Archive for the ‘1’ Category

Not voting? Get over it.

April 13, 2010

This was a rant directed at my poor cousin who possibly hadn’t deserved it. But I’m sure you know people that do. Yes politicians have to engage people better. Our democracy can obviously be improved. But that’s a separate issue.

I have NO sympathy for people who choose to not vote out of principle. Having lived under the communist dictatorship in China for several years, and helped fight against the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong, it really boils my blood that people are willing to wash their hands of our own political system. Of course it’s got problems, of course all the party leaders are wankers, of course the policies are often obscure and populist. What do people expect this isn’t utopia. The reason a lot of political campaigning is stupid is because voters behave stupidly. If people choose to vote for grinning, lobotomized leaders that’s what we’ll get. However the fact that our country is still ticking over and for example, most people can get an education, make a living, and not get arrested and tortured without trial, shows the process is still working at least reasonably well.

If you sit around at home waiting for parties to come out and “engage you” then you’re wasting your time. Why should THEY have the responsibility to engage YOU? THEY are run by ordinary individuals like everyone else. Most people who canvass and campaign for parties are randoms with 9-5 jobs who support the party out of their own salary. Sure lots of them are wankers, but lots are nice too, just like most people. And there’s some paid a salary with public funding, but that’s still only one for thousands of people. Or do you expect there to be a party with a message that fits just what you want? Feks sake there are 6 parties and 60 million people in this country. Clearly they are going to have generalized policies. Plus they have to appeal to a cross-section of political IQ’s, since most people have no clue how economic or political affairs actually work, and can’t be arsed to find out.

If you don’t like any of the mainstream parties, vote for a small party. For example I support the greens. (Who most people ignore because they’re like, “oooh it’s just a bunch of middle class hippies who want to chat about organic celery and live in wind-powered cottages” without even bothering to read their economic or social policies). They may not be perfect, but imo they’d be better than the alternatives.

But the greens don’t get elected. Why not? Because they don’t have the resources to buy billboards or adverts, nor the voter base to get taken seriously in the media, nor the cash to buy off business leaders or tabloid papers. And will the greens come out and engage you? No, they won’t. Because they’re run on a shoe-string by a handful of crazily busy people. And they simply don’t have time to stand on the doorstep of every disaffected bugger who will use them as a punchbag to take out their anger about life, the system, and everything. Though they do try.

You’re right though, clearly everyone does have a right to complain. Many people seem to get off on sitting on their ass whining away about “the system”, and how “none of the parties are right for me”. Well the world doesn’t revolve around you sunshine. If you want that individual attention, set up your own party. Screaming lord sutch did, and it was fucking brilliant. In the mean time though, complaining isn’t that much fun. It’s quite repetitive, and people tend to ignore you after a while – yeah I’d say it’s a bit shite. So how about taking a few mins to let the computer tell you which party you apparently want to vote for, and then go and engage with them. Or at the very least, use your fekkin vote. 🙂

Apathy: I thought it was cool when I was 12 too.

Economists – we have blood on our hands

April 4, 2010

From Soviet planning disaster through to IMF forced liberalization policies.

It is painful but unavoidable. Doctors have blood on their hands too. Thousands of people have died of preventable diseases or been hastened to their graves at the hand of medical practitioners.

The difference is, how do economists face responsibility when they get it wrong?


As for the rich countries. Watch what they did, not what they say.

Ha-Joon Chang.

Edging in veg

November 18, 2009

I recently discovered that I quite like vegetables. This is a new development. It’s not that I ever refused to eat them, but they certainly never excited me before. I remember trying to turn down mushrooms as a kid, and my mum saying “if you won’t eat that, I’ll never be able to take you to Spain, they eat mushrooms all the time there”. It did the trick. But until I finished school and went off to China, my conception of what’s good to eat was squarely focused on anything with lots sugar or chili in it. Vegetables were dead gooey lumps to fill up the space around pie or chips or egg or toast. Salad barely acceptable.

