Posts tagged ‘democracy’

Sunday, October 11, 2015

This Week (2): If you are Chinese today, can you become Taiwan’s President?

Probably not. But then, especially in Taiwanese politics, everything depends on definitions. If you think – and publicly state – that there is one China with different interpretations (一中各表), and if you add that this means that China is in fact the Republic of China (RoC), and that the constitution doesn’t permit a concept of two Chinas, that might work for a president, or for a presidential candidate, especially when your opponents are in disarray. That was the case with the (governing) DPP when Ma Ying-jeou himself was elected RoC president, in 2008. Back then, and in an article that didn’t necessarily describe Taiwan’s legal status accurately, the Washington Post referred to the president-elect as a smooth Harvard law graduate.

There’s a problem with Chineseness in Taiwan however when your opponents are well-organized and pretty much in tune with the majority of the country. And there’s a problem when you, as a candidate, are anything but smooth. Her Hong Hsiu-chu‘s political career was, but apparently, she owed that to herself, friends, and her wider family, rather than to her party, the KMT. And she is said to be very outspoken – that makes for a difficult relationship with a party that is hardly known for non-conformism.

There’s also a problem with Chineseness in Taiwan when you create the impression that you can’t wait for Taiwan’s “reunification with the mainland”, with mottos like one China, one interpretation (一中同表). Yes, you can afford some non-starters when there is no real opponent, as was the case for Ma Ying-jeou from about 2005 to 2010. All the same, telling an international audience via CNN that Taiwan would never ask the American to fight for Taiwan was too smooth to become acceptable.

Tsai Ing-wen, the oppositional Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) nominee, has managed to convince much of the centrist political spectrum in Taiwan that she is not, like former president Chen Shui-bian, a “troublemaker”. In 2011, during her first candidacy for presidency, then against incumbent Ma Ying-jeou, she acknowledged the Republic of China’s significance for Taiwan, even if Taiwan had its own history. That was on October 10, Taiwan’s national day. This year, she agreed to an invitation by legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng to attend the official “double-ten” celebrations.

In this context, Hung Hsiu-hong became the actual “radical” in the election campaigns, and her apparent closeness to China only helped Tsai.

Just how much the KMT is in disarray can be seen from this well-meant, but delirious advice as from the KMT-leaning China Post in summer this year:

The Taiwanization faction is wrong. Hung’s China policy can be a weapon with which she can fight Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the DPP who bears its standard. Tsai is far outdistancing Hung, according to polls conducted by pro-Taiwan independence think tanks. Instead of attempting to copy the DPP’s pro-Taiwanization stance, Hung can try to narrow Tsai’s lead by telling eligible voters that her policy is to build a roadmap to eventual Chinese unification. She has to only explain it is a Chinese version of the Commonwealth that is an evolutionary outgrowth of the British Empire and that relations between the Republic of China in Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China would be like those between the United Kingdom and Canada or Australia or New Zealand.

This read as if Kang Youwei had been at work again.

To cut a long, miserable story short: yes, you can (become Taiwan’s President if you are Chinese today). But not if you are too Chinese.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The KMT could live with losing the RoC Presidency …

… but it can’t put up with a Hung parliament. Hence, Hung Hsiu-Chu (洪秀柱), the KMT’s presidential nominee, might be ousted.



» The Rise and Fall, Brian Hioe / New Bloom, Oct 5, 2015


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn: and now for Something Better?

Once Upon a time, in the UK

Arguably, no interview with Margaret Thatcher has been quoted as much in the past three decades as the one, published by Woman’s Own in 1987:

But [the welfare state] went too far. If children have a problem, it is society that is at fault. There is no such thing as society.

This is also the interview people quote from most frequently, and preferably without much context, because “there isn’t society” wasn’t the end of Thatcher’s point. In fact, “tapestry” was just her word for society

But words are one thing; deeds are another.

Much of what Thatcher did during the earlier years as prime minister looks pretty much what we like to refer to as the will of the people. That is a somewhat abstract concept for a number of reasons, but she had a point at the time. Things – Labour policies – had gone too far, for too many people.

But Thatcher herself, and her successors, including “New Labour”, went too far as well. Deregulation of the financial services was one example. An economy with banks “too big to fail” is a corporate-welfare economy. Unfathomable amounts of of public funding has been used by now to save the financial system, but it appears that the causes of the 2008 calamities haven’t been addressed with the thoroughness they should.

