwan and the victim’s family, while we only got about 1/4 of that yesterday.

At this point, it doesn’t look too good, the ROC scheduled a major naval / air exercise in the waters there for the next few days and right now that looks like it’s going to go through.

It looks like We would have to push the matters further. at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if we just park our Navy into those water permanently.

May 15, 2013 @ 8:52 am | Comment

I don’t know why people like to focus on something they dislike so much

The way people express their stance may depend on attitude, but the focus you seem to criticize makes sense to me, Wukailong. Nobody would build or join a human rights group for “celebrating the beauty of human rights”. Besides, many people love the Chinese political system, or its cultural, meritocratic etc. aspects. China isn’t just a foreign affair.

Personally, I think it would be wrong to leave China as a topic to the establishment, or to the business world. Criticism is important.

May 15, 2013 @ 1:47 pm | Comment

In this case I meant people complaining about Chinese culture, not the state of its government, human rights abuses etc. I have no problem with the latter, but I do have a problem when I hear about how “the Chinese” are behaving or how “they” deserve their government. I didn’t have the concerns you mentioned in mind.

May 16, 2013 @ 2:24 am | Comment

Rolling Wave, the ROC-Philippines story seems to have been completely drowned out in the US media, now transfixed on various scandals. Not hearing a word about it.

I recommend checking out this intriguing if demanding philosophical look at whether you can really be an intellectual in China.

May 16, 2013 @ 7:13 am | Comment

“….much prefer a curry at the pub”

No, we have curry AFTER the pub. Eating gets in the way of drinking. Other alternative is a kebab while staggering home.

Wife sometimes comments on how ethnic Chinese preserve some of the historical practises that have died out in China. Must be a universal thing, hanging on to antiquated customs from the perceived country of origin…

Speaking of antiquated customs, is this what this rather bizarre article is about?
Sent to me by my wife’s nephew. His comments were “This is just too odd… What is CPC trying to say?…”

May 16, 2013 @ 7:25 am | Comment

@ Wukailong.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the net is a democratic sphere, where even politically incorrect views about the worth of different cultures around the world can get an airing.

It is not a question of the people or the govt (some chicken – egg permutation), but the culture itself – imprisoned under the weight of its much lauded 5,000 years – which explains many of its present predicaments. And I’m quite sure that many folk in China also presume that the litany of domestic/international issues confronting the country do in fact relate to its compacted culture, even thought they wouldn’t constitute anything statistically important.

To the outsider, China appears to be a cultural formation which exists in a condition of arrested development. Outside progressive and linear time, and I’m not talking about its truly astounding economic development.

Mandarin – the bearer of Han culture, values, ethics – probably has about 80,000 characters, yet only a couple of thousand are in regular use, and used to make sense of its various challenges in a rapidly changing world.

Many countries are doing their best to escape from the less salubrious aspects of their past – whereas China revels in its dynastic past, the source of ancient wisdom (one which automatically eludes Westerners and others) and as a guide to future courses of action.

Things just became a lot more complex when the post 1949 govt took control of language to promote its own ends.

Its a linguistic issue. Language shapes and organises the individual and the collective, and not the other way around.

If Chinese culture had anything to offer the rest of the world (which includes Africa and its Asian neighbours), it would be winning many more hearts and minds instead of becoming the perfect example of negative charisma.

May 16, 2013 @ 8:02 am | Comment

Doesn’t the current Chinese government grow out of Chinese political culture? Isn’t Chinese political culture created by the attitudes and behavior of the Chinese people? I’m not saying it can’t ever change.

May 16, 2013 @ 11:39 am | Comment

@If Chinese culture had anything to offer the rest of the world (which includes Africa and its Asian neighbours), it would be winning many more hearts and minds instead of becoming the perfect example of negative charisma.

What! Utter rubbish. Lang Lang broke new ground in classic music which made it mainstream so both non-classic music viewing audiences and frequent classic music audiences can enjoy.

Twelve Girls Band showcase Chinese classical instruments to play various Western music and was well-received overseas.

Thousand-Hand Guan Yin Deaf Dancers still is well-received overseas.

Movies like The Last Emperor which the Chinese government let the filmmakers have open access to the Forbidden Palace and showcase Chinese culture and history was huge box office hit.

May 16, 2013 @ 2:26 pm | Comment

Movies like The Last Emperor

Which was made a quarter of a century ago and was written, produced and directed by non-Chinese.

May 16, 2013 @ 3:21 pm | Comment

@ Jason. I was thinking more in terms of China’s diplomatic and economic relationships.

At present, China enjoys a limited number of mutually convenient relationships: North Korea, Cambodia and some of the ‘stans on its western border (and I wouldn’t bet the farm on the latter in the long term).

And if Chinese indigenous musical culture is so valued in the West, why are millions of Chinese teenagers torturing Beethoven to death on pianos and violins.

China is the last ditch royalty stream for the likes of Kenny G, Webber and a few over the hill rock bands who should have known better.

Poverty stricken Mali in the midst of a complex civil war exercises far more global soft power influence in musical terms than China could ever hope for in a hundred years.

May 16, 2013 @ 4:08 pm | Comment

@Richard, I notice that, and of course Angelina Jolie cutting off her boobs and that tax man maybe suspect of not being the most consistent is of course the biggest news ever 😉 as oppose to the potential of war coming out of the least liking corner that may be massive consequences if it goes further.

I’d have to say, if this somehow gets uglier (and it is rather likely), CNN is in for a massive scandal themselves of missing such a news (they have had absolute 0 coverage at all), maybe even uglier than holding a tele conference between two reporter standing 20 feet apart 😛

within the last 24 hour, we have already expelled the defecto Philippine ambassador to Taiwan, recalled his counterpart in Manila, declared Philippines a red travel zone (on par with lovely places like Iran / Iraq / Afghanistan / Pakistan and other war torn African countries.) suspended all further work visa application and sailed a naval fleet with enough fire power to take down the Philippines with ease (seeing that they have no real navy or airforce at all.) right up to their coastlines.

We are realistically threatening to just cancel all commercial flight and shipping as well, this is like, one step away from declaring war in all it IS much closer than where the PRC was at with Japan last year, as we have the means to easily do whatever we want in a limited campaign against them. (like taking over all the islands between Taiwan to Luzon.)

The Philippines are making things worse by choosing to play the “Taiwan is not a country card” at this point, seemingly unaware that the PRC is much more likely hoping that war breaks out than not.

What’s worse is that the from investigations done here on the attacked fishing boat seems to seriously question the Philippine side of the story, as in, the ship was hit by at least 50 bullets (which meant more were fired) , and most were of the heavy machine gun variety, and were aiming at the hull (in warning shots you should only shoot the tip of the ship at most.) with no signs of collision (which puts the ramming claim into serious doubt.) and their GPS even suggest they were not even in the contested EEZ, but well within the ROC side, that would make it really really ugly if true, since your government ship running into our water to kill is essentially an act of war.

I’d suggest folks to keep an eye on this, the overall chances of it turning THAT bad shouldn’t be high, but man, there have been too many wars that happened due to bad presumptions, carelessness and hot heads, all of which seems plentiful here.

May 16, 2013 @ 6:11 pm | Comment


I dislike such general and vague link between people, culture and politics because very similar things can be said to many other more “enlightened” places at some point in time. Another idea is that you cannot change a place’s history, mindset, cultural tradition just like that – it doesn’t do. You have to work within it. A total denying of the culture is a wrong method to reform its politics, because other methods are more effective – trade, law etc. come to mind.


Though never a fan of most mainland music, I do notice that Hong Kong and Taiwan music has some market share in Southeast Asia – though that may be a regional thing to start with. It took many years for me to slowly warm up to (some) Western music, and to this day I find many hits in Western societies…hmm…too much for my ear…


To further Wukailong’s point, I actually want to say a focus on culture in talking political reform is misplaced. Many issues facing Chinese politics – nationalism, the tension between modernisers and traditionalists, human rights abuse etc. etc. are not unique to China, and a focus on institutions, economic and legal development, especially in less developed regions and on grassroots level seem to be much better alternative than lamenting what is wrong with Chinese culture.

May 17, 2013 @ 1:43 pm | Comment

@ Cathy.

I’m definitely not a fan of dead European classical music, but a ton of middle class Chinese appear to be, as they have clearly having abandoned anything Chinese, be it high or lowbrow.
Plinking away on pianos and creating ghastly noises on violins.
Ironically, many contemporary experts on traditional Chinese music today are misguided loawai. It’s such a threatened species.

China is a totally mimetic culture: music (Chinese K-pop), western fashion, European architecture, etc.

How can a country with such a massive population contribute so little of creative worth to the global community?

Probably related to some sort of genetic disposition connected to 5,000 years of self-centred civilisation. Or maybe seasonal life on the farm

Also, think rote learning and that’s the way Chinese students play western classical music. Lots of technique and zero cultural empathy.

They might as well be re-engineering a lawn mower.

May 17, 2013 @ 5:14 pm | Comment

KT I think that’s a pretty negative way to frame it.

Cultural development and impact tend to directly correlate with economic ability, in that, if this country has no economic clout, it’ll be hard to develop a market worth a damn that would get enough people into this.

