Category Archives: Asian
I mentioned China’s ethnic and linguistic diversity in a comment on Multi-ethnic communities – history’s lessons on Jim Belshaw’s blog the other day. I referred to the list Wikipedia gives. There is a map there, which I reproduce below. Click to enlarge.
We often forget this complexity, not surprising in such a large area. We also forget that Cantonese, spoken, and Mandarin are mutually incomprehensible, as different as Spanish and English. The Chinese writing system allows, however, written communication between the two, pronounced differently in each case. Some of the other language groups are not Chinese at all.
Unity has always been important to Chinese governments, so while there is a degree of recognition of this diversity at an official level there is strong objection to nationalist aspirations or “separatism” by the minorities, some of which are very large. In Europe many of them would have become separate countries long ago. Traditionally, periods when China has divided into smaller entities are regarded as periods of weakness.
People in China talk of a “cold wind from the north” whenever the Chinese Government (formally/formerly Communist, still “totalitarian”) gets conniptions. They tend to wait out the storm and go, so far as possible, about their own business. There are winds blowing right now, principally over Xinjiang and Urumqi, but also over Chinalco and the “niceties” of foreign investment. Blustering from our opposition doesn’t help much.
Some good background pieces include:
1. John Garnaut in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.
… It is unlikely that the company (Rio Tinto) has created its own specific vulnerabilities to China’s harsh and arbitrary criminal system.
But in China, with its enormous system of laws that are seldom enforced, the specifics of Rio’s iron ore dealings are only the starting point in working out how things went so horribly wrong.
"There is always the question: why did they choose to go after these people at this time?" says Jerome Cohen, an expert on China’s state secrets laws at New York University. "Was there such hostility between Chinese and Rio Tinto iron ore that coloured this crackdown?"
The answer to that question is obviously "yes".
The bigger, geopolitical question is why China’s resource insecurity had grown so great, and Australia’s diplomatic leverage had been so diminished, that China’s top leaders saw fit to elevate the iron ore trade into a matter of national security in spite of the inevitable and substantial costs to China’s progress in the world.
The answers are complicated and begin with China’s leadership, who have been groomed and promoted on their readiness to see politics and security at the heart of any policy problem.
The security-first instinct repeatedly hurts China, as the detention of four Rio Tinto employees for allegedly stealing state secrets will also hurt China…
2. Isabel Hinton, “A Cold Wind in Beijing”, New Statesman, 5 February 2009.
…China presents its economic statistics with "Chinese characteristics". This past quarter the country posted 6.8 per cent growth, half the double-digit trend of recent decades and already worrying – but the truth is darker still. As the economics guru Nouriel Roubini points out, China publishes its quarterly GDP figure on a year-over-year basis, unlike the United States and most other countries, which publish their GDP growth figures on a quarter-on-quarter, annualised basis. When growth is slowing sharply, quarter-on-quarter growth may be negative, but the year-over-year figure looks positive. Converting the 6.8 per cent into the more standard annualised figure, according to Roubini, gives a truer picture of the Chinese position as close to zero. That bull might be a little shy of reappearing.
That this spells trouble is no secret in Beijing. The Year of the Ox is also a year of resonant anniversaries in China, many of them unmentionable in official circles. In March, there’s the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile and the 20th anniversary of the imposition of martial law in Lhasa. It will also be a year since the biggest wave of protest across all the Tibetan territories. Spring will bring the 90th anniversary of the 4 May movement, under whose banner patriotic students and intellectuals, outraged that German concessions in China had been given to Japan at Versailles, marched to demand political and cultural modernisation. On 4 June, the 20th anniversary of the crushing of the student occupation of Tiananmen Square will be marked, and 1 October will be the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. In December will come the anniversary – all but forgotten in China and abroad – of the crushing of the Democracy Wall in 1979, when Deng Xiaoping turned his back on what the dissident Wei Jingsheng resonantly called the "Fifth Modernisation": democracy.
To add to the giddy total, China has just celebrated 18 December 1978, the 30th anniversary of the beginning of Deng’s economic reforms, which launched three decades of industrialisation and double-digit growth. When Deng turned his back on political modernisation in 1979, and again in 1989, he locked China into a political pact that committed the government to delivering rising living standards at the price of continued one-party rule. It’s a pact that has held, more or less, until now, and that recession threatens to undo…
3. Isabel Hinton (2), “Desperately seeking democracy”, New Statesman, 28 May 2009.
…A few days ago a Chinese friend came to meet me, wearing a T-shirt on which were printed three two-digit numbers: 90 30 20. To anyone who has studied China’s century-long search for an accountable political system, the numbers will be familiar: 90 marks the number of years since the May 4 Movement and 30 pays tribute to the Democracy Wall movement of 1979. That year, Deng Xiaoping announced his list of “four modernisations”, all of them economic.
