Sunday, February 14, 2010

A creaky old country

That's what I sometimes think when I read the news out of the USA. The most recent exhibit is a column by Bob Herbert in the New York Times:

Two weeks ago, as I was getting ready to take off for Palo Alto, Calif., to cover a conference on the importance of energy and infrastructure for the next American economy, The Times’s Keith Bradsher was writing from Tianjin, China, about how the Chinese were sprinting past everybody else in the world, including the United States, in the race to develop clean energy.

That we are allowing this to happen is beyond stupid. China is a poor country with nothing comparable to the tremendous research, industrial and economic resources that the U.S. has been blessed with. Yet they’re blowing us away — at least for the moment — in the race to the future.

Our esteemed leaders in Washington can’t figure out how to do anything more difficult than line up for a group photo. Put Americans back to work? You must be kidding. Health care? We’ve been working on it for three-quarters of a century. Infrastructure? Don’t ask.

It really is a disgrace that China with all its resource problems and under the leadership of the Communist Party seems to have a much more forward-thinking attitude about some really basic stuff. It's like Americans have given up on practicality in favor of theological conflict -- about evolution, marriage equality, and "don't ask, don't tell."

Thanks to Brad DeLong for the heads-up.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

"...the Premier took the Prime Minister to the woodshed."

Not a good sign (as told by the Globe and Mail):
In an unprecedented diplomatic breach, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao publicly upbraided Prime Minister Stephen Harper today for failing to visit China sooner.

“This is your first visit to China and this is the first meeting between the Chinese premier and a Canadian prime minister in almost five years,” Mr. Wen told Mr. Harper through an interpreter.

Mr. Harper listened, stone-faced, in front of Canadian, Chinese and international media.

“Five years is too long a time for China-Canada relations and that’s why there are comments in the media that your visit is one that should have taken place earlier.”

Such a public scolding is unheard of in a meeting between heads of government.

“I agree with you Premier that five years is a long time,” Mr. Harper said in response. “It’s also been almost five years since we had yourself or President Hu in our country.”

He went on to invite the Premier or President Hu Jintao to visit Canada “in the not too distant future.”

Mixed feelings here: I consider Harper to be a sycophant to imperial power, and here he is being an incompetent sycophant. OTOH, this display by a displeased imperial power is chilling.

Image: You'd better learn this face.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Someone in China doesn't want you to read Phil Paine

Specifically, the post A Gift of Earth and Water (November 16, 2009). Why? Have a look.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nine nations: A China primer

I will be away from blogging till at least the weekend, so I came to the computer today feeling some obligation to leave you with something good. I was completely uninspired until Brad DeLong -- again -- came to the rescue by providing me with a link to Patrick Chovanec's Atlantic article on the Nine Nations of China. Like Mr. Chovanec, I was influenced by the 1981 book by Joel Garreau's Nine Nations of North America, in which he redivided Canada and the United States into economic and cultural areas that more reflected reality than the international and state/provincial divisions on most maps. It was a fresh approach that has since gone stale, as lazy people keep referring to it like nothing important has changed since the 1970s. But once again it renders yeoman service by inspiring this new article. I do not endorse the authority of the Nine Nations of China, since I'm about two or three steps above simple ignorance, but I found it interesting. Here's an excerpt:
This week, President Obama makes his first state visit to China. What kind of country will he find there? We tend to imagine China as a monolith: 1.3 billion people sharing the same language, history, and culture. The truth is far more interesting. China is a mosaic of several distinct regions, each with its own resources, dynamics, and historical character.

As a traveler, teacher, and professional investor who has been exploring China since 1986, I’ve come to think of these regions as the Nine Nations of China (inspired, in part, by Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America). Taken individually, these “nations” would account for eight of the 20 most populous countries in the world.

As China’s economy becomes more integrated, these regional differences are taking on greater importance than ever before.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

This (among many other things) is Communist China, 60 years on

The National Grand Theatre, lit and surrounded by water.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Xinhua, China's official news agency, speaks

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Big trouble in China

Students in last year's Islamic Civilization course may remember a short discussion of the Uighurs in China. Like the Tibetans, the Uighurs are not culturally Chinese, and in recent decades they have felt overwhelmed by Han Chinese inmigration. It's not much of a contest numbers-wise, since there are a few million Tibetans and Uighurs and about a billion Han.The tensions nonetheless are severe in the Uighur home province of Xinjiang (formerly called East Turkestan) and as in Tibet last year, there has now been serious streetfighting.