China revolutionised my attitude to “bitter” veg in particular. By that I mean the likes of auberigine or courgette, which I’d always found a bit “adult tasting” like coffee or beer. (As opposed to the sweetness of peas or boiled carrot). I guess it’s a right of passage of every foreigner to fall tragically in love with north/west chinese red braised auberigine (红烧茄子). The tragedy being that you can only really get it in China. When fending for myself in our uni-flat in first-year, I’d try pathetically to recreate it ending up with almost slimy, chewy, massacred vegetable slush to be enjoyed with some cheese toasties and a can of baked beans. Just sad really. And during the occasional burst of 5-a-day consciousness, I’d wash some limp lettuce leaves which never quite dried and sortof sagged tastelessly with squidgy tomato, then in the disgust leave the rest of the lettuce to rot into its own brown corpse-fluid at the back of the fridge.

So I’m not quite sure where this new hunger came from. Though it seems to have just grown suddenly and naturally, like how old music which has washed over you for a lifetime in shops and buses can suddenly click and you realise it conencts somehow, and to your surprise you want more. Perhaps it was that I started cooking for others more this year, started taking the time not just to throw something together which was going to supply the required calories without sudden death, but that might be edible. Or perhaps its the one supersharp knife in our new kitchen, which sears through onion flesh like a ski through snow, giving a feeling of force and speed and control which is almost a wee bit epic. Or my flatmate’s hand-blender which with absolutely no effort turns an ugly-shaped mass of boiled stuff into light fluffy soup. Or the local veg box which means the dark bottom cupboard always has at least a few earthy, rooty, unidentifiable vegetable-like things. And it’s actually quite nice.

Perhaps it’s partly because there’s something intrinsically lazy about vegetables. There’s no need to faff with dough or mixtures or turning things on or off. But they’re also just really simple, quite beautiful in a way. It’s a weird ponder. I never thought of myself becoming some sort of a healthy-food person, it’s almost laughable really. But it did seemt that something had changed today. As I cycled back in the dark and wet, dreaming of a nice warming carrot and leek stew.

Fishing

November 18, 2009

Warning: This post will probably not make any sense to you. The only reason I left it up is that I have a policy with myself of not deleting things after I post them.

Crying outwith the chapel. Dark falls. Deep blue to deep black, the library is in an upside down aquarium. I gaze, gaze between the slats hoping to see tropical fish, hoping to trip. That vertigo. Rows of books and silence and scratchy, tappy, breathy, flicky, clicky stuff. Dizziness in the gut which twitches and hopes too for nothingness and a relief. But escape is in the future. Months of deadlines away. I cry inside. Why does life demand taking a garlic press to the brain and the emotions, why must we strip ourselves like gooey rubber trees, why must it hurt. Even the tears are oozed, trickling, gasping half-formed, bubbly. Invisible, inside, quiet. Not there at all. Gaze again at the stripey blue sky the lantern windows the heavy black shadows striding along the pavement. Turn and clinch, breathing, reaching for something inside that is a must and a will and a will do, turning down that over emotion, turning down that silliness. Searching for a focus or a light of a guncrack. Swimming blindly among those bright yellowelectric tropical fish. Hands flapple and feel slimy wetness, all is ungraspable, untakeable, tails and wings slapping and smacking against temples, hands toolless tools. Kick at the bottom but it’s the top, heave and twist no need for air. Nothing to push or pull, swimming through the city at evening. Head crashes, scratch through the slats, open the eyes and see a computer screen, words spread like messy diarrhoea. Wipe them up and dispose of them into cyberspace. Close the document and open a newer, realler one, not on fish, but on stats.

Human rights in China

October 27, 2009

“Reports for China invariably start with a description of the nature of the political regime, as if that were the most significant determinant for rights in the country. For example the 2004 US state department report on China begins: “The PRC is an authoritarian state in which… the Chinese Communist Party is the paramount source of power.” Imagine if it began instead: “Human rights and other indicators of well-being across the board are highly correlated with wealth. China outperforms the average country in its lower-middle income category on every major indicator except civi and political rights (as is generally true for other East Asian countries).”

Randall Peerenboom “Assessing Human Rights in China: Why the Double Standard?” 2005, Cornell International Law Journal

“He goes on to point out that rule of law, good governance, and the codification of most rights (including civil and political rights) correlate to relatively high levels of wealth. Thus a comparison of China to the developed world unsurprisingly reveals that the former has more departures from the rule of law, weaker state institutions, more corruption and fewer individual freedoms than their western counterparts. He offers a variety of explanations for his view that the comparison is unfair and that China is held to higher (or even double standard) standards than other lower-middle-income countries. Among these are that the Western-dominated international human-rights community is biased towards democracies that promote liberal, civil, and political rights, holding nondemocratic countries to the same standards despite their differing needs and values.

