Anti-sinitic discrimination from other Chinese and collective self-esteem

The recent post by DeWang about the RT short documentary on Chinese Americans going back to China has further reinforced an ugly conception I have been only somewhat familiar with: that many Chinese people in China believe that Chinese people are not as good as their western counterparts. It may not be an explicit belief but something more like a deep-rooted sensibility that only manifests itself subtly in unconscious behavior in many people. But the video definitely supports the view that perhaps the Chinese people in China lack a sense of collective self-esteem vis a vis westerners. I am saddened that many of these Chinese American expats say they experienced discrimination by Chinese Chinese. They mention that they are not seen as an equal to do many jobs which require a certain “international” image (a clear euphemism for white or western). They are seen as more likely to be less competent at the English language despite the fact that these Chinese Americans seem to be Native English speakers. They are seen by other Chinese in China as overall less good both professionally and perhaps overall.

What motivates this low self-esteem, this lack of group pride, deficiency of self-respect in Chinese people? Perhaps it is time that all Chinese people, in China and among the diaspora, to have a serious dialogue on this issue.

Of course, many people, especially those who have had a colonial history suffer this problem (often in much more severe degrees and in many more domains). A friend who lived in India has many stories of the blatant, long ingrained white worship among many Indians. Whites are seen as more competent, more intelligent, cleaner and kinder. Sometimes there’s even a holy reverence for whiteness that may have roots in ancient Vedic culture.  The lighter the skin and blonder the hair, the better many Indians seem to think and feel the person is. Indian girls prefer light skinned Indian men and will even throw themselves at even lighter white men at nightclubs. The self-directed racism is often not even covered by polite euphemisms or self- conscious, prideful defense mechanisms. Of course, India has had a longer and more extensive colonial history than China. I do not believe, from the stories I have heard and read that China is anywhere near that bad on this issue but it does seem to exist in some large Chinese cities. For the Chinese, I also believe it is less a racial or ethnic inferiority rather than a cultural inferiority complex.

I believe that it stems mainly from ignorance. That is, from a false assumptions about Western culture. Many Chinese see the successes of western nations in economics, culture, military power and simply assume that the reason for this is a superior culture that enables the development of all these areas. This is a very superficial understanding of history. A more accurate view ought to disabuse this notion and set the Chinese mindset straight about their own place in the world as an equal.

Many Chinese, as Ray mentioned in the comments section to DeWang’s blog, likely are poorly educated and do not understand the modern history of the west and what led to the dominance of the west. This dominance is not a result of superior western culture but the mechanism for that preeminent course in history is a history built on the backs of other people. The development of western societies were, and to some degree still are, fueled by oppression. Colonialism, imperialism, slavery, genocide, and in the modern world, western-centric globalization has produced massive global inequality.

The industrial revolution in America, for example, could not have been built but through imported “free labor” from the massive slave trade that fueled the early US economy by providing free and efficient agricultural labor reaping the fertile soils of this abundant country, itself stolen from Native Americans who were mostly slaughtered, for the natural resources found on their land. The American industrial revolution could not have happened if the Chinese laborers had not been deceived and exploited into building the railroads that connected the country and efficiently transported goods, labor and ideas across the continent. Imperialism and colonialism boosted western industrial development by providing pilfered resources and know-how to support a social class that could afford to develop society through intellectual pursuits.

Resources, man power, and intellectual property from people all over the world have been utilized but only to the benefit a small fraction of the world’s population. That is how that wealth became so concentrated. From that unfair distribution of wealth, comes the development of other things from cultural development to military power. The gap is still getting wider in some places due to the inherently unfair globalization policies that continually benefits the wealthier western countries (see, for example, the Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s criticisms of globalization). The modern western world is built on and sustained by injustice. It preeminence is not accurately explained by hard work, superior values or inherent natural superiority of western people as many western people would like to believe.

But many Chinese people inside China are not aware of this history and maintain very naive viewpoints on the reasons for the historical trajectory between the west and China.

Possible solutions

There are two ways I believe that can improve the problem, one backward-looking and one forward-looking. Granted, as China develops economically and militarily, the Chinese people will naturally have more pride and will gradually see their own people and culture as equally worthy. That will come naturally but there still things all of us can do to improve it further. One is through education of the past. The Chinese must obtain a clear-eyed understand of the history of the western history, not one the western would portrays through its movies, media and common public perceptions which is how many Chinese people come to form their naive views. That history in reality is not pretty. It is just as important to learn about other people’s history as it is to learn one’s own. I hope that the Chinese government will provide that objective, clear-eyed view of the west through better education in public schools.

I also believe that it is important for the Chinese people to develop a new sense of themselves. A new identity and culture that imports much of the aspects of traditional Chinese culture but adapted to the modern world. Only those who are competent in culture, literature and art have a chance at developing a solid cultural foundation that truly can inculcated more collective self-esteem within the Chinese people so that we view ourselves as just as good as anyone else. I believe that China needs artists, writers, movie producers, philosophers, social scientists, and so forth even more so than engineers and scientists today. China is now graduating millions of the later and that is a good thing. But now China should focus on churning out more quality people in the areas central to cultivating a more robust and secure sense of identity.

52 thoughts on “Anti-sinitic discrimination from other Chinese and collective self-esteem

  1. the myth of the superiority of the caucasian is widely promulgated by Hollywood films that also emasculate and demonise asian men. In order to reverse that trend, China’s own film industry must promote Chinese masculinity and righteousness.

    And like Hollywood, rather than focusing on quality, they ought to focus on quantity and ‘dump’ their films on the rest of the world, just as the American government makes countries like Australia accept american made films in lieu of their own domestic films.

