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>

Berkeley-Stanford Grad Conference 2018–cfp

Call for Proposals for the Berkeley-Stanford Graduate Student Conference in Modern Chinese Humanities, 2018
Proposals/bios due: November 16, 2017 (5:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time)

To apply, submit a single-spaced 300-word paper proposal and short bio at: https://web.stanford.edu/ dept/ CEAS/Berkistan2018application.fb

Currently enrolled graduate students are invited to submit paper proposals for the Berkeley-Stanford Graduate Conference in Modern Chinese Humanities, to be held April 13-14, 2018 at the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Conference registration is free. Presenters will be provided with shared lodging, Friday dinner, and Saturday lunch. Partial travel assistance may be available. Continue reading

Plastic China review

Source: China Film Insider (7/28/17)
Film Review: Plastic China
By Jonathan Landreth

Grade A+

There’s a strong temptation to suggest a matinee screening of director Wang Jiuliang’s stunning documentary Plastic China [塑料王国]. Its implications are so dark that viewers would do well to exit the theater into the daylight and thank their lucky stars that life is better for them than it appears to be for the family of migrant workers at the center of this brave film.

The film revolves around the lives of seven humans just scraping by at a stinking mom-and-pop factory sorting waste imported from the West for recycling. All the heaviness of hardscrabble poverty is there in stark, uncomfortable relief, and yet this un-narrated, stripped-down non-fiction testament to our environmental challenge is a must-see. Continue reading

Free and Easy review

Source: China Film Insider (8/2/17)
Film Review: Free and Easy
BY JONATHAN LANDRETH

‘Free and Easy.’ Photo: Official film still.

Grade: A-

Set in a nearly deserted factory town in China’s frigid northeast, veteran director Geng Jun’s film Free and Easy [轻松+愉快] is a slow and hauntingly surreal police procedural with spiritual overtones that takes a darkly comic look at the role fear plays in shaping human behavior.

The main cast of misfits include a wall-eyed petty thief posing as a soap salesman, a con man in monk’s robes, and a pair of two-bit bully-policemen. These fellows are, by turns, all trying to scam the townspeople, or get over on one another—or they are trying to catch one another in the act, not out of any sense of morality or duty but rather to get ahead, selfishly. Continue reading

Grammy boss knuckles under China censors

Singers to keep their mouth shut after another US outfit kowtows to the censors. Magnus Fiskesjö, nf42@cornell.edu (ps, on Bieber, see https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2017/07/24/commentary/world-commentary/beijing-watching-justin-bieber/ )

Source: Japan Times (8/4/17)
Grammys boss knuckles under China censors as show readies tour
Reuters. Aug 4, 2017

Neil Portnow (left), president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and Bravo Entertainment CEO Steven Fock attend a ceremony in Beijing on Thursday marking the start of a partnership to create the Grammy Festival China. | REUTERS

BEIJING – The Grammys is looking to break into China, but it will have to do so without the help of some of its top stars — Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, among others — after it pledged to bring only well-behaved artists to meet Chinese censors’ demands.

Lady Gaga, plus Bjork and Bon Jovi, are blocked in China after they met or expressed support for the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. China recently blacklisted Canadian star Bieber, citing bad behavior. Continue reading

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.

Wolf Warrior 2

Source: BBC News (8/4/17)
Wolf Warrior 2: The nationalist action film storming China
By Beijing bureau, BBC News

Official promotional image for Chinese film Wolf Warrior 2

WOLF WARRIOR 2: The movie, directed by and starring action film star Wu Jing, has a decidedly patriotic tone

“Anyone who offends China will be killed no matter how far the target is.”

That is the tagline for Wolf Warriors 2, the Chinese box office hit that is equal parts testosterone-fuelled machismo – think blazing guns, explosions, and tanks – and chest-thumping Chinese patriotism.

It sees a soldier venturing into an African warzone and saving hundreds of lives from Western baddies. It’s basically the plot of your typical Hollywood action movie, but this time it’s a Chinese man upholding justice and keeping the world safe. Continue reading

Interview with Tammy Ho Lai-Ming

Source: Writing Chinese (8/1/17)
Interview: Tammy Ho Lai-Ming

Our Bookclub Author of the Month for August 2017 is Tammy Ho Lai-Ming. Find out more about Tammy and work, and read three of her poems on our Bookclub page here. We’re delighted that Tammy has taken the time out of her extremely busy schedule to answer some of our questions!

Tell us more about your writing – have you always written in English? 

When I was at school, I wrote poems and stories in Chinese. They had hardly any literary merit; they were just silly little nothings, scribblings. I did write a novella, following the style of Xi Xi’s A Girl Like Me, in Chinese. But the hand-written manuscript—the only copy I had—is long lost. I vaguely remember the story, which is about a bored Hong Kong girl working in a stifling office and her fanciful dreams, which are in fact quite modest. Continue reading

Massive peer-reviewed fraud

Source: Science (7/31/17)
China cracks down after investigation finds massive peer-review fraud
By Dennis Normile

Springer retracted 107 papers from Tumor Biology in April. Emily Petersen

A massive peer-review fraud has triggered a tough response from the Chinese government. Officials last week announced that more than 400 researchers listed as authors on some 100 now-retracted papers will face disciplinary action because their misconduct has seriously damaged China’s scientific reputation.

Some institutions have barred the scientists linked to the fraud from pursuing their research—at least temporarily. And they have imposed other penalties, including canceling promotions, honors, and grants. Government ministries have also announced new “zero tolerance” policies aimed at stamping out research fraud. “We should eradicate the problem from its roots,” said He Defang, director of the Ministry of Science and Technology’s (MOST’s) regulatory division in Beijing. Continue reading

Why China’s AI push is worrying

I think we need a lot more research on what China and other authoritarian anti-democratic states are doing with AI, and other such new tools for the control and subjugation of people, and, what are the implications inside and outside China. What’s the good research that has been done so far? including on the collusion by Western companies, and indeed similar developments in Western countries? Magnus Fiskesjö <nf42@cornell.edu>

Source: The Economist (7/27/17)
Why China’s AI push is worrying: State-controlled corporations are developing powerful artificial intelligence

IMAGINE the perfect environment for developing artificial intelligence (AI). The ingredients would include masses of processing power, lots of computer-science boffins, a torrent of capital—and abundant data with which to train machines to recognise and respond to patterns. That environment might sound like a fair description of America, the current leader in the field. But in some respects it is truer still of China. Continue reading

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

Chinese threat to Australian openness

Source: NYT (7/31/17)
The Opinion Pages: OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
A Chinese Threat to Australian Openness
By MERRIDEN VARRALL

Students in a university classroom in Beijing. Credit in Pictures Ltd./Corbis, via Getty Images

SYDNEY, Australia — Australians are increasingly concerned about China’s growing influence in the country. Chinese money is being funneled to politicians. Beijing-run media outlets buy ads in Australian newspapers to promote the Communist Party view on local and regional issues. Chinese companies are buying Australian farms and natural resources.

The push extends to Australia’s universities. Chinese agents are said to monitor Chinese students and report on those who fail to toe the Communist Party line. And in another troubling trend, many of the 150,000 visiting Chinese students are importing a pro-Beijing approach to the classroom that is stifling debate and openness. Continue reading