China is also singled out because of its potential threat to US domination: Beijing’s growing economic and geopolitical muscle is seen to pose a normative challenge tot he liberal human-rights regime insofar as China’s elites could deploy it to defend and advance rights-based policies and ideals that clash with those of the West, predicted as they are on secular liberalism. The idea that US hegemony might be challenged by Beijing reduces some commentators to near-apoplexy”.” 

From China’s New role in Africa, Ian Taylor. 

 

china-and-human-rights-in-burma

Non-interference

2003-04-02 US kill 7 women kids in van bonsai .5

Interference

 

 

“The madness of pc and non-pc”

October 23, 2009

Warning: this post is pretty much crap and makes no sense. It’s an example of the horrible mess that occurs when stream-of-consciousness meets hysterionic metaphor posturing. But I don’t delete stuff unnecessarily.

Our country is at civil war.

It is a war of the politically correct versus the very much non-politically correct. The sheer anger, hurt, and opportunity of this war was highlighted once again last night, in our national edition of “Britain bashes the BNP”. The battle-lines are drawn right through the heart of our society. And whereas they move periodically across the full range of our old divisions, in the newspapers the last few days its been all about race. Well not really about race actually, but about what jokes we can or can’t make about race.

The pc wars of old swept through our greatest societal divisions, both those that have reasonable well healed: : north-south, anglo-celtic, protestant-catholic, and those which are still very much an issue: black-white, gay-straight, male-female. And perhaps greatest of all the divide between rich and poor (both economically or by emotional association), with its loosely connected right-left political compenent.

But the yingyang of the pc/non-pc warrior is two instantly recognisable stereotypes. On one side we have the pc-brigade, also known as the “smug twit”. Its opponents see the smug-twit as overwhelmingly lefty middle-class, whiny, hypocritical and small-minded, full of big words and small actions, with a passion for gestures and judging people. The smug-twit is not only out to wreck british society with its half-baked, spineless notions, but also to spoil everyone else’s fun with its pathetic squawking and witch-hunting about anyone who dares to tell a joke, or state the well-known fact that Britain is going to the dogs. Smug twit spends the weekends plotting how to let in as many foreigners as possible to destroy British culture.

On the other side we have the non-pc brigade, also known as “nasty git”, most well-known for hoarse rants about “pc-gone mad”. Divided into both “posh” and “down-to-earth” version, nasty git has smug twit in a pincer-movement from both sides. Generally seen to be very angry, obsessed with victorian values (the rich deserve to rule brittania and rule the world, the poor should put up, shut up, work hard, and be respectful), xenophobic, homophobic, mostthingsaphobic, but also horrible and uncaring: a favourite hobby is to watch orphans starve to death in the street while blowing up the planet.

It is true the battle-lines may seem clear as ever (well how much money do your parents give you a week?) and are clearly represented in the split in the media. With examples of “smug twit” or “nasty git” cartoons given below. But interestingly, yesterdays performance of “Britain bashes the BNP” brought out quite a few turncoats. This ranged from the ardent anti-benefits tories so delighted to announce that Nick G is a racist piece of shite and we should celebrate our multicultural Britain, to the high-horse vegetarian who is determined that Mr G be allowed to speak and be heard, and we shouldn’t get too hot under the collar over a bit of (ex) holocaust denial. What traitors to their cause!

But of course we’re all turncoats really. Inside, all of us know that much as the war brings us grief, the other side is right too. It may be hilarious to make jokes about vulnerable members of our society (well I certainly think it’s funny), but equally such jokes not only encourage complacency about the big challenges our country faces, but directly contribute to an atmosphere of discrimination, casual racism, alienation, and non-integration. Likewise, we may like to think that the issues brought up by the BNP stem purely from hatred, ignorance, betrayal, and blind manipulation. But we also know that the issues are real. Our society has many strengths and many problems. These include deep, ingrained and growing social inequality and lack of opportunity (with resulting symptons of “broken society”, or “social welfare problems” depending on your emotional ideology), and a very short-term attitude to serious environmental threats. We cannot solve these problems unless we are prepared to engage: seriously engage, in the most controversial and difficult of issues.