At the same time, there is real poverty in Britain and in Europe, among common people. Those people are apparently too small to count. A society that reacts to their problems with a shrug has a problem itself, and will get yet more problems. A political class too ignorant to understand how modern manufacturing works adds to the problems. Callousness and ignorance are a nasty mixture.

Fast Forward to 2015

In that light, even if Jeremy Corbyn were a full-blown idiot (or villain), that would look like a manageable problem. At worst, a five-year premiership, if attained, would be another waste of time, but at least, it would be one more closely scrutinized by the mainstream media that previous wastes of time.

Then there’s the character issue. I’m far from saying that character doesn’t matter. But I do say with confidence that there is no way to know the true character of a politician before he assumes real powers. It isn’t even easy to predict a man’s behavior after assuming power when you know him personally. And it to predict his decisions is impossible if you “know” a man merely from the media.

One of the last last hurrahs from Corbyn’s opponents appears to have been this, from the Telegraph:

Jeremy Corbyn led a campaign for the release of two convicted terrorists who were jailed for their part in the car bombing of the Israeli embassy in London and a Jewish charity building.

Jawad Botmeh and Samar Alami were convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions in the UK in 1996, which injured 20 people. They were jailed for 20 years.

That sounds pretty ugly, as reported from the Telegraph’s angle. But it sounds reasonable as reported by the Guardian.

A common citizen is in a difficult situation when having to make choices between different politicians and platforms or manifestos. The media aren’t making his choices easier. One step to develop a clearer political eyesight might be to admit that we actually know very little, and to admit that propaganda isn’t necessarily something very Chinese, or much about agitation, let alone about confronting us with representations that run counter to our  long-established concepts, but rather something to soothe or to tranquilize us.

But for too many people, the established policies of their countries have gone too far. They have gone wrong. That’s true for my country, too. That’s a moment when things begin to shift, and I believe it’s a good thing if they shift in a rather benign way. That’s democracy at its best.

A Universal Ideal

When asked what he thought his greatest weakness as a potential leader, Corbyn said that “I tend to see the best in people all the time. Is that a weakness? I don’t know.”

His answer would most likely be that it isn’t a weakness at all – that’s the message of those three sentences. At the same time, it reads a bit like a disclaimer. And he’ll need one. For all the experience he has, from decades of serving his constituency, his main job has been to ask critical questions. Now, he will have to provide serious answers just as well, and answers of that kind are never uncompromising. Maybe Corbyn should have an appointment with Barack Obama and Alexis Tsipras. They know both sides of the finishing line which in Corbyn’s case, for the time being, is the door mat of No. 10 Downing Street.

But what came to my mind when reading what he saw as his greatest weakness (or strength), and in the context of the accusations that he was too close to terrorism (or whatever the accusations were meant to amount to), was an old Chinese philosopher, Wang Yangming.

Obviously, what you get to see and hear from a professional politician is the artwork, or the package – see above, re “knowing” your country’s leaders. But even the choice of the artwork says something about the leanings of a campaign. Wang Yangming believed in the unity of knowledge and action, in terms of content and time. Man has an innate knowing of what is right, say Wang’s teachings, and there doesn’t need to be a barrier between knowledge and action, neither in terms of content, nor in terms of time. In fact, according to Wang, there can be no such barrier or difference between knowledge and action, if it is the kind of knowledge he referred to.

Politics of that kind are a fairly universal desire – but you might need to be a neo-Confucian to fully believe in the chance.

Either way, it’s too early to know if Corbyn is that kind of man. And we’ll only find out about that if the movement that has made him Labour leader will be successful, at least to some extent, so that time and circumstances can put Corbyn to the test.

But the ideal is one of the things that made Corbyn’s campaign work. I’m curious about how things develop from there, and a bit more hopeful about politics in general. I’m also hopeful that in the not too distant future, my country, too, will experience what Britain is apparently going to have now: genuine, democratic choices.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Weekend Links: Western Linguistic Manipulation, Destabilizing Russian Propaganda

Bicycles in Bremen-Sebaldsbrück, August 2015

“The world is upside down”,
said the wrong-way driver

1. China wants an Apology from the Japanese Emperor

That’s what Xinhua demanded on Tuesday, anyway: “Injustice has a source, a loan has a lender” (冤有头,债有主).