Now, China IS getting to that point in terms of market, BUT that’s happening after a very long period of the opposite, you can’t expect that to change overnight. Japan has largely also given up on all it’s traditional arts as a mainstream, (and really, I would argue the west as well, what is there in Hip hop that has anything to do with classical western music really. though I suppose there’s a few artist that tries to blend songs more inline with that. but they’re clearly the minority, and there are plenty of musician in Taiwan who does the same.) though I suppose you could argue that Japan has developed some different form of mainstream arts that are not like their western counterparts but have started to take over.

Let’s be honest here, American parents aren’t lining up their kids to really really learn how to play the Piano or anything, by the teen years there’s a far bigger population of kids doing drums or guitar than all the classical stuff combined.

There’s a decent number of people in Taiwan who can play some classical chinese instrument, FWIW, since pretty much all traditional funeral have a few folks blowing away at them.

May 17, 2013 @ 5:30 pm | Comment

To further Wukailong’s point, I actually want to say a focus on culture in talking political reform is misplaced.

A culture isn’t just “there” – it is constantly being described and interpreted, and put in a global context. This isn’t just the case with Western culture, but with Chinese culture, too. The soft-power industry is pretty much about this kind of connection between culture and politics, or culture and power.

You get an idea of that when it comes to the Asian values initiative of people from backgrounds as different as Lee Kuan Yew and Mahatir Mohamed, in the 1990s. You get an idea of that, too, when reading what Daniel Bell or Jiang Qing advocate as “Confucianism”. And when culture is discussed from perspectives like these, culture and politics can’t be viewed sepearately – not even limited to either past or present.

A total denying of the culture is a wrong method to reform its politics, because other methods are more effective – trade, law etc. come to mind.

Apart from what I said above, culture is there for a reason. It’s a complex of learned values, habits, and decision-making patterns. In fact, most decisions are probably made rather unconsciously, based on experience – defined by culture. When discussion on this blog was about “Confucianism” as described by Bell and Jiang, I said that it is usually easier to find reasonable approaches in your own cultural context, than in a “foreign” cultural context.

I can see that Wu Kailong’s comment referred to GP’s statement in particular, not to criticism in general. Neither Wu Kailong nor I seem to agree with GP. But while I do recognize the importance of culture, I do also recognize the role it plays in political, rather than cultural, arguments. When culture is cited to justify political decisions or systems which are most probably wrong, culture becomes involved in a political argument, and necessarily so. When someone I disagree with bases his views on cultural reasons, both he and I will start discussing culture.

May 17, 2013 @ 5:54 pm | Comment


Not much disagreement this time. The soft-power thing is mostly a joke to me, and I would like to downplay it whenever it is thrown at my face…but it’s tricky on more than one levels. When you are in my position, having your mother telling you to go and advocate things like Confucius Institutes and 舌尖上的中国, and the only thing you can think of is how such things lead back to questionable political aims and propaganda, it feels self-defeating and wrong whatever you do.

I prefer to discuss political reform using non-cultural arguments may simply because of this very dilemma – I don’t see a way to address Chinese culture to an international audience WITHOUT politics. The political part is such a burning thing for me, and I see no easy fix at all even without the whole culture thing, so I opt for a more politics as politics approach.

BTW, Bell and Qing are as ridiculous as one “Chinese historian” in our school who actually believes that Cultural Revolution is 90% correct. Academia everywhere is worse off because arguments like these.


Please don’t trash Chinese middle class people loving European classic music, or Laowai love Jingju etc. Many of them doing it out of vanity and exotic showing off, yes, but at least some part of that sentiment is genuine. Wait until you see Chinese brides here wearing 旗袍, 汉服 etc. etc. as people who never read classic Chinese literature for years, and proudly representing Chinese culture…

May 18, 2013 @ 12:44 am | Comment

@ Rolling Wave.

I generally agree with your para 3 points about the West and classical music culture, and what there is is highly subsidized by either the tax payer or by private endowments (in the US). The popular side of so-called high culture is that of the Andre Rieu variety ie fodder for Mothers Day gifts. When Cats gets replaced in Shanghai’s so-called opera house, it will be Rieu or one of his ilk doing the replacing. (Richard Clayderman has already cleaned up on the Mainland.)

I however take exception to your:

Cultural development and impact tend to directly correlate with economic ability, in that, if this country has no economic clout, it’ll be hard to develop a market worth a damn that would get enough people into this.

I have written ad nausuem about Mali – surely one of the poorest countries in the world today – and the influence its traditional and/or modernised musical culture has well beyond its borders.

Do a google search and include the US in the search terms.
Try scrolling across the French radio band.

There is absolutely no correlation between a nation’s musical culture soft power and its state of economic advancement, and to suggest so is pure western ethnocentrism.

And, in a timely manner, Vice Premier Wang Yang provides us with renewed grist for the culture/politics debate:


Its really great: A lecture (face, face, face – the pre-eminent feature in Han culture) by a senior official on the civilising process, alongside the PRC’s general record of stifling dissent in its many aspects.

May 18, 2013 @ 7:48 am | Comment

Apol. I forgot.

Japan can afford to abandon its traditional arts.

It’s in the forefront of serious world cinema and has been since the late 1940s, even if that recognition has been somewhat belated.

More importantly, 4 of the top 20 professional surfer girls on the tour circuit today come from Japan.

Not to forget, world class football players working the European circuit.

While Japan is every bit as corrupt as China in the politics department, instances such as the above give Japan a free pass.

May 18, 2013 @ 8:29 am | Comment

“You get an idea of that when it comes to the Asian values initiative of people from backgrounds as different as Lee Kuan Yew and Mahatir Mohamed, in the 1990s.”

I believe this is how dictator trying to hide their despotism by using confusing term like Asian Values. I would think that Hong Kong culture is quite similar to Singapore as both are Chinese majority under British, while Indonesia and Malaysia form the main part of Malay Archipelago that suppose to share the same culture, however i see a vast difference pertaining to people’s attitute and expectation from these countries toward their politics and leaders.

May 18, 2013 @ 10:34 am | Comment

Let me get back into this conversation by the questions but forth by Greg (is that you, Otto? 🙂 ) and JR. It seems the general reaction to what I wrote was “don’t you think politics has anything to do with culture, and don’t you think Chinese culture cause its present political state?” I feel a bit like an agnostic joining a debate between a fundamentalist and one of the new atheists, with both of them trying to pinpoint me as belonging to the other side. The problem, however, is on a completely different level.

Let’s start with culture, which is a notoriously ill-defined concept, yet often discussed in absolute and essentialist terms among some groups. One of the groups that like to do this is expats in China, I’ve found. Hence my musings on the subject.

Political culture as a concept might not be as ephemeral and unclear as “culture” as a whole, but let’s look at an example to see the problems. Did the political systems in North and South Korea somehow spring into existence from the rich mould of traditional Korean culture? Is it the restraining power of the hangul writing system that caused North to turn inwards, and is it because the South still retained some Chinese characters that made them more cosmopolitan and turned them into one of the Asian tigers? If you think this sounds ridiculous, then compare it to what’s said about China above.

I’m willing to accept that there are various levels to a society, say political culture, social structure, economic system, historical narratives etc that play a role and shape a country. We could call that “culture”. But it’s not an unchanging or determining factor anymore than a political system is. Certainly because of the combination of all these elements in the past, China and Taiwan easily took the routes of authoritarian government with corporatist elements. (As for what JR mentioned about using culture to defend a political system, I think that’s a slightly different issue than what we’ve been discussing. The first problem there is if what’s being said is even a proper description of the current situation. Daniel Bell’s and Jiang Qing’s descriptions seem particularly removed from reality IMHO).

As for languages, when people say that the Chinese language restricts thinking, my reaction is twofold: 1) the idea of linguistic relativity is way more common among laymen than among linguists or those who speak several languages and 2) how much Chinese do people who say that know? I’m not requiring that people know Chinese well, but if they have all sorts of, should we say, far-reaching ideas on the Chinese language and culture, then I’d take it seriously if it comes from one who frequently reads Chinese books or other texts. Without that it’s a bit like someone with a limp who comments about marathon runners…

So, out of curiosity, before I go any further – how many people here frequently read Chinese books or news media? (it doesn’t have to be from the mainland, but can also be from Hong Kong, Taiwan or even various diasporic Chinese groups) How much of your information from China comes from the (greater) Sinosphere and how much from English publications? In my own experience, my viewpoints on China changed a lot when reading came easier, after quite a number of books.

May 18, 2013 @ 12:35 pm | Comment

I’m willing to accept that there are various levels to a society, say political culture, social structure, economic system, historical narratives etc that play a role and shape a country. We could call that “culture”. But it’s not an unchanging or determining factor anymore than a political system is.

Wukailong: I think the fundamental difference you perceive between our positions comes from here. It may help to say that I reacted to your comment as is, not in its context as a reply to Greg.

Obviously, the way culture is presented isn’t necessarily the real one – a look at a consulate’s material, from a country you know yourself – should make that obvious. But when the same thing is taught in school, with political motives, it gradually becomes culture, too.

But [culture is] not an unchanging or determining factor anymore than a political system is.

Culture takes more time to change than a political system – probably even if we are talking about business culture (in terms of transaction, rather than about who owns the means of production). Both “big” and “small” traditions take long to change, especially as they may not even need to change to make a society viable and livable. (Mao was remarkably powerless in extinguishing what he saw as “bad habits”). I also doubt that Japan has changed as much as often believed. I doubt that North Korea’s political system (not quite the livable society though, I suspect) would still be in place if it wasn’t quite compatible with the country’s traditonal culture.