  2. Hi, I am a Chinese from one of the Asean countries(prefer discrete pardon me for that) who have been following up on Harmonies Blog for quite some time and I like the ways you have interact and exchange opinions. Just want be comment a bit on the collective lack of self-esteem since it is related to the field of my studies. This unfortunate lack of self pride was deeply rooted for many Chinese since the opium war. Using baseball as an analogy, the first base was loss during the Opium war and the Chinese realize that Western technology and machinery was much better than thus they began what we call 洋务运动(translate as Self-Strengthening Movement in wiki). However, the First Sino-Japanese War simply destroy its effort and the second base is loss. At this time, many Chinese believed that the western political and economic structure is much more superior than China and cries for reforms engulf the entire nation. Despite efforts, cries of reforms are subsequently oppressed until the invasion of the Eight-Nation Alliance which result in a lack of faith in their own governance and culture(Third base). Eventually, the last base was lost and most Chinese at that time believe that to westernize totally and utterly is the only way to survive. I remembered a saying by a scholar during that era which goes like this”with anguish, we have to abandon all our classics, culture and tradition into the toilet and get rid of them. Learn everything and be like them so we can repel them with their own guns. Hopefully, when the time come, our ancestor will have the time to salvage what we have thrown.” The above saying, was regarded as conservative during that time(most of them advocate to destroy and abolish all culture and tradition entirely. Mostly evident during the May 4 movement) This type of mindset is still within many Chinese when ask about their tradition and cultures. As a century is quite short, perhaps we will need a longer time for the wounds to heal.

  3. @zack

    Agree entirely. China allows blatant white supremacist advertising, white supremacist Hollywood, the white supremacist media to brainwash the Chinese people. What else would you expect?

    And a Chinese made film on the Nanjing massacre has a white hero saving Chinese women no less!

    Really. What else would you expect?

  4. The problem I mentioned above is quite easily solved.

    The other problem is quite difficult to solve. The problem is Chinese more or less value the same things, and aspire to the same things as white people. That is a house, a nice car, a nice family, wealth to show off to ones friends, a profession with status, etc.

    Because China’s per capita GDP is a lot lower than that of Western countries, Westerners have more of these things than Chinese do, on average. So Chinese look up to them.

    I’m sure there is some white worship in the Islamic world, but it is nowhere near as bad as in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Japan, —-ie the confucian countries.

    The reason for this is Muslims even if they are dirt poor have something that whites do not have – spiritual and religious truth (to them at least). That helps give them some backbone.

    Even in the West, Muslim migrants are less likely to be suck ups than Chinese and other East Asian migrants. I hate to say it, but East Asians in the West are the most Uncle Tommish of all minorities.

    China has become so damn materialistic that if you judge people and countries only on how much money they have, then inevitably you will have white worship – because whites by and large have more wealth than Chinese have.

    Of course this can be mitigated by educating people on how the West became rich – through the despicable exploitation of Asia and Africa. But unfortunately even if Chinese people became more aware of this, it would probably not help much. People tend to worship those in power, regardless of how they came to be powerful. It is a sad fact of human nature.

  5. Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong are wealthy places. Why is there white worship in these places?

    Obviously because of the Western white supremacist Hollywood, mass media juggernaut.

    If whites were exposed 24/7 to pictures of Asian people in status advertising, Asian movie and pop music stars, newspapers writing positive things about China, they would soon worship Asians in the way Asians worship whites.

    All this white supremacist brainwashing has direct negative effects of course.

    The fact is a white boy can get a date in East Asia much more easily than an Asian boy.

    And these white boys laugh among themselves at this very fact – and of course, they also laugh at us.

  6. The Chinese people are very pragmatic today. I would say even more so than Japanese or Korean. Take the automobile market as an example, in Japan and Korea, local brands dominate 9/10 of the domestic market. There are many reasons for that. In China, foreign brands control more than half the domestic market. Most Chinese would rank the perceived quality, value of the automobile in this order:

    No. 1: German
    No. 2: Japanese
    No. 3: US
    No. 4: Korean
    No. 5: Chinese

    The ranking does not include other mainstream European brand but they are perceived as either just behind the German or slightly behind the Japanese. Yes, the average Chinese consumers view the US cars as superior against most domestic brands. That’s why China is GM largest overseas market by a large margin (In Europe and Korea, US cars are perceived as inferior to local products). One might argue that the average Japanese or Korean consumers might not necessary think of their native brands a superior or offer a better value but they still buy them in droves, even during the 1960s-1970s when Japanese clearly know their cars are inferior (1960s-2000s for Korean).

    Of course government import policy make sure of that but the consumers obviously buy things based on their belief as well (this is reflected not just in automobiles but also cosmetics, appliances, electronics, clothing line, food products etc etc in Japan and Korea). In fact, the Chinese consumer’s view on other products as well mirrored that of their view on automobiles, that is products from developed countries are superior. However, this perception is gradually changing. In electronics good, computer products, phones etc, most Chinese consumers now think domestic brand is as good and in some instances superior! Granted I would say, Chinese brands are still way behind in most consumer product categories.

    I actually disagree with Melektaus’s proposed solution to the problem. He feel that artistic license is more important than hard science. I actually feel the exact opposite, US, European, Japanese superiority in science and technology is what allowed them to dominate the world stage. Without this foundation, world class artists, writers, movie producers, philosophers, social scientists will have no place to get their talents actualized. Would Michele Yeoh and Jimmy Choo be world famous if they work in Malaysia? In Japan, a land decried by European as lacking in creativity has produced its unique manga and anime experience.

    Is China actually deficient in artists, writers, poets, philosophers from the 15th to 19th? I think the Chinese mandarin class is more artistic than its counterpart from Europe, US and other part of the world in the period. What is the consequent of that superiority? Chinese courts have the best porcelain, tea, furniture, clothing etc. All Chinese scholars must be able to write poetry, paint and has nice calligraphy to be recognized? Basically, China’s decline is the total neglect of math and science. In a way, today’s China is trying to overcompensate in this regard.

    In my view, in term of per capita numbers of scientists and engineers, China is still behind. Of course, I believe that development of artist is also of equal importance but creative license comes from society not from schools (that’s my view). Today, I actually see one of the biggest advantage of China is the development of commercialism. One of the biggest driving force is actually the entrepreneur who delved in technology like Sany, Huawei, ZTE etc.

  7. Good points. I also think there’s a problem is the Chinese Media itself of how they want to portray the ‘positive’ aspects of America. I mean why don’t they report problems of Chinese immigrants in Western countries, Discrimination, problems in the US government, poverty, inadequate schooling, and etc… Chinese people are fooled to think just because they hear Chinese products are inferior, they haven’t even hear about how Western products are inferior also. Once when they do that, I’m sure that Chinese companies would want to establish themselves as value added brands instead all the companies want to race each other to the bottom.

