Archive for ‘Confucianism’

Friday, August 16, 2013

Song Luzheng on Democracy: “Idle Masses indulging in a Life of Pleasure and Comfort”

Song Luzheng (宋鲁郑) is a journalist and (semi-)official living in France. The following are excerpts from an article published by Guanchazhe, a Shanghai-based website, on Thursday, and republished by the nationalist Huanqiu Shibao (online), also on Thursday. The article also appears on his regular blog.

Quotes made by Song Luzheng within the excerpts and translations underneath are my translations from Chinese to English. The wordings of the actual English-language originals (including book titles) by Niall Ferguson and Thomas Friedman may be different.

Main Link: The Tragedy of the Egyptian Raids confirm, once again, the Predicament of Democracy (埃及清场悲剧再次验证民主困境)

The bloody way in which the Egyptian military cracked down on the Morsi supporters has shocked the world. One after another, European countries condemned the “big terrorist massacre”, but Kerry, the secretary of state in charge of America’s diplomacy, of the world’s most developed democracy, with a surprising smile on his face on a press conference, didn’t condemn the military massacre in the least, and only uttered  that this was “deplorable”, that “violence was no solution and only brought about more instability and economic disaster” (but who used violence? The protesters?). Also, the only “sanction” the Obama administration imposes is “the military exercises with Egypt may be cancelled”. This is completely different from condemning the situation in Syria and taking action. Apparently, public intellectuals under American influence, abroad and at home, are in a hurry to stand on the side of the military which massacres peaceful Egyptian citizens.

埃及军方如此残酷的血腥镇压穆尔西的支持者, 举世震惊。欧洲各国纷纷表态谴责这起“恐怖大屠杀”,而世界上最发达的民主国家美国,其主管外交的国务卿克里竟然笑容满面地出席记者会,对埃及军方主导的 大屠杀毫无谴责,仅仅说了一句“悲惨的”,并不痛不痒地说“暴力不是解决方案,通向暴力的道路只能带来更大的不稳定、经济灾难”(但谁在使用暴力?抗议者 吗?)。与此同时,奥巴马政府的官员提出的唯一“制裁”措施竟然是:“可能取消与埃及的军事演习”。这和美国谴责叙利亚的态度和采取的行动完全不同。看 来,受美国影响,海内外的不少公知们很快也要站在屠杀埃及平民的军方一边了。

Most of today’s developed countries, with the exception of Britain, went through times of destruction, writes Song, and adds:

In fact, China went through a similar experience, only at a higher cost. This was the Republic of China, founded in 1912. Simply-put, the Republic of China didn’t bring China independence, nor did it bring China unity, let alone an era of strength, prosperity and dignity. In its short 37 years, the economy went into bancruptcy, there was warlordism, large-scale civil war, invasions by foreign enemies, territorial disintegration, corruption from the top to the bottom etc., and until it [the ROC] withdraw from the stage of history, China had almost reached the status of a savage nation. Life expectancy was at 35 years, illiteracy up to 80 percent. The only time in several thousands of years that China fell behind India was at that time. Not even the Cultural Revolution managed to do that. China at the end of the Qing dynasty faced three challenges: extreme poverty and weakness and encirclement by big powers, national disintegration, and military split by warlordism, and the Republic of China not only failed to provide solutions, but worsened even further. If one says that the Qing dynasty was a big collapsing building, the Republic of China not only failed to work on the Qing dynasty’s foundations, but even lost that foundation. It was at that time that Outer Mongolia was lost without a war, as the first territory in China’s history.

其实中国自己也曾有过类似的经历,只是代价更为不菲。这就是 1912年建立的中华民国。简言之中华民国是一个既没有带给中国独立、也没有带来统一,更没有带来富强与尊严的时代。在其短短的三十七年间,经济陷入破 产,军阀混战,大规模的内战,外敌入侵,国土分裂,从上到下的完全腐败,等到它退出历史舞台的时候,中国已几乎到了“蛮荒亡国”的地步:人均寿命不足35 岁,文盲高达80%。中国几千年唯一一次落后于印度就在此时,甚至文革都未能做到一点。清末中国面临的三大挑战:极端的贫困和积弱不振、列强环伺的生存危 机、国家的分裂和军队的军阀化,中华民国不但一个都没有解决,反而更加恶化。如果说清朝是倒塌的大厦,中华民国则不但连清理地基的工作都未能做到,而且把 地基都丢掉了。外蒙古也就是这个时期,成为中国历史上首个不是因为战败而丧失的领土。

Although a high price for democratic transition was a historical law [anyway], there were still more special factors at work in Egypt, according to Song: it was particularly poor, it was under the impact of the global economic crisis and of revolution at home, an unemployment rate of 31 percent (only nine percent before the revolution), and adding to that, illiteracy was at 27 percent, with female illiteracy at 69 percent.  A well-performing democracy needed an economic base and universal education. Lacking secularism in the Islamic world is also cited as a factor.