This includes taking the BNP seriously, and talking with them like adults. Not just heckling them and feelign smug about ourselves.

pc wc plod

*I’m aware this is a very messy piece of writing, with its metaphors, descriptions, satire and points all hopelessly mixed up. However I don’t have time to review it, so I’m posting it even though I suspect it doesn’t make any sense.

Christian Sex

October 17, 2009

This essay was written by my friend Oscar. It is not my own opinion, indeed my basic premises are very different, since I personally (like many people) do not believe that sex before marriage is wrong, nor that the bible is a document to be interpreted literally. Nevertheless I think that it is very well written, and displays an open, honest, and above all deeply rational point of view, given its basic assumptions. Sexuality is in many (all?) cultures of our society not adequately addressed, so that something with the capability to bring great joy is often allowed to bring instead tremendous grief even leading to tragic consequences. Especially with young people. Although this applies in particular to Christianity – which is the area Oscar addresses – this essay should be of interest to non-Christians as well as to Christians. (Indeed it should help non-Christians or liberal Christians to better understand the way vital issues might be sincerely and seriously addressed by bible-based Christian young people).

“Christian Sex

From the title, you might think I’m going to write suggestions about how Christians should have sex. If you do, I’m sorry to disappoint you; that’s not my intention. Preference between missionary, anal, oral or other positions are things I leave totally up to the married couple. That’s, after all, a private matter. What I want to talk about is related, but goes much deeper than anatomy, and applies to everyone, not just married people lucky to have each other. I titled this essay “Christian sex” because I’m writing primarily to Christians from what I see as a Christian point of view, and because I am writing about sexual things, which I see as much more than just intercourse. My intention with this essay is to liberate people, particularly young unmarried Christians, from confusion and guilt concerning all the sexual gifts God has given us. That probably sounds like an ambitious goal, and you may finish with this essay angry, confused, slightly humored or just in general un-enlightened instead of inspired and liberated. I wouldn’t blame you if you do. But hopefully the fact that I’m writing about sex will keep you reading till the end, and if I know what I’m writing about you might pick up a few new perspectives too.

Bear with me when I, before actually getting started, want to make some things clear about myself. Even though I’m writing on sex and want to advocate being “liberated” about it, I am still not a theological liberal. I am not advocating sexual intercourse before marriage, or taking a relativistic stance towards scripture. I consider myself a Christian belonging to the conservative side theologically, and I’m not about to part from that position. If you’re interested, I have conservative views both on abortion and gay marriage (not that that’s necessarily relevant to this discussion). Keep especially in mind that I’m a single male, aged 23, who has been in relationships before – these things probably affect my argument enormously.

Young people, especially Christians, struggle more with sexuality than almost anything else (I did and am therefore making this assumption). Young Christians, like other people, have strong sexual urges, but, unlike other people, we don’t necessarily have any ways to deal with them. We try denial, but since being sexual is part of our nature, that will never really work very well. We are frequently told that sexuality is a gift from God, but that doesn’t us help very much either when we can only apply this gift after getting married. It seems like sex starts to be a gift when we’re married, but before that it’s a real curse and cause for embarrassment. But is that really how God intended it?

Concerning the “embarrassment” part, let me share some of my own experience. Because sex was never talked about too much in my youth group, I remember frequently feeling like the most sexual person and the one with the dirtiest mind in my Christian social circle. In high school I would often condemn myself to depthless guilt, based on things ranging from as small as wanting secretly to undress girls I met in class, to more serious things like spending hours watching porn on the internet (by the way, Christians struggle much more with porn addiction than non-Christians do). In addition, I wouldn’t know how to even approach girls at all; I would feel embarrassed just meeting them. My resulting lack of self-esteem in this area contributed to moderate depression during some of my teenage years. However, I felt much too embarrassed to talk about this with friends, and tried to solve the sex problem by simply not thinking about it instead.

