Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Twofer Tuesday

Dr. Peng Ming-min, one of the great men of Taiwan's history, has some words of sage advice on the Chen Shui-bian mess in today's Taipei Times:

Although Chen’s actions are sad and infuriating, from a historical perspective it is just an episode in Taiwan’s struggle for democracy and human rights — don’t forget how many people have lost their lives or their property, families and freedom for these ideals.

Despite its disappointment, I believe the public will learn a lesson and understand that we must never relax in our pursuit of ideals.

Peng, who lost an arm in WWII and ran for President in 1996, has been one of the most important figures in the Taiwan independence movement for forty years.

Also on tap today is a devastating insight from Jerome Keating, delivered against the rising class of China specialists in US. People argue that China has far less soft power than the US, but they appear to have it where it counts, as Jerome pegs perfectly:

Begin then with academia, examine how US scholars in Russian Studies have always been able to separate culture from government with Russia; they can appreciate Russian art, architecture, writing, culture etc. but condemn its authoritarian rule. With China it is the opposite; US Sinologists have become so enamored with their self-perceived mystique of Chinese culture, art, etc. that they then use this to make excuses for China's authoritarian rule. Who has not heard this excusatory refrain, "See how far China has come in the last century." Have you ever heard a similar refrain about Russia?

As US Sinologists seek their free invites to Chinese universities and Chinese backing for their research, they go to great lengths to defend and explain how this poor country is being misunderstood. You don't find that same kind of pandering by US Russian scholars. From a different angle, if one were to look inside the Soviet Union, you likewise would not find Russian Sinologists as enthralled about China as their American counterparts. No Russian Sinologists and or advisers suffer from a debilitating awe of Chinese culture or tradition; they have a sounder base in reality.

Those are the central two paragraphs of a piece on the Russia-Georgia-US mess.


Eli said...

That is interesting, and while some of what he says is true, I think it is incorrect to assume that all sinologists in the US have the same views about China. I personally know a lot of people who are US and European sinologists, and each has his or her own story. Many have lived in Taiwan for years and have interacted with Taiwanese scholars. Others received training in Japan or Korea or elsewhere. Certainly there are many who are sympathetic to China. Part of that might be about access. Part is that they are sympathetic to the people they have come to know there, and with whom they have become friends. I think that it is also the case that the reality that one experiences on the ground in China (a complex place) is often quite remote from the one projected to the outside world. Sinologists, by the very fact of the path they have chosen, make it their business to gain a deep awareness of China, whether through its history, its textual and cultural traditions, its art and architecture, its people, or through its social, political, and legal systems. They tend to spend a lot of time in China and Taiwan; they have many friends in this part of the world; and for better or worse, are not likely to rock the boat. However, it is also possible to have subtle and profound influences in peoples lives through other means, such as friendly interaction and making a positive impression. It might seem like sacrilege around these parts to say that not everything about China or Chinese people is bad. There are many nice people in that land. I can say that and at the same time feel a very close bond to the beautiful island known as Taiwan, and the many people here who I call my friend.

Michael Turton said...

It might seem like sacrilege around these parts to say that not everything about China or Chinese people is bad.

*sigh* Why would it seem like sacrilege? I'm a bit tired of commenters imputing ideas to me that I don't hold.

Otherwise excellent thoughts.


skiingkow said...

Oh. my. gawd.

I swear I didn't read Keating's words before writing my comment in the above post.

I'll summarize here though.

Nowhere was this confused and ignorant analyses about modern China more prevalent recently than during the Olympics. And the $40 Billion that China used to completely short-circuit this non-critical thinking process turned out to be a wild success judging by the comments on most progressive blogs that I've read.

With the North American audience, the effect of the Chinese propaganda is especially noticeable with todays "entertainment" society.

It's truly breathtaking that few actually linked the presentation of the games to any sort of political motiviation whatsoever. Many argued that the Beijing Olympics were such a success because...get this...politics were actually absent from the games.

Tommy said...

There are certainly many that say that, Stop Ma, but over half of the articles I have read from the MSM insert a "but". "Things were very impressive, but..."

My impression of what I have been reading is that China has dazzled many with its show, and done it a bit too well (to the point where it was obvious that they were trying too hard). But most of the articles bring up some serious flaws, such as the lack of free speech, the internet censoring, the lack of protesters in the protest zones, the gymnasts, the lip-synching...

The MSM loves these "buts" and will keep repeating them, meaning that the legacy of the games will be mixed.

As for sinologists as opposed to Russia scholars, I think you also have to consider that China HAS come further than Russia in a shorter time and that the US scholars in question grew up during a time when Russia was the key enemy (yeah, China was Communist too, but Russia was the devil).

My guess is that China is still the new and shiny thing. In 20 years, the growth won't be as impressive and China will become a strategic competitor in most people's minds.

Anonymous said...

I'm a sinologist. I criticize the Chicoms all the time.

I even do it when talking to Chinese people -- I even did it at a conference in China, when somebody (a good scholar from China) wanted to blame a perceived decline in Chinese culture on western influence. I pointed out that the Chicoms had led a long "Cultural Revolution" that avowedly set out to destroy much of Chinese traditional culture. "Might that not also be a factor?" I said. That was the end of the discussion.

Of course I don't know that I'll be invited back to that meeting next year. But still.

ANYWAY. The real problem, I think, is not the sinologists per se but rather those who talk and write about China for the MSM. They are too often startlingly and depressingly ignorant (one suspects they get their info from their gov't-provided translators). The inability to speak Chinese (either well, or even at all) simply marks a total ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Russia has always been a world leader in antisemitism. One of the most famous Russian literary works is the "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion." China, on the other hand, is the least antisemitic of the old world countries. Throughout the last couple millenia China has always welcomed Jews and provided refuge when they were persecuted elsewhere.

Many prominent American Kremlinologists and Sinologists are of Jewish background. They could be more sensitive to human rights issues in Russia based partly on the fact that Jews were often the victims of Russia's abuses. On the other hand, China loves Jews. It's human nature to like those who like you.

Eli said...

Sorry Michael. I wasn't imputing ideas to you. I was referring to a general feeling that I sense sometimes in Taiwan and on blogs here. When I say "around these parts" I'm not talking about you specifically, but to the Taiwan domain of the English-language blogosphere, which of course is also comprised of people with a variety of views.

Eli said...

To the commenter who said most prominent US sinologists are Jews: I would like to know who you are thinking of. I don't think you can make that claim, factually. Some are. Some are not.