Why anyone can be Chinese (4)

An observation: There’s semantic, conceptual, and historical confusion in this. The conflation of China and empire underscores the regrettable tendency in Western scholarship to understand non-Western experiences only in terms of their own historical experiences and concepts. 

First, semantics: Rome had an emperor, an empire, and colonies; they were called that. China had a  皇帝, so it had a huangdinate, just like Ottoman was a Sultanate. Unfortunately, owing to the Western dominance of knowledge since the Enlightenment  — Said called it Orientalism, I believe — all pre-modern polities that came after the Romans, whether in the West or non-West, were labelled  Empire and Emperor. It is more accurate to say that China/Zhongguo was a Huangdinate, a grounded tributary system, which was a phenomenon that was global and that accounted for the existence of a multi-civilisational world at the time. The West had its own in the form of its feudal system. All were internally parochial systems.

Second, conceptual and historical: But if we are to overlook the semantic confusion and allow that China was an empire that went about conquering the world, we would today be conversing in some dialect of Chinese and the predominant worldview would be neo-Confucian/Daoist/Buddhist. But that is not the case, not now or the past 150 years at least: English remains the universal language, French, the language of diplomacy, most of the prominent languages have been derivatives of Latin etc, and the preponderant worldview is Liberalism. Why? That’s where history comes in. 

From European feudalism emerged what can be designated Euro-modernism, a cultural form that was let loose on the world and conquered it. In short, it established an empire in the true sense of the word. If you take a look around its predations continue, unabated, putting at risk the entire fate of humanity. Its influence is why we converse in English; why the preponderant worldview is liberalism, not Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism etc. The world went from multi-civilisational to mono-civilisational to unipolar. Of course, it seems like this uni-polarity is today crumbling and we could be headed towards a multi-polar world order again, but if we are to talk of empire, is this not at least where we should begin?

I don’t know Bell’s work well but from what little I have read, he should be applauded for having the courage to urge his colleagues re-visit what they already think they know.

Tung-yi Kho <kho.tungyi@yahoo.com>

Why anyone can be Chinese (3)

A few thoughts to add to the mix.

On Daniel Bell: To me, Daniel Bell seems like a cottage industry of finding virtue in “China” by any means necessary. So, even if China today obviously, by most counts, is an increasingly chauvinistic and narrow-nationalistic country, he harks back to the imperial era when ethnicity was indeed less relevant or salient (as is typically the case in empires!), and suggests that stance is, or should be, more true of China the eternal. I think he completely misses things like 1, empire; and 2, the profound impact of the modern ideas of nationalism and racism on modern China, an empire awkwardly re-cast as nation, today joining the new global trend of inwardlooking nationalism.

(One side of the Tiananmen gate has the text “Long live the unity of the world’s people” (世界人民大团结万岁), — I wonder how long it will be before it is taken down, — it does not fit with today’s dominant nationalism).

And so the whole thing comes across as an exercise in wishful thinking (something like his earlier effort to declare China the ultimate laudable “meritocracy” — for a review of that effort, read: http://insidestory.org.au/the-qing-is-dead-long-live-the-qing). Continue reading

Encyclopedia of ethnic groups

Source: China Daily (8/4/17)
China publishes first encyclopedia of ethnic groups
By Xinhua

China publishes first encyclopedia of ethnic groups

The first encyclopedia of China’s 56 ethnic groups. [Photo/Xinhua]

China has published its first encyclopedia of its 56 ethnic groups.

The 15-volume encyclopedia has more than 45,000 entries and 6,400 color images. It deals mainly with the history, politics, military, religions and customs of the ethnic groups.

The Han ethnic group makes up around 91 percent of the total population, according to the 2010 census.

Some 1,000 researchers have been involved in compiling the encyclopedia since 1997, according to the editor-in-chief Li Dezhu.

Late ethnologist Fei Xiaotong, also honorary editor-in-chief, said in the foreword that the book will open a window for the world to understand China’s ethnic groups.

Fei passed away in 2005.

China’s made-up masculinity crisis (1)

RE: 男孩危機: “To prepare for the examinations a boy began at age seven or so and in about six years memorized the 4 books and 5 classics, which totaled 431,000 characters…memoriz[ing] a passage of 200 characters a day…The examination system took a man over a dozen hurdles in the space of 20 or 30 years.  Those who emerged from it had lived an examination life so concentrated on the classical literature that they had made themselves a race apart.  Scholars were typically unmuscular, aesthetically refined, and spoke a language intelligible only to their kind, a small elite trained in the principles of bureaucratic government” (Fairbank, The Great Chinese Revolution: 1800-1985: 28, 27).