Having gone to non-religious schools in Norway’s liberal society, I have received my share of sex education. But I never let what I learned really apply to my own life, partly because as a Christian I didn’t understand why I had to learn it – I felt it wasn’t applicable to me. In addition, I was that person in the class who blushed all the time when sex was the topic (I still do, just ask that Chinese teacher of mine who loves to analyze explicit texts on love in our literature class). In other words, I hated it. Mostly relevant to this essay, though, is the fact that I needed to learn about attitudes on sex from Christian figures, people I could trust in without feeling embarrassed. Only these people could really help me, for only they could appreciate how relevant concepts of sin and righteousness were to these issues for me. Those were certainly no things my teachers ever touched upon.

It is a sad fact that sex is not treated like it should be in many Christian circles. It’s not necessarily that it’s not talked about, although that is frequently a huge problem too. When it is talked about, it is often described as a wonderful gift but actually treated more like the most dangerous thing in the whole world. I imagine many youth pastors, knowing full well that the people they are talking to are not married yet, have real trouble finding out how to approach this topic. It’s not like they can – without getting in significant trouble with the board of elders – say that sex is a gift and therefore free for all. On the other hand, they know well how difficult it is to be a teenager filled with inconvenient hormones. The problem, as I see it, is therefore often not a lack of willingness to approach the issue, but rather the substance of what is actually taught.

Now I get to the primary point in my essay: I believe a lot of the traditional Christian interpretation of what the Bible says on sexuality before marriage is misguided and way too strict. For instance, masturbation is often seen as a sin, when it is not at all clear that it is so in the Bible. The 7th commandment tells us not to commit adultery (Exodus 20:14), and Jesus reemphasizes this point several times, for instance when he talks against divorce (e.g. Matthew 5:32). These are principles which do not, in my view, necessarily relate to things like masturbation. In fact, connecting adultery and sexual self-stimulation is a very speculative jump indeed.

A passage sometimes quoted to justify that masturbation is a sin is the story about Onan in Genesis 38. Onan is told by the Lord’s servant Judah that he is to sleep with a certain woman, in order to provide an offspring for her. But when he sleeps with her, he intentionally “spilled his semen” (i.e. masturbated) so that there would be no offspring. This was wicked in the Lord’s sight and he was actually struck dead as punishment.

The reason Onan’s actions were wicked, however, was not that he masturbated. What is actually emphasized is that he is given a specific command but tries to cheat his way out of it. Perhaps Judah never found out that he intentionally failed his command, but the Lord knew. From this text I derive the following meaning: Directly breaking a specific command to action you agree to do, in other words failing to be true to your word, is something God dislikes. But that does not have anything to do with masturbation – indeed, nowhere does the text imply that masturbation is wrong.

The story of Onan is as far as I know the only passage in the Bible with a direct reference to masturbation (if there are others, please let me know). When it is not clear from this story that masturbation is a sin – in fact the text is not about masturbation at all – it is in the very least speculative to teach this.

A Christian friend of mine told me that he once asked a youth pastor if it’s ok to masturbate. “Yes, if you’re thinking about a brick,” was the somewhat ironic answer he got back. I respect that youth pastor saying something more than just no, but I don’t think this answer is helpful enough either. In that situation, “Yes, if you’re not watching porn” would be a better alternative (having said that; let’s leave the whole porn discussion for another time). After all, nobody wanting to masturbate would be thinking about bricks. We all know what we like to think about instead in this situation, and I don’t think there’s necessarily anything sinful in those thoughts. There can be, sure, but I think it’s often simply a matter of “know thyself” to spot the difference. If thee so does, thee will be able to make the distinction.

Concerning lustful thoughts in general, I’d like to quote a short passage from Song of Songs. That is a book basically filled with erotic love poetry, and it’s in the Bible(!). The first few verses are written from a female narrative (Song of Songs 1:2-4):

2Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is more delightful than wine,

3Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; Your name is like perfume poured out! No wonder the young women love you!

4Take me away with you – let us hurry! Let the king (i.e. the lover) bring me into his chambers.

Is this not about sex? Of course it is. Or if you prefer to use another word; it’s about love. For (romantic) love is sexual. Noone will ever claim that you must wait with love until you get married, but people tend to separate love and sex even where they are inherently united. Now I’m not about to promote sexual intercourse before marriage – that would probably go against the 7th commandment. But sex is much more than just intercourse, and couples are free, I think, to explore and enjoy these other areas before marriage. In fact, if you think about all the sexual things that you can do apart from actual intercourse, I’m sure you’ll find there’s quite a lot to choose from.

