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China: The brutal and corrupt hegemon

Monday, 23 July, 2018

Nothing seems to delight a certain section of the chattering class more than the vision of China replacing America as the global hegemon. Out with jeans, peanut butter and bourbon and in with…? Exactly. What will China offer its admirers in Brussels and Silicon Valley: vast markets, cheap labour, re-engineered IP? Beijing offers all these and more and the more includes “a complete and utter lack of respect for the individual or person in China.”

Says who? Says Christopher Balding, an associate professor of business and economics at the HSBC Business School in Shenzhen and author of Sovereign Wealth Funds: The New Intersection of Money and Power. After teaching in China for some years, he’s now returning to the US and his parting shot is a blogpost titled Balding Out. Snippet:

“I rationalize the silent contempt for the existing rules and laws within China as people not respecting the method for creating and establishing the rules and laws. Rather than confronting the system, a superior, or try good faith attempts to change something, they choose a type of quiet subversion by just ignoring the rule or law. This quickly spreads to virtually every facet of behavior as everything can be rationalized in a myriad of ways.

Before coming to China, I had this idea that China was rigid which in some ways it is, but in reality it is brutally chaotic because there are no rules it is the pure rule of the jungle with unconstrained might imposing their will and all others ignoring laws to behave as they see fit with no sense of morality or respect for right.”

For cossetted fans of communism, such as the Guardian columnist Owen Jones, China may offer a more appealing ideology than the one that nurtured Lincoln and Ford, Rosa Parks and Jimi Hendrix, but one suspects that he’d tire very quickly of typing about the glories of the Belt and Road Initiative for the People’s Daily.


#Tankman2018

Monday, 4 June, 2018

Today, the world remembers and celebrates the lone man, armed with two shopping bags, who stepped in front of a row of tanks rolling through Beijing in 1989. Known as “Tank Man”, he remains the most poignant image of China’s vicious suppression of democracy. This is the 29th anniversary of that crackdown and protesters are commemorating the face-off with the hashtags #Tankman2018 #Tankmen2018, a campaign started by Chinese political artist, Badiucao.

Quote: “Tank Man is very relevant today and people should see it. Society has not changed much since the massacre for the oppression has never stopped.” — Badiucao

#TankMan2018


Window on the world above the Yellow River

Sunday, 11 March, 2018 0 Comments

There’s only one Chinese photographer among the World Press Photo nominees this year, but Li Huaifeng’s image of two elderly brothers delighted by a laptop in their yaodong dwelling on the Loess Plateau is really beautiful. Those who say technology is destroying society should check their privileges.

World Press Photo


Emperor Xi: Sensitive Words

Tuesday, 6 March, 2018 0 Comments

Background: A total of 21 proposed amendments to China’s constitution are expected to be adopted by the National People’s Congress in Beijing, and the one with the greatest impact on the future of national and regional politics deals with paragraph 3 of article 79, which would end the current limit of two five-year terms for the president. Deng Xiaoping introduced the two-term limit to prevent the madness that marked Mao Zedong’s reign, and with its removal, President Xi Jinping will be able to rule for life.

Once news of the impending change became public, China’s censors got to work and they’ve been particularly busy removing “sensitive words” from Sina Weibo, a popular platform with some 400 million users. So what’s being banned? Sample:

  • to board a plane: homophonous with “to ascend the throne”
  • Hongxian: Reign title of the short-lived monarchy led by Yuan Shikai, who declared himself the Hongxian Emperor. After popular disapproval and rebellion, Yuan abandoned the empire after 83 days
  • emigrate: Baidu searches for the word reportedly saw a massive spike
  • Another 500 Years for Heaven: Theme song for the CCTV series Kangxi
  • crooked-neck tree: The tree which the Chongzhen Emperor is believed to have hanged himself from

China Digital Times offers a rolling list of “Sensitive Words” that highlights the ones blocked from Sina Weibo search results. As well, there are links to media coverage of this expansion of Chinese tyranny. Example: Emperor Xi’s censors have no clothes by Fergus Ryan at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute blog.