  8. The point is we should not base our national esteem simply on the supposed quality of our products, or our GDP —-that is the road to oblivion, if we are to argue along these lines.

    The facts are at this point in history, the West is in many respects still ahead of China, in science, in technology, in innovation. China is rapidly improving, but Chinese parents (including Xi Jinping) will send their children to Harvard sooner than Westerners are desperate for their children to get into Tsinghua. Of course some of this has to do with previous reputation, but admittedly this is not the only reason.

    It is an unfortunate fact that China is behind in an overall sense (not in all areas, but an overall sense) in terms of wealth, science, and technology, and we have been for almost two centuries, but that does not mean we cannot have a healthy national esteem.

    Do ones own parents have to be the smartest, the richest, the best looking, in order to love one’s parents, and to be proud of ones own family, and to esteem them more than any other people in the world? Of course not.

    If Chinese think their national esteem is necessarily connected to GDP and GDP only, then we might as well drop down on our knees and prostrate ourselves to “mighty whitey” right now.

    Our national pride should come from the heroic way in which Chinese have fought against the odds for national independence, that we were the first nation to fight US and Western imperialism to a standstill, to the inspiration that China gave the rest of the developing world, to the incredible gains in life expectancy, literacy, and the economy, over the past 60 years. And we have a glorious civilisation, the longest continuous civilisation in world history. And that we have a new civilisational paradigm to offer the world, that development can take place without invading and exploiting foreign peoples, and indeed can take place even while helping foreign peoples also develop.

  9. @Wayne
    You are right, 子不嫌母丑 but this is how ordinary people think. To most people perception is reality. I think the more students studying outside the countries is better for China development in the long run. In fact Chinese students are also the largest overseas students group in Malaysia and Singapore. The reason why the mid Ming and Qing became backward technologically was they closed off China. The funny thing is the developed world is making the same mistake with their misrepresented stories about modern China. Let’s face it, knowledge is power. The more you learn from others the better you get. Would Europe get anywhere without capitalizing on the potential of gun powder, cannon, printing, compass etc?

    Melektaus feel that despite some progress in science, technology and commerce, China is very behind in the soft power aspect such as pop movies and music. I agree but feel that soft power actually stand on the foundation of hard power. Can movie like “Top Gun” or “Star Wars” be produced in Argentina and marketed worldwide? I do not for a minute feel that cultural or creativity is lacking in S. America, Africa or poorer part of Asia. However, without the market condition and hard science foundation all creativity in the mind is nothing but bio-chemical reaction in the brain. Is English a superior language to French or German? No, but due to British colonialism it is more widely used. Ditto Spanish and Portugese.

    The good thing is Chinese intellectual elite has always been the biggest proponent of Chinese language, tradition, belief and culture. Unlike the average folks, even in time of perils they never forsaken this aspect. Even Japan and Korea retained this tradition when China is at its weakest. I don’t think Chinese culture is superior to anybody else and shouldn’t be promoted as such. All civilization should be treated as unique and equal respect should be given.

    That being said, to most people perception is reality. Because China has a huge population and is not properly represented in the world’s map of economic, scientific achievement. We will always have racist pigs who come here to their spill poison. The day China can truly stand tall is when its standard of living, space and aerospace technology, computing power, commercial are all developed. In other words, a 40 trillion GDP in current dollar should do the trick. Frankly, I don’t think there is any short cut. By then, these idiots would have nothing to shout about democracy, human rights etc. 发展才是硬道理,落后就要挨打 Without these foundation democracy and human rights will go nowhere in China. So contrary to the haters, the CPP is actually the biggest promoter of rights in China.

  10. While I have seen quisling-behavior among some native Chinese folks, I don’t get that impression from the vast majority that I’ve met and are friends with.

    I wonder if this is more of a class issue? Because I would say most of my friends and acquaintances are more the “blue collar” type and if anything, they have an “arrogance” about how much better Chinese stuff is.

    Of course that’s not to say all “white collar” folks are sell outs. Most of those that I’ve met also have a lot of pride in their (our) culture and achievements. However, they acknowledge the faults that have made us weak for the past century or so and seek out ways to improve.

    @Wayne

    The fact is a white boy can get a date in East Asia much more easily than an Asian boy.

    Yes and no. From my observation, there’s really only a small percentage of women who are willing to date foreigners (and that includes other Asians who aren’t the same ethnicity if they can’t speak the local language).

    However, because there are just so many people in Asian cities, that small percentage is much larger than the total available foreigners.

    So it just seems that way, but in reality their dating pool is much more limited.

    Also, I just want to add that an Asian guy could get a date just as easily when the population ratios are reversed.

    For example: One feature of the Russian-Chinese relationship seemed especially telling: Cross-border marriages are overwhelmingly between Chinese men and Russian women. Much of this has to do with demographics—Russia has a surplus of women, while China has too many men. But as one Russian woman told me, “Chinese men are kinder and more attentive to their wives. And they usually have more money.”

    From: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/dispatches/features/2009/where_russia_meets_china/why_are_siberian_russians_drawn_to_china.html

  11. The op. talked about discrimination C-American expats experienced from Chinese Chinese. While their experiences are true, what about its corollary? Look at it another way, don’t these Chinese Americans also view themselves as superior to the local natives? Some posters have mentioned how Chinese Americans have an “advantage” in China because of their language skills and “sensibilities” (whatever that means). I can equally put forward the argument that native Chinese have an “advantage” over Chinese Americans because of their language skills and local knowledge.

    The point I want to make is, white worship doesn’t just stop with the Chinese Chinese. Many Chinese Americans themselves are afflicted with this (sorry if I offend anybody). Plenty of Chinese Americans think that they deserve better opportunities or are more qualified than the local Chinese just because they have an American education, at the same time they are complaining about being discriminated against because they are not white enough.