If you want to know how serious this trouble is, see the picture below, showing paramilitary police assembled in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi. It's one thing to hear "20,000 police" on CBC Radio and another to see this:

More at the Big Picture.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Remembering the 20th anniversary of the Tien An Men crackdown in Hong Kong

Sunday, March 22, 2009

China's view of the world?

This Economist cover, provided by Strange Maps, is a takeoff of a famous New Yorker cover, which you really must see.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

Ice and snow

The Big Picture has a winter feature
including many photos of the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival in Manchuria, a favorite event of mine (not that I've been there).

Image: Crabapples in Antrim, New Hampshire, December 12.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

IT'S BACK! The Scramble for Africa returns

This alarming development noted here at Dymaxion World.
Image: Yinka Shonibare's sculpture "Scramble for Africa."

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Isolated China

It has been a while since I posted any links to the site Strange Maps. I've neglected Strange Maps mainly because it is too interesting: if every good map there was reposted here, I'd have a mirror site. So I restrain myself and only mention those with a particular relevance to the purposes of this site.

Today's map addresses a theme that any world history students I've had in the last few years will recognize from the textbook we've been using: the uniqueness of China and the special importance of China in the development of human history. The map and the Strange Maps commentary is drawn from an article by John Mauldin at the site InvestorsInsight;
both commentaries are worth a look.

The point of the map is that China as defined by its internationally recognized boundaries, is not identical to the area inhabited by the Han Chinese (who some of us call the "ethnic Chinese"), all one billion of them plus. Further, the one billion Han who live in one of the most intensively agricultural areas of the world are somewhat isolated from other rich agricultural areas, the kind that can support the rich cultures that in any era are usually called civilized. On one hand there are seas that most Han or and their governments have been traditionally reluctant to sail; on the other, deserts and jungles and mountains separate them from the Indian subcontinent and other populous regions. From this situation follow a couple of others: in search of trade, security or expansion, China can turn to inland empire or overseas contacts, or resistance to outside interference in either direction. It is however hard to do both. A commitment to expansion or outside interaction puts stress on the unity of the Han Chinese homeland. If you want unity and internal peace, isolation is the best strategy. But then the outsiders have the initiative, whether they are pirates or nomad raiders or more up-to-date challengers.

But perhaps more important is the Chinese self-image that results from this semi-isolation. From the inside, Chinese culture is a huge continuum where many basic factors are very similar. It's not that China doesn't have its internal variations, even if we are talking only about the central Han-dominated area. It's that the variations between Island China and the rest of the world are so much bigger. And Island China has few direct boundaries with other heavily inhabited and otherwise comparable cultural regions. Is it surprising then that many Chinese have and have had a very strong notion of their own uniqueness?

Such an analysis could be applied to other major cultures. How about Island USA? How about Island Russia? Food for thought.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

My world includes Chengdu

I just found out that someone I know was in Chengdu (Sichuan, China) during the earthquake!

Fortunately not harmed.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chinese troops in Zimbabwe?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

China's economy

Brad de Long directs us to this article by James Fallows at The Atlantic Online, which is subtitled: The Chinese are subsidizing the American way of life. Are we playing them for suckers—or are they playing us?

Those with less time to read may want to look at DeLong's summary.

I'll bet that you'll go on to read the rest.

Students in World History may note a parallel with the material about industrializing Germany and Japan we discussed last week. This comment on DeLong's post caught my eye:
It seems to me that the government is focused on building national greatness, via as fast as possible economic/industrial growth for as long as they can sustain. The lives of the current citizens are valued only as fuel for the engine of growth. They know this cannot be a permanent arrangement, but the longer they can keep it up the higher up the slope they see China climbing. The transistion from forced hypergrowth to whatever comes afterwards probably won't be smooth, but their strategy is to delay it for as long as feasible in order to climb higher up the slope before that happens.
Image: A coking factory in China, thanks to the Telegraph (UK).

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

The new Golden Mountain

Today's Washington Post has an article today called Leaving for the Chinese Dream. The thrust of the article is summed up in this paragraph:

For a growing number of the world's emigrants, China -- not the United States -- is the land where opportunities are endless, individual enterprise is rewarded and tolerance is universal.