2. China wants North Korea to shut up

That’s because North Korea wanted South Korean loudspeakers to shut up. That has now happened, but on Monday, the loudspeaker crisis wasn’t yet resolved, and that was terrible, because South Korean president Park Geun-hye considered to stay at home in Seoul, due to the bad political weather on the Korean peninsula, rather than attending the PLA military parade on September 3.

Korean tensions won’t take China hostage, announced the “Global Times”, the quasi-Chinese parallel universe for foreigners who don’t understand Chinese, suspecting that certain forces in Pyongyang, Seoul, or outside the peninsula are gambling on this. Sino-NK compares the article in English and its – somewhat different – Chinese original.

The anger was actually understandable, as sino-narcissistic as it may have been. After all, Park’s attendance – now (re)confirmed – lends a lot of face to the parade of an army which actually had comparatively little to do with the defeat of Japanese imperialism, as Taiwanese president (and former KMT chairman) Ma Ying-jeou pointed out last month.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon can hardly be considered one of the certain forces in Pyongyang, Seoul, or outside the peninsula anyway. According to Reuters, citing Xinhua, he has defended his trip to Beijing next week to watch a military parade marking the end of World War Two following concern from Japan. Ban is scheduled to attend the sublime distortion of history, too.

Ban defended his planned attendance in Beijing next week after Japan’s foreign ministry had sent a message to the United Nations, saying that the events draw attention to the past for no purpose and that the United Nations should remain neutral, and a senior ministry official expressed strong dissatisfaction with Ban’s plan to observe the military parade in Tiananmen Square.

Tokyo’s top diplomats apparently felt an urgent need to prove that you don’t need to be Xinhua to talk like a wide-mouth frog.

3. China wants to cast off Western Linguistic Manipulation

This is what Huanqiu Shibao, translated and quoted by Fei Chang Dao, actually meant in its editorial on Thursday: a need to cast off Western linguistic manipulations and steer clear of the linguistic traps that they set when it comes to democratic concepts. CCP democratic practice proves that most “lingustic traps” are digital these days.

4. India is a Victim of such Manipulation

No, Mao Siwei, a former consul-general to Kolkata, doesn’t say that. He only suggests that India’s political system has (or leads to) problems, with all important legislation stalled in parliament. And he doesn’t even say that. He only quotes a Times of India editorial that says so.

5. How Marco Rubio would “deal with China”

On the basis of strength and example, of course, like any presidential candidate, prior to entering the White House and inheriting his predecessors desk (and files). Marco Rubio‘s first goal – repeat: first goal – would be to restore America’s strategic advantage in the Pacific. How so? By restoring the Pentagon’s budget to its appropriate level, of course:

This will allow us to neutralize China’s rapidly growing capabilities in every strategic realm, including air, sea, ground, cyber space and even outer space.


I will also promote collaboration among our allies, as America cannot and need not bear the full burden of counterbalancing China’s power.

Well, some of them will be in Beijing on Thursday, saying Hello to the victorious “People’s Liberation Army”. Maybe Rubio should first ask America’s quasi-allies in East Asia what they are going to spend on their countries’ military. Hegemony is unsustainable. Partnership might work.

6. Contested Economist Obituary of Tashi Tsering

The Economist published an obituary on Tashi on December 20 last year, and Woeser, who apparently furnished the news magazine with a photo taken by her husband Wang Lixiong ten years earlier, took issue with several points of the article. A few days after the Economist’s publication, she had recorded her objections. High Peaks Pure Earth offers an English translation. (Btw, Woeser also unveils the identity of the author of the Economist’s obituary – as a rule, authors remain anonymous there. The Economist explains why.)

7. Women can’t keep a Secret secret

Hilary Clinton can’t, Woeser can’t (see previous note, re the Economist’s Tashi Tsering obituary and its now uncovered author), and nor can Ambassador Caroline Kennedy.

Anyway, who cares. In the digital age, secrets are rapidly going out of fashion.

8. No “Russia Today” Rep Office in Latvia

According to Delfi, a Baltic online publication quoted by Euromaidan Press, the Latvian Registry of Enterprises denied permission to RT, saying that “the documents submitted by Russia Today contradict the Constitution of Latvia as well as several other laws”. Seconding the decision, the National Council of Electronic Media in Latvia reportedly alleged that the goal of the Russia Today Russian state news agency is to spread biased information in the information space to support the interests of Russia’s foreign policy.

A People’s Daily article in April suggested that the European Union was on the defensive in a “propaganda war” with Russia.