  12. Good article. I can see why so many ABC’s and Chinese are riddled with complexes. Maybe some kind of counselor or specialist could also help- especially with “Wayne”

  13. Ray — I agree. The more Chinese students go overseas, the better. Only by going overseas can they see the good and bad of Western society for themselves. Personally, I am proud that the VP’s daughter got into Harvard.

    In the 80s, when Japan was opening up, there was a sort of culture shock. Young Japanese so admired European brands, fashions and foods. But when they finally got to Paris or London, and saw the dirty subways and street people, they were shocked, because the reality did not match their idealized visions. That’s not to put down Paris and London, which are great cities. That’s just to say that travel and overseas study will open young Chinese eyes that the West is not like a Hollywood movie.

    I don’t think it’s just Hollywood. It’s many things, like the posters said above — a desire for economic status, class, education. And it’s not Hollywood’s or Western culture’s “fault.” They make entertainment because that’s their industry, not because they are out to brainwash Chinese. Instead of bashing other people, we should find ways to improve Asian cultural offerings instead.

    Same for the advertising. Yes, there are more white models, but the brands aren’t out to make a political statement. They just want to sell make-up or jeans or cars or whatever. Plus, there are more Asian faces in advertising these days, even in the West.

    There are simply no Chinese fashion brands that are as famous as Chanel or LV. But instead of complaining about others, why can’t we make and promote our own? I’d love to see really world-class Chinese movies, TV shows, clothing brands, electronics, news media, etc. someday.

    BTW, while there may be more white faces in movies and ads, that doesn’t make them white supremists. I wish we wouldn’t use that term unless we’re talking about the KKK or something. A supremist is someone violent hateful towards other races. Let’s not be so sensitive and lacking in self-esteem that we have to accuse people of that just because we might not like the dominance of Western culture.

  14. Pug_ster. I think the problem is that Chinese media just isn’t very good right now.

    When it does criticize the West, it comes off as so bitter, often inaccurate, and just so strange that it’s dismissed as propaganda. I read an editorial about how the West is so environmentally wasteful, which is true and a very good point. But as an example, it used the fact that Westerners shower and change into clean clothes every day. At that point, it lost most of its audience! I saw a CCTV program that started off about Chinese antiques and then went on a weird rant about how Western civilization was inferior because of Jesus. Nobody can take this seriously.

    Sometimes there is the germ of a good idea, but the journalists aren’t skilled enough to follow it through. There was a Chinese report about American poverty that sounded interesting. But when I read it, it sounded like it was just copied from other sources and was wishy-washy. At about the same time, an American newspaper did an amazing photo essay on the homeless in NY that really hit home.

    With Xinhua opening in NY and CCTV opening in DC, hopefully we will see more real hard-hitting reporting. But, given how they operate, I don’t know if they are going to do stories about sweatshops in Chinatown, or illegal immigration, racial discrimination. Let’s see.

  15. Ray :

    I actually disagree with Melektaus’s proposed solution to the problem. He feel that artistic license is more important than hard science.

    It’s not that I feel it’s more important, just that China has done an excellent job so far promoting science and engineering education so far with resounding success. But success in culture needs more than just science and engineering so now it most also focus on development of culture just as much. There needs to be balance.

  16. @Hong Konger

    When it does criticize the West, it comes off as so bitter, often inaccurate, and just so strange that it’s dismissed as propaganda. I read an editorial about how the West is so environmentally wasteful, which is true and a very good point. But as an example, it used the fact that Westerners shower and change into clean clothes every day. At that point, it lost most of its audience! I saw a CCTV program that started off about Chinese antiques and then went on a weird rant about how Western civilization was inferior because of Jesus. Nobody can take this seriously.

    Bitter? Inaccurate? Sorry, don’t agree with you there. I think the problem is that Western Media came off as mostly propaganda that any ideas outside the ‘mainstream’ seem as propaganda, but is perfectly normal for everyone else. Editorial are basically opinions of a writer, which doesn’t represent the views of the Media itself, so I take it with a grain of salt. Besides, I don’t see what’s the big deal about people not changing their clothes everyday. There are many poor people out there in China who don’t change their clothes everyday. Second, this CCTV program that you have watched is not front page news, but again, probably showing a perspective of religion in a country from a country where religion is not a big factor.

    Sometimes there is the germ of a good idea, but the journalists aren’t skilled enough to follow it through. There was a Chinese report about American poverty that sounded interesting. But when I read it, it sounded like it was just copied from other sources and was wishy-washy. At about the same time, an American newspaper did an amazing photo essay on the homeless in NY that really hit home.

    With Xinhua opening in NY and CCTV opening in DC, hopefully we will see more real hard-hitting reporting. But, given how they operate, I don’t know if they are going to do stories about sweatshops in Chinatown, or illegal immigration, racial discrimination. Let’s see.

    Agreed, I do think that China should do more and probably hire local journalists in the US to write its stories. They also just started operating CNTV earlier this year and limit the US programming to just 3 hours. They should be also using youtube to broadcast their stories.

  17. @Wayne

    The reason for this is Muslims even if they are dirt poor have something that whites do not have – spiritual and religious truth (to them at least). That helps give them some backbone.

    If we frame this angle in Muslims vs the West, an important factor to consider is that the Islamic world had the “conflicts” with the West and was winning throughout the Medieval to early industrial revolution, so to speak, e.g. Moorish Iberia, the westward expansion of the Ottoman Empire. The Islamic elites don’t look at the West as intrinsically superior. Wholesale Westernization can’t be seriously considered, but rather what were the missing ingredients in returning the former glory?

    The East though has never had that experience in victory vis-s-vis the West. Japanese came closest in winning the Russo-Japanese War, but its ambition was whacked and sent to a servile position in the WW2. The defeatism has permeated the thought process of the modern Chinese intelligentsia from the May 4th generation onward, to arguably in retrospect the recent global financial meltdown. Everything about China had to be wrong — the philosophies, the governmental system, the societal norms, all the way down to the language itself. Many Chinese elites at one point seriously argued that the written Chinese being non-phonetic was the root cause of China’s backwardness, without even looking at the fact that Japanese had developed better than Koreans and Vietnamese.