Also, some Muslim societies have long lacked a spirit of compromise and tolerance. This national character displays itself in a firm position and no concessions. This led to a situation where, when a ruler [Muarak] made concessions, prepared to move toward democracy, the country missed out on this top-down transition model which would have come at rather low costs, and even after a democratic success, and used extreme methods to solve conflicts. This happened both in Tunisia and in Egypt. When Muarak announced that he wouldn’t stay in office for another term and that his sons wouldn’t participate in elections, and that after his current term, there would be comprehensive, free and fair elections, the masses rejected this. As a result, power was transferred to the military, thus extending the transition period.  And after one year of rule by Morsi, the first president elected by the people was pushed off the stage by another street revolution, causing nation-wide confrontation and resulting in an unprecedented bloody tragedy. This kind of lack of compromise has already strangled Egypt’s democracy in its cradle. History shows again and again that what is born in a pool of blood is only violent, not democratic.

再者,有些穆斯林社会长期缺乏妥协和宽容精神,这种国民性在革命时可以表现 为立场坚决,绝不退步。却也造成当执政者做出让步,准备走向民主时,国家错过从上而下的、代价较低的转型模式,甚至在民主成功之后,采用极端手段来解决冲 突。这一幕在突尼斯和埃及都反复上演。当穆巴拉克宣布不再连任、自己的儿子也不参选、任期届满之后即进行全面、自由、公正的选举时,却被民众拒绝了。结果 权力被交给军方,大大延长了过渡期。随后又在穆尔西执政一年后,再次以街头革命的方式,将首位民选总统赶下台,造成全国性的对抗,终至演变成空前的血腥悲 剧。实际上,这种不妥协,已经把埃及的民主扼杀在摇篮中。历史已经一而再地证明,在血泊中诞生的只有暴力,而不是民主。

Revolutions like these were most likely to happen in demographically young countries, Song continues. Japanese media had pointed out that therefore, a revolution was unlikely to happen in a country like China, which was older on average, and with only one child per family.

The West itself was equally in trouble, writes Song, enumerating the share of respective national debt as a share of GDP. All of those shares were above the internationally accepted warning line of 60 percent.

The trouble was that democratic systems were based on the expectation that the people were perfect, and wouldn’t allow abuse. Unreasonable public expectations made politicians accept even unreasonable demands:

By using the ballot box in this Western system, people can force politicians to accept unreasonable and even perfectly unreasonable demands. Today’s Western debts come from deficit spending [今天西方国家普遍出现的债台高筑寅吃卯粮], high levels of welfare are hard to sustain and impossible to reform, the masses idly indulge in a life of pleasure and comfort, and falling competitiveness and falling economic growth have their sources here.

西方危机的深层根源就在于它实行的一人一票的民主制度。当今民主制度有一个理论假想:政府是应有 之恶,要进行限权,但对人民却又认为是道德完美、能够做到绝对正确。事实上,人民的全体和个体的人民一样,都有先天性的人性缺憾,比如好逸恶劳贪得无厌、 目光短浅急功近利等等。而任何权力包括民权没有限制都会被滥用。于是在西方这种制度模式下,民众可以通过选票迫使政治人物接受并非理性、甚至完全不合理的 诉求。今天西方国家普遍出现的债台高筑寅吃卯粮、高福利难以为继却无法改革、民众日益懒惰贪图享乐、竞争力下降经济增长乏力的根源就在于此。

When it is said that traditionally socialist countries with absolute public ownership of means of production (and economic equality) has proven a failed utopia, the failure of Western democratic societies as another big Utopia with absolute equality (one man, one vote) is now also being proven.

如果说过去传统社会主义国家生产资料的绝对公有制(即经济上均贫富)是人类已经证明失败的乌托邦,那么西方民主社会另一大乌托邦即政治权力的绝对平等(一人一票)的失败也正在被历史所验证。

Song mentions the role of Wall Street’s five largest investment banks in the 2008 U.S. elections:

While collusion between officialdom and business in China still requires secrecy, it happens in broad daylight in the West.

由于西方的民主制度法必须通过选举,而选举成本堪称天文数字,这又给了资本介入的契机。我们知道2008年华尔街五大投行全军覆灭,但高盛集团的政治献金仍然高达数亿美元(如果说中国官商勾结还需要遮遮掩掩,在西方则是光天化日)。

Apparently based on the bestseller “This Town”, Song details his statement about democracy.

This book’s grim conclusion is this: transactions between power and money has become a thorough procedure. America has become exactly the way of the Roman empire in its late stage, before its collapse: Systematic political corruption, evil action as the usual practice, and legal offense in vogue.

这本书得出的冷酷结论是:权钱交易已经彻底地程序化。美国正如罗马帝国崩溃前的末期:制度化的政治腐败,作恶成了惯例,违法成了时髦。

[...]

In the face of the crisis of Western democracy, more and more scholars are waking up. Niall Ferguson, one of the West’s most renowned and influential historians, called “one of the world’s 100 most influential people” by “Time”, wrote –  after writing “Money and Power” and “Civilizaton” – about “The Western Civilization’s four Black Boxes”. In this book he argues that questions about the decline of the West lies in the degeneration of the institutions. Representational government, free markets, the rule of law, and civil society were once western Europe’s and North America’s four pillars, but are now in decay. The root lies in the irresponsibility to which the voting people have turned, living at the costs of future generations.