Once upon a time, John Milton wrote, “With loss of Eden, till one greater Man Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat.” The desire for the “greater Man” will not bring bliss to the people of the People’s Republic, however. A new wave of repression is being enacted by a regime that increasingly resembles the one which now rules North Korea.

The emperor with feet of clay


Don’t know which Chinese newspaper to read?

Friday, 27 October, 2017 0 Comments

Don’t worry. The Party does. Telling the truth is now a revolutionary act in China.

Chinese newspapers

“Even despotism does not produce its worst effects, so long as individuality exists under it; and whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called, and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men.” — John Stuart Mill, On Liberty


China is driving the electric car

Tuesday, 10 October, 2017 0 Comments

“There is a powerful reason that automakers worldwide are speeding up their efforts to develop electric vehicles — and that reason is China.” So begins the story by @KeithBradsher in today’s New York Times. According to Bradsher, China feels it has little choice in pushing forward to an EV future. “While it is true that electric vehicles fit neatly into China’s plan to become the world leader in sci-fi technology like artificial intelligence, the country also fears a dark future — one where its cities remain cloaked in smog and it is beholden to foreign countries to sell it the oil it needs.”

China Hastens the World Toward an Electric-Car Future does not gloss over the many contradictions involved in the country’s drive for automotive independence. Nearly three-quarters of China’s power comes from coal, which emits more climate-changing gases than oil and, as Keith Bradsher puts it: “Even on electricity, China’s cars are still burning dirty.”

It’s a long road, comrades, as the Great Driver Helmsman would have said.


In the world of the cloud-capped peaks

Sunday, 9 July, 2017 0 Comments

The poet Yu Xuanji was not permitted to be a candidate for the all-important imperial service examinations in mid-ninth-century China, but she lived a full life outside the privileged world of the court bureaucrats, nevertheless. She became a concubine, lived a scandalously promiscuous short life and was executed for allegedly beating her maid to death. In the midst of all this, she wrote poetry that continues to enthral.

“In a gauze dress / I read among my disordered / Piles of books,” she says in Living in the Summer Mountains. And then there’s the famous On a Visit to Ch’ung Chen Taoist Temple I See In The South Hall The List of Successful Candidates in The Imperial Examinations. The “Cloud-capped peaks” in the first line are, of course, those candidates who were successful in the civil-service exams.

On a Visit to Ch’ung Chen Taoist Temple I See In The South Hall The List of Successful Candidates in The Imperial Examinations

Cloud-capped peaks fill the eyes
In the Spring sunshine.
Their names are written in beautiful characters
And posted in order of merit.
How I hate this silk dress
That conceals a poet.
I lift my head and read their names
In a powerless envy.

Yu Xuanji (844 – 868)

Wang Hui


WeChat is the world in China

Saturday, 6 May, 2017 0 Comments

Ben Thompson writing on Wednesday about Apple iPhone sales in China distills the challenges into one word, one app: WeChat. Here’s how he puts it:

“The fundamental issue is this: unlike the rest of the world, in China the most important layer of the smartphone stack is not the phone’s operating system. Rather, it is WeChat. Connie Chan of Andreessen Horowitz tried to explain in 2015 just how integrated WeChat is into the daily lives of nearly 900 million Chinese, and that integration has only grown since then: every aspect of a typical Chinese person’s life, not just online but also off is conducted through a single app (and, to the extent other apps are used, they are often games promoted through WeChat).”

The piece by Connie Chan referred to by Thompson is the must-read for anyone wishing to learn about the WeChat phenomenon: When One App Rules Them All: The Case of WeChat and Mobile in China. And for those who don’t get the revolution that WeChat represents, this paragraph by Ben Thompson is sobering:

“There is nothing in any other country that is comparable: not LINE, not WhatsApp, not Facebook. All of those are about communication or wasting time: WeChat is that, but it is also for reading news, for hailing taxis, for paying for lunch (try and pay with cash for lunch, and you’ll look like a luddite), for accessing government resources, for business. For all intents and purposes WeChat is your phone, and to a far greater extent in China than anywhere else, your phone is everything.”

WeChat


Chabuduo in China!