And just to drive the point home, the star of the articles is Khaled Rasheed, from Iraq.

Who would have bet a nickel on this eventuality back in the days of the White Boned Demon and the Gang of Four?

Elsewhere on the news web I saw an article on musicians, dancers, and other artists from overseas just giving up on US tours because the visa system is just too burdensome. I hope to remember where I saw it! Ah, found it.

Important, important articles.

Image: A modern painting by Mian Situ, The Golden Mountain-Arriving San Francisco, 1865

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Religion and politics today

In the Ancient Civilizations this week we talked about the close relationship between religion and politics in the earliest records of the Middle East. Someone quite rightly pointed out that religion and politics often go together now. So of course for the next few days religion and politics met my eye every time I looked at the Web. Here are two recent news items and a slightly older one I hadn't got around to.

According to this BBC story, Pope Benedict has refused to receive US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in person because, among other things, she was the point person who publicly rejected Pope John Paul's concerns about US policy on Iraq in 2003. A few well-informed commentators recalled to mind an occasion when Joseph Stalin brushed off papal concerns with the scornful question, "How many divisions does he have?" The point being of course that Stalin and his Soviet Union are gone, while the papacy is still here.

Then there is the piece that a friend of mine alerted me to last month, about continuing Chinese efforts to suppress Tibetan identity. The Dalai Lama in exile is the heart and soul of Tibetan resistance so (according to Newsweek):

In one of history's more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is "an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation." By barring any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation, the law effectively gives Chinese authorities the power to choose the next Dalai Lama, whose soul, by tradition, is reborn as a new human to continue the work of relieving suffering.
"Absurd?" "Traditional" might be a better word. When you're talking about "absurd" and "history," you've got a lot to choose from -- especially when the subject is official reasons why you should shut up and do what you are told. The raising and toppling of monuments to former god-kings doesn't seem so far out by comparison, does it?

This last item, about the "House of Wisdom," gives me the creeps:

The U.S. military has introduced "religious enlightenment" and other education programs for Iraqi detainees, some of whom are as young as 11, Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, the commander of U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, said yesterday.

Stone said such efforts, aimed mainly at Iraqis who have been held for more than a year, are intended to "bend them back to our will" and are part of waging war in what he called "the battlefield of the mind." Most of the younger detainees are held in a facility that the military calls the "House of Wisdom."

The religious courses are led by Muslim clerics who "teach out of a moderate doctrine," Stone said, according to the transcript of a conference call he held from Baghdad with a group of defense bloggers. Such schooling "tears apart" the arguments of al-Qaeda, such as "Let's kill innocents," and helps to "bring some of the edge off" the detainees, he said.

Now normally I'd be happy to hear that Muslim moderates were engaging with young jihadis to talk some sense into them, and once upon a time the idea of a school for that purpose might have struck me as a positive development. That was before the setting up of the prison at Guantanamo and before the US military took over Saddam Hussein's torture chambers at Abu Ghraib. I have to be deeply suspicious of an institution meant to "bend them back to our will," (whose will, exactly?) and which has appropriated the name of a long-ago Baghdadi religious school to do so. What does this "battlefield of the mind" look like, anyway? What will we know about it in 20 years that we don't know now?

What do you think?

"We're busting them down, we're making whole moderate compounds that didn't exist before."

Stone described a sort of religious insurgency that occurred at one detention facility on Sept. 2. "We had a compound of moderates for the first time overtake . . . extremists. It's never happened before. Found them, identified them, threw them up against the fence and shaved their frickin' beards off of them. . . . I mean, that is historic."

Gotta love that "religious enlightenment."

Image: A poster for the movie 300. I feel an inexorable pressure to see this flick.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Guan Yu and the Canadian undergraduate

Students in HIST 1505 already know this, but I thought others would be interested.

On Thursday I was talking about the difference between offically sponsored religious cults and local cults in Ming China. Our textbook referred to the example of Guan Yu, a legendary warrior and Buddhist saint who was honored in both ways, officially and unofficially, with the difference being that even the imperial officials thought the unofficial cult was more worthy of support. I threw in the fact, which I'd learned by exploiting my subtle research skills (Google!) that Guan Yu went on to be the hero of a famous romance novel, then operas, and in recent times, video games.

And sure enough, several students had played some of those games and knew old Guan Yu well.

Good thing we started this World History survey a few years back, or we'd be seriously behind our students...

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