China, the Hobgoblin of Small Minds

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:34 pm

I had a student ask me in class, recently, about whether China, among other countries, was planning to take advantage of our coming collapse to move into a position of world domination, that they had operational plans and expected the collapse to come momentarily. I responded by pointing out that most advanced nations develop contingency plans for a wide variety of possible future scenarios, so that the existence of a plan is no guarantee of it’s probability.

Then, today, I read about this 2006 Delaware Senate debate:

Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell of Delaware said in a 2006 debate that China was plotting to take over America and claimed to have classified information about the country that she couldn’t divulge.

O’Donnell’s comments came as she and two other Republican candidates debated U.S. policy on China during Delaware’s 2006 Senate primary, which O’Donnell ultimately lost.

She said China had a “carefully thought out and strategic plan to take over America” and accused one opponent of appeasement for suggesting that the two countries were economically dependent and should find a way to be allies.

“There’s much I want to say,” she said at the time. “I wish I wasn’t privy to some of the classified information that I am privy to.”

This is four years old, now: have we seen considerable progress in the takeover of the US by China? Seems to me that we’ve been holding steady, mostly. My immediate thought is that a US economic/political collapse would leave China in a strong short-term position, but an extremely weak long-term one, given the interdependence of our economies and technology sectors. But I’m not privy to classified information.


Hoping for charity, without getting faith involved

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:57 am

The New Republic has an article by Gordon Chang on the lack of philanthropy among China’s rich. As he points out, one of the things blocking the emergence of charity organizations is China is the Party, which is very reluctant to approve the creation of any sort of organization outside itself, so it is hard even for the ideologically approved very rich to get permission to do so. Of course they could just donate to organizations they don’t control, but Chinese rich people (like all people everywhere) are at least partially motivated to do good by the praise they can win for doing so publicly.1

This is too bad, in part because lots of people who could use help are not getting it, and in part because China could really use an active civil society that would feed the hungry, cloth the naked and heal the sick. The problem with that is that that sort of thing can shade off into comforting the afflicted, and that is getting into political criticism. The Chang article was a response to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett visiting China to try and encourage more charitable giving. Gates and Buffett come from a society where it is unthinkable that the state would prevent the very rich from doing whatever they want, but also from a society where the state has long since made its peace with charity. Actually, Western states did relatively little charity, leaving most of it to the church for a long time, and of course this has led to conflict, possibly most noticeably over control of education in a lot of Catholic countries.

In Late Imperial China, at least, providing benevolence to the people was always one of the duties of the state, and even when it was provided by the local elite (and they did a lot of it) they did so a surrogates of the state, not as representatives of a rival organization.2 This actually changed some in the Late Qing. Katheryn Edgerton-Tarpley discusses this in her book about the response to the great famine in Shanxi in the 1870s. Chinese charity, from orphanages and soup kitchens to providing education and sponsoring public improvements was always localized and particular. In response to the famine, however, elites in Shanghai began to take action on a national level, despite the fact that Shanxi was a long way away. Tarpley discusses how the newspaper Shenbao and its writers both organized charity on a new level and were implicitly critical of the government’s unwillingness to adopt new, Western methods to deal with this and other crises. For a government that accepts nurturing the people as one of its duties almost any form of organized charity outside the structure of the state is an implicit criticism. I’m not sure that the CCP really accepts nurturing the people as one of its duties at present, but I am not surprised that they are reluctant to see organizations doing this job for them and thus criticizing either their ability or their will. I’m not sure how this contradiction could be resolved, but it is depressing that the state can’t even work out some sort of arrangement with Jet Li, who I would not really call an oppositional figure.

  1. Even when you give money anonymously you are motivated in part by the warm glow you feel and only in part by the desire to do good for others. Since you can’t entirely untangle these motives in yourself I don’t find it all that helpful to try and do so when looking at others. []
  2. I’m leaving out the Buddhists here, who were separate organizations and did charity but were not oppositional to the state. []


Restoring China’s past glory

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:18 pm

Via CDT a report on gated communities for the poor outside Beijing. In theory the purpose is to protect residents from crime, but of course the main goal is to keep migrant workers under control.

That road into Shoubaozhuang is guarded 24 hours a day by two uniformed guards and partially barred by an accordion gate that closes tight at 11 p.m. each night. Until 6 a.m. the next day, the residents are sealed in. Only those with passes are allowed to come and go, their movements recorded by a video camera stationed over the entrance.