I live in a country that has gone through several political systems during the past 100 years, and I’m just old enough to have known people who lived in all of its forms (including a few East German relatives). I don’t think their culture – their way to interact with others, to do business with others, marrying others etc. really changed a lot. Some change came with generational change, but hardly with political change. What you learn in your early years matters most – its very determining stuff.

how many people here frequently read Chinese books or news media?

Almost daily. So does Cathy Liu, I suppose. Why?

May 18, 2013 @ 2:15 pm | Comment


Actually I have to block my readings in the Chinese language from time to time (it seems a necessary measure yet again) to learn from English sources (especially because my study, career, etc. all have very little to do with China), and the majority of my Chinese news come from non-official sources, like online forums, conversation with friends and relatives in China etc.

I can’t say on Wukailong’s behalf, but I do notice a significant difference between the two sides he points to. I personally do not see it as much as a language issue though. Chinese study (as a discipline) and some (though not all) English sources about China, at least in my limited knowledge about them, have very different ways of describing things/concepts than Chinese sources. Instead of simple language difference, I see more of a difference between thinking patterns which are hard to get through if people are not familiar with the other side. This does not change even if one or the other change their language of expression (in my experience, mostly people using Chinese sources regularly to communicate in English). For instance, though I haven’t heard of Hidden Harmonies before last year, their writing (both style and substance)is so familiar to me from my Chinese nationalist acquaintances, and the change of language doesn’t play that much a role at all.

May 18, 2013 @ 11:31 pm | Comment

For another example, despite all my distaste for that professor declaring Cultural Revolution is 90% correct, actually I can see why he believes what he believes…working class background, fan of 60s, lamenting the decline of labour unions under Reagan and shocked by the dissolution of Soviet Union and the defeat of Communism, he needs something to sustain his communist belief, and China/Mao is there for him (and some others like him), not exactly as a tool, but a way of expressing that sentiment. I, on the other hand, who had only two years (more precisely, one and half) of world history in which all the above about the US, Soviet Union etc. etc.was either skipped or mentioned very selectively, remember Chinese history in a completely different fashion, and his ideas about Communism, Mao etc. all sound incredibly like CCP propaganda and something China has thankfully moved away from since the late 70s/early 80s. Now if one is confident and open minded enough, both cases can be put forward on the public opinion forum for people to choose, but many people I met are not that interested in being empathetic/sympathetic/设身处地/whatever in discussing topics relating to China, and prefer to have their ways in debates without truly listening to where others came from.

May 18, 2013 @ 11:43 pm | Comment

And I re-read Wukailong’s post…I think he raises the language question because of a commonly heard idea (coming from both Western and Chinese sources, I would say) that Chinese as a language limit people’s thinking, particularly logic thinking, whilst European languages, including English, do not have this problem. I have also heard of a slightly different but closely related version on this idea, saying that Chinese civilisation doesn’t value scientific inquiry/empirical evidence as highly as the Western tradition, thus leads to the decline of China when Europe industrialised and began the way to lead the world…

May 19, 2013 @ 12:21 am | Comment

@Cathy (#59): Indeed, I raised the question about language because there are claims here (not by me) that the Chinese language somehow inhibits thoughts or puts China in a state of “arrested development”. When someone says that, I’d like to know how much Chinese the person really knows to get a feeling for where he/she is coming from. I’m saying this because I’ve seen several cases of expats in China claiming various stuff, like this:

* Chinese characters inhibit(ed) China’s development
* The Chinese language has an archaic structure that makes it hard to adjust to the modern world

From my experience, most people who did the claim were hardly done with their Chinese studies to be able to use the language at the same level of English as this blog, for example. I never heard it once from people who were proficient in the language.

Another reason I asked is because people’s perspectives often seem to change with experience and language capability. If you get most of your information from China from the New York Times, it’s natural that your viewpoints will be different than if you get them from Chinese newspapers (and as I said, not just the mainland).

Finally, I’ve seen many times here how expats comment on things Chinese without any thought about what Chinese people think. “The Chinese” don’t count, or belong to some sort of gray mass not worthy of attention. This, too, is often caused by a language barrier. If people were to know what exchange students in China from other countries and Chinese students abroad, they would see a lot of commonality in the range of complaints. As it is now, the focus in English-language publications is mostly on what foreigners in China face.

May 19, 2013 @ 2:26 am | Comment

I should add too that I agree that Hidden Harmonies often sounds like Chinese nationalist forums. The one difference I see is that they talk much more about specific and detailed American issues that most people living in China haven’t heard about.

May 19, 2013 @ 2:35 am | Comment

Agree with most part of #60, though I definitely have heard people proficient in the language say quite similar things (cultural self-loathe is still quite powerful in some Chinese circles).

I would pay more respect to people hold views like these on HH and elsewhere to either 1) go back to the nation you seem to adore and actually live there or 2) challenge the injustice you see in your adopted society WITHOUT paying so much attention to the place you or your ancestors come from. Even 3) doing the former part of 2) whilst still care deeply about many issues in your society of origin is understandable, but lavishing praises on a place you have never/no longer personally experienced in order to get back at your adopt society is not the way.

May 19, 2013 @ 3:44 am | Comment

Oh right, the self-loathers. I was actually planning on mentioning them too but felt that it might just make the description confusing, so I left it out. It feels to me that these people build their beliefs more on an idealized image of developed countries, kind of like the nationalists but in reverse.

One thing I often felt in China was that quite a number of people were into a sort of obsessive soul searching, whether it was on the perceived problems in the culture, society or a sense of lacking respect from the West. Perhaps it’s something similar that drives the second- or third-generation immigrants who long for greener pastures in their ancestral land.

May 19, 2013 @ 5:33 am | Comment

@Wukailong. You are doing a good job unpacking the cultural limit position, but so far all your arguments are based on anecdote and personal observation. With your claimed interest in linguistics, I was hoping for something more academic, say a criticism of structuralist theories of language (which is where I was coming from in a very general way). However, please don’t ask me to go into detail: a quick net search will give you the context.

Whatever, this is the most interesting thread in ages, and it sure beats another op piece on the GLF.

I’m quite sure most of the expats drivelling away here including myself have spent more time on the Mainland than the whole HH crowd put together. They are a minor side show who spend their office day googling up examples of US perfidy, while benefitting from a wide range of freedoms offered by their host country.

May 19, 2013 @ 6:49 am | Comment

Come on Wukailong. You claim to be a linguist which I understand to be a student of linguistic theories, not someone who has a couple of languages under their belt. The latter is a multi-linguist.

How about a rebuttal, or are you a “I speak and read Mandarin and everyone else is clueless”.

You sound like a forum windbag to me.

May 19, 2013 @ 12:53 pm | Comment

cultural self-loathe is still quite powerful in some Chinese circles
I’m trying to understand the concept – was Lu Xun a Chinese patriot and a cultural self-loather?

A proficient speaker of Chinese (and Japanese), Lee Teng-hui, refers to the social ills of Chinese tradition. He doesn’t blame the language, but cites Hu Shih, a philosopher, as criticizing China’s blind worship for catch phrases and slogans, and a superstitious belief in their own singularity. The Wiki contains more details about Hu.

Now, would Hu be a (cultural) self-loather? Would Lee? Or Bo Yang? I have my reservations about that term, even if limited to “cultural” issues. I’ve heard Americans call Noam Chomsky “a self-loathing” (American or Jew). In my view, “self-loath” is more frequently an accusation against a critic, to silence criticism that might be painful, and hard to reply to.

May 19, 2013 @ 1:44 pm | Comment

Now I’m regretting that I brought this up. In my personal view neither Lu Xun or Hu Shi should be able to qualify…because both of them promote a renewal of the culture. I don’t know about Lee, but Bo Yang and Li Ao etc. etc. all have a significant patriotic side. That’s of quite some importance to me. I still remember Chomsky as a linguistic, and many of us find it hard to accept him as quite that legit a social and cultural critic (of course Manufacturing Consent is a delightful read), but he certainly isn’t the only one criticising America as it is (not too familiar with the Jewish part) or do it much harsher than many foreigners.

The self-loathers I was referring to tend to blame almost everything to the culture – even if things occurred in many other developing places in the world. I don’t necessarily mind the critical angle they advocate, it’s the blind Western worshiping that’s frankly worrisome (convert to Christianity because if is a “superior way” and “enlightened religion”, framing Western nations especially the US as heaven on earth etc. etc.) There is a point when one simply stops to take them seriously, not the least because they seem to know quite little about the very culture they’re criticising (the same cannot be said about Lu, Hu, Chomsky and many – most contemporary American critics). Worse yet, their cultural critic has quite often being used to fit government’s political goals (hey, Chinese cannot govern themselves, they have all these problems, they need a good liberal authoritarian regime like CCP)…Han Han, a writer many of us adored when we were young, and who published several articles on the low quality of Chinese people (and presumably the call for reform the current system instead of criticism against CCP directly) is one of the latest example of such amazing turn…

May 19, 2013 @ 10:44 pm | Comment

@KT: Not sure what’s going on here… LOL

I just had to read through my posts again to understand what you’re trying to get at. I never said I were a linguist. I have done work with computational linguistics (mostly natural language processing) and come into contact with a lot of linguists due to my job, so I happen to know one thing and another about what the consensus is. For that reason I found your mention of structuralism weird. Unless something changed yesterday, hasn’t that been down and out for quite some time now? I’m not against people trying to bring up old theories, or hoping for their revival, but as far as I understand, it’s not a big thing.