  18. Wayne / Jxie, I think no difference between Chinese and Muslim. The dirt poor Chinese under Mao also have the spiritual and Maoism truth to fight anyone, not really sure about the not so poor Chinese after Deng era. The elite and affluence Muslim is much worst on worshiping the West as compare to Chinese. The backbone is result of conflict due to oil and Israel, and I agree with Jxie, the scary part is war (Ottoman Empire) play a major role to uplift the inferior mental.

  19. I like melektaus’ forward looking view. Yesterday I was photographing a Chinese dance event, and I was thoroughly impressed by the visuals and choreography. Then it dawned on me: they were so uniquely “Chinese.” When China becomes rich – when the diaspora becomes rich, demand for this kind of stuff will sky-rocket. I really believe the world will be in awe when they get so see in full what China has to offer.

    Below is a shot I took at the show.

  20. @Rhan

    About the Islamic world: Malaysia and Indonesia could be different from the Middle East including Turkey, plus Egypt. Other than the military conquests, the Islamic world had led the West in science and technology for centuries up to the industrial revolution. We are using Arabic numerals instead of Roman numerals for a reason.

    An interesting aspect of this is many Western scholars nowadays aren’t very comfortable with the intellectual influence of the Islamic world on the West during the Middle Age. One example is the invention of windmill. The first documented appearance of windmill in Europe was at least some 2 centuries later than in Persia. Yet many question the idea of that in this case, the West was copying from the Muslims, but rather they believe somehow the West invented windmill on their own. The other example is a military technology called counterweight trebuchet, a stone-throw catapult that enabled the Mongols to crack Song’s fortresses and destroy Song’s naval ships. For the longest time, in both the Chinese recorded history and the Islamic recorded history, the invention of the machines was credited to the Muslims. Yet in the past decade or so, there have been researches in the West that indicate the real inventors were actually European Christians.

    To me no people, no nation, and no civilization are the chosen ones, and will stay on top forever. When we’re on top, we’d love to find evidences that it’s not because of a fluke in history, but rather something innate about us. China for the most part in the last century or so has suffered an opposite problem: many Chinese believe there is something innately wrong about China, Chinese as a people (人种问题), and Chinese as a language. Liu Xiaobo is a perfect example of that.

    Personally am very bullish on the future of China, for a host of rather simple reasons. For example, today Chinese youths on average have higher number of expected lifetime school hours than their American counterparts. A big part of China’s problems after the first opium war was that it could never have peace and financial wherewithal to provide world-class education to its youths.

  21. @YinYang

    When you are poor, in the picture you took, the bright colors in red/green will look a bit faded, because the props of the show are likely very old. If you look into their faces, they will not have the “signs—hair, skin, teeth, height—of having grown up in a society of taken-for-granted sanitation, vaccination, ample protein, and overall public health.” (James Fallow)

    To echo Ray’s point, everything is driven by material advancements. An example is Kyoto Tofu. Tofu as a staple of east Asian diet is never so glorious in the fine art of making Kyoto Tofu. Had the living standard of Japan been at the level of Myanmar, you think they would be touting it?

  22. @jxie
    I agree with Ray’s point whole-heartedly too. Everything is driven by material advancements.

    I should say, as far as Chinese culture and values go, demand and supply go hand in hand. What underpins all that is the overall material advancement of Chinese society.

    (Though, jxie, I did post-process that photo a bit to accentuate the colors. ;))

  23. @melektaus
    I know what you are getting at. For example, iconic US writers such as John Steinback, Jack London, Hemingway etc did not finished or did not attend college. Modern mass market directors such as James Cameron and Steven Spielberg also did not acquire their skills from school. However, the US literary environment of that time gave them a venue to be successful. And modern cinema allows directors to thrive. Don’t you find it odd that the US no longer produces authors of those calibre? It is because of the environment.

    That’s why I say try to promote creativity in students is something that cannot be done. What instil creativity is usually experience outside the classroom, in life etc. This is not something that any government can create. Contrary to most belief, Nazi Germany produced more world class engineers, scientist and even more brilliant military thinkers and theorist than the US. Likewise Imperial Japan and the Soviet Union also produced a fair share of radical thinkers despite their so-called “repressive” environment. In fact, it is France and the UK who are so comfortable with their rich colonial empires that they failed to catch up with the latest military or even political ideas. Their spectacular early defeats are proof to that. After WWII, both UK and France spent a lot of resources and energy fighting to keep their colonies but failed. The seed of de-colonization has been planted by Japan. In contrast, Germany and Japan focus all their energy on commerce and industry. In less than 25 yrs after WWII, Germany and Japan both have economies and industries bigger than UK and France!

    My point is, creativity is not something that can be created. In many ways, it is how a community or citizens of a country that want to change their own fate or destiny that propelled them to innovate. In lay man’s term “necessity is the mother of all invention”. However, there must be ground for those ideas and innovation to developed.

  24. But its true. Mainland Chinese are not as smart as those who have been abroad. The question is not to deny is, but to examine the reason why. And that comes down to one word: censorship.
    While many Chinese may feel nationalistic and comparable to the US, the reality is they are not comparable.
    In China, the Government control what you read, see, and even think. That leads to an abnormal situation and a lack of exposure to many other values and intellects and differences of opinion. In other words, it dumbs the mainland Chinese people down. Even Indians are smarter than mainland Chinese. Why? Because they have freedoms.

    The problem is that mainland Chinese cannot even comprehend they are dumb because they have had no exposure to anything else. As Thomas Gray said “Ignorance is bliss” and until China shakes off the Communist party its people will always be more ignorant than those from democratic countries. Thats not anti-sinitic, thats just a fact.

  25. @Scaramouch

    So what are you going to say next? It is the White Man’s Burden for the West to help ‘educate’ the Chinese because they are ‘ill-informed?’ Keep reading Western propaganda and believe that the US is the best country in the damn world while people in the other countries sneer at it.

  26. @Pugster. I never said that and don’t put words into my mouth. You sound like a Bolshevik.
    I actually said that the Chinese are repressed by their political system and consequently are not as well educated. The strength of the Chinese government has been to essentially hide that from their own people through creating high levels of Chinese nationalism.
    The question is – is that a fair perspective of the reality of the situation? You can argue yes or no. You may chose to argue the “no” position, that’s your right.
    But if you take the “yes” position, the next good question is : How is that going to be changed in China?