Nick Kaldis <nkaldis@gmail.com>

Middle class with new characteristics

Source: Sixth Tone (8/1/17)
China’s Middle Class Comes With New Characteristics
Recent report looks beyond numbers to define an evolving social stratum.
By Lin Qiqing

A young woman drinks a glass of wine while looking out the window of her apartment in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, June 13, 2015. Chen Ronghui/Sixth Tone

There’s now an alternative answer to the question of what constitutes “middle class” in China.

The country’s emerging middle class is urban, well-educated, born in the 1980s, and — most importantly — living an indulgent, modern lifestyle, according to a report published Monday on Channel Wu, a WeMedia account run by financial writer Wu Xiaobo that arrived at this definition after surveying more than 20,000 people. Continue reading

China’s made-up masculinity crisis

Source: Sixth Tone (7/30/17)
‘Save Our Boys’: China’s Made-up Masculinity Crisis
Critics, parents, and educators all claim that China’s schoolboys aren’t manly enough, without seeing the gender bias in their arguments.
By Zeng Yuli (Zeng Yuli is a freelance writer focusing on Chinese youth culture)

Students take part in eye exercises at a high school classroom in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, June 4, 2007. Xiao En/VCG

China’s annual college entrance examination, the gaokao, took place last month. Although many provincial ministries of education discourage people from drawing attention to the nation’s top scorers, such admonitions cannot completely quash public interest. People are curious about not only the identities of the top scorers, but also gender: Are the girls scoring higher, or the boys?

According to statistics published online, over the last 40 years of gaokao examinations, boys accounted for 56 percent of all top scorers in China’s 31 provinces. At first glance, this would imply that boys generally have the edge over girls. However, if we look at statistics from just the last decade, the proportion of female top scorers jumps to 53 percent, giving them a clear majority. Continue reading

Why anyone can be Chinese (2)

Reality or not, the Chinese themselves tried to redefine Chinese identity as cultural rather then ethnic in attempts to unify the empire. American identity can be mixed with anything, true, but so can other identities in the world. People are born in one place, educated somewhere else, work in a third country, and marry in a fourth. I married into a Chinese family, and my children would be Chinese: couldn’t I share an identity with them?

Naomi Thurston <naomithurston@hotmail.com>

Why anyone can be Chinese (1)

It is interesting that Daniel Bell has brought up this topic. I think he is aware of the reality that Chineseness is defined by the ethnicity more so than the nationality/citizenship, and he just refuses to accept such reality. The meaning of being Chinese, in a non-immigrant country, is vastly different from being Canadian. One can say s/he is Canadian and Irish/Scottish/Chinese at the same time, while the two refers to different aspects of one’s identity. From my understanding, the definition of nationality in any countries except immigrant countries such as US, Canada and Australia is closely tied to heritage and ethnicity. It might not be the reality the author is willing to accept, but I doubt this is likely to change any time soon.

Peng Z <scorpiotide@gmail.com>

Eastern Lightning cult back in the news (1)

Apropos of this topic, List members who translate should be warned that EL church in the US, which goes by several names but is usually based in New York, frequently solicits translation services from our community. They offer very high fees, but the material is anti-science, anti-intellectual, and very much a product of the ideology the group is known for. Cooperating with them would, in my opinion, endanger one’s ethical integrity as well as one’s relationship with China.

Canaan Morse <canaan.morse@gmail.com>

Fake lives in Beijing (1)

Source: Sup China (7/28/17)
Author of hit ‘faking a life in Beijing’ article apologizes, sorta
By Jiayun Feng

As we noted yesterday, the caustic essay “In Beijing, 20 million people are faking a life,” which became a controversial and viral sensation in China in the last few days, also provoked an unusual reprimand from several state media organizations, including the People’s Daily and Xinhua. Now the essay’s author, Zhang Wumao 张五毛, has apologized for not being discreet enough when writing the essay, and begged media “not to magnify my mistake into a matter of principle” in an interview (in Chinese) with The Economic Observer.