面对西方民主的危机,越来越多的学者开始醒悟。当代西方声誉最高、影 响力最大的历史学者,被《时代》周刊称为“影响世界的100人”之一的尼尔·弗格森,在《金钱与权力》、《文明》后,又推出一本新作:《西方文明的4个黑 盒子》,在这本书中,他认为西方衰落的答案就在西方的建制正在退化。代议政体、自由市场、法治、公民社会,曾是西欧、北美社会的四大支柱,但在今天这些建 制已败坏变质。根源则在于作为选民的人民变得不负责任,使一代选民得以在牺牲未来数代人利益下过日子。

This is also why the “New York Times'” columnist Thomas Friedman, in his new book “[The World is] Hot, Flat, and Crowded”, goes as far as titling one chapter “If America could be China for one Day”. He gives an example: “If need be, China’s leaders can change the regulatory system, the standards, infrastructure to safeguard the country’s long-term strategic benefit. If such issues get discussed and implemented in Western countries, I’m afraid it takes years or even decades.” [...]

这也是为什么《纽约时报》专栏作家托马斯·费里德曼新书《世界又热又平又挤》有一章的标题竟然是这样的: 假如美国能做一天中国。他举例道:“如果需要的话,中国领导人可以改变规章制度、标准、基础设施,以维护国家长期战略发展的利益。这些议题若换在西方国家 讨论和执行,恐怕要花几年甚至几十年的时间。” [.....]

This is where Song Luzheng gets back to Egypt, as a painfull lesson for Egypt itself, but a fortune for China (埃及的惨痛教训,对于中国实是极为宝贵的财富).

There are the three major human civilizations: Christian civilization, Islamic civilization, and Confucian cvilization. Only the Western democratic system can keep pace with China’s political civilization. But this kind of Western system has developed to today’s dysfunctionality, increasingly unable to adapt to the challenges of globalization. Apparently, Chinese civilization cannot be refused to play an important role among the world’s civilizations!

目前人类三大主要文明:基督教文明、伊斯兰教文明和儒家文明,真正能和中国政治文明并驾齐驱的只有西方的民主制度。但西方这种制度发展到今天已弊病丛生,日益无法适应全球化的挑战。看来,中华文明将不得不再一次在世界文明中扮演极为重要角色!

We can say that the decline of Western democracy and China’s institutional civilization full of vitality are humankind’s greatest and most influential change. In the old days, China’s  huge contributions to humankind weren’t only reflected in economics, but more importantly in its institutional civilization. These days, as China is becoming strong and prosperous again, it will also, once again, carve out another height of institutional civilization for humankind.

我们可以说,西方民主的衰落与中国制度文明充满生命力的崛起将是二十一世纪人类最伟大、影响最为深远的变革。昔日中国对人类的巨大贡献并不仅仅表现在经济的富庶,更重要的是制度文明。今天的中国,在重新走向富强的同时,也将再一次为人类开拓出更高的制度文明。

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Related

» Those Southern Newspaper’s Commentators, Jan 28, 2013
» Refuting Western Rhetoric, china.org.cn, Nov 18, 2012
» JR turns to Science, Dec 17, 2011
» Make America collapse, Feb 14, 2010

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Blog Review: Bumblers, Scumbags, KMT Goon Sympathizer Types

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Dr. Sun, we are in the international news again!

Dr. Sun, we are in the international news again!

Gave this the re-tweet, but aren’t you jumping a bit too far in the other direction (as in “how dare those Taiwanese respond)?

Foarp, Nov 20, 2012, liking a post about how the KMT responded to an Economist article (“Ma the Bumbler”).

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Don’t know what you’re on about mate. They can respond how they like and I can point out is hysterical bleating! I gather from what I’ve seen of your blog that you’re one of those KMT goon sympathiser types anyway. Strange as you seem to have no time for their equivalent scumbags over the water …

fromthenightmarket, Nov 20, 2012, disliking Foarp’s comment.

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SCMP now reports Ma Administration has changed its mind, won’t lodge protest over Ma the Bumbler. First he was gonna do it, now he’s backed off?

The View from Taiwan, Nov 20, 2012

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“There has absolutely never been any such instruction” from the president, [spokesman] Fan Chiang said. [...] Fan Chiang, however, said that immediately after The Economist had published the article, the Office of the President issued a statement acknowledging the island faced economic and other domestic challenges.

SCMP, Nov 20, 2012

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Okay, let us end the silly name-calling and focus on what needs to be done to prevent further erosion of the economy.

Taipei Times, November 21, 2012

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Related

» Great Rejuvenation, Nov 16, 2012
» One (Belated) Question, Oct 10, 2012

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review: Behind the Red Door – Sex in China

Red doors are about attracting luck, and when you do an online search about red doors in Chinese – hong men or 红门), you will get tons of fengshui and home-decorating commercial offers to that end. Family happiness is probably as universal a catchword in China as is the pursuit of happiness in America. But here lies the difference: in China, family happiness depends on each and every family member. Red doors may be helpful, but if you, a daughter or son, achieve in contributing to your family’s happiness, or if you inflict pain on your family – your parents especially, but on your grandparents and wider family, too -, will usually depend on the family you are going to build yourself, as a Chinese individual in his or her twenties. It will depend on the wife or husband you are going to marry, and the child you are expected to have.

Mr Wang's REAL life is quite different.

Mr Wang’s REAL life is quite different.

When I started reading Richard Burger‘s debut book, Behind the Red Door – Sex in China, I became aware that I actually knew very little about the topic. I was aware of the pressure on Chinese colleagues of my age to get married and to have children, and I also got impressions on how the terms were being negotiated between children and parents – even marrying a partner from a different province is considered a flaw by some elders. But what makes Burger’s book particularly insightful is a review of how the outer edges of sexual behavior and identity in China “deviate” from family and social norms, and the troubles in coming to terms with these differences – or in living with them without coming to terms with them.