Also, for the anecdotal part. The only claim I’ve made, really, is that expats with a limited understanding of Chinese tend to be the ones who make claims about the inadequacy about the Chinese language. The rest of my posts are criticisms against strong claims about culture and politics, describing various problematic cases to show where the problems are (for example, North and South Korea, and cultural determinism), but the main point is that these concepts are so unclear and yet nobody bothers trying to get closer to a definition. I will give it to JR, though, that he seems clearer in this department than most others.

What is it that you want rebutted? How about starting to back your own claims up with something more substantial? That could lead to an interesting discussion.

May 19, 2013 @ 10:51 pm | Comment

@JR: I think Lee’s opinions are an example of using ideas of culture for a political end, just like Lee Kuan Yew. In Lee’s case it doesn’t have to be a well-defined aim, just to try to show the difference between a (supposedly) vibrant and healthy Taiwanese culture, and a backwards and stagnant Chinese culture with which a distance should be kept. (

“In my view, “self-loath” is more frequently an accusation against a critic, to silence criticism that might be painful, and hard to reply to.”

It could be, but it doesn’t have to. That something is hard to reply to doesn’t mean it’s right. I’m mentioning this since I’m often seeing things like this in the Swedish debate, where patriotism is almost unheard of and a lot of famous people in the cultural scene describe how the country is completely devoid of culture and therefore needs more multiculturalism. It’s very hard to disprove such a claim, even though I think it’s bogus.

But the bottom line is this: all these discussions about culture will be knotty and hard to bring any sense into since the concepts are so unclear. That’s why I seldom see these discussions going anywhere.

Btw, JR, have you read 李登輝學校的教誨? If so, any thoughts on it?

May 19, 2013 @ 11:08 pm | Comment

“the difference between a (supposedly) vibrant and healthy Taiwanese culture, and a backwards and stagnant Chinese culture with which a distance should be kept. (”

How easily can this be said for Hong Kong (though I’ve personally called that place cultural desert many times), Shanghai, Guangzhou (Guangdong), Northeast provinces and some other mainland cities and provinces with some distinct identity and different cultural mix than the idea of Han centred, backwards and isolated “Chinese culture”? Shall we have separation movements from all the above then? In philosophy, I wouldn’t mind that, but making the politics about Taiwan about culture isn’t something I’m happy to see (even though with all of its hype and cultural chauvinism, the supporters for Tibetan independence may have a stronger case from a national/ethnic/cultural angle).

May 20, 2013 @ 1:51 am | Comment

@Wukailong. After retracting my last sentence.

Visited your site and found the brief cv which mentioned your interest in linguistics, which I understood/understand to mean an interest in theories of language/language as an object of investigation.

Structuralism a la de Saussure, Greimas et al is a bit long in the tooth to be sure, but it lines up culture and language in no uncertain terms, and as you are aware, gets rid of the simple minded connection between word, meaning and object in the real world. That basic premise remains unchallenged. In it original form, it was both deterministic and ahistorical and hence appeals to my present prejudices.

Taking another tack, my jaundiced views about the rigidity of Chinese culture could have been debunked by a reference to arguments made in Dikotter’s The Age of Openness: China before Mao. A brief revisionist tome which probably has more to offer than his retread stuff on the GLF.

(Swedish cultural wasteland? Probably true, judging by the slew of writers in the detective genre who have invaded the rest of the worlds’ book shelves. Christ, they are bloody awful to put it mildly. Unreadable.
When I think of Sweden, I come up with Abba, Eurovision, overpriced booze and a pretty healthy jazz scene, {which is not to my taste}.)

May 20, 2013 @ 6:36 am | Comment

@KT: Oh, that one. Thanks for pointing that out – I ought to change that part about living in Beijing, which seized being true in 2011.

Also, I completely agree about the detective stuff, ABBA and Eurovision, which is quite horrible stuff. I’ve never understood foreigner’s infatuation with Stieg Larsson. On the other hand, the good culture is elsewhere in the country, though with educational levels lowering one never knows what will become of it.

May 20, 2013 @ 7:01 am | Comment

@Cathy (#70): That’s the reason I’ve never been much into cultural reasons for political choices. I personally believe there’s very little to that conflict that has to do with culture and most of it is because of the current state of China’s political, economic and social situation. If the US were like China is now, I’m sure Puerto Rico wouldn’t be clamoring to become a new state, and if they felt pressure from the US under such circumstances, it would be very easy to point out the differences in culture.

May 20, 2013 @ 7:13 am | Comment


Totally OT, but I assumed you are Chinese until just now when I read your intro…normally I’m able to tell expats (ex-expats) in China from Chinese living overseas but definitely got you in the wrong camp…I was quite close to ask you on what kind of job you’ve been doing that you get to go to Sweden…

May 20, 2013 @ 2:08 pm | Comment

@Jason: “Lang Lang broke new ground in classic music”.
No he didn’t. He’s a very good pianist but that’s it. Back to CDE’s piece, Lang Lang is a product of intense training a’la Chinese style but he’s ultimately regurgiating Chopin and Lizst. There’s nothing new – the same authors point.
And quite why FOARP feels the same author is trying to gain readers from Peking Duck I cannot imagine. Some weird fear over Mr. DE’s ability to seduce perhaps? He writes well. Better than FOARP for example and would almost certainly be a betetr drinking companion. I’m with King Tubby on that score.
Meanwhile, Lang Lang is a product to allow the major record labels to sell CD’s to Chinese buyers, nothing more. Feel cheated? Many do. He has not brought anything new to music.
And Hidden Harmonies may find they have large CIA files on them if they ever want to get ahead at a later stage in life.

So take your choice about who you want to listen to. There’s so much dumbing down the good guys get drowned beneath the static.

May 21, 2013 @ 5:43 am | Comment

Another OT.

@ Cathy. I’m a bit surprised that you were about to ask Wukailong about his citizenship.

The internet and forums like this allow us to shed notions of citizenship (even if our prejudices remain). We are one thing in our real world of work and other social relations, and can be quite another creature on the net. Replace the idea of a unified existential subject with that of agency: different partial identities and attributes according to the context.

That’s what makes the digital world so brilliant in addition to being an instant vanity press. We can pick and choose our persona concerns, interests and dislikes from a global context and then inflict them on others. Sometimes they even resonate. Folk also have the option of sharing as little or a lot about their lives as they so choose.

For myself, I would forgo any opportunity to meet my favourite bloggers over a coffee as I suspect it would lead to mutual disappointment.

(And on a confessional note, I have exactly zero interest in domestic politics, sport or even music to the extent of not owning a tv. The absence of this white noise frees up time for my current passions. And I’m quite sure others have made similar choices.)

May 21, 2013 @ 6:23 am | Comment

“I agree that there is an incredible ‘macro’ corruption in the US — laws are written to benefit the powerful few, and this has led to a massive redistribution of wealth over the last three, four decades, and we’ve had a sad and shameful history of imperial adventures also designed to benefit the few.” What total and utter crap.

The increase in inequality in the US is the result of (a) globalization (duh), (b) immigration (if you add 30 million uneducated peasants to the bottom of the pile, then mathematically the resulting income distribution will be more skewed the other way) and (c) technological change (leading to the winner-takes-all economy that we see in sports, entertainment, and business). There has not been any “redistribution” to the wealthy. The Government is not taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. Relative overall tax burdens (including income and non-income taxes) have changed very little over the past 30-40 years – lots of poor people no longer have to pay income taxes, but they still pay payroll and sales taxes, so it’s about a wash).

While you can make an argument that the Government ought to redistribute money from the winners in the new economy to the losers – and indeed, that is exactly what President Obama seems to be single mindedly focused on – you can’t make a reasonable argument that the Government has been redistributing money to the rich.

May 21, 2013 @ 12:32 pm | Comment

Doug, I am happy to tell you you are wrong on all counts. I’m not going to waste my time and argue point by point. Just look at where the salaries of average workers have gone compared to CEOs’ over the past forty years. Tax cuts for the rich and the decrease of benefits for the poor while the rich enjoy every advantage — no, I’m not going to argue. But as the administrator of this board I get to have the final say: everything you wrote is false. Being poor doesn’t make one a “loser” and you should be ashamed for implying as much.

May 21, 2013 @ 12:47 pm | Comment

@King Tubby: “For myself, I would forgo any opportunity to meet my favourite bloggers over a coffee as I suspect it would lead to mutual disappointment.”
Exactly. There are a handful of folk I’d like to meet (CDE is one of them) but other than that I suspect many are not what they seem. A lot of the China bloggers seem fucked up in the head actually, including all of HH. Maybe getting de-sinacized and leaving is good for the mental health.

May 21, 2013 @ 2:00 pm | Comment

@Rick Fong

Name one other classic pianist that has achieved Lang Lang’s success for broader audiences.

Who cares if “he’s ultimately regurgitating Chopin and Lizst.” He plays Chinese pieces often.