Monday, 23 January, 2017 0 Comments

The plight of the elites last week was summed up in this headline: “Distraught Davos finds globalisation saviour in China’s Xi.” The cause of the relief was the fact that Xi Jinping had become the first Chinese leader to address the World Economic Forum in the swish Swiss resort. His endorsement of globalization saw him instantly crowned as a kind of anti-Trump, but those bestowing the title made no mention chabuduo.

James Palmer is a British writer and the author of The Death of Mao: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Birth of the New China. He lives in Beijing and he’s very knowledgeable in that which Western boosters of China do not wish to discuss: chabuduo. The word means “close enough” and, says Palmer, “It’s a phrase you’ll hear with grating regularity, one that speaks to a job 70 per cent done, a plan sketched out but never completed, a gauge unchecked or a socket put in the wrong size. Chabuduo is the corrosive opposite of the impulse towards craftmanship, the desire, as the sociologist Richard Sennett writes in The Craftsman (2008), “to reject muddling through, to reject the job just good enough”. Chabuduo implies that to put any more time or effort into a piece of work would be the act of a fool. China is the land of the cut corner, of “good enough for government work.”

In his article for Aeon magazine, “Chabuduo! Close enough …,” James Palmer offers many terrifying examples of how chabuduo affects those unable to enjoy Davos:

“Mr Cha Buduo doesn’t understand why he misses trains by arriving at 8:32 instead of 8:30, or why his boss gets angry when he writes 1,000 instead of 10, or why Iceland is different from Ireland. He falls ill and sends for Dr Wãng, but ends up getting Mr Wáng, the veterinarian, by mistake. Yet as he slips away, he is consoled by the thought that life and death, after all, are close enough.”

As Davos Man confronted the Trumpocalypse over canapés, chabuduo was not on the menu. It’s a fact of life, and death, for Xi Jinping’s subjects, however.


JT Singh and the art of high-impact storytelling

Tuesday, 25 October, 2016 0 Comments

The amazingly talented JT Singh describes himself as “city geneticist,” studying interactions, collisions and opportunities. A mix of urban futurist and media artist, he focuses on bridging the gaps between technology and storytelling.

“Shanghai’s iconic skyline is symbolic of its presence as a premier global city, but below the towers, the intimate, and human story that unfolds is what will always be part of the city’s core DNA,” he says. This is special.


Language guilt

Thursday, 29 September, 2016 0 Comments

The alleged crimes of the West are many and hardly a day goes by without the prosecutors discovering new examples of their oppression at the hands of Goethe and Emily Brontë, which are then paraded with the “-ism” suffix. The ensuing press release from the aggrieved will contain all the usual Stalinist/Maoist clichés: “The hegemonic power of capitalism propagates an increasing gravitation to English…”

Yes, English.

Why English? Confronting the Hydra Why English? Confronting the Hydra is a collection of essays edited by a group of remorseful scholars and English teachers, which begins with an abject apologia: “There is, indeed, huge irony in the fact this collection is written in English and published in the United Kingdom. Such is the power of the global publishing industry and the pervasiveness of English-language hegemony that this critique needs to emanate from within its very realm.”

Ah, yes, hegemony. A true trigger word. Just like “Orwellian” and “imperialism”. Talking of both, the publisher’s site has a glowing review of Why English? Confronting the Hydra by Dr. B. Kumaravadivelu, a member of the Department of Linguistics and Language Development at San José State University in California. Snippet:

“The contributors to this volume expose the Orwellian overtones that mask the linguistic imperialism that is being peddled in terms of growth, development, partnership, volunteerism, and aid. The many examples of innovation and success stories they offer give hope that resistance is not futile after all.”

This is the same Dr. B. Kumaravadivelu who, in June 2012, delivered the plenary talk at the 4th International Symposium on Teaching Chinese as a Second Language for Young Scholars at Peking University in Beijing. The title? “Global Mandarin: Promoting Chinese language and culture in an age of globalization.” Did he warn the eager cadres about the Orwellian overtones that mask Chinese linguistic imperialism now being peddled in terms of growth, development, partnership, volunteerism, and aid? Monosyllabic answers on a postcard, please.