Gated communities for the rich are of course nothing new in China. Dividing an entire city into walled wards to keep the population under control is also not new. Charles Benn describes the system in the Tang.1

The function of ward walls was to provide internal security by preventing the movement of people. The law clearly asserted the principle. Ninety blows with a thick rod was the punishment for climbing over ward walls. Each of a ward’s roads terminated in gates that a headman, who was in charge of affairs within the ward, barred at dusk. As the sun went down in Changan, a tattoo of 400 beats on a drum signaled the closing of palace gates and a second, of 600 beats, the closing of ward and city gates. The length of the tattoos gave people ample time to return to their dwellings before the ward gates closed. In the predawn hours drummers beat another tattoo of 3,000 beats that was the signal for opening the gates. Each of the avenues also had drums that sounded at curfew. The law forbade citizens to travel on the main thoroughfares of the cities outside the wards during curfew, but it did not restrict their nocturnal movements within the wards. The statute, however, permitted public commissioners bearing official documents, as well as marriage processions, to use the avenues and streets after curfew. In both cases they had to obtain a permit from the county government first. It also allowed private citizens who needed to find a doctor or procure medicine for the treatment of the ill to travel, as well as those who needed to leave their ward to announce a death. However, they had to have a certificate issued by the ward headman. Anyone else found wandering outside the wards during the night by the Gold Bird Guard was subject to twenty blows of the thin rod. In 808, however, the throne had a eunuch who got drunk and violated the curfew beaten to death. The emperor also demoted the officer in charge of the Gold Bird Guard and banished him from the capital.

Sadly for the Tang rulers weakening government power after the An Lushan rebellion and then the greater commercialization and fluidity of society made it impossible to keep up the system. In the Song and after the system of gated wards could not be re-imposed. The current Chinese government, however, is at least making an effort at restoring the glory of the Tang.

  1. the system of urban wards goes back at least to the Han. []


Knitting with steel

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:10 am

NYT reports (via CDT) that China is offering to help California build a high-speed rail network. The Times’ take is that the worm has certainly turned if China is giving California high technology (and capital.) More interesting to me is the historical background of the current Chinese high-speed rail system. The Times gives us this map.

I would guess that some of these lines are being built for political reasons, to tie the country together. I assume there should be plenty of people in a hurry to get from Beijing to Tianjin, but maybe not so many in a hurry to get to Golmud. There is actually a long history of countries in general and China in particular using railways to bind the nation together. Sun Yat-sen had plans for railway expansion that might charitably be called highly ambitious, and were certainly more driven by the goal of protecting national territory than by economics. Mary Burdman explicitly connects China’s current rail expansion plans to Sun’s vision and included maps of other aspects of China’s planned rail system, like the planned regional intercity systems to be built around Shanghai and Beijing. Maybe soon it will be as easy to get from Nanjing to Shanghai as it is to get from Amsterdam to The Hague. Burdman (who is a LaRouchite) also belives that this is the first step in a grand global alliance between China, Russian, India and the U.S. to defeat the British, thus proving that even crazy people can make good historical analogies and provide good maps.

Just for fun, here is my video of the maglev from the airport to Shanghai. It’s the fastest train the the world! And it’s in China!


China Rises? China Wakes?

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 3:04 pm

“Beware of China, for when the dragon wakes she will shake the world.”

Napoleon? Although there’s no evidence that he ever said it, the quote caught the essence of what westerners thought should be the case and has been endlessly recycled.

But over the last decade a lot of  loose talk about “China Rising” has been going around, getting more intense in the last couple of years.

History News Network has a collection of recent posts gathered from the internet, “HNN Hot Topics: China Rising.”

China Beat, our second most favorite blog (after this one) has run a powerful set of pieces on “Big China” books, that is, books that loudly hail or bemoan China’s rise or menace. Jeffrey Wasserstrom, has roundup, “Six Takes on Martin Jacques,” a follow up to his piece in Time Magazine online blog (Feb 8, 2010), “Big China Books: Enough of the Big Picture.” Jeff skewers the Olympic scale conclusion jumping in a gaggle of these books, especially Martin Jacques, When  China Rules the World : The End of the Western World and the Birth of a  New Global Order.

The China Beat piece also points out another recent well informed and provocative piece, Richard Rigby’s “The Challenge of China” at East Asia Forum.