A rapid-response team to counter the destabilizing influence of Russian propaganda is now being established by the European Service of Foreign Affairs, writes Euromaidan Press.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ma Ying-jeou: “A Considerable Threat Continues to Exist in the Taiwan Strait”

Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou spoke about cross-strait relations in an interview with the BBC‘s Carrie Gracie this month. There is a three-minutes’ video on youtube, and Radio Taiwan International‘s (RTI) Chinese service has a transcript of the interview.

I have based my following translation – not necessarily accurate – on the RTI transcript. Links with in the following Q & A were inserted during translation.


[Asked what his feelings are about China being both an important trading partner and a cause of security threats]

A: We are only some 100 nautical miles away from mainland China, and to us, China is a big risk risk, and also a big opportunity. Any leader of the Republic of China should learn to reduce risks and to expand opportunities, and what I have done during the past seven years is exactly that.


Our economic relations with mainland China, (language and culture), coincide in fairly many ways, while the developmental stages of both sides aren’t identical. Over the past decades, our trade volume with mainland China has continuously risen, and our trade surplus has been huge. The goods we sell to mainland China can be processed further there, be sold to Europe and North America, and this stage has been of mutual benefit in the past.


Of course, mainland Chinese threats stem from the military and the political field, and some people believe that deepening trade and investment relations with mainland China leads to excessive dependence on mainland China. To consider and weigh political and military threats, the mode our government adopted has been to find some consensus that is acceptable to both sides, and to shelve differences. In terms of the economy and trade, obviously, Taiwan can’t avoid some dependence on mainland China, but since I took office, dependence on mainland China has actually decreased, because the government has started the work of market diversification, leading to Taiwan’s trade dependence on mainland China not increasing further, but rather slightly decreasing.


[Asked if he believes that China is moving towards democratization, in a long-term trend]


A: During the past few years, I have constantly reminded the mainland Chinese authorities that if you want to narrow the psychological gap between the Taiwanese and the mainland Chinese people, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, these core values of Taiwan, are important factors.  If mainland China were more active concerning these issues, the distance could be narrowed, but also, if there wouldn’t be more positive activity, the distance could also widen. In the past few years, the trends and changes in the psychological gap have also clearly reflected the actual attitude of mainland Chinese authorities in recent years.


On these issues, mainland China has seen good and bad times, sometimes somewhat better, sometimes worsening somewhat, thus remaining in a state of uncertainty.

When I was running for re-election four years ago, mainland Chinese people were able to watch our elections on the internet, which was unprecedented. But recently, we have also seen many arrests of human rights activists, making everyone feel worried about mainland China’s human rights situation. Therefore, the feelings their situation causes us are sometimes good, sometimes bad.


[Asked if he feels angry about not having had an opportunity to met Xi Jinping after his efforts to improve relations]

A: Since I assumed office, one can say that cross-strait relations have improved, no matter if we look at economic aspects, cultural aspects, etc.. Therefore, a meeting between the leaders of the two sides would be a natural thing.  During the last two years, we have thought about the APEC summits as an opportunity to meet, but always without success, and of course, that’s a pity. Our current position is to neither rule a meeting out, nor to insist.


[Asked if he thinks that not to meet is Xi Jinping’s personal decision, taken from a too arbitrary  (過於獨斷) position]

A: We don’t know their decision-making process, of course, but certainly, the final decision lies with Mr. Xi. Maybe some of our views just differ, because we feel that in the process of developing cross-strait relations, some encounters on international occasions are unavoidable, but mainland Chinese leaders may try their best not to appear with us on international occasions, as they worry this could be against the so-called “One-China policy”. But what I would like to emphasize is that we have said clearly on many occasions that when we reached the “1992 consensus”, it just meant that the two parties both maintain the “One-China principle”, but the meaning we give to it is not identical. Only with this flexibility, the two parties can establish better relations. However, once it comes to international occasions, mainland China remains very unflexible in this regard.


[Asked if Xi Jinping’s statement that the cross-strait issue couldn’t be dragged from generation to generation constitutes a threat to Taiwan]

A: I believe that this way of putting it, makes things look as if they had been delayed for a long time. In fact, the two sides having relatively close and friendly relations has only been going on for these seven years. I often say that seven years can’t count as a generation. Patient handling is required. The two sides have been apart for more than sixty years. The atmosphere can’t be changed over night. We believe that cross-strait relations should be promoted patiently and diligently, to let the fruits gradually emerge.