In the extraordinary weeks that followed, a stretch of wall near Xidan in central Beijing became the forum for a passionate debate about China’s political future. The hero of the hour was Wei Jingsheng, an electrician from the Beijing Zoo, with his now famous call for a fifth modernisation to be added to Deng Xiaoping’s list: democracy. Wei was to spend nearly 18 years in prison, writing a long series of closely argued letters to Deng before he emerged, still defiant, in 1997, and was sent into exile.
The last number – 20 – is, of course, the most immediate and most painful reminder: it commemorates the democracy movement that was crushed on 4 June 1989….
4. On Xinjiang: Report by Danny Vincent on the UAE site The National 11 July 2009.
…The riots in Urumqi erupted a week ago when demonstrators took to the streets in protest to ethnic violence which killed two Uighur in south China last month following rumours that factory workers had raped two Han Chinese girls. The riots in the resource-rich region forced Hu Jintao, the president, to abandon plans to attend the G8 summit in Italy. The unrest is comparable to unrest in Tibet last March.
Both are politically sensitive regions where the Chinese government blames external influences on the unrest, while playing down ethnic tension.
Beijing has blamed what it calls the Dalai Lama clique for the uprising 18 months ago in Lhasa. Officials are using increasingly strong language to denounce Ms Kadeer, linking her to the violence in Urumqi. “If Kadeer and the separatist ‘World Uighur Congress’ wanted to take ethnic relations as an excuse to sabotage China’s unification, we must be vigilant and firmly crush their plot,” Ismail Amat, a former official in Xinjiang told Xinhua news.
“How can such a person represent the Uighur people?” he said.
It isn’t very often that I recommend something in Quadrant, but I do recommend Justin Kelly’s How to Win in Afghanistan – even if the title is perhaps rather ambitious. What he says is certainly worth placing beside whatever other sources you may be following. “Kelly is a recently retired Australian army officer. He commanded the Peace Monitoring Group on Bougainville, was deputy commander of the peace keeping force in East Timor and was director of strategic operations in the US headquarters in Iraq from November 2006 until September 2007.” So it is frankly written from a military perspective, but he does get at least some vital facts correct.
Originally law belonged to a people. It was a common possession which defined the group to which individuals “belonged” and which was marked by their subscription to the weight of custom, ritual and obligation entailed. In return, membership of the group regulated the interactions between individuals and families within the group and offered advantages in dealings with other groups…
From this germ evolved the idea of the modern state as a geographically bounded area within which “a law” prevailed…
These two conceptions of law—as belonging either to a people or to a state—are irreconcilable and the conflict between them is being played out in domestic and international politics across the world. Insurgency and counter-insurgency is a competition to establish whose law will prevail in an area. The counter-insurgent force is attempting to establish its coercive authority in areas in which that authority is contested by insurgents. In Afghanistan, NATO forces are acting as proxies for the government of Afghanistan in the extension of its authority. The Taliban is resisting that attempt while also endeavouring to extend its authority over the remainder of the country.
Modern-day Afghanistan is largely a figment of the Western imagination. Its present boundaries emerged only during the nineteenth century as a result of imperial competition between Persia, Russia and Britain. It is the rump of a larger Pashtun empire (the term Afghan having its roots in the Persian for Pashtun) that had previously extended well into modern-day Pakistan and Iran. The northern boundary, only stabilised in the 1870s, was originally a zone through which Pashtun influence was in balance with that of the steppe-dwelling Uzbek, Tajiks and Turkmen, who remain ethnic minorities in northern Afghanistan today. Peshawar, in Pakistan, was until the early nineteenth century the winter capital and “pearl of the [Pashtun] Durani Empire”…
I still think a good case can be made that the whole Iraq thing – whatever you now think of it – was a terrible distraction from attending properly to the place where Al Qaeda really was, under the friendly shelter of the Taliban.
… and M was once thought to be a Chinese spy.