What do you really think Mr. Jiang?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:50 am

Chinese museums are one of the best places to look at the changing interpretation of historical figures and events. Last weekend I went to Famen temple outside Xian. This was a fairly major temple in the Tang, being much visited by emperors, but by the Song they were supporting themselves by offering baths in a pool that seated up to 1000 and holding tea parties. The main pagoda was rebuilt in the early Ming, but the place seems to have declined a lot by then.

That all changed in 1981,when half of the Ming pagoda collapsed.Collapse

When digging out the foundation to re-build the pagoda they found the relic the temple was originally built around, a bone of the Buddha, inside a series of ornate caskets and accompanied by a bunch of other neat stuff. It is a really magnificent find, and it was nice to see some of these things in person.


Of course this changed the temple’s position in the Buddhist world radically. In addition to re-building the pagoda a huge new Buddhist center was built next to it. You need a better camera than mine to do it justice. You come in through a massive golden gateway, which makes you expect to see Cecil B. DeMille around somewhere.


It is a long walk to the main hall, and most people take the trolley. You whiz past a series of 3-story tall golden fiberglass1 Buddhas that represent the different sects of world Buddhism, and get to the main hall, which is in the shape of a pair of praying hands, and was designed by a Taiwanese architect. I suspect a lot of Taiwanese and Japanese money went into this place. They bought out an entire village to get the land, and the villagers mostly work in the temple cleaning up or whatever. The one I talked to got 600 yuan and 3 days off a month. The place is not entirely finished yet, and when it is done there will be a Buddhist retreat center and they hope to rival the Terracotta Warriors as the biggest tourist draw in the province.


What really interested me, of course, were the relics and the museum. The presentation was a little schizophrenic, perhaps because current policy is a little schizophrenic. On the one hand China is still officially more or less atheist. On the other hand, Buddhism is part of China’s 5000 glorious years of glorious culture. How to deal with this?

Not all the relics were there, but those that were were mostly presented as examples of the exquisite craftsmanship and high technology of China. There is also a fair amount about Buddhism. In discussing the Tang emperor’s worship of the bone the text mentions that it had the beneficial effects of solidifying state power, (always an unalloyed good), 凝聚人心 (which they translate as “increasing the cohesive force of the Chinese nation”) and spreading culture. On the other hand it also led to a great waste of society’s resources, and also increased the people’s religious fanaticism. These critiques sound eerily similar to Han Yu’s criticism of the finger bone when it was first brought to Chang-an. As a good Neo-Confucian Han Yu thought Buddhism complete nonsense that deluded the people

Of course Han Yu was not reckoning with the power of the tourist dollar, and he also had a somewhat different view of what is worth preserving in Chinese culture than the current government does. The Nationalist general who restored the temple in 1939 is praised in the exhibit, as is the monk who burned himself to death to protect it during the Cultural Revolution. The monk probably had a religious view of the place, and the general a cultural one. The latter seems more of a fit with the current interpretation. There is, of course, an inscription by Jiang Zemin, done when he came here in 1993. He encourages them to use the cultural relics that have been unearthed to expand Chinese culture and strengthen the spirit of patriotism. Apparently as long as religion is subsumed in culture and culture is put in the service of the nation, the Buddha is just alright.Jiang

  1. I assume []


PRC National Anthem

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 8:16 am

In honor of the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on October 1st, my friend Carsey Yee has sent another video: The Two Chinese Characters do the March of the Volunteers (twice, once with English subtitles). I was a bit surprised to learn that the song predates the PRC by over ten years, that the author was arrested and the song banned for a time (Can anyone think of another case where a national anthem was banned without a regime change taking place?), and, of course, the lyrics changed during the Cultural Revolution.

I suppose it makes sense: the history of the song really is the history of China.


Looking behind the curtain

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:58 am

Inside the Archives

One day after lunch when I returned to the Shaanxi Provincial Archives one of the employees asked if I would like to see the documents they were working on upstairs. At all other Chinese archives I have been to that never happens. You sit in the reading room and they bring you stuff, and a tour of the place is not going to happen. So I was a bit surprised, but also excited. I got to go up to the room where they were processing documents Archive room

One thing they do is mount the pages. Most Republican-era documents are printed on fairly flimsy paper which was then folded over to make a sort of two-ply page. In Shaanxi they mount all of these on heavier paper in part to preserve the pages and also to make them easier to read without the other side bleeding through. That is this guy’s job, and yes, that is an ordinary iron he is using. 1


Thus you end up with something like this. Nice firm mounting, easy to read, and easy to preserve.