In fact, the fruits brought about by the cross-strait relations’ development during the past seven years have already surpassed those of the previous fifty years which is very fast, but in the view of the Taiwanese people, they do not wish to move too quickly but to gradually achieve the goal of improved relations.


[Asked if recent mainland Chinese military exercises and their use of the Republic of China’s presidential palace as an imaginary target made him feel uneasy]

A: According to intelligence we’ve collected in the past, they have used mock objects for simulated attacks for a long time. When we conduct military exercises, we also put out defense against such designs. [Mainland Chinese] action of this kind just reminds us that in the Taiwan Strait, in the military field, a considerable threat continues to exist, against which we must prepare.


[Asked if the threat against Taiwan doesn’t rise with mainland Chinese military and economic strength]

A: In fact, the balance across the Taiwan Strait, in military terms, has tilted in favor of mainland China, beginning in 2005. Because very year, at a pace of double-digit numbers, and even at a pace of twenty per cent, they increase their national defense budget. It would be difficult for us to engage in an arms race with the mainland in this regard. Therefore, our principle in defense combat is to create a bilateral situation in which any party that wants to use one-sided, non-peaceful means to change the status quo must pay a price it doesn’t want to pay. That’s the only feasible major principle to prevent a cross-strait military conflict. Peace and prosperity have always been the goals of our efforts.


What I mean is that cross-strait relations exist into all kinds of directions. As for military threats, we must think about ways to reduce them, but in non-military fields, we also want to think about ways to increase them. Therefore, in our dealings with mainland China, we will always see these different directions.


What we prepare for our annual Han Kuang military exercises is just that kind of defense operations, and we have exactly these points in the Han Kuang military exercises. I’m sorry that we can’t disclose these to you. I can’t disclose related details, but we do prepare for conflict scenarios.


[Asked if he feels unsatisfied with this.]

A: Of course.


[Asked if given mainland Chinese military budget increases, and American strategic ambiguity concerning Taiwan, America shouldn’t be more clear about its attitude towards Taiwan, or guarantee support for Taiwan under certain circumstances – and if Obama would be in a position to do this]

A: As for America, the “Taiwan Relations Act” regulations are plain. Of course, we cannot rely on American law and regulations, but on our own preparedness. And our preparations aren’t just about adopting defense measures, but we should, by means of politics and cross-strait relations, eliminate chances for this situation [of military conflict] to occur. Therefore, as for the Taiwanese defense lines against mainland China that I’ve just mentioned, the first line is not about aircraft and artillery, but about reconciliation [or amicable settlement], and thus reducing the risk of conflict erupting, and only this is one of the highest strategies. This is also exactly what Sunzi’s “Art of War” means when saying that  the highest form of generalship is to balk [or counter-attack] the enemy’s plans”.


[Pressed on whether he would hope for a clear American presidential defense statement in favor of Taiwan if attacked by mainland China]

A: In fact, this problem has always existed during the past sixty years. But during the past seven years, America didn’t need to issue these statements, but could also make the Taiwan Strait maintain peace. The most important key is that this risk is reduced after improving relations with mainland China. The official in charge of cross-strait relations in the U.S. State Department has repeatedly reiterated that stable development of cross-strait relations is an important factor of maintaining constructive relations with Taiwan. In other words, simply relying on America to come to our help to fight this battle. Rather, by lowering this risk to the lowest possible level, by reducing the risk of conflict to a minimum, that’s the highest strategy, and also exactly about “balking the enemy’s plans”.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

JR’s Press Review (Europe): Resignation, Self-Pity, Defiant Pride, Public Diplomacy

A wave of hatred against Germans is rolling through Europe, writes Germany’s Die Welt, a (comparatively) conservative paper. In an article published on Sunday, its European correspondent calls on Germans to learn from Britain how to handle hatred from others. It doesn’t work, the correspondent suggests, “to pay still more” (Wir können uns also zerknirscht an die Brust schlagen, weil wir nicht noch viel mehr bezahlen).

Hang on – how much have we paid yet? How much have we earned from Euroland? And who is we?

Obviously, no propaganda will work without some aspects of truth, but it has to be far-fetched if you want to argue like Die Welt: for example, it is true that the storm in “social media” about Angela Merkel comforting a teenage refugee, but keeping to her party line all the same, was silly. (But why mention this when Greece is the topic?)