May 21, 2013 @ 2:27 pm | Comment

Lang Lang is a great artist and was an astonishing prodigy. I disagree with RF’s assessment of him as a mere “product.”

May 21, 2013 @ 2:30 pm | Comment


I wasn’t going to ask about his citizenship (especially not in legal terms), but simply assumed it (though I meant way more for the cultural angle, instead of the citizenship angle)…I was quite interested in what kind of work he does (even in a broad sense) that can bring him to Sweden. Take it as some form of communitarian legacy from my Chinese upbringing that I very simply cannot escape from and some fancy over all Northern European nations would be sufficient.

To your larger point. Maybe because of the same communitarian legacy, and some influential mentors in my liberal arts college years that have just passed(community is one of the huge selling points here), and the one I least want to bring up – my “female nature” of sorts, I can never separate my online life with the real life. I don’t. I understand that others do, and respect it if that’s the way they want it to be, but I never have and never will. Every forum/social networking site I’ve involved in I’ve went to at least one grouping activity except one overseas Chinese forum, and every time I had to leave an online community it feels as bad as a real-life one (sometimes even worse). I’ve had coffee with many people I know online (many say that’s their first) and definitely plan to do so in the future.

So in short, I just don’t play by that role you seem to think as universal…shall we both treat is as a learning experience then?

May 21, 2013 @ 2:52 pm | Comment

I copy here a link for an article from a friend of mine on a social networking site, and her ending point in this comment. I don’t agree with this completely (as it’s too generalised), but it’s an interesting point of view nonetheless.

3. “No matter what course history takes, or what ‘absolute power’ takes over, these are never the strongest elements. The strongest is the “羈絆 (kihan)” between a person and a person. As long as kihan exists, people do not have to fear destiny or authority, the spirit of freedom will have power to live on. As long as we have kihan, we have love. We love our parents, love our brothers, love our friends, love our lovers. As long as I have kihan, I won’t become desperate. This is also why I cannot accept western culture and values entirely, because in their culture, there’s too much mysticism, not only in theology, but also philosophy and science. They do not focus enough on the interpersonal relationship and connection. In their civilization, power and rights are the most important aspects, and therefore they care dearly about how to allocate power and rights and interests. But this process does not have much meaning in China, because we do not care about the absolute power, but the position we are placed in. The best king is the one who fulfills his responsibilities, and the best father is the one who fulfills his responsibilities, and that’s all there is to it. That’s why we emphasize “kihan” more than the West. In Japanese games, anime, and movies, this theme is repeated again and again—“to protect,” which is an accurate interpretation of Eastern culture.”



May 21, 2013 @ 3:28 pm | Comment

@ Cathy
….western culture and values entirely, because in their culture, there’s too much mysticism, not only in theology,….

Mysticism and theology? Certainly not in my personal cultural universe.

You’ve obviously probably been associating with really bad western cultural elements, Cathy.

Position we are placed in ….yes, Han culture is big on locating everybody within their Great Chain of Being. Primeval Confucianist
theology of the first order, and it leads to a psychological slave mentality. Dad. The Great Helmsman. The Party. The Boss at work. Western professors. Etc.

I would deep six this notion of kihan and become a relatively free agent.

The more I reread that douban manifesto, the more I realise that it’s a total hogwash descriptor of Asian societies and how their social relations really operate.

May 21, 2013 @ 5:48 pm | Comment

Other pianists comparable to Lang Lang? Um…Denis Matsuev, Daniil Trifonov, Phillip Dyson…you’re too focused on Chinese artists. Trifonov is probably the hottest concert pianist in the world right now. Lang Lang doesn’t even feature in the top ten “best in the world today”. See: http://www.talkclassical.com/23385-top-pianists-our-time.html

Anyway, Yujia Wang if we want to play the Chinese card has a much better ass. Lang Lang is generally considered to be too showy, waving his arms around too much. Great pianist, I agree, and seems a nice bloke. But the best? Nah, that’s marketing for you.
And to rub salt into the wound, Lang Lang records exclusively for a Japanese company (Sony).

May 21, 2013 @ 6:08 pm | Comment

@Um…Denis Matsuev, Daniil Trifonov, Phillip Dyson…

I am talking about the “broader appeal.” Appearances on popular talk shows, morning shows, various presidential events, crossovers into pop, etc.

None of the listed even come close to it.

May 22, 2013 @ 1:09 am | Comment


I said I don’t agree with her 100% because it’s too generalised and may not represent all people. In fact, I don’t even think the libertarian, free agent idea is necessarily that “Western”. Others on the same site have pointed that to be the consequence of modernisation (instead of the result of any cultural influence per se), a theory I’m much more partial to personally…

Rather, I try to get at the idea that some of us do define people/society etc. by that universe of relative position you disdain (not too strong a word, I hope?), and that may not be a bad thing all the time (at least I don’t believe that’s the no.1 urgent change we need to have in China or Chinese society at the moment).

May 22, 2013 @ 2:13 am | Comment

I don’t even think the libertarian, **(relatively)**free agent idea is necessarily that “Western”.

Crikey, I would like a liberal arts college reference/academic citation for that one.

May 22, 2013 @ 5:27 am | Comment

I’m under the impression that you think I wrote that article. I did not. I merely share some of its sentiment, not even all of them.

Economically, many countries have market-oriented reforms in recent history, like almost all the Central & Eastern European nations, including Russia. Not familiar with Latin America but I believe some of these nations too. Socially, many societies have moved away from the large family, generational model and opt for nuclear family – even quite traditional societies like Japan. Surely some people say they borrow ideas from enlightenment, neoliberal economists etc., but I fail to see what’s innately “Western” such ideas if they have taken hold and shaped societies in other parts of the world.

May 22, 2013 @ 9:50 am | Comment


Far be it from me to dispute your prerogatives as owner of this blog. So, I will not engage in further argument about the causes of the increase in income inequality in the US.

However, you attribute something to me that is not correct. You wrote, “Being poor doesn’t make one a ‘loser’ and you should be ashamed for implying as much.” In the economic game there are “winners” and “losers.” There is no moral implication to this. All I am doing is describing who has succeeded economically and who hasn’t, without any judgment about how or why that has happened. Take free trade. China makes lots of cheap stuff and ships it to the US. The “winners” in this game are the producers in China, the US importers and the consumers in the US. The “losers” are the workers who used to be employed making that stuff in the US. I don’t see why you would object to me calling them the “losers” – they did lose, they lost their jobs, their communities lost businesses and a tax base. What’s the point of pretending that trade doesn’t have these effects? The US has long recognized that some people lose as the result of free trade, and that is why countervailing assistance is offered – to retrain those who lost their jobs, etc. Anyway, that was my point, that in the economy there are some people who do quite well, and others who do not, and that failure may have nothing at all to do with the inherent qualities of the person who has fallen behind.

Since I was laid off in the wake of the financial crisis, I can claim some personal knowlege of these matters.

May 22, 2013 @ 10:37 am | Comment

Oops, seems I created quite a stir here. 🙂

I can perfectly well understand why someone would want to know where a commenter comes from, if only in a metaphorical sense. When in China, the expats and the society they often shield themselves from, whether in an ideological or physical way, often has a different mode of thinking than they do. I think it’s very much the same phenomenon as immigrants in a country experience – either they resist, or they get into the other society. For example, the founder of modern islamism, Sayyid Qutb, lived in the US for a few years and hated every bit of it. Part of it might have been due to the prejudice he met, but a lot of it was because of his religion and culture. He saw a degenerate civilization in the US that was sexually promiscuous, lacking in refined taste and pursuing animal desires.

“Socially, many societies have moved away from the large family, generational model and opt for nuclear family – even quite traditional societies like Japan. Surely some people say they borrow ideas from enlightenment, neoliberal economists etc., but I fail to see what’s innately “Western” such ideas if they have taken hold and shaped societies in other parts of the world.”

This process is happening in China too. I’ve heard more and more people seriously discussing retirement homes, something which was unthinkable only a generation ago. (This is also a common criticism against the West, which is seen as uncaring about its old)

May 22, 2013 @ 10:39 am | Comment

On my own impression about Western culture/society etc. Admittedly, I don’t know enough to judge it (from a cultural angle). Twenty some years late to the game is a serious handicap (but even sadder, I cannot claim a thorough knowledge of Chinese cultural tradition either, that’s why many of my friends & I joke about wanting to have been born in Taiwan). I read from “scholars” who are by and large the mouthpiece of CCP growing up in a third-tier city with no good book-stores and no public library. Never had empirical training beyond natural sciences before coming to the US. An undergrad doesn’t make one expert in anything, especially given the gap between academics and practitioners in field like Politics. I’m much more aware of such limitations and unwilling to judge entire cultures or people comparing to my friends who wrote articles like that.

On the other end, one really doesn’t need to be an academic or really knowledgeable about the world in general to have an intuitive understanding towards cultural differences simply from daily interactions, or spot the condescending attitude/lack of exposure to other frameworks from a Euro/America-centric point of view. Some academics, or self-identified liberals I came across, do have a habit of preaching about tolerance and multiculturalism and then show a lack of understanding on basically that. A severe lacking of cultural capital (from both Western and Chinese side) and proper guidance (again, from both sides) makes Chinese students in liberal arts suffer from this much harsher than both locals and other peer group, who chose natural sciences, engineering, business etc. That’s even before being in the whole sorry job aspects in both the US and China for liberal arts kids…

That’s about all I can come up with in terms of shared sentiment with that article I quoted above.