Back in 1990 when I first met M, then very recently arrived in Australia, I was living in Paddington at PK’s place – and a nice place it was too. The first morning M appeared at breakfast PK was quite nonplussed – being of Lithuanian background he had fairly strong Cold War views in some respects, though not in others. He did indeed suggest soon after that M may be a Chinese spy. He later changed his mind and may even deny the story today. 😉
No doubt among the very large influx of Chinese students at that post-Tiananmen time there would have been some spies, mostly there to monitor the other students. Chinese were used to being monitored. M solved the problem back home in China by joining the neighbourhood spooks – hiding in plain sight, you could say. The neighbourhood committee of spooks also had a benign role; as well as reporting suspicious activity they were agents too of social welfare. M claimed he was particularly lax on the reporting side, especially given his own association with quite a few westerners.
My students at the language college I then worked in more or less assumed someone could be a spy, or “a boss” as they tended to say, and sussed one another out before they started opening up about certain topics.
About a decade later I was offered a free trip to Shanghai by the parents of one of my SBHS students – and not to influence me, as it was offered after the exams. As M said, they were just being Chinese and were grateful I had helped their son. I found a face-saving way of refusing the gift.
Where I tutor in Chinatown there is a prominent display on the wall of photos of the principals in the company with leading pollies, including Mr Ruddock. This is part of the Chinese way of business – establishing your connections or guanxi.*
“Guanxi” literally means "relationships", stands for any type of relationship. In the Chinese business world, however, it is also understood as the network of relationships among various parties that cooperate together and support one another. The Chinese businessmen mentality is very much one of "You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours." In essence, this boils down to exchanging favors, which are expected to be done regularly and voluntarily. Therefore, it is an important concept to understand if one is to function effectively in Chinese society.
The importance of "Guanxi"
Regardless of business experiences in ones home country, in China it is the right "Guanxi" that makes all the difference in ensuring that business will be successful. By getting the right "Guanxi", the organization minimizes the risks, frustrations, and disappointments when doing business in China. Often it is acquiring the right "Guanxi" with the relevant authorities that will determine the competitive standing of an organization in the long run in China. And moreover, the inevitable risks, barriers, and set-ups you’ll encounter in China will be minimized when you have the right “Guanxi” network working for you. That is why the correct "Guanxi" is so vital to any successful business strategy in China.
Although developing and nurturing the "Guanxi" in China is very demanding on time and resources, the time and money necessary to establish a strong network is well worth the investment. What your business could get in return from the favors for your partners are often more much more valuable, especially in the long run, and when you’re in need. Even domestic businesses in China establish wide networks with their suppliers, retailers, banks, and local government officials. It is very common for individuals of an organization to visit the residence of their acquaintances from other organizations, bringing gifts (such as wine, cigarettes, etc.). While this practice may seem intrusive, as you spend more time learning the Chinese culture, it will become easier to understand and take part in this practice that is so central to successful Chinese commercial activity…
We should keep this in mind as we contemplate the Joel Fitzgibbon affair and the activities of Ms Liu. Still, the narrative is very much, and not entirely wrongly, taking what I may call the PK route. See Greg Sheridan in today’s Australian.
NO nation makes a greater espionage effort directed at Australian military and commercial technology than does China.
It was because of China’s massively increased espionage activities in recent years that in 2004 the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation set up a new counter-espionage unit.
But the problems China poses for a country such as Australia in the security and espionage field extend far beyond what might be regarded as traditional espionage.
Beijing has the most unified and co-ordinated sense of national power of any big nation on Earth. Modern China is not a democracy, but it is a very effectively functioning modern state.
It has a highly competent bureaucracy that seeks to penetrate all sectors of Chinese society and serve what the ruling Communist Party regards as the broader national interest. This includes monitoring, and where possible influencing, Chinese business people and students in their activities overseas.
This is a highly elusive matter, extremely difficult to quantify.
The overwhelming majority of people of Chinese ethnic background living in Western societies such as Australia or the US have no relationship with the Chinese state.
And most of those who do have any relationship with the Chinese state have an entirely wholesome one, such as doing business with the Government or promoting cultural exchange.
But the Chinese Government seeks to use every resource it can to gain information and to exercise power. That includes, on the testimony of Chinese defectors and Western intelligence agencies, often using business people and students as agents where it can recruit them…
He isn’t entirely wrong, far from it in fact, and does at least qualify what he says; but the framing of what he says does tend towards suspicion of Fitzgibbon and Liu, and Fitzgibbon must have been especially dense not to have declared those two trips.
And of course they spy, we gather intelligence – but that is another matter.
Back in the mid 90s I had the opportunity to meet the former Minister of Culture Wang Meng who was visiting from Beijing. He was at that stage on the outer, as he had publicly refused to congratulate the troops after Tiananmen. He still had plenty of guanxi though, apparently. After all, he had been able to come to Sydney. I was interested because I had read some of his stories (in English of course) and they were rather good. M was not so interested and didn’t go, saying he simply didn’t trust anyone in a high position.