It is also correct to point out that other countries welcome a German scapegoat so as to deflect criticism on failed policies at home.

But to be kind of convincing, Die Welt shouldn’t talk the same talk as those it tries to criticize. Yes, painting Germany as “nazi”, as is done by some of Germany’s critics, is propaganda. But what hurts German elites is hardly the crude message itself. You don’t become a top politican or press man if you take this kind of stuff to heart. The effectiveness of the message is their real problem. Die Welt is now painting Germans who keep to the – once near-unanimous – idea that a European Union must be a union of equals as wussies who can’t handle their world-war-two guilt complex. That move is as stupid as painting Wolfgang Schäuble with that moustache.

The Tagesspiegel reminds its readers of a message by German federal president Joachim Gauck from the Munich Security Conference in 2014, when Gauck allegedly said that Germans needed to “grow up” (Erwachsenwerden). That too was in a different context – more military engagement. Gauck didn’t even talk about growing up. But the word was used in many press interpretations of the speech, and the Tagesspiegel appears to have become used to it.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung tries a kind of constructive approach: “How Germany can improve its image”. More public diplomacy is needed, the paper quotes experts. More and more countries would otherwise distance themselves from the concept of a united Europe.

Maybe some public diplomacy at home wouldn’t hurt, for a start. If you have one foreign, and one domestic message, it won’t work either way. The problem is that clichés, rather than facts and causes, rule the debate. To some extent, this kind of press may actually satisfy the readership, or at least meet an existing demand. But above all, it saves the press from the need to discuss real issues.



Swiss paper 20 Minuten (online) linked to all the above three German press articles yesterday, plus the Guardian, and La Stampa. “Social media” get a mention. 20 Minuten tries to keep neutral, calling the Hashtags #BoycottGermany and #ThisIsACoup “more poisionous” than the British and Italian press samples, but also referring to some German reaction patterns as resignation, self-pity, and defiant pride.



» Growth all but impossible, M Pettis, Febr 25, 2015


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

This is a Coup

This is a coup d’état – against democracy in Greece, and against democracy all over Europe.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The BoZhu Interviews: If you want to Believe the Best or the Worst about China, it’s easy enough –

Ji Xiang about getting started with China, stereotypes, and finding a balance between Chinese and Western ways of life.

Ji Xiang is a blogger from Europe who lives in China. In his first blog post, in 2008, he explained how he got his Chinese name. And he is probably one of very few foreign China bloggers who started blogging almost right on arrival in the country, and have kept to the habit ever since.

Q: Ji Xiang, you are Chinese by name, but you are actually from Europe, right?

That’s right. My mom’s British, and my dad’s Italian. I grew up in Italy, although I have also lived in Britain. It’s not too obvious unless you look at my blog very carefully though. Interestingly, some of my readers have assumed I was American in the past.

Q: Could that be because your stance comes across as more “pro-Western” than that of most sinologists or Westerners who speak Chinese? It seems to me that both Foarp and you stand out as rather critical of what might be called “cultural relativism”, or a preparedness to find human rights violations tolerable because of a country’s culture, a “situation on the ground”, etc.

Well, I’m not sure if that makes you seem more like an American or not. Foarp is after all British. But to be honest, I think a lot of Westerners who speak Chinese have the same sort of opinions as I do. I don’t think of myself as “pro-Western” really, I am quite aware of all the bad things Western countries have done around the world, and the shortcomings of the “West” (if there really is such a thing as the West. But that’s another debate). But that doesn’t necessarily mean being pro-Chinese.

When it comes to human rights violations, I don’t really buy cultural justifications. I mean, East Asian countries like Japan and South Korea have created systems where basic human rights are respected, so it obviously isn’t only Western countries which can reach that point. The argument that human rights have to be put aside when a country is still poor and developing is more complicated. I think certain basic rights, like the right not to disappear, be tortured or speak your mind without going to jail, should be respected, and I don’t think the right to have a full belly clashes with these other rights.

There might however be a good argument for not holding elections in countries where most of the people are illiterate, or divided along ethnic or tribal lines. Say in Yemen or Burkina Faso. Even in Arab countries, it is clear that elections often bring religious fundamentalists to power.

Q: You went to China as a teacher in 2005, and came back to the country as a student. How did you get interested in China? You’ve spent a number of years there now, haven’t you?

I actually taught in China in 2004, and that was just for a summer. I then went back to China because I got a scholarship to get a master’s degree there. I have spent over six years in China by now.