Behind the Red Door begins with a chapter on sex in imperial China, continues with one on dating and marriage (including marriage between Chinese and foreigners), and a chapter on the sex trade. In many ways, the chapter after these, “The Family”, constitutes a hub to everything else. Neither chapter comes without references to the individuals’ families, anyway. Sex workers will rarely let family people know about their business. One may guess that if a family wanted to know, they would know, but that’s not how psychology works. Gays and Lesbians – they are the topic after the chapter on family – rarely come out to their family people. And few transgendered will even apply for a gender-changing operation (let alone get one), because this would leave them without any chance to keep their sexual identities hidden from their families – and those who are looking on, i. e. basically everyone in the wider family, colleagues, the neighborhood, village, or town.

There is one section where Burger interprets the impressions and trends described in the books actual seven chapters: that’s in his parting thoughts, on the last fifteen pages. It’s the weakest part of the book, in that it unintentionally seems to confirm Burger’s own intuition described as early as in the introduction: arriving at a neat conclusion is impossible. But that attempt is an – unintentional, maybe – practical demonstration of just that fact.

The strengths of Behind the Red Door lie in the way it makes China speak from old and contemporary sources. It builds a narration from imperial times, with instances of traditional societal liberalism towards sex that doesn’t only serve procreation but rather seeks pleasure, even among lower classes, to a strongly puritan (Republican, Maoist and Dengist) modernity, and once again to growing relaxation during the most recent decades – even as traditional family values, and party orthodoxy, continue to linger in sometimes unpredictable areas. Behind the Red Door – and this is much more “political” than what I expected to read, discusses links between sexual liberalization and political control, too.

Burger is highly aware of China’s many political and personal realities, and writes in an engaging style. It isn’t only the author himself who speaks to the reader; it’s Chinese individuals just as well – a few out of millions of “ordinary” Chinese men and women of all ages who – willingly or of painful necessity – test the limits of what is “permissible” in terms of sex and in their relationships – people who deal with varying numbers of disintegrating illusions before and after wedlock – and who, in unfortunate cases, arrive at the comprehension that family happiness, “classical” or not, may not come their way.

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Behind the Red Door, by Richard Burger, 2012, at Amazon.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

“Political Confucianism” and the New York Times: Domestic Audience, Foreign Audience, who Cares (as long as Zhongnanhai listens)

Remarks made by U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton at Government House in Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia, on July 9, met with no friendly echo from Beijing. Clinton attended an International Women’s Leadership Forum in the Mongolian capital. Liu Yandong, apparently, didn’t attend.

Gate of New China (Xinhua Gate), Zhongnanhai

Gate of New China, Zhongnanhai: for political concept deliveries, please use the back door. (Wikimedia Commons, click photo for source.)

But Zhong Sheng, an editorialist with People’s Daily, sensed a loss of face, anyway. Three days after Clinton’s speech, he had  sufficiently calmed down to ask questions: “Who gave Americans the right to arrogantly assessing the democracy status of Asian countries?” The editorial warned the U.S. that “preaching human rights and democracy” would marginalize America in Asia.

It’s true: Clinton spoke about democracy. But there seemed to be noone in the place who might have taken offense. Neither Kang Kyung-wha (from South Korea), UN deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, nor Kim Campbell (Canada), nor Maria Leissner (Sweden), who were all present there. And Mongolia’s president, Elbegdorj Tsakhia, told the audience that

Mongolia honors and is firmly committed to human rights, equal application of law for all and an open and inclusive society, which are the fundamental principles of democracy.

People’s Daily might have criticized the Mongolian president just as well. Warnings that Mongolia might marginalize itself (in its geographic position between Russia and China) might actually have sounded somewhat more logical than levelling the admonition at Washington.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Sejogo, Wikimedia Commons

Geo-Politics: Shanghai Cooperation Organization (including China and Russia) – Wikimedia Commons (click picture for source)

But then, this would have amounted to bringing it home to the People’s Daily readership that maybe, democracy and human rights weren’t that exotic in Asia after all – and Zhong Sheng’s editorial was targeted at a domestic audience in the first place.

Targeted at a foreign audience, however, and also prompted by Clinton’s remarks, was an op-ed published by the New York Times, on July 10, i. e. one day later. The op-ed’s authors, Jiang Qing (蒋庆) and Daniel A. Bell, referring to Clinton’s speech in Ulaan Baatar, suggested that framing the debate in terms of democracy versus authoritarianism overlooks better possibilities.

It is easy to discard “political” Confucians like Jiang as nutters. After all, even in just one short op-ed, he and Bell manage to raise fundamental questions concerning their own concept without answering them. While eloquent in putting it to the NYT readership that democracy is [..] flawed in practice, they failed to tell their readers how people who represent sacred, historical and cultural legitimacy should actually be chosen.

Chinese readers may know what they meant  – after all, the CCP even defines Olympic torches as sacred -, but the average NYT reader probably isn’t quite that familiarized with sacred things, even as they pop up in the news.

But the NYT’s readers were hardly Jiang’s and Bell’s main target, just as America wasn’t really the main target for People’s Daily’s editorial on democracy and marginalization (see this post’s second paragraph). It simply looks good in Beijing when the New York Times publishes your op-ed, especially when it is in favor of “humane authority”. And if it isn’t logical, it doesn’t really matter, either.