May 22, 2013 @ 10:40 am | Comment


Thank you for understanding. This isn’t the first time I’ve been told to have crossed such lines on the net (or in real life in the US & UK, even within my very own Chinese community, but mostly outside of it), and I choose to continue doing what I’m doing simply as a personal belief. I’m for that school of thought which believes human beings can communicate and understand one another if we try hard enough.

But ironically enough, I spend my whole life running away from parents and have no idea how to deal with the fact that at the end of day, as the only child, I want to live in the west and they would never leave China. Like many expats (and very un-Chinese), I cannot even imagine having a family in China. My mother, for her part, cannot imagine spending many days of her retirement doing anything other than raising my kid(s) and rely on me for support afterwards. The financial part is my responsibility, I don’t argue with that. It’s the emotional attachment part I cannot provide. She has talked about moving in with my aunt, who lives in another province many kilometres away for retirement, but both of them are still looking at influencing the kids’ marriage and family plan first.

May 22, 2013 @ 11:04 am | Comment

@ Kulailong.

Sayyid Qutd would even have a bad hejab day if he lived in Tehran.


May 22, 2013 @ 1:26 pm | Comment

@Jason. You typify the dumbing down of Chinese culture. “Lang Lang crossing over into pop”. If that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get. Beware what you ask for.
I prefer my music unsullied by electronics, fashions, passing whims, or banal talk shows. Cultural hell, you can keep it.
Unfortunately the Chinese Ministry of Culture prefers you remain stupid and saccharined in thought and culture lest you actually wake up one day and see what is really going on or begin to appreciate higher levels of thinking.
I bet you like shows like “Super Girl”, no?

May 22, 2013 @ 3:55 pm | Comment

Btw, JR, have you read 李登輝學校的教誨? If so, any thoughts on it?

Never read it, hence no thoughts on it. I happened on Lee’s Taiwan de zhuzhang and bought it right away. It seems that his book is effective in a Chinese perception when it’s about Lee himself – he presents himself as an honest man with a “vision” -, but I don’t think his ideas have devloped much traction. His political decisions, however, seem to have reinforced existing trends in Taiwan.

It’s very hard to disprove such a claim, even though I think it’s bogus.
It may be hard to disprove – but one can answer with a stance of one’s own, rather than with something that seems to amount to psycho-analysis. A suggestion that the challenger was a victim of cultural self-loath doesn’t lead anywhere, unless there’s a clear-cut statement about that from the person himself or herself. I’ve never used the argument of self-loath, because I see an element of pathology in it – something that should be left to specialists, rather than to political debates.

But culture is an issue, in politics, too. If a politician tries to keep the two apart, success would be unlikely. Even companies, provided that they’ve been in existence for a while, have a “culture” you need to be aware of.

Take Germans – as a rule, they are risk-averse. That’s no cliché, neither socially nor technologically. That doesn’t mean that you can’t draft and implement reforms in my country – but you need to take comparatively small steps, and you need to have some successes to show before any further small step. If you’ll ever see some kind of Thatcher revolution in my country, you can be pretty sure that it won’t succeed. Even if you don’t try to pick the people up where they are, you will have to take the statutory bodies and “elites” (employers, unions, some of the clergy, public broadcasters etc.) along – something Gerhard Schröder did between 2002 and 2005.

One more thing about culture – Lee Teng-hui’s “Taiwan de zhuzhang” isn’t strongly drawing on sources – not in a sense that he’d precisely say where his points are from, he frequently rather drops names, than books and pages. Pretty much is true for the book of a German chronicler of the Chinese-Republican history, Thomas Weyrauch. All the same, his work is highly appreciated by the KMT (a foreign-ministry article in German here).

Others take offense from that kind of approach, but it doesn’t really matter to the authors. They write for their particular constituencies, or for those who may be inclined to agree with them. They create a beautiful atmosphere.

You may consider such habitual/learned/cultural factors strengths, weaknesses, or neither – but they won’t go away simply because you may want to keep them and politcs apart.

May 22, 2013 @ 6:51 pm | Comment

@Rick Fong

Stepping out of the shell and making it broader to mass appeal doesn’t constitute “dumbing down.” It’s a person who known it’s audience.

May 22, 2013 @ 8:51 pm | Comment


Out of curiosity, not hostility.

How do you balance/reconcile your claim that Germans are basically more risk averse than other peoples (which I take as a more or less universal trait, confirmed by psychologists from child development experiments) with the fact that it has more political turmoil than, say, Britain? How is it possible that the same culture which would not allow a Margaret Thatcher somehow allowed an Adolf Hitler? I am not familiar with Germany, but as far as stereotypes go, it’s almost always the Britain (and the extended Anglosphere, including US, Canada, Australia, NZ, and some people count South Africa which really complicates things significantly) that’s been praised as a place of political, if not cultural stability, amongst the major Western European nations.

May 22, 2013 @ 11:07 pm | Comment

@Jason – while you crave a Lang Lang/Lady Gaga duet, I shudder at the thought. There’s nothing ‘shell” like about classical music incidentally. In fact it has a remarkably longer shelf life than the so-called ‘wider audience’ you claim. Besides, in 50 years no-one will be talking about your beloved pop stars or Lang Lang, they’ll be forgotten. But Chopin and Liszt won’t be.

May 22, 2013 @ 11:18 pm | Comment

How do you balance/reconcile your claim that Germans are basically more risk averse than other peoples (which I take as a more or less universal trait, confirmed by psychologists from child development experiments) with the fact that it has more political turmoil than, say, Britain?

There’s more than one theory, Cathy. One is that Germany – as Italy – is a “belated nation”. The Nazi era most probably played a big role in a risk-averse attitude, but with some likelihood, even the thirty-year war (1618 – 1648) did. Both also created and create a particular bitter conscience, added to the caution.

I think I “know” four “foreign” countries well enough to compare – Britain, China, France and the Netherlands. I don’t think that people in either place are usually as cautious as are Germans, even though only Britain hasn’t seen a great deal of turmoil among all of them. I think the degree to which people are cautious is “learned”, and that’s part of culture.

May 23, 2013 @ 6:01 am | Comment

Btw, I consider neither caution nor a willingness to risk a risk or vice. Depending on the situation and the outcome, either may be useful.

May 23, 2013 @ 6:04 am | Comment

For the Chinese case, during my life on the many corners of the mainland, I simply don’t think political history forms a proper collective conscious of most everyday people (in the way I suspect German case does). Amongst cultural elites, there are two forces that’s particularly troubling to me – the victimised, we were bullied and not taking seriously as a great civilisation idea that mirrors some parts of the Arab/Islamic world, and the unwillingness to address past political turmoil honestly (it doesn’t need to be a total denying of the culture or complete westernisation – that would never happen; large part of this is due to CCP selective telling, for sure, but also part of it echo with people’s selective memory on our own choosing). Someone here once made an analogy of this attitude as being a mix of Germany and Russia (during two periods of history which I cannot remember now), and the often heard China now-US in 1900 comparison is wrong. I’m quite partial to that particular theory.

In need to read more European history…

May 23, 2013 @ 7:17 am | Comment

No dear. You need to read more Chinese history.

May 23, 2013 @ 4:44 pm | Comment

@ Rick Fong.

Okay, Cathy is exceptionally confessional and she mixes up her political categories……. libertarianism, which to my mind is an Occupy Wall Street thing as opposed to neo-liberalism and market reform/straight down the line Hobbesian capitalism ….not to forget Asian community values, whatever that means. A case of go West and all political differences are lost. Probably that liberal arts degree failed to deliver.

It is also easy to see off Jason. He still lives at home with his Mum.

Who are you?

May 23, 2013 @ 5:13 pm | Comment

I’m afraid I still feel a bit misrepresented here. I have no interest in mechanistic ideas of culture influencing politics, “culture X is like Y therefore political result Z”. But, from a bird’s-eye view, there must be a major influence of some sort. It’s a bit like leading a successful life. Obviously, one’s attitudes and choices are important to a successful life. However, it would be very difficult, and, in most contexts, obnoxious, to go through an individual person’s life and say, “well, you had this problem because of this choice you made, etc.” because there are so many different factors that affect everything. However, if a person starts talking to you as if their choices and attitudes are unrelated to their life results, you might as well point out that they’re kidding themselves. It would be obnoxious,
The idea that the Chinese language somehow limits China’s political or social structure is totally off-the-wall. I mean the spoken language. It’s possible that the complexity of the written language has some kind of psychological effect on people, but I doubt it. Certainly, in the old days, some scripts were more accessible to the public (is it a coincidence that ancient Greece, thought of as the home of humane government, developed the first easy-to-learn script, i.e. the first true alphabet?) but in the modern world every government pushes aggressively for mass literacy, so it’s just a question of how much the kids have to suffer in the process … the psychological effect on adults is trivial, I’d guess.

May 23, 2013 @ 11:08 pm | Comment

Lang Lang and Lady Gaga duet? For a minute, I thought you meant Dao Lang and Gaga, got kinda stoked.

May 23, 2013 @ 11:21 pm | Comment

in #105, please ignore where I wrote, “It would be obnoxious,” — it was the beginning of a separate thought I decided to drop.