My final point in this essay is that Christians are freed from the need to have rules for everything. We live under grace, not under the law (Romans 6:11-14). Moreover, God wants us to live in the Spirit, not in sin leading to destructive guilt. Humans need rules, but often humans make a lot more rules than are really necessary. And as Paul explains well in Romans, rules have the tendency to bring about sin, while what God actually intends for us is something completely different. He wants us to be free in every sense of the word, including sexually free. That is really difficult to accomplish in practice, but not kicking yourself to death for wanting to masturbate is definitely a start. If you don’t know where the limit actually goes, try being relaxed about it, for only then will you really get to know yourself and the nature of your desires.

To conclude, I promote for Christians a more relaxed, though still scripture-based, approach towards sex than the one most prevalent today. Particularly, many unmarried Christians, both single people and those in relationships, can benefit by being less strict on themselves regarding sexuality. There are rules we should follow, notably the 7th commandment, but others are regulations we have put on ourselves which neither have any clear scriptural foundation nor any real benefit. Masturbation, I think, is not a sin, and neither are many of the thoughts in our heads we tend to see as such. Moreover, God ultimately does not want us to live under the law, but under grace and in the Spirit, and freeing ourselves from humanly imposed regulations on sexuality can help many people in this process.

Feel free to comment on this essay!!

Written in early October 09”

Movie(studio) stars!

September 29, 2009

Imagine hordes of people running around in Mao-caps and red armbands, a victim dragged in the midst. He wears a dunce cap and a sign with his name crossed out, while they taunt and jeer, pulling his arms behind his back. Must be the red guards! Actually, no. They’re middle-aged and it’s just for fun. This is Ningxia west movie studio on a Wednesday afternoon. My last day in China.

In addition to the “cultural revolution” set where you can relieve your youth in a PLA uniform or a hat, there’s a Ming dynasty village and an entire Qing-style town. Everything complete with streets, buildings, fake animals, fake people, and fake food. Its the biggest tourist attraction with Yinchuan. (possibly rivalled by the sand lake and the tombs of the western xia dynasty which was obliterated by Genghis Kahn). On its day off they film soaps and films which are broadcast across China (aside from a litany of historical series and dreadful 80s martial arts films some real big names like Red Sorghum were partly filmed here).

If the camera had been in my hands, the photos would be of locals dressing up and swarming everywhere with mobile phone cameras. Instead you’ll have to make do with my ugly mug, on the day Ellie, Xiaozi, Zhutou and xiao Ye became movie(studio) stars!

Ellie and Xiaozi in the barren desert turned openair film studio

Ellie and Xiaozi in the barren desert turned openair film studio

This food is all made of plastic. Looks pretty good, no?

This food is all made of plastic. Looks pretty good, no?

a ghost and badge The ghost gets fewer points for realism.

But the bread's awesome!

But the bread's awesome! (though would break teeth)

Do. Not. Mock. Or. Else. (ps i rapidly fell off)

The archetypal embarassing Brit abroad.

Imagine the scenes which we didn’t get photos of! Twas a rather eye-opening day.

A Chinese perspective on foreign criticism

September 28, 2009

The following was written to me by my friend Jian. I felt that she puts things very eloquently in such a way that a non-Chinese can easily understand the perspective. She gave me permission to translate it and post on my blog. Enjoy and feel free to respond. Any errors in the translation are my own.

“I very much welcome you to discuss Chinese politics with me, although my understanding is also incomplete. You certainly don’t need to worry about offending me. Although many Chinese people – including some government officials – are very sensitive to criticism, I don’t mind. In Chinese we have a saying: honest advice, though unpleasant to the ear, benefits conduct (忠言逆耳利于行) – this refers to criticism. If one doesn’t dare to receive criticism, it shows that one lacks confidence in oneself, and if friends never criticize each other, then they are not genuine friends. So I welcome you to discuss your opinions frankly with me; through being straightforward with each other, we avoid having to speculate on what the other really means.

I wanted to express some opinions about your post – of course, limited by my own knowledge and experience. I welcome you to continue discussing this with me.