The Lemon Tree of Harmony

Yellow Cat, Black Cat, White Cat – who cares, if only it’s harmonious

A concept of contending schools – striving for the approval of powers that be: local warlords, the gentry, the emperor, or the CCP – has existed long before Confucianism became a state doctrine. And it still stands. Jiang Qing doesn’t need to convince readers in North America, and he doesn’t even need to convince the Chinese “citizens”, or Chinese scholars. If the CCP buys his concept, that will be good enough.

And while Clinton’s Ulaan Baatar remarks may have been a reason for the New York Times to accept the op-ed, Jiang and Bell may find the situation in China itself comparatively promising for their efforts. As the Chinese economy slows – even if this should turn out to be a short dip, rather than a long-term trend -, China’s leaders may be more receptive of “Confucian” concepts than usual. Economic growth can’t last forever. And Confucianism – or what Jiang wants to sell as Confucianism – is still there.

Unfortunately however, this rubbish does no justice to Confucianism. Many of Jiang’s critics will whole-heartedly agree that Confucianism subscribes to authoritarianism – what Jiang likes it for is exactly what his critics will dislike it for, and this provides all the structure a debate seems to require these days. But the spectrum of Confucianism today – even among Chinese acdemics – is much broader than international publicity for Jiang and Bell seems to suggest. An international audience with an interest in what is going on among Chinese Confucians should pay attention to other Confucian schools, too.

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Related

» The Confucius Peace Prize, Dec 9, 2010
» A Continuing Debasement, Useless Tree, Dec 8, 2010
» Jiang Qing on Women and Confucianism, Inside-Out China, June 25, 2008

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Ma Ying-jeou, Lost in Tradition

Shortly before the beginning of Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou‘s second term in office, his support and satisfaction rates are at new historical lows, between 15 to 22 per cent. More than 60 per cent of the public have no confidence in Ma’s coming four years of administration, reports Singapore’s Morning News (Lianhe Zaobao).

“These opinion polls aren’t like anything during the past four years”, Zaobao quotes the head of Taiwan National University’s Department of Political Science, Wang Yeh-lih (王業立). “Ma Ying-jeou’s biggest problem is that the decision-making circles are too small, that communication between the government and the [KMT] party is poor, and that the relapse in public opinion was underestimated.”

During the past three months since his re-election, efforts to resolve an ongoing beef-imports dispute with the U.S., oil and electricity price hikes and stock exchange taxes, hadn’t been able to please either farmers, nor workers, nor business people, and had left people boiling with resentment (民怨沸腾), writes Zaobao. Hikes in oil and electricity prices had added to living costs, in terms of food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and all kinds of basic necessities, and stealth price increases in all kinds of products.

Ma Ying-jeou’s traditionally wooden communication skills haven’t been helpful during the recent wave of resentment. The Taipei Times people, of course, loves his exchanges with normal people, but not for the reasons Ma thinks they should:

On May 4, during a visit by the president to National Pingtung University of Science and Technology, a student told Ma in reference to a recent increase in retail prices that he does not feel full now after eating one biandang, or lunchbox. The student said typical lunchboxes these days tend to contain less vegetables even though their prices have remained the same. In response, Ma asked: “You don’t feel full? So now you need to eat one more biandang? Or do you endure being hungry?”

To make things worse, the discussion became distorted in that Ma was later quoted as saying that “Just eat another biandang and you’ll be full” (再吃一个便当就饱了), writes Zaobao.

Ma’s idea of a presidency is traditional – he certainly wants to be seen as a leader who understands what is going on in peoples’ daily lives, but his benchmark – former president Chiang Ching-kuo, who certainly was progressive at his times – when compared to his father Chiang Kai-shek -, is outdated. And each of Ma’s attempts to look like a leader of historic scale is happily ridiculed, whenever opportunites arise. They seem to arise often.

From the early 1980s on, Ma had worked for Chiang Ching-kuo, in several functions. In an interview which was part of a Chiang Ching-kuo documentary, Ma remembered one of Chiang’s last public appearances. Chiang was wheelchair-bound by then, he attended a Constitution Commemorative Conference in 1987, and as he was scurried off the stage, probably to spare him the spectacle that accompanied his exit, civil-rights advocates and democracy activists were standing – but not out of respect. They shouted, and waved posters with their demands. It appeared to be an unpleasant scene indeed – and next in the documentary’s picture was modern-day Ma, worry lines and disgust in his face, telling how ungrateful the activists had been:

It was as if [Chiang] was saying, “I have made all these efforts to promote Taiwan’s democratic reforms. How can they do this to me?”*)
好像就聽到,他嘴裡在說,他說我這幾年來,大力推動台灣的民主改革,他們怎麼還會這樣子對我呢?

But to compare Chiang Ching-kuo and Ma would be unjustified for a number of reasons. On the one hand, Ma has never been something like a secret-police director. But on the other, he doesn’t have Chiang’s merits either. What are Ma’s achievements? What should people reciprocate for? Or, in the words in which he reportedly complained to his sister, after getting a lot of stick for his administration’s management after the Morakot typhoon: “good people weren’t rewarded” (好人沒好報).

Nanfang Shuo (南方朔), a moderate critic of Ma Ying-jeou, believes that much of the public’s unease stems from an awareness that Ma is free from pressure as he faces no further elections. Reforms and decisions could therefore be taken arbitrarily (or autocratically – 独断独行).