May 24, 2013 @ 1:24 am | Comment


Most occupy wall street kids (and grown-ups) I know would never allow themselves to be called libertarian. In fact, the vast majority of them ally with the political left, at least in the US. Libertarians I know, on the other hand, are almost always more akin to the Republicans, though they definitely disagree with them in fundamental ways, particularly for social issues like abortion etc.

It’s one thing if we define things like libertarianism (and the more confusing idea of neo-liberalism, for that matter) differently. It’s another to just call me a case of losing all political differences because of this. In many parts of my “confession” (in my opinion, everyday conversation) I’ve talked about political differences.

May 24, 2013 @ 5:00 am | Comment


As far as being confessional goes, I know quite a few individuals who would contributed to forums like HH personally (even their English style is remarkably similar). Doesn’t make me any more sympathetic, but does make me understand where they come from (instead of judging without knowing their perspective).

May 24, 2013 @ 5:10 am | Comment

@King Tubby: Corporate analyst with HSBC, speak fluent Mandarin, Cantones and seven other Chinese dialects and advise our MNC clients into emerging China. We’re talking Mianyang, not Shanghai.
And WTF are you brother?

May 24, 2013 @ 7:48 am | Comment

Dynasties came and went and the replacement of one with its successor was generally a brutal affair, and the existing CCP is no different from its successors, as it exercises it mandate through brutal political power. I think we have a fine example of arrested cultural development here.

Chinese culture places a premium on harmony, different classes knowing their place in the social order, the larger unique Han identity – “the traditions, institutions, values and dignity of the Children of Heaven” – and, in broad terms, is totally resistant to the history of disruptive ideas which have propelled Western countries through different forms of political organisation during the past 2,000 years.

And, how is this premium maintained?

The way its language has **structured and represents** the realities of being a creature/subject bearer of this unique culture. Note: language has no direct representational relationship with the real.

History in China is always equated with official sanctioned history, and any revisions only exist to glorify the ruling dynasty in question. In other words, it is not history in the generally agreed understanding of the term. Every dynasty had its own Party line.

More generally, the problems of a totally self-referential culture which avoids real historical, linear time relate to its cultural mentalite:

“In the end the simplest and best way to describe Chinese history would be to distinguish between two types of period: (i) the time when the people vainly yearn to be able to have the stable condition of slaves; (ii) the times when the people temporarily get to enjoy that stable condition of slaves.” Lu Xun

(Cruised the net for a couple of the latter spoints here, okay.)

May 24, 2013 @ 7:54 am | Comment

@ Rick.

Small time monarch in Australia with a host of surly unpaid servants, ungrateful children, etc.

Oh yes, aficionado of Japanese surfer girls and low brow non-classical music which I continue to inflict on my three blog readers.

May 24, 2013 @ 8:06 am | Comment

can’t help noticing Mianyang…too close to home. There was a time when the mayor at my hometown saying we need to be the 2nd city after Chengdu in Sichuan in terms of development, FDI, education, etc. etc. Then Mianyang took that place.

A good thing overall that these companies are moving to my home province, though the presence of expats population has turned my dear mother into a xenophobic “traditionalist” I barely recognise.

May 24, 2013 @ 9:29 am | Comment

Wow, I should not have tried to catch up after a couple glasses of wine. I’m thoroughly confused. Except I think anyone who believes Obama is a socialist bent on redistributing income has had way more wine than I have. Or perhaps Kool-aid.

May 24, 2013 @ 4:43 pm | Comment

@King Tubby: hah hah good on you man.
I come in peace, I just cannot abide stupidity and ignorance. Unfortunately there is rather a lot of it in the China focused English language blogosphere. Armchair opinionists with little actual experience of what it really like out there. But the classical bit was fun that’s why I chipped in. Guess we have CDE who you rightly flagged up for that side debate. In answer to his question: There is no Chinese Shoshtakovich because the Chinese Ministry of Culture will no permit his existence. Which is more sinister, scary, abd backwards thinking than the freaking Soviet Union ever was for crying out loud.
Just give us a Lang Lang and suddenly the Chinese people think they’re masters of the genre and not excluded. In reality they totally are.

May 24, 2013 @ 4:54 pm | Comment

“fluent Mandarin, Cantones and seven other Chinese dialects ”

Just curious… what 7 other dialects?

I thought there were only 7 or 8 widely recognized Chinese “dialects,” no?

May 24, 2013 @ 5:16 pm | Comment

Went ahead to ask an Occupy activist on the libertarian question. Useful points here:

I think that Occupy was, on the whole, a left-libertarian/libertarian-socialist movement.

“Libertarian” in the United States means something different than what “libertarian” has historically meant. In the US, libertarian = right libertarian, or an anti-government supporter of free markets and capitalism. Historically however, libertarian has usually = left libertarian, or anarchism, which is anti-state and anti-capitalist (to put it briefly).

Let me say that Occupy Wall Street was, or is, a widely complex and multifaceted social movement geographically, demographically, and ideologically. It has been made up of people across the political spectrum. In its height, there were anarchists, liberals, socialists, and right-libertarians involved.

May 25, 2013 @ 12:10 am | Comment

I would not say Occupy Wall Street was in any way a libertarian exercise (and I participated for a few days last year). Demonstrators were either liberals or, to a far lesser extent, anarchists. Unfortunately the anarchists drew a huge amount of attention to themselves through their dramatic demonstrations, wearing death costumes and being generally flamboyant, which often made them seem, falsely, to typify the participants, most of whom were actually concerned white collars like me who felt the rich were unfairly getting all the breaks with no accountability. It was about demanding far more stringent and aggressive regulation — the exact, exact opposite of the libertarian philosophy. It was all about greater government involvement in going after the banker criminals and changing laws to stop favoring the super-rich and strengthening controls over the financial industries. I never experienced the slightest whiff of libertarianism. The tiny contingent of vocal anarchists may be anti-government but hardly in the libertarian sense.

May 25, 2013 @ 12:35 am | Comment

Worth noting that Ron Paul made favorable noises about Occupy at the time. So, libertarians are not necessarily against Occupy, but, yes, Occupy itself contains very few libertarians … if by libertarian we mean something resembling Ron Paul, not something resembling Noam Chomsky.

May 25, 2013 @ 3:03 am | Comment

Naturally I was referring to libertarianism – and its concept of the individual which you can google – which comes within the European Anarchist tradition.

All these Americans and wannabee Americans: think every reference and allusion on forums is related to them. That’s the real problem with mass education.

And if #105 presents a convincing argument against my language – culture argument, I’ll………………

Lets have something which will get a pass conceded mark, and one which at least displays some awareness of linguistic theories.

May 25, 2013 @ 5:20 am | Comment

Well, KT, can you cite linguists on the subject of language determining/influencing political culture? Anything more recent than Saussure?

May 25, 2013 @ 5:57 am | Comment

Greg. I have already done that. “Greimas et al” which included Barthes and a host of recent others.

Disgusting complex and obscure stuff I know, and I don’t pretend to be a PhD in that area, but do have the basics. What’s your background. Engineering.

Google semiotics. It will keep you reading for quite some time.

Your “off the wall’ rebuttal won’t even get you a pass conceded.

May 25, 2013 @ 6:22 am | Comment

Apol. To continue. If you read carefully, a big ask, I acknowledged that structuralism was *a bit long in the tooth* #72. This in no way discredits its credentials, nor the basic premises it operates from. *El al* is an abbreviation which refers to a particular tradition, in this case, the structuralist relation of language to that which it purports to represent. (Pace means following a tradition or authorial argument).

All grand theories undergo internal revisions, and the structuralist view still holds its own in the humanities today. The same goes for Marxism, which offers a pretty handy tool kit to explain the economic foundation of societies, irrespective of their complexity or otherwise.

You want to theorise the machinations of power and surveillance in China or for that matter any other country, you start with Foucault.

Okay, okay, I leaving myself open for some really snarky repartee here, but my point. A bit of that dreadful word theory, doesn’t go astray in some discussions. And, at least it takes one beyond opinion, anecdote and empirical observation.

May 25, 2013 @ 7:21 am | Comment

Come on Greg. Step up or are you just another empty windbag with access to a keyboard.

May 25, 2013 @ 3:54 pm | Comment

@xsc – there’s about 50 recognised minorities let alone dialects. “Officially recognised” means nothing. There are literally thousands of towns with their own dialects pretty damn near close to being different languages let alone “7 or 8”. FYI I can speak Shanghainese, Fukkien, Hakka, Sichuanhua, Taiwanese, Dai and Miao as well as standard Mandarin and Cantonese. But there are thousands out there. I’d say Provinces like Guangxi have hundreds for example. I have to negotiate with these people sometimes and it can be hard with the village townships out in China’s rural areas.

May 25, 2013 @ 7:27 pm | Comment

kt is right chinese culture suxx!

seriously why cant you guys like him give some academic proof. he has given many names like sauser, focualt and the others. Read them first to understand china then tell your ideas, not now like just write without thinking.

i went to china in 2005 and decided to never come back. how can a country that presrves communism and write with ten thousand characters work? it doesnt. as a counter example, japan only uses 2000 characters and works well so you can actually do it that way, but you also need phonetic alphabet like kana.