Q: Was 2008 a good time to start a blog? You might have started one in 2005, the heydays of the (English-language) “Chinese blogosphere”. Was there a key moment where you felt that you should share your experiences, which got your blog started?

Well in 2005 I didn’t live in China, and had only spent a few months there. I had no basis for writing a blog about it. I only discovered recently that that was supposed to be the heyday of the “Chinese blogosphere”. Pity I missed it. I started my blog when I started living in China full-time. In the beginning, it was mainly to share my experiences with my family and friends back home. Now it’s turned more into a blog of commentary about China.

Q: Do the statistics or feedback give you an idea about who your readers are?

A bit. Most of my hits are from the United States, but I think that might be to do with the fact that most of the VPNs people use in China redirect there. Curiously, I also seem to have a lot of readers from Germany, Ukraine and Russia (well, you are one of the ones from Germany). Other than that, my most read posts are the ones with titles which people can come across randomly on Google.

Q: Apart from the blogs your blogroll, are there others – about China or other countries and topics – that you read regularly?

To be honest, not really. I mostly look at those few blogs on China which are on my blogroll (which includes your one). And there is my uncle’s blog, he lives in Israel and blogs about his life there and Israeli topics.

Q: Did family history contribute to your interest in China?

Not really. I don’t have any relatives who have lived or live in China. Having said that, the first time I came to China was with my parents. They are active in the international Esperanto movement, and in 2004 the World Esperanto Congress was in Beijing, so they were going to China to attend it and I went with them. That’s when I first got interested in China. Being able to speak Esperanto helped plug me in to the community of Chinese Esperanto speakers, which has been a nice way to get to know some cool, unusual Chinese people.

Q: Most bloggers will sometimes be surprised by the responses a post of them triggers. Have there been reactions and comments that surprised you during the past seven years?

After visiting Vietnam, I wrote a post on why the Vietnamese dislike China. It got quite a few reactions from Vietnamese readers, most of them proving my original point. One of them actually claimed that Daoism, the I Ching and the idea of Ying/Yang originally came from Vietnam and not from China. Total nonsense as far as I know. Unfortunately unreasonable nationalism is widespread throughout Asia. At its basis lies a wall of mental rigidity and misinformation which is very hard to break through.  Then again, Europe was probably similar up until the Second World War. And Westerners have their own unreasonable prejudices, just look at the persistence of antisemitic tropes among some people, or how so many Europeans will complain that immigrants get more benefits from the state than locals even when it just isn’t true.

Q: It seems that you’ve got most of your Chinese education in the North. Is that so, and do you think it differs from learning Chinese language, ways of interaction, etc., in the South?

You are correct. Although I’ve traveled all over China, I live in Beijing. It’s a stereotype to say that the North is best for learning to speak Mandarin, but actually I think you can learn just as well in most big Southern cities, because nowadays most people speak it there too. I think the Southern Chinese do tend to be a bit more like we imagine the Chinese to be (quiet, indirect, reserved), but in the main I don’t think the cultural difference between Northern and Southern China is that huge. It might not even be as big as the one between Northern and Southern Italy! Whether you live in a small or a big city, and a rich or a poor part of China, probably makes more difference to your experience. But I’ve never lived in Southern China, so I stand to be corrected.

Q: How would you describe your daily life? Is it becoming still more “Chinese”, concerning your choice of food, newspapers, internet sources, or television?

In some ways I am, and in some ways I’m not. I would say that my lifestyle has stopped becoming more Chinese for a while. In fact, after an initial enthusiasm for “going native”, which many foreigners have at first, I think I have found a balance. In a city like Beijing you can find loads of foreign amenities, and it would be silly not to make use of them. On the other hand I wouldn’t want to live in a bubble like some expats do. It really comes down to who you hang out with, and I still hang out with lots of Chinese.

When it comes to food I am pretty Chinese: I like eating Chinese food when it’s properly made, and I even do my best to cook it at home. I have long stopped eating street food or patronizing cheap, hole-in-the-wall type places though, because of concerns about the hygiene and the quality. Many Chinese seem to have come to the same conclusion. Foreigners who pride themselves on being able to eat in such places without minding the consequences are either young foreign-exchange students, or they are pretty dimwitted.