In fact, even if one only follows Ma Ying-jeou’s presidential fortunes loosely (as JR does), it is easy to see that Ma is rarely in tune with the public in general, or even in individual chats. During the presidential election campaign, his opponent Tsai Ing-wen (herself not necessarily a folksy type of politician either), came across as fairly presidential (an observation by Nanfang Shuo in October last year), and to beat Ma in terms of communication skills was hardly a daunting challenge either.

All the same, Ma was re-elected – and the public now seems to complain that they got exactly the president they had gotten to know during his first term.

It’s not all the president’s fault. Certainly not in a democracy, where people have choices.

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Note

*) I can’t find the documentary online, but I seem to remember that Ma basically used the same words to describe his impressions there, as in this quote.

Related

» The Lame leading the Blind, June 3, 2011
» No Shanzhai Chiang, May 20, 2009

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Weeks before June 4 – Role Allocations

« An explanation of this 1989 series

» Previous post in this series

I won’t be able to describe Wu Renhua‘s entire document on the 1989 movement, at least not during this spring. I never planned to achieve such an ambitious goal anyway, but in the process of reading and roughly regiving the document’s content, I do feel some regret that I don’t have as much time for this as I would like to have. It might be a different story if I was more familiar with the weeks when a civil society in Beijing seemed to develop, and all the people and organizations involved. But in fact, the series on this blog is a process of making myself more familiar with the weeks prior to what we often narrow down to that one bloody night in June, 1989.

Wu’s document is a who-is-who, and a collection of locations in Beijing. Rather than trying to go through every day recorded in his tweeted today-in-history collection, I’m adding to a project, as suggested by C. A. Yeung a few weeks ago.

This also means that I may be dwelling on events in early May 1989 even in a few weeks, when the actual day in the year 2012 will be June 4. And in that case, I will simply continue this series with the events in May 1989, as described by Wu, in another batch of posts next year.

But at least every few days, I will keep adding posts to this series, until June.

We must restitute to past generations what they once possessed, just as every present tense is in its possession: the abundance of a possible future, the uncertainty, the freedom, the finiteness, the inconsistency (…), Thomas Nipperdey, a German historian, once wrote.

That’s what commemoration is probably about. Before the bloodbath and the great dispair, there had been weeks of frustration, hope, and self-determination. If history came out of the gun barrels (as certain people appear to suggest), there would be nothing to read, nothing to remember, and nothing to expect.

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Main Link: 八九天安门事件大记 (Major Daily Events, Tiananmen 1989), by Wu Renhua.

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Sunday, April 23, 1989

In the morning, Zhao Ziyang meets with Hu Qili and Rui Xingwen, and emphasizes his three opinions on how to handle the students’ protests, and that “the news-related public opinion must be in accordance with the guiding principle of correct reporting”. In the afternoon, he leaves for North Korea by special train, as scheduled. Li Peng, Qiao Shi, and Tian Jiyun, see him off at Beijing Train Station. At about 14 h, the People’s University Doctoral Candidates’ Declaration emerges. It states full support for the Seven Demands, and all patriotic movements from all students and people of all walks of life in society; calls a complete student (and doctorate candidates’) strike; demands the resignation of the collective leadership’s and collective mistaken decision-makers’ collective resignations [or be obliged to resign] (Li-Peng language), later referred to as “collective responsibility” (Li-Peng language); strongly demands all cadres in the party, government and army who are older than 75 to resign; to oppose violence, to protect human rights, and the military forces should not take part and interfere in state affairs; CCP activities should not be paoid for by the state; and censorship to be removed, press freedom be established, and private press, radio and television be allowed; anti-corruption commissions be established, corruption on all party levels be investigated and removed, and business activities of cadres’ relatives be examined, and the results be reported to the public. Science and Technology Daily, under deputy chief editor Sun Changjiang (孙长江), is the first press publication to break into the censored field of covering the movement’s activities, which is commended by the students and from all walks of life. A number of young professors at the University of Science and Technology Beijing (北京科技大学) and other universities announce a strike; some university posters call for a general university strike or for “we won’t attend class unless we achieve our goals”, and some call for a nation-wide general strike. Between ten a.m. and around eight p.m. or after, students at Beijing University and Tsinghua University unsuccessfully try to take control of their respective universities’ broadcasting stations. Shen Tong (沈彤)1) takes a different approach – he runs a broadcasting system of his own from his dormitory, near the San Jiao Di (explanation for San Jiao Di here, underneath the list of the seven demands). Liu Gang (刘刚) is an organizer of a Universities’ Interim Committee (高校临时委员会), to be renamed Independent (or autonomous) Federation of Students from Universities in Beijing (北京市高等院校学生自治联合会), at which delegates of a number of Beijing Universities – if not all universities – are to participate. In the afternoon, Liu and Dai Zizhong (龚自忠) sees Wu Renhua at Wu’s place at the University of Political Science and Law. Wu hasn’t known them personally before. Liu asks Wu to attend the students’ assembly scheduled for that evening, at Yuanmingyuan or Yuanming Park2). Wu Renhua declines, because participation in the Yuanmingyuan assembly or meeting wouldn’t correspond with his role as a professor. If he played such a role, this would also provide a handle for the authorities. Liu Gang, in search for a candidate to chair the conference, approaches Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强) [the student who hit his own head with his megaphone, during Guo Haifeng's, Zhang Zhiyong's and Zhou Yongjun's kneeling petition at the entrance of the Great Hall of the People a day earlier], but Pu doesn’t believe that he has the abilities it takes to become chairman. Probably more crucially, he points out that his parents by adoption, who live in a rural area, are relatively old people who depend on him3).