  27. Ray :
    Contrary to most belief, Nazi Germany produced more world class engineers, scientist and even more brilliant military thinkers and theorist than the US.

    One of the most common perpetuated myth is that creativity can only be found in democracies. But as your comment illustrates if you look back on western history, many were hardly democratic during the height of their empires. Lets not forget too that American universities are filled with Chinese Phd’s on scholarship grants; why then do Americans throw money at these students, raised from a supposedly inferior system – often at the expense of American students who don’t get scholarships and can’t compete with foreign talent.

    Scaramouch :
    Even Indians are smarter than mainland Chinese. Why? Because they have freedoms.

    You’re aware that there is more illiteracy in India than China? That the biggest democracy in the world has more poverty collectively than Africa.

    Mainland Chinese may not know of Hemingway or get to circlejerk to Kony2012 but at least they understand evolution and don’t call their head of state Obongo.

  28. @aeiou: Yes, but at least those illiterate Indians have freedom of thought. And as India is becoming wealthier, those illiterate Indians will become educated Indians. And by 2050, two things will happen: India’s population will be larger than Chinas. It’ll also be richer. http://www.2point6billion.com/news/2012/03/30/report-china-top-economy-in-2020-india-in-2050-10921.html
    You Chinese need to watch your step. Because you won’t be on your self satisfied perch for very long.

  29. MIT Associate Professor of Political Science M. Tayler Fravel has made the following observation about the Chinese elites’ view towards India, and I believe he is spot on.

    http://taylorfravel.com/2011/10/china-views-indias-rise/
    Contrary to the conventional wisdom, China views India’s rise as a positive development that promotes China’s own core interests and strategic objectives more than it threatens or challenges them. Enhanced cooperation with a rising India allows Beijing to avoid a potentially costly confrontation that would harm the growth of both countries, block the formation of a close U.S.-India relationship, and reduce the overall influence of the U.S. over China.

    China’s strategy toward a rising India combines engagement with deterrence. China pursues comprehensive political, economic, and international engagement with India to advance its broader strategic objectives. China also seeks to deter India from undermining Chinese interests by withholding cooperation or maintaining its policies on specific issues, such as its ties with Pakistan.

    I’d also add, with the recent announcement in the 4th BRICS meeting, the countries announcing evaluating forming their own development bank is a testament to the strategic objectives that are common between them.

    Since the two countries are relatively poor and have similar size in population, they will join hands in negotiations in pushing forward global policies related to climate change – especially the per capita consumption/CO2 emissions.

    India wants Chinese investments. China is building a lot of infrastructure for India as we speak. The list is long.

  30. But China doesn’t want Indian investments. China warned India that joint exploration with Vietnam in the latter’s Blocks 127 and 128 amounted to a violation of China’s sovereignty – despite the fact that these blocks were much closer to Vietnam’s continental coasts than to the disputed Paracels and Spratlys. See: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/MJ05Ae03.html

    China wants to have its cake and eat it. But its not going to happen like that.

  31. @Scaramouch

    I actually said that the Chinese are repressed by their political system and consequently are not as well educated. The strength of the Chinese government has been to essentially hide that from their own people through creating high levels of Chinese nationalism.

    What you said is inherently racist and done with little research. Do you have any proof that the Chinese government intentionally not educate its citizens in its schools because of its ‘repression?’ Besides if the Chinese are not well off ‘educated,’ then how come China is on top of international education rankings? Maybe the only kind of people who needs lacks education is you.

    http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/china-debuts-top-international-education-rankings/story?id=12336108#.T4QcxNmeFJE

  32. @pug_ster
    This Scatmouth fellow is obviously tactless and idiotic. By all human development index such as life expectancy, literacy rate, house ownership rate, employment rate, availability of education and health care, China is way ahead of India. What kind of moron would boast that its country would soon have the largest of unemployed and poor people.

    What most outsiders don’t get it is the PRC is run like Pepsi. It is sort of a trade war between Pepsi and Coke. The PRC simply doesn’t want its enemy’s propaganda to run free and wild in its domain. Same reason Coke is never sold in KFC, Pizza Hut or Taco Bell. The logic is, why give your competitor a free leg up while they have been continually trying to negate PRC’s interest.

    Most outsiders didn’t get is territorial integrity is not only CCP’s interest but the core interest of all Chinese people. The Scatmouth fellow think it is ok for China to drill for mineral in contested Kashmir.

    Oh please look at the map and see how far Christmas island is from Australia. Nobody is accusing it of aggression.

  33. @Scaramouch

    Yes, but at least those illiterate Indians have freedom of thought.

    that reminds me of somebody….

    http://i.imgur.com/O8S9a.jpg

    I’m sure the average dalit is so grateful for the freedom that hindu orthodoxy has bestowed upon her.

    Do liberals not like facts or are you simply content with regurgitating what is and isn’t democracy as if it is religious gospel?

    The average Chinese enjoys far more social mobility in almost every area of life compared to the average Indian, you don’t need Washington sponsored gospel to understand why China is successful and India isn’t.

    In fact I don’t even know why people bother to compare India with China other than as a desperate attempt to validate their own political agenda. No amount of Gandhi worship by westerners is going to make India into something it isn’t.

  34. I won’t be surprised if this dude came back accusing all of us as brainwashed communists. Because to him it is a universal truth that India is the best. Next he will say India is way superior because it has many hundred of flavours of curry. Jai Hind etc.

  35. @Scaramouch

    Mainland Chinese are not as smart as those who have been abroad.

    The word “smart” is quite debatable, I would use “well informed”, but I get your gist. You can say that just about on any groups: Americans (who have not been aboard) are not as “well informed” as those who have; Brazilians (who have not been aboard) are not as “well informed” as those who have. Exposing yourself to environments, cultures, and viewpoints that you are not accustomed to, tend to do wonder.