Just as I said before, the Chinese government is not open enough to recieving criticism; but this does not mean it can’t accept criticism at all. Indeed, if you visit Chinese websites and online forums, you can see countless people expressing dissatisfaction with the government. Their sarcasm and ridicule is no less direct than that of foreign internet users. And this dissatisfaction already gives strength to public opinion. On certain levels the public already influences the policies of the government. For example if we look at China’s judiciary field, public opinion has an important influence on the establishment or abondonment of laws, as well as the judgement with which legal decisions are carried out. So although on the face of it the Chinese government does not verbally accept criticism, this may be to do with the Chinese tradition of saving face. I personally really hate this tradition, but it can be a factor in the response of the government towards criticism.

However the government’s reaction is even more conservative in the face of foreign criticism. I think two main reasons for this are historical elements, and aspects of objectivity. From the historical perspective, from the recent period – by that I mean 1842-1949 – China always suffered the encroachment of the west (including Japan and the Soviet Union). Only since the 1970s has it really been able to develop its own independent foreign policy (after 1949 it was in the pincers of the Soviet Union for many years). Because of this, although the Chinese government may try to learn from the experiences and the successes of western countries, on a deeper level it does not really trust them. Thus it may suspect that their criticism – does it not come from some ulterior motive? Another reason for mistrusting western criticism comes from objective aspects. If we look at the questions surrounding Xinjiang/Tibetan/Taiwanese independence, these do not simply amount to inter-ethnic differences and desire for separation. Indeed, behind all of these independence questions we can find the support of the forces of foreign countries. I think this is very different from the situation with Scotland or Quebec. In this world there is no free lunch, so why do foreign agents want to help regions in China to gain independence? Understandably we suspect their motives.

Now you could refute this by saying that there is such thing as a free lunch, and that this sort of foreign “support” does come from genuine benevolence and the desire to help people. But can there really exist such genuine behavior in international relations? Churchill once said that between countries there are no eternal allies or eternal enemies, only eternal interests. This is the harsh reality of politics – it could be said that in politics there is no truth.

Of course, governments could be more self-confident in the face of criticism. If they are not in the wrong, then why can they not simply allow differences of opinion to be voiced, then give a public justification for their actions? I think this involves another political tradition of China. China has historically experienced countless peasant rebellions, which on many occasions went so far as to cause the collapse of the government and replacement of a dynasty. These uprisings often started with dissatisfaction with the government, for example failure to act swiftly to provide assistance for the people following a natural disster. When dissatisfaction had accumulated to a certain point, intellectuals might come along with slogans and ideology, causing people to rise up and oppose the government togther. Therefore the rulers of successive dynasties were always terrified of “words”, which of course includes criticism. Through this one can understand why the government does not respond positively to criticism – it is afraid that it will incite the people, bringing them to revolt. This may lead to the situation getting out of control and ensuing chaos. 

From understanding the significance of the above, there is also an implication that the government does not really trust the people, and in particular does not trust the intelligence of the people. It does not believe that the people have the ability to judge for themselves. Otherwise it would accept that if criticism were false, the people would be clever enough not to follow blindly, whereas if the criticism had some truth, it could only mean that there were some problems within the country. Such problems cannot be resolved by avoiding them, and if the government were to admit that problems existed, and then face them sincerely, this would inspire the respect and trust of the people. However in reality, a government’s open acceptance of criticism does not necessarily bring respect in return. It could lead to even more violent criticism. This is especially the case in China – Chinese politics is very complicated, and not entirely within my own understanding.  

Everything above is my own opinion and not necessarily true: I very much appreciate your interest in issues to do with China, and I really hope that from talking to you I can gain new perspectives. Su Shi wrote the following poem:

“From the side, a whole range; from the end, a single peak; 

Far, near, high, low – no two parts alike. 

Why can’t I tell the true shape of Lushan?

because I myself am in the mountain.” (not my own translation)

The meaning is that if you are an insider, you may be entangled in all sorts of its aspects, and unable to distinguish what is and what isn’t. But sometimes, standing at the perspective of an outsider, one can see clearly the true perspective of something.” 

mountai

Chinese artwork. Camoflague.

September 27, 2009

Magnus sent me this link. It’s super. You must look at this Chinese artwork:

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