“This is an article with many problems. In fact, I didn’t intend to express anything. I was just being contrarian and trying to amuse readers,” Zhang said. “I didn’t realize that I was wrongly contrarian and trying to amuse wrongly. I don’t want to cause more troubles and make anyone upset about it.” Continue reading

Fake lives in Beijing

Source: Sup China (7/28/17)
Xinhua: No fake lives in Beijing
By Jiayun Feng

On July 23, Chinese blogger and novelist Zhang Wumao 张五毛 published an essay titled “In Beijing, 20 million people are faking a life” on WeChat (see a translation including the original Chinese). The article went viral, generating more than 5 million views and nearly 20,000 comments overnight. Although the essay has been scrubbed from the Chinese internet, it has triggered a heated debate and sparked a series of countering articles, including some by state media such as the People’s Daily and Xinhua.

Zhang’s essay is caustically funny. He writes about the alienation of people living in a Beijing that is too big, too polluted and congested, and too expensive. At least for migrants: Zhang writes about rich old Beijingers who have “five apartments under their butts,” while the people from the provinces who do most of the work in the city struggle to afford even a tiny house in the outer suburbs. He also writes about the ongoing teardown of small shops and restaurants — mostly owned by non-locals — and how the years of destruction mean that even old Beijingers don’t really have a home to go back to. The essay ends: Continue reading

Eastern Lightning cult back in news

Source: Sup China (7/28/17)
Eastern Lightning cult back in the news
By Jeremy Goldkorn

On May 28, 2014, five people attacked and killed a woman in a McDonald’s restaurant in a small city in Shandong Province. A bystander filmed the murder on a mobile phone and the footage spread rapidly on the internet.

  • The killers turned out to be members of the Church of Almighty God (全能神 quánnéng shén), also known as Eastern Lightning (东方闪电 dōngfāng shǎndiàn). The organisation is a doomsday cult founded in 1990 by a physics teacher named Zhao Weishan 赵维山 who claimed to have found the female Christ in the form of young woman from northwestern Shaanxi province.
  • The Chinese government banned the church as a cult in 1995; Zhao and his female Chinese Jesus are apparently in exile in the U.S.
  • During the trial of the five McDonald’s murderers, one of the accused said that his group had wanted to convert the victim but they killed her after she refused to tell them her phone number.

Eastern Lightning are in the news again: Chinanews.com reports (in Chinese) on the detention of 18 members of the group in eastern Zhejiang Province, the shutdown of two of their “lairs” (窝点 wōdiǎn), and confiscation of computers and propaganda pamphlets. Sixth Tone has a good summary of the news in English. The cult’s own website is here.

High school pupils make LGBT film

Source: SCMP (7/24/17)
Chinese high school pupils make a film tackling LGBT issues
Team of 37 youngsters produces, directs and stars in movie designed to raise public awareness of ‘widely ignored’ group
By Eva Li

A group of high school students in Beijing has made a film about the life of a transgender boy in a bid to raise public awareness of the issue, local media reported.

The 75-minute production, titled Flee, tells the story of Zhang Wangan, a high school-age boy who thinks of himself as a girl, as he tries to come to terms with his emotions with the help of his friends, Beijing Youth Daily reported. Continue reading

Why anyone can be Chinese

Source: WSJ (7/14/17)
Why Anyone Can Be Chinese
A scholar who’s lived in China for more than two decades argues that Chinese identity should be cultural, not racial
By Daniel A. Bell

Daniel Bell, center, with a group of students earlier this month.

Daniel Bell, center, with a group of students earlier this month. PHOTO: WANG PEI

Who is Chinese? The answer may seem simple at first: a person who looks Chinese.

But imagine a young woman born and brought up in the U.S. Her grandmother is from China, and she happens to have inherited many of her grandmother’s physical traits. She doesn’t speak Chinese or identify in any way with Chinese culture, and she thinks of herself as a proud American. When she is called Chinese, she forcefully rejects the label.

Or consider my own case. Canadian by birth, with Caucasian physical features, I have lived and worked in China for more than two decades, speak the Chinese language, identify with Chinese culture and am now a permanent resident of China. But almost no one considers me Chinese. Continue reading

Why towns lay claim to poets, philosophers, and emperors

Source: SCMP (7/12/17)
Why Chinese towns are so keen to lay claim to poets, philosophers and emperors
By Amy Yan

A temple honouring Liu Bang in Pei county. Photo: Handout

The case is the latest example of towns or counties on the mainland claiming links to famous ancient Chinese figures such as emperors, philosophers or poets as they try to lure investment and tourists.

Feng and Pei county administered by the city of Xuzhou in Jiangsu province have for years laid claim to the Emperor Gaozu, who was born as Liu Bang. He was the first emperor of the Han dynasty (206BC-AD220) and there are buildings and tourist spots linked to Liu in both counties.

Now the city government has ruled on the matter. Continue reading