They are also doing computer print-outs of all the tables of contents in each folder. At present these are hand written, and most of them are fine, but some of them seem to have been done by budding master calligraphers. On others you can see the handwriting get worse as the copyist gets bored. Now they will all be nice and machine printed. You might think they were on their way to digitizing the whole collection. Indeed, here is a lady doing scanning for the digitization process.Digitize

Here are people entering keywords. Soon, not sure how soon, the whole archive will be digitized, and you will be able to call up stuff from anywhere.Keywords

Cool huh? Well, this is a Chinese history blog, and I think it’s cool

Tour Guide

My tour guide

  1. I don’t know if they still do this, but one bad thing about Shaanxi is how they used to deal with post-it notes. On Chinese documents if someone in the bureau had a long comment that could not fit in the margin they would write it on a slip of ultra flimsy paper and glue that to the top of the page. These long strips often rip or come off, and are hard to deal with. The solution in Shaanxi, at one point, at least, was to glue the entire comment on top of the document. Not ideal. []


ASPAC Blogging: Change in Rural China

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:46 am

Flowers of Soka - Pink LotusI heard a few China papers at ASPAC and, though they weren’t all on one panel, they might well have been, because they all dealt with the rural response to changing 20th and 21st century circumstances.

On Friday I heard Soka University’s own Xiaoxing Liu discuss rural responses to the marketization of the labor and agricultural economy in China over the last few decades. She noted that the share of Chinese workers involved in agriculture dropped below 50% in 2003, a critical landmark for modernization theorists: many former agricultural workers have become migrant laborers (more about them below) and the remaining agriculturalists have a great deal of structural and economic trouble: lack of land rights being high on the list. (more…)


Tehran, Tiananmen, Taiwan?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:51 am

There was a post up, briefly, At Edge of the American West Dana captured some of the emerging themes of the discussion [link added] on Iranian democracy, including the fact that Mousavi, from whom the election seems to have been stolen, isn’t really all that nice, liberal or different from Ahmedinajad, especially since the presidency isn’t really the seat of greatest power in Iran.1 There’s a growing call for tough talk and possibly action in support of the protesters, some of which is identifiable as neo-conservatives taking a consistent pro-interventionist line. The post then took that to the next step, noting that we have conflicts with the Iranian regime — nuclear development, Iraq influence, etc. — and that some neo-conservatives have supported military attacks on Iran as a way to force a favorable solution. Near the end of the post was the line that inspired me to respond:

The same groups rending their garments over the murder of Neda will be calling for the bombing of her relatives.2

I don’t think this is entirely true, unless “rending their garments” is supposed to indicate excessive strategic displays of grief. The fact is that the choices in the Iranian election were not all that diverse — the system limits candidates to those who have not, in any way, offended existing powers, at least not without sufficiently powerful allies to pull it off. Nonetheless many of us believe that process matters. Just as the Tiananmen protests were actually about a more open socialism, not democracy, these protests are about an honest Islamic Republic, not democracy. Still, though their rights won’t be all that much greater under Mousawi, it’s clear that their rights have been abridged radically through election fraud and violent suppression of peaceful protests.

Neda, and the others who died, were injured or arrested, deserve better than an Islamic Republic, but at the very least they deserves the preservation of an Islamic Republic.

The literature on democracy development is thin, at least in terms of convincing arguments, but the most likely precursor to actual democracy is faux democracy. It’s the habits of elections and candidates and constitutions and rights that develop under authoritarian populism that can blossom into something like real liberal (in the classical sense) democracy. This is where the example of Taiwan and South Korea is instructive, as well as the transition made by Japan in the mid-20th century. Protests rarely seem to result directly in regime change — though the Romanian and earlier Iranian examples did — but they do express the degree to which the people take their rights seriously.

  1. My apologies if I’m mis-representing the post, but I only read it once before it disappeared. I’m fairly sure I’m close, though. Some blogger more interested in metablogging can discuss the ethics of deleting a post, or of commenting on deleted posts. I didn’t see anything particularly controversial there, or obviously wrong. []
  2. I had copied this into the comment box before the post disappeared, so I’m sure this is correct []

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