When it comes to media, I still look at Chinese newspapers every now and again to see what they say, but for real news I mostly turn to foreign sources. Of course the language is one issue (it is obviously still much quicker for me to read in English or Italian), but also I think the European media is just superior in terms of giving you a decent picture of what goes on in the world, and, when it comes to sensitive issues, even in China! Same for entertainment: although I sometimes watch Chinese shows and films, in the main I still watch far more foreign ones. I make full use of Chinese internet sites like Baidu or Weibo though.

Q: Do you see changes on Weibo, in terms of real-name requirement, censorship, etc.?

When I got an account in 2011, it still wasn’t necessary to give your ID/passport number. As far as I know now it is, although I have heard you can still get away with giving a false one. In any case, I am sure that if they really want to they can find out who you are.

Q: Generally, when reading your blog, I got an impression overtime that you might think of China as a project, as a country or civilization headed into a rather benign future, compared with Western societies. And on the other hand, your criicism of China, or its political system, sounds pretty much like the general global criticism of it. Is this an accurate impression?

I’m not entirely sure where you got that impression from. I have unquestionably been getting more pessimistic about China, its system and its prospects over the last few years. I think to an extent the current system is geared in such a way that China always gives the impression to outsiders that it’s almost on the cusp of becoming a decent, progressive, modern and confident society, but then it never quite does. I think the political system is good at producing GDP growth, but pretty hopeless at solving the country’s huge social problems. Yes, China has more and more subways and high speed railways, and that’s useful and good for the people, but surely a country like China could do so much better than just that?

I hope China gets better with time, but I don’t think it’s a given that, if you wait 20 or 30 years, it’s all going to be much better. That’s how a lot of Chinese seem to think: just wait a few decades, and everything will solve itself. Unfortunately it’s not that simple.

I think my criticism is also a bit different from that of someone who’s never lived in China, because I am far more aware of aspects like the rise of Chinese nationalism, which many foreign commentators seem blissfully unaware of.

Q: That unawareness seems to be quite a phenomenon. This is what Bruce Anderson (himself not necessarily a human-rights champion) said about Edward Heath, in a BBC radio documentary. Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt might be another case in point.

Is there something Russia (for example) could learn from China, in terms of soothing external propaganda, or winning influential people over abroad?

Well, Chinese officials certainly are very good at flattering foreign visitors, saying the right things to them, and appearing reasonable and friendly. I don’t have much experience with the Russians, but I doubt they are as good at it. It’s probably not something you can learn either, it’s deep-rooted in the culture.

You have to remember that most Westerners know little about China, and obviously want to be open-minded. The unawareness of the rise of Chinese nationalism probably also lies in the fact that China does tend to leave other countries alone, as long they don’t have any territorial disputes with China of course, and as long as they don’t express any views on what China defines as its “internal affairs”. Of course China’s neighbours are very aware of its nationalistic side, especially the ones which have territorial disputes with it. But people in other parts of the world don’t get to see this side of things. And its not obvious to the casual visitor either.

The European media also focuses too much on the Middle East and almost never talks about Asia’s potentially explosive problems, like the dispute in the South China Sea and the anti-Japanese feeling in China or Korea. The only thing they ever talk about is the issue of Tibet, which has certainly damaged China’s image.

Then again, the real issue is one of projection. Many left-wing Westerners are predisposed to think well of any power which challenges the United States anywhere, regardless of what it really is or does. If you want to believe the best about China (or the worst for that matter), and you don’t live there, it’s easy enough. Right wingers on the other hand may see China’s rise as a vindication of free market economics, or god knows what. Everyone sees what they want to see in China, and no one knows much about it. This has always been the case.

Q: Do you have arguments with Chinese nationalists?

Well, in a sense I do, because I have political arguments with people in China, and most Chinese are nationalists at some level, although the level varies. The level of open-mindedness towards opinions which clash with modern Chinese nationalism, as the schools and media have constructed it, also varies. I know many Mainlanders who are perfectly open minded even about issues like Taiwan, and don’t just toe the line. I think they are a minority however. And by the way, they aren’t necessarily the people with most international exposure. On the other hand if you are talking about dyed-in-the-wool fenqing, rational debate is all but impossible.

Q: You have blogged in English for nearly seven years, and quite recently, you have also started a blog in Italian. What’s next? A blog in Chinese?

My written Chinese is really not good enough to blog in it. I would actually be more likely to start a blog in Esperanto, a language I also speak.

Q: Ji Xiang, thanks a lot for this interview.

The interview was conducted by an exchange of e-mails.



All BoZhu Interviews



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