May 26, 2013 @ 6:15 pm | Comment

Well, Tubby, I’ve never heard of Greimas and barely heard of Barthes. I don’t actually want to hash this out with you.

May 27, 2013 @ 10:21 am | Comment

That’s okay Greg. No harm. I was pushing the point that some of us come to discussions with views with are pre-formed by theoretical positions (however misguided). This is not chinasmack, so a little elevated discussion doesn’t go astray. At least I hope so.


@ Peter. Saw you coming a mile away and it was like being gnawed to death by a dead sheep.

May 27, 2013 @ 12:08 pm | Comment

Peking Duck isn’t ChinaSmack? It’s hard to tell the difference between these and Beijing Cream at times they all look the same much of the time. But HH is in a league of its own for hypocritical weirdness.

May 27, 2013 @ 5:04 pm | Comment

I want to apologize in advance for adding a somewhat tangential comment to this thread. I stumbled on the HH article through the Fallows link and then I got into a dialog with two of the commenters who also are the editors (Allen and Black Phoenix). I should have known better, or I should have searched the web about them. That would have pointed me to this thread (comes up quite high on google).

So, these Chinese patriots who presume to enlighten the western audiences on their anti-Chinese biases, instead of really ever replying to my comment they ended up quietly throwing my comment away just as I was editing it. They had no reason to do that and did not even mention the fact that they deleted my last response. I guess they really are running a CCP-style harmony police there. The cowardice and hypocrisy is unbelievable.

So, I want to respond to Black Phoenix from here. If Richard Burger thinks it is inappropriate I would understand. However, I hope that in the name of free (even if slightly irrelevant) speech my comment will survive here – readers can refer to the linked post comments to see more.

So here it goes. To Black Phoenix and the rest of the crowd this is what I have to say:

I won’t bother with your sophistries on stereotypes. They might work when writing patents but will not do for ordinary folk like me. However, I will point out one absurdity. That one I cannot let go unquestioned. You write:

“Why should my friend consider working around RACISM when it’s plain and obvious?

Well, it’s my anecdote, and Racism is her reason, according to her.

Why do I have to challenge my FRIEND’s assumptions/conclusions? When you are so willing to take the words of total strangers at airports??!!

Which one of us is MORE naive?”

The answer Black Phoenix is that because by divorcing an otherwise “really nice Hispanic guy” due to police profiling, she certainly did upset and even destroyed her life and let the “racists” win. And after that all she did was to blame racism and not her unwillingness to even “work around” (never mind fight for) her chance in happiness. She simply refused to do that thing which in Yankee-speak is codified as “pursuit of happiness” . But you seem unable to understand the concept of personal responsibility and effort for one’s own life. On the other hand you are so quick to blame something else (i.e. US government, racism, the west, the weather, you name it) for everything.

As for me, I was indeed willing to take believe total strangers words, because I had just seen him standing up even for his trivial right to be screened in the order he arrived. I am sure that total stranger (unlike your friend) would not divorce his Hispanic wife (if he had one), because he was unwilling to even “work around” racism. That I hope illustrates which one of us is more naive.

So *for me* your defense of her excuse falls somewhere between naive and absurd. But you are maybe not naive but simply have a warped sense of the world. That kind of superficial excuse fits perfectly with your perverse mix of revanchism and china-as-victim attitude. That is why you obviously ate up her lame excuse and you ended up regurgitating it in your web site. And that, “Black Phoenix”, is why stereotypes exist. You are such a perfect embodiment of one of them..

I am done with Hidden Harmonies. There are no harmonies hidden there. Just ugliness, myopia and pseudo-intellectualism. Thankfully, China is far far better than what they represent…

Thank you for allowing me to post my response here.

June 4, 2013 @ 12:04 pm | Comment

^jfwu, nice post, I had to scroll through a lot to find yours. I had pretty much the same experience. The admins there are a petty bunch, Allen might be considered the most reasonable but thats relative only to the intellectually handicapped people he surrounds himself with. Yes they will delete dissenting posts and generally do whatever they can to maintain the facade of “harmony”. The represent on a small scale why China and all soft power media charade will never gain traction. They are small angry insecure men with identity issues, and you can even find them roaming around the China focused news sections of blog and papers across the net spewing their hatred.

June 5, 2013 @ 7:31 am | Comment

Allen is not reasonable. He is just sly – but he is really sloppy..
After my post above appeared here, he rushed to post a “moderated” version on HH. It’s still there, it looks like it came out of a Monty Python skit. He also sent me an e-mail which I quote from (with his permission btw):

“While one of the others such as Black Pheonix might delete comments, much much more often than not, it’s simply just a comment that happens to be trapped by the spam filter. If people delete, I ask them to delete only certain offending paragraphs, and give specific reasons. We don’t play games with comments. Comments like yours to the extent they advance a position are welcomed…”

I was quite sure that “Black Phoenix” had deleted my post, but Allen’s
hypocritical propriety left some lingering doubts. But since then, I also noticed that his reply contained the line “flagged as spam by raventhorn2000” along with my banned message, So, Allen was lying through his teeth while trying to appear reasonable.

Later that day I received some weird/rabid e-mails from a “Charles Liu”. That character really is unhinged.. I won’t quote from his e-mail, but let’s just say that Charles must indeed be a “small man with serious identity issues” – in multiple ways.

Meanwhile on HH, someone else posted a reply, patted himself in the back for “dismantling” my post and the rest of the gang continued their “harmonious” banter with a pseudo-intellectual discussion on line cutting. I tried to post but it now appears that I have been permanently banned. I have sent two e-mails to Allen so far, with no response..

So, I wonder: Is “raventhorn2000” the same as “Black Phoenix” ? And is “Charles Liu” the Mr. Hyde to Allen’s Dr. Jekyl ? And who is this “DeWang” that Allen is referring to ? Are they all the same guy in a basement rabidly posting stuff while poping cafeine pills ?

It is apparent to me now, that HH is a menagerie of maladjusted ABCs and naturalized Chinese US citizens. They are still working out their teenage frustrations and a whole lot of other inferiority complexes. They think they are really doing something valuable by peddling hate A complementary phenomenon would be a bunch of ethically western kids born in China, ganging up with some semi-deranged Foxconn laowais taking their cues from the Washington times and stormfront.org. That phenomenon does not exist in China. It is uniquely American, but even if something like that could get created in China the internet police would not tolerate them. The web here tolerates HH – not that I have any probblems with that by the way. James Fallows and Richard Burger did the right thing by linking to the “melektaus” article (that is a piece of humorless hate speech, especially if you read some more of the same author’s posts). My adventure with them is my own fault – I should have probed mode before posting there and especially before responding to Allen and Black Phoenix (perspectivehre seems more reasonable but who knows..).

There is no discussion to be had with these clowns. You can just observe them and get amused or sad depending on your background. I have read some more of their past posts now and I laughed a lot. But I almost cried too..

June 8, 2013 @ 2:45 pm | Comment

Thank you for that insightful comment. I think you’ve captured the essence of HH. Charles Liu is the resident hatchet man over there, by the way. I don’t think anyone takes him seriously. Dewang can be reasonable, but rarely.

June 9, 2013 @ 9:12 am | Comment

@jfwu: Here’s a short Who’s Who of HH:

* DeWang/YinYang – founder and main contributor.
* Allen – founder. Previously called Karma.
* Charles Liu – describes himself as a social activist and is the expert on finding examples of why the US does the same thing as China.
* Black Phoenix / raventhorn2000 – writes most concepts important to him in CAPS and basically questions every concept of the opponent.

As for melektaus and some of the others, I don’t know who they are. I’ve met DeWang and Allen IRL and think they’re nice people. Unfortunately their blog has turned into some sort of self-fulfilling feedback loop where anyone with a different viewpoint will be thrown out sooner or later after having been called various permutations of “retarded,” “moronic,” “idiotic” or other synonyms of the kind. It doesn’t matter if the opposing viewpoints are voiced in a reasonable way or not, they all meet the same fate. And oh, they’re usually referred to as “trolls” as well.

Originally, there was a blog called Fool’s Mountain which had some amazingly interesting discussions with really good contributors. There were great comments from both pro-CCP and not-so-pro-CCP people, but at some point the moderates left and it just became a shouting match between the extremes. Allen and DeWang were originally contributors to FM but later decided to do their own blog.

I agree HH is mostly an American phenomenon. All discussions about China lead to very detailed discussions on the US. It’s like there are only two countries in the world, the US and China.

June 9, 2013 @ 10:32 am | Comment

Thanks for the info. I posted here(under a different handle) some months ago about the psychological motivators that drive fenqing behavior. I think you really have to understand that these guys suffer from deeply seated inferiority issues vis-a-vis the West as a cultural other and ethnically vis-a-vis what they see as a White-Anglo other. I think the maladjusted ABCs have a more complex set of insecurities and see China as an identity and buffer for their own short comings. Where others might seek spirituality to fill a void in their lives these guys turn to rabid nationalism with an imagined ethno-cultural state as the divine being on their alter which is why they react so negatively to “sacrilege” (ie critical analysis). Unfortunately I’m afraid this complex is rather widespread and influential in Chinese politics which bodes ill for an enlightened Chinese foreign policy, the petty reactionary nature of this complex manifests its in many areas.

June 11, 2013 @ 3:44 am | Comment

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