    You are way over-estimating the effects of “censorship” in China. Have you been living in China, and speaking perfect Chinese? The reason why I ask is, not until you can put yourself in the shoes of a typical mainland Chinese, don’t you think whatever impression you have is 2nd-handed at best, which is subject to manipulation of the others? While some sites are blocked in China, the topics that are blocked will find their ways into the Chinese cyberspace, with the help of some oversea paid professionals. For example, tianya.cn often allows topics that may be frowned upon by the “censors”. A recent hack of tianya.cn show many IDs share the same passwords that likely were used by groups — one set of IDs was several 100k’s. Once in a while, the site blocks access from outside of China, and many forums just die down. When Jon Huntsman talked about taking China down with the Chinese Internet friends, does he count a paid ID as a friend as well?

    While many Chinese may feel nationalistic and comparable to the US, the reality is they are not comparable.

    You don’t seem to be well informed. A recent Pew survey actually show Chinese among all people are the least likely to view China as comparable to the US, at 6%. French are the highest, at 21%. Chinese as a whole though, are fairly sanguine that their country will eventually overtake the US — but still less sanguine than French, Spanish, and British.

    The problem is that mainland Chinese cannot even comprehend they are dumb because they have had no exposure to anything else.

    There were some 60 million outbound tourists from China last year — there were more outbound Chinese tourists than there were French or British.

    Well, I don’t know you. For all I care, you can be a dog who can type. But calling a very large group dumb won’t win you friends.

  36. Ray :
    @melektaus
    Don’t you find it odd that the US no longer produces authors of those calibre? It is because of the environment.

    I don’t know about that. I think in another fifty years we’ll know the quality of writers today. It may be the case that there is so much crap that all the diamonds are buried deep in it and so hard to find but that doesn’t mean that there are no great writers today.

    My point is, creativity is not something that can be created. In many ways, it is how a community or citizens of a country that want to change their own fate or destiny that propelled them to innovate. In lay man’s term “necessity is the mother of all invention”. However, there must be ground for those ideas and innovation to developed.

    Another important property of artistic societies besides a relatively well-off society in terms of economy and technology is a society that actually values the arts. but this value has to be inculcated. And the best way to do that is through promoting it in education and the society in the forms of museums, art programs, funding, etc.

    Also, a society must be open minded and try to keep learning because I believe the most important aspect of creativity is synthesis of different viewpoints and ideas. In order to do that different viewpoints must be tolerated (which is not the same thing as accepted).

  37. @melektaus
    LOL. Why do you need fifty years to know? A good writer is a good writer. I think the problem we have is how “the market” has shifted. There’s so much methods for expression that not everyone took to writing anymore. Have you find it odd that from Tang to Song, China produces lots of great poets but by Ming and Qing, not anymore? However, the four great novels are from Yuan, Ming, Qing onwards. The Ming and Qing are period of great mass market literary works. Can you imagine that a guy wrote http://baike.baidu.com/view/9656.htm 聊斋志异 in Qing dynasty which is the foundation of pretty much all Chinese ghost stories today? Likewise no new “classical music” from Europe anymore.

    You see I have thought about this issue long and hard too. Today’s China antique and art market is now through the roof, exceeding US and Europe as no.1 market in the world. What makes China stand out is that not just Chinese arts/antiques are valued but from throughout the world. The market is now completely driven by private collectors. Yes, I do agree with your assessment that a synergy of the world’s finest ideas is vital for a open minded and complete society.

    As for contemporary historical research. A mainland scholar named 王康 http://baike.baidu.com/view/527846.htm on his own initiative commissioned an 800 m long painting remembering those heroes from WWII (both KMT and CCP). Here’s the work http://v.ifeng.com/his/201009/6fb0f36c-e5bc-455a-8365-6ac819a18d94.shtml

    And another historian 王树增 http://baike.baidu.com/view/387767.htm became so successful with his works that he is ranked the 13th richest author in China. He is so rich that he used his own money to buy government archive that was decalssified in the former USSR and other parts of the world for his research.

    Well, a lot of my knowledge of China’s part in WWII and cold war are based on their research.

  38. Ray :
    @melektaus
    LOL. Why do you need fifty years to know?

    I mean that the test of time is usually a good indicator of the quality of a literary work. Besides that, it takes time to weed out all the chaff, all the poor writing from the quality writing.

    A good writer is a good writer. I think the problem we have is how “the market” has shifted. There’s so much methods for expression that not everyone took to writing anymore. Have you find it odd that from Tang to Song, China produces lots of great poets but by Ming and Qing, not anymore? However, the four great novels are from Yuan, Ming, Qing onwards. The Ming and Qing are period of great mass market literary works. Can you imagine that a guy wrote <a

    There’s probably many instances of artists in China as well as in the west that were not known to be great in their time but history has proven them to be great. In their time, there were likely many lesser known artists whose work were of inferior quality but these individuals were quickly forgotten. I’m saying that today might not be that different. It will often take some time to see the charlatans for the true geniuses.

    It’s too early to tell whether many artists are good or charlatans. Two of my favorite modern western writers did not make a great splash in their lifetimes. Both Kafka and Melville had at best, minor successes and were not famous in their time but their genius was only realized about 50 years after their deaths. I’m sure that there were lesser writers who had success in their time but those writers are now forgotten. In fact, I would say the vast majority of writers in their time were FAR inferior to them and their works languished in obscurity during their time and many people then probably said the same thing you are now saying (“why aren’t writers now as good as in the past?”) But Kafka and Melville are every bit as good as previous writers. They just weren’t discovered in their time.

  39. @melektaus
    Ok, I get your point about the fifty years. But I feel it is ironic that a great writer/artist has to be recognized in order to be considered great. Many artists/writers/composers are recognized after their death.

    “why aren’t writers now as good as in the past?”

    If recognition is a major criteria I think the question should be rephrased to “why aren’t today’s readers as good as the past?”

  40. @Ray

    Have you find it odd that from Tang to Song, China produces lots of great poets but by Ming and Qing, not anymore?

    In Tang/Song, paper was much more expensive than Ming/Qing. Paper was a killer app of China up to Tang/Song, which made China then likely the most educated people. The paper didn’t arrive the Middle East until late Tang, and Europe in late Song. Paper was like the modern-day Intel CPU chips then, or cavalry was like Mongols’ F-35s — until Ming developed its own J-20s… But I digress.