The Yuanmingyuan conference meets in the evening, with delegates from Beiing’s twenty-one university. Each university dispatches ten delegates. Zhou Yongjun (周勇军),  of the University of Political Science and Law, and one of the three kneeling petitioners on the previous day, is elected chairman. Wang Dan, Wu’er Kaixi, Ma Shaofang, and Zang Kai (臧凯) become standing-commission members.

According to what are believed to be Li Peng’s diaries, the CCP Politbureau Standing Committee holds a meeting at eleven a.m.. Li Tieying, in his capactiy as national education commission’s director, calls Li Peng to inform him that the mood at all universities in Beijing is very emotional, that student strikes are brewing, and that he hopes that Zhao listens to / reads the reports. Beijing Municipal Party secretary Li Ximing calls Zhao Ziyang on the phone and asks him to put his trip to North Korea off. Zhao tells the national education commission’s director Li Tieying see this post, footnote 3 that he had already authorized Li Peng to chair the standing commission’s work and to report to him.

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Notes

1) According to this online story, Shen was extremely lucky after the Tian An Men crackdown:

Fortunately for Shen, he had already been accepted to Brandeis University and had been issued a passport to study in the U.S. Six days after Tiananmen he went undisguised to the airport and boarded a flight for the United States though the state security police had put him on their most wanted list. Some have taken this as a sign that even many in China’s military had secretly been in sympathy with the democracy movement.

2) Yuanmingyuan or Yuanming Park (the Gardens of Perfect Brightness, 圆明园) belongs to Beijing’s Haidian District. It is also referred to as the Old Summer Palace. The actual palace was destroyed in the Second Opium War.

3) Wu Renhua writes in his document that he doesn’t remember having warned Pu Zhiqiang against chairing the Yuanming Park meeting in principle, but he does remember that he did warn Pu to mind his safety, for the sake of his adoptive parents.

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Related

» April 23, 1989, Under the Jacaranda, April 23, 2012

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Continued here »
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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Confucianism and Soft Power: Internationally Inclusive and Exclusive Concepts

Oskar Weggel, a German sinologist, once suggested that many Chinese people found questions about their religious affiliation similarly strange as Europeans would find questions about their blood type.1) That’s not to say that there are no committed Buddhists, Confucians, or Taoists in China.

When it comes to Wang Zhicheng (王志成), a Humanities professor at Zhejiang University,  I believe that he is a Confucian – but I may be wrong. He may just be very familiar with Confucianism. While Wang apparently sees China’s role in an international philosophical dialogue (or a second axial age) based on Confucianism, and be it only for its – former – fundamental role in state control over society, his blog in general suggests that his interest goes far beyond Confucianism.

On the other hand, Kang Xiaoguang (康晓光), of Beijing’s People’s University (Renmin University), is a Confucian, or a New Confucian (新儒家). I’m not using the term Neo-Confucian here, because that would refer to a much older concept.2) Even “New Confucianism” has been around since the Republican days, according to Wikipedia – but maybe the Confucian revival struggles of these days can be seen as a stage within the same process. And while classical Confucian influence certainly went beyond statecraft (Taoist and Confucian views of what makes a good painting are different from each other, for example), Kang Xiaoguang’s interest in Confucianism stems from his search for a concept or an ideology which can rule China. (In English here, if it is an accurate source.)3)

Kang isn’t a metaphysical thinker. In fact, he is more of an economist. But he either tried, or is still trying, to think up a comprehensive state doctrine.

There seems to be a totalitarian temptation in these ways of thoughts. Hegel was pretty comprehensive believer in state power. But that was long ago, and Hegel described what he saw in an existing state, rather than drafting a state on his own.

In terms of internationally effective soft power – but that may be a concept Kang may not be too interested in, anyway4) -, his concept doesn’t look convincing either. Quite differently, Wang Zhicheng is putting his view of Confucianism – or Confucianness – in a global context.

To me, Wang’s approach looks more promising, in the light of international relations. It doesn’t belittle China’s potentially leading global ideational role. Of course, it doesn’t solve the country’s civil-society issues (which Kang describes in pretty gloomy terms) either. But Wang’s approach seems to contribute to solving both China’s domestic, and international issues.

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Notes

1) Oskar Weggel, “China”, Munich, 2002 (1981), page 202

2)

Emerging around 1100 CE, this movement was in many ways backward-looking. It sought to recover a “purer” form of Confucianism to replace the mixture of Buddhist and Taoist elements that had crept in over the centuries (mostly from “foreign” sources in India).
In contrast to Buddhists and Taoists, neo-Confucians did not believe in dual universe – the touchable word of “matter” and the spiritual world beyond. For this reason, Neo-Confucians usually rejected ideas associated with such mystical notions as reincarnation and karma.

“World History”, Fred N. Grayson and contributing authors, 2006, Hoboken, NJ, page 146.