See also Australia China Connections.
* Helen Liu sure gets around.
Kind of relevant… See Strange Maps: 368 – The World As Seen From Chang’an Street.
Jim Belshaw has had a couple of interesting posts lately: Train Reading – J H Curle’s The Face of the Earth and Sunday Essay – Race, Eugenics and the views of J H Curle. The book was published in 1937.
In the first post Jim writes:
In some ways I got more than I bargained for.
The book is laced with comments about nationality, race and ethnicity expressed with a freedom that would not be tolerated today. I almost put the book aside after the first chapter with the thought do I have to read this stuff? I kept going because I had, after all, deliberately chosen the book as a window into a past world.
As I read I found that I could put aside my reactions.
In the second post he elaborates:
At the time Mr Curle was born, the British Empire was at its peak. It seemed natural to assume that the white race was by process of natural selection destined to maintain a dominant position. However, Mr Curle’s Social Darwinist views did not allow him to believe that any nation, people or race had an automatic God-given superiority. All three could rise or fall.
I also think it worth noting that Mr Curle had no belief in the “purity” of any race or people. He was not opposed to racial mixing so long as the mix raised the “quality” of the race or people.
In this context, Mr Curle supported the Nazi eugenics policy as it related to things such as sterilisation. However, he did not believe that there was such a thing as a German or Nordic race. He thought the Nazi expulsion of German Jews was unwise because to his mind the admixture of Jewish and German blood had done much to strengthen the creativity and strength of the German people. He still hoped that Germany would learn this and re-admit the Jews.
The reason for the desperation in Mr Curle’s writing is simple. By 1937 he had come to believe that in the absence of fundamental change, both the Empire and the current pre-dominance of the white race were doomed.
Mr Curle’s views strike us as in many respects most unfortunate, but had we been around at the time no doubt we would have found a range of views to the left and right (not taking those terms with their unfortunate linear and dichotomising effect too literally) of his. As Jim says, the fact he wrote in a certain matrix of his time and place does not prevent his being interesting. Eugenics is nowadays totally tainted, and discredited as gross oversimplification – and more, but it lives on in other guises and in other terms under the rubric of genetic engineering. I suspect we also have to thank our current so-called “political correctness” for inoculating us, if we are wise, against the racist mindset within which he was working even if at certain levels he was, as Jim mentions, reacting against it too. But even there much that he wrote seems to have been predicated on the idea of “race”.
Some of Mr Curle’s most scathing writing is addressed to what he sees as the unjustified racism of some of the working and middle class English throughout the Empire. He compares them very unfavourably with other peoples and races.
And who, in all this, are the races or peoples of the future?
It seems from The Face of the Earth that in terms of people at a purely personal level, Mr Curle is especially enamored of Chinese/Malay (this includes what is now Indonesia) or Chinese/European mixtures.
However, in the hierarchy of races or peoples driven by Mr Curle’s Social Darwinism, the future lies with the Chinese.
That idea of “quality” is itself racist thinking because it assumes that “race” is a relevant category. Culture may be; race is not.
One can go back even further. I am rather fond of a Victorian lady – she would have used the term – named Isabella Bird.
Bird was born in Boroughbridge in 1831 and grew up in Tattenhall, Cheshire. As her father Edward was a Church of England priest, the family moved several times across Britain as he received different parish postings, most notably in 1848 when he was replaced as vicar of St. Thomas’ when his parishioners objected to the style of his ministry.
Bird was a sickly child and spent her entire life struggling with various ailments. Much of her illness may have been psychogenic, for when she was doing exactly what she wanted she was almost never ill. Her real desire was to travel. In 1854, Bird’s father gave her £100 and she went to visit relatives in America. She was allowed to stay until her money ran out. She detailed the journey anonymously in her first book The Englishwoman in America, published in 1856. The following year, she went to Canada and then toured Scotland, but time spent in Britain always seemed to make her ill and following her mother’s death in 1868 she embarked on a series of excursions to avoid settling permanently with her sister Henrietta (Henny) on the Isle of Mull. Bird could not endure her sister’s domestic lifestyle, preferring instead to support further travels through writing. Many of her works are compiled from letters she wrote home to her sister in Scotland.
Bird finally left Britain in 1872, going first to Australia, which she disliked, and then to Hawaii (known in Europe as the Sandwich Islands), her love for which prompted her second book (published three years later). While there she climbed Mauna Loa and visited Queen Emma.