    The paper production techniques and the printing press technologies bounced around the world and were refined in the centuries leading to Ming/Qing. Once you get enough cheap paper and mass production print press, why should you still express yourself in terse poems?

    By the same token, the art pieces of today in 50 years that people still remember about, are probably movies and TV shows.

  41. The other factor is the time in history is compressed in our mind, and the current time is expansive. Well, name the 19th century French novel masterpieces… Let’s say you are a nerd and your list contains 50 books. That’s still average one masterpiece every 2 years.

  42. Jxie, agree with you on the Islamic part, our history syllabus cover Islam more than any other topic, the major difference between Middle East Muslim and the relatively secular Muslim is the middle East Muslim worship the West and solely West while the secular one worship both the West and Arab.

    What Liu Xiaobo wrote is not much difference from most that are from the May Forth era, the difference is perhaps changes in environment and society, Kong Fuzi is still the same Kong Fuzi irrespective if we adore or loathe him. When China truly become great (assume), I doubt if our (Chinese in general) attitude would be much vary with the West, with the exception of interfering others affair.

  43. @jxie
    I would say that’s how technology in a way affect cultural development. If you look at the theme of the four great novels, there’s nothing kosher about them. Three Kingdom is about a bunch of guys who rise up from the masses and become rulers in their own right, of course the play of strategy, intrigue, war and romance etc made it such a captivating read. In Journey To the West, it is a stone monkey which rebel against authority too, he smashed up the jade palace of the emperor. The Water Margin is also about rebelling against the corrupted court (the last few episodes where they eventually join the court to fight against other rebels are commissioned by the government). The Red Mansion on the surface looked like a love story but it is all about human politics!

    However, I would disagree that poem is that in Ming/Qing period is no longer popular. There’s lots of creativity and works too, the thing is none rival the great works of Tang/Song. All the educated elite pride themselves on being able to write a few verses, Qian Long who is a great show off wrote 1000 poetries. Why is that? Same as to why there’s no new classical music from Europe too. Is it because of the change in education syllabus?

  44. @Rhan
    Most of Ming’s文字狱 (literary persecution) are between the different court factions (the worst offender being the 宦官). And get worse with a mediocre emperors (which is most of the time). If you disagree name three good emperors of the Ming. It is the saddest and darkest part of Ming politics. As such I feel the Song court is the most open minded. Not many officials or mandarin are sent to jail or death for writing, the most one get is exile.

    The Qing, being a minority group has a lot more paranoia. Do you think they can allow verse like the following to circulate? “夺朱非正色,异种也称王”

    I don’t have exact figure but easily half the educated elite refused to serve the Qing in the beginning. Things only got better after Kang Xi kowtowed to the tomb of Zhu Yuan Zhang, and honoured descendents of Ming loyalist died fighting the Qing. However, I would say easily another 1/10 hold out until the very last days of Qing. That why the Heaven Earth Society, Little Dagger, Hong Society existed.

    I am not saying what the Qing court did was right but a lot of the writings that criticized them attack them solely on their “foreign” origin, basically saying they are not fit to rule because they are not Han or not of Ming lineage. Well, the TGIE group has the same ideology.

  45. A contribution of the Qing is a famous Chinese set course meal called 满汉全席

    In the Qing court, the Man, Han and Mongolian used to sit separately. Qian Long commissioned this dish so all the ministers regardless of the ethnic background come and eat together.

  46. @Rhan

    The idea of total Westernization was nothing new per se, though I would argue those for it likely didn’t fully understand the West as a whole that they want to “-ize” into. Liu Xiaobo has gone one step further to advocate colonialism on China. The May 4th generation lived in a much much crueler world than Liu’s idealized fantasy world — they couldn’t possibly advocate for being some colonialism subjects. Liu has a few issues, one of which is that after his mid-30s first prison term he stopped growing intellectually, compared to say 摩罗.

    A lot of the arguments presented by the May 4th generation have been effectively debunked by the later developments. For example, many of them argued that Chinese being non-phonetic reduced the chance of a high literacy rate in the general public, which is required for a modern society. Yet Japan that still retains thousands of Kanjis, reached 90+% literacy rate far earlier than Korea and Vietnam that had converted to fully phonetic written languages.

    @Ray

    Ancient Chinese poems originated as the equivalent of musical lyrics. From Shi Jing (诗经) all the way to Song Poems (宋词), there were continuous innovations in styles and musical rhythms (律/绝,词牌). Yet after Song the innovation aspect mostly stopped.

  47. Ray :
    @melektaus
    Ok, I get your point about the fifty years. But I feel it is ironic that a great writer/artist has to be recognized in order to be considered great. Many artists/writers/composers are recognized after their death.

    They certainly don’t have to be recognized. But time is usually a more stable and reliable indicator of ability than the contemporary hoopla or obscurity of works.

    Many great writers perhaps are now forgotten whose works will never see recognition.

  48. @jxie
    “By the same token, the art pieces of today in 50 years that people still remember about, are probably movies and TV shows.”

    jxie, I appreciate/agree with most of your views.
    But not exactly the above.
    language allows imagination, specific to an individual, it expanse the idea of any novel in various directions.
    Images are rather specific, and less imaginary.

  49. @wwww1234

    I actually agree with you. Often books give you imagination and each one’s imagination is different from the same book. Fans of a popular book often will go to see the movie version of the book, but never feel totally satisfied. Also it’s pretty hard to produce 六脉神剑 or 凌波微步 on a screen.

    We can look at all these forms, be it Song poems, Ming novels, or modern-day movies/TV as entertainment, as story telling, and as ways to convey ideas and share fantasies. Movies/TV being relatively newer, pack so much more information than all the older forms, in the same amount of time.

    To posterity, our modern-day novels such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Bluest Eye, and 倚天屠龙记 (go by melektaus’ 50-year rule not to judge anything newer) will be grouped together with War and Peace, Great Expectations and 红楼梦 as ancient novels. My point was, what would stand out for us, would likely be our movies and TV shows.

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