3) I can’t warrant for the accuracy of either the Chinese, or the English source, but Kang published a book about Benevolent Government (仁政) with a huge preface, which seems to be based on the Chinese source linked in the post above. Kang had been criticized for rejecting democracy for China, in an interview with Singapore’s United Morning News (Lianhe Zaobao). The publication of the interview, in November 2004, and roughly quoted by Kang by his own memory, had carried the headline “Scholar Kang Xiaoguang: Chinese democratization is a choice that would bring calamity upon China”  (学者康晓光: 中国民主化祸国殃民,唯一选择), and, in his view, a rather truncated account of what he had said. Kang found himself criticized for his points in the interview, and what he wrote and said soon after, still in 2004, about Confucianization as a political alternative, was  a reaction to his critics.

4)

[..] Chinese discourse, unlike Nye’s exclusive focus on the efficacy of soft power in achieving foreign policy goals, frequently refers to a domestic context, evincing a mission for domestic purposes, although the domestic context is not the primary focus of Chinese interlocutors,

Li Minjiang wrote in an article for the Chinese Journal of International Politics, first published online on October 28, 2008.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tsewang Norbu was Right about the first “Dialog” accompanying the “China Cultural Year 2012″, and this is Why…

Ironically, the prelude to the cultural dialogue program for the Year of Chinese Culture in Germany is opened with Helmut Schmidt in Berliner Kommandantenhaus which is jointly organized by the Bertelsmann, Bosch and Koerber Foundation. The Ex-Federal-Chancellor is one of those weighty admirers of the Chinese economic miracle of the last 3 decades and is unfortunately also the most prominent representative of cultural relativism when it comes to criticism of China. He, therefore, acts as an apologist for the totalitarian rule of the Chinese communist regime and not as an advocate of the forbidden artists or oppressed peoples.

Tsewang Norbu,  cofounder of Association of Tibetans in Germany und Member of the Executive Board of Tibet Initiative Deutschland e.V., in a statement about the opening “dialog” accompanying the China Cultural Year 2012 in Germany (his statement in German here).

I would like to explain in some more detail why I believe that the three men on stage, Gu Xuewu, Helmut Schmidt, and Frank Sieren, proved Tsewang Norbu’s criticism correct. Their approach wasn’t complicated, but it was [update/completion: but it was cheap]. At the core, Gu and Schmidt put two concepts side by side: human rights and human responsibilities. The latter one isn’t entirely new, either; it was first brought up by a InterAction Council, with Malcolm Fraser, Helmut Schmidt and other retired politicians, in the 1980s. It was renewed and recommended to the United Nations in 1997.

A podcast of the Gu-Schmidt-Sieren talk in Berlin (in German), on January 31 this year, can be found here.

In that “dialog”, Gu was apparently the first participant to address the issue of human responsibilities. Asked by Sieren “what separates China and Germany”, Gu said that

what separates China and Germany seems to be a different idea of what people should do – that’s to say, in my view, an idea of more human rights or more human duties – this is a difference (was China und Deutschland trennt, scheint mir die unterschiedliche Vorstellung zu sein, was die Menschen tun sollen. Das heißt aus meiner Sicht, die Vorstellung von mehr Menschenrechten oder mehr Menschenpflichten – das ist ein Trennungspunkt).

Gu then linked the concept of human duties or responsibilities with Confucianism – as a concept of what people needed to do for society, for a collective, family, danwei, or the nation, rather than to make demands.

I’m not trying to judge if the “responsibilities” approach as described by Gu would indeed be Confucian. The interesting bit in my view was that neither Schmidt nor Sieren disagreed when Gu suggested that

somehow, a compromise needs to be found, a balance between human rights and human duties. As long as this balance isn’t there, I see a big problem for an understanding between Germans and Chinese people (es muss irgendwie ein Kompromiss gefunden werden, eine Balance zwischen den Menschenrechten und den Menschenpflichten. So lange diese Balance nicht da ist, gibt es aus meiner Sicht ein großes Problem für das Verständnis zwischen den Deutschen und den Chinesen).

Gu saw no such balance – neither in Germany, where human rights were “overemphasized”, nor in China, where collective duties were “overemphasized”.

Gu and Schmidt didn’t disagree with each other – if there was a “dialog”, it was one with little or no potential for genuine arguments, and indeed, there were no arguments.

A benevolent look at this kind of search for a “balance” between rights and responsibilities might suggest that there is an underlying, fundamental misunderstanding at work, of what human rights actually are.

After all, human rights do determine one fundamental duty: a duty to respect not only one’s own human rights, but others’ human rights, too. That requires no second, complementary charter of “responsibilities”. In fact, much of the catalog of duties as listed by Schmidt and the “Action Council” reads like a mirror of the Human Rights Declaration – and even if these duties, rather than the rights according to the UNDHR, were used as a standard, the West and China would be just as far apart from each other.

However, a “charter of responsibilities” can help to make human rights look relative – as long as these responsibilities (and their dependence on human rights) aren’t explained in some detail. Gu, Schmidt, and Sieren certainly spared themselves and their audience the effort to explore that side of the “responsibility” concept. Such a try could have turned out to become pretty unharmonious – and the job of the dialog was, apparently, to create “a positive atmosphere”.

Provided that you invite the right people, and shun trouble-makers like Tsewang Norbu at such events, you can have a beautiful, festive “dialog” – but you might as well spend your evening humming an infinite loop of “molihua”.

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Related

» Helmut Schmidt and the Korean War, March 1, 2012

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