There was a copy of an 1877 Leisure Hour in our house when I was a child which contained a serialised version of her Australia Felix – but unfortunately this is long gone. I do have a cheap reprint, however, of her The Golden Chersonese (1883) and even if she finds a Chinese dragon dance may be “devil worship” she can also be very observant. She writes well. Read an extract on Singapore.
…Here is none of the indolence and apathy which one associates with Oriental life, and which I have seen in Polynesia. These yellow, brown, tawny, swarthy, olive-tinted men are all intent on gain; busy, industrious, frugal, striving, and, no matter what their creed is, all paying homage to Daikoku. In spite of the activity, rapidity, and earnestness, the movements of all but the Chinese are graceful, gliding, stealthy, the swarthy faces have no expression that I can read, and the dark, liquid eyes are no more intelligible to me than the eyes of oxen. It is the "Asian mystery" all over.
It is only the European part of Singapore which is dull and sleepy looking. No life and movement congregate round the shops. The merchants, hidden away behind jalousies in their offices, or dashing down the streets in covered buggies, make but a poor show. Their houses are mostly pale, roomy, detached bungalows, almost altogether hidden by the bountiful vegetation of the climate. In these their wives, growing paler every week, lead half-expiring lives, kept alive by the efforts of ubiquitous "punkah-wallahs;" writing for the mail, the one active occupation. At a given hour they emerge, and drive in given directions, specially round the esplanade, where for two hours at a time a double row of handsome and showy equipages moves continuously in opposite directions. The number of carriages and the style of dress of their occupants are surprising, and yet people say that large fortunes are not made now-a-days in Singapore! Besides the daily drive, the ladies, the officers, and any men who may be described as of "no occupation," divert themselves with kettle-drums, dances, lawn tennis, and various other devices for killing time, and this with the mercury at 80 degrees! Just now the Maharajah of Johore, sovereign of a small state on the nearest part of the mainland, a man much petted and decorated by the British Government for unswerving fidelity to British interests, has a house here, and his receptions and dinner parties vary the monotonous round of gayeties.
The native streets monopolize the picturesqueness of Singapore with their bizarre crowds, but more interesting still are the bazaars or continuous rows of open shops which create for themselves a perpetual twilight by hanging tatties or other screens outside the sidewalks, forming long shady alleys, in which crowds of buyers and sellers chaffer over their goods, the Chinese shopkeepers asking a little more than they mean to take, and the Klings always asking double. The bustle and noise of this quarter are considerable, and the vociferation mingles with the ringing of bells and the rapid beating of drums and tom-toms–an intensely heathenish sound. And heathenish this great city is. Chinese joss-houses, Hindu temples, and Mohammedan mosques almost jostle each other, and the indescribable clamor of the temples and the din of the joss-houses are faintly pierced by the shrill cry from the minarets calling the faithful to prayer, and proclaiming the divine unity and the mission of Mahomet in one breath.
How I wish I could convey an idea, however faint, of this huge, mingled, colored, busy, Oriental population; of the old Kling and Chinese bazaars; of the itinerant sellers of seaweed jelly, water, vegetables, soup, fruit, and cooked fish, whose unintelligible street cries are heard above the din of the crowds of coolies, boatmen, and gharriemen waiting for hire; of the far-stretching suburbs of Malay and Chinese cottages; of the sheet of water, by no means clean, round which hundreds of Bengalis are to be seen at all hours of daylight unmercifully beating on great stones the delicate laces, gauzy silks, and elaborate flouncings of the European ladies; of the ceaseless rush and hum of industry, and of the resistless, overpowering, astonishing Chinese element, which is gradually turning Singapore into a Chinese city! I must conclude abruptly, or lose the mail.
Given her always uncertain health she was one very feisty woman, and it is good we have her work. But we also see time and again that the past is indeed another country. We enter it at a certain peril. We can’t possibly say “heathenish” today in quite the same assured way, can we?
Last night courtesy of Surry Hills Library I was transported back to my earliest years through a double bill DVD of I’ll Be Seeing You (1944) and Since You Went Away (1944). The second is the better movie, but both have fine performances and some lovely black-and-white visuals. The music on the remastered sound-tracks is also really good. Both movies offer much to think about in terms of the world-views they partake in, not all of them worse than our own, I should add. For their time both movies are in some respects rather enlightened. I enjoyed them, but was reminded of my own age and that, again, the past is another country.
I have added relevant video to the side-bar VodPod.