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Human Rights Revisted

This blog will be a continuation of the interesting dialogue started by Oli on human rights and China. I agree with Oli that Chinese culture does have considerable resources to take into account concerns raised by many human rights discourse. The value of human rights is universal and ancient. Many such values, though implicitly already there in Chinese culture, may be accounted within a modern Chinese cultural framework.

I also respectfully disagree with Oli about how the more explicit and formal rights framework (the “formalization” of rights in his words) evolved in the west. I believe and will argue that such a framework developed because of the distinct historical forces in the west vis a vis China and not primarily because of technological, educational and communicative advancement. It became an explicit and formal affair in the west because of the historical forces that necessitated it.

Many people in the west and often even in China assume that historical concerns for human rights are strictly a western development and that the explicit rights discourse and formal legal system of the west developed because of western cultural values (such as concerns with autonomy, freedom, individuality, etc).

I believe that this is a self-serving, revisionary rationalization.

The real reason why the west developed explicit and formal framework for human rights is because of its history. China did not develop such a framework because it did not have such a history, and if it had such a history, it would likewise have developed one. The historical trend I am thinking about is the drastically different pasts both major civilizations have had regarding religious, political, social oppression.

Throughout their respective histories, the west has been far more oppressive in regards to religious, political, and social persecution while China has been mostly relatively tolerant. I think that the explicit and formal framework of human rights developed in the west precisely because one was required to protect people from the systematic abuses of their society, their church and their state while no such explicit and formal system was ever required in China because such kinds and degrees of oppression of the many institutions of religion, politics and social practices rarely existed in China. The motivational impetus was simply lacking in the case of China. If necessity is the mother of invention, the explicit and formal framework of protecting human rights was necessitated by a history of systematic oppression that made such a framework inevitable.

That is not to say that the west has always been intolerant towards these institutions nor is it to say that China has always been tolerant towards them. For example, the west during the last 50 years have been the most religiously, politically and socially tolerant in its history while ironically, China, since having adopted a western political system (Marxism) have been its most oppressive regarding those institutions. But the west’s history has intolerance as the norm, not the exception. It was the systematic and brutal oppression of people’s religious and political beliefs and associated social practices that was a causal force. Conversely, however, religious, political and social tolerance has been the norm in China and it was only interspersed with certain periods staining Chinese history with intolerance. For example, the roughly fifteen years of political terror during the Qin Dynasty and in the modern period of the Cultural Revolution.

For most of western history through the last 2000 or so years, one may be burned alive for practicing a religion not sponsored by the state. Indeed, one may even be killed for having thoughts or beliefs not sanctioned by the official state/church doctrine like Socrates and Thomas More were. Hundreds of thousands of people died in brutal religious campaigns all across Europe throughout the Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance and even the throughout the “Enlightenment” in religious purgings such as the Spanish Inquisition. Millions died in religious wars and religious Crusades.

Thousands of “witches” were tortured, burned or drowned alive for “crimes” of being “spinsters,” or of “gossiping” and of not going to church. Homosexuals were burned alive for what they did in the privacy of their homes. Philosophers and scientists who held views at odds with Biblical interpretation or official church-state doctrines (no separation back then) were also burned alive.

With a sordid history like that the question isn’t Why did an explicit and formal system of rights protection come into existence in the west? but Why didn’t one come into existence much sooner? Much of the rights framework (or Classical Liberal tradition in philosophical jargon) we know today didn’t even come into existence till between 1650-1800 in Europe and the US.

It was not because westerners valued “freedom” or “autonomy” anymore than anyone else. It was because their governments had made people’s lives so intolerable with brutal and intrusive policies that they had to formulate such systems to protect basic freedoms from gross infringement.

There is also a prevailing myth in both the west and in China that Christian values spurred on the Classical Liberal developments. But that is also wrong. One only needs to look at the philosophers who first developed and advocated such a framework. Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Baruch Spinoza and the American Founding Fathers were all what we probably would consider either atheists, agnostics or Deists (that is, non religious people who believed in an impersonal Creator). These Fathers of Liberalism lived in a time when almost everyone else was deeply religious. Many of these first Liberals were self-described “Christians” but they only described themselves so to protect themselves against persecution, social ostracization or for political gain. They did not believe in a personal God nor in the divinity of Christ or any number of Biblical claims. Hobbes and Locke had to escape to Holland (which together with Scotland was the only two major European nations that was moderately tolerant regarding religious and political beliefs and certain social practices). They were under threat of death had they stayed in their home country of England. It is no surprise that the creators of the Liberal rights model were the very people that needed such protections from their own societies.

On an interesting note, I have met one philosopher who argued that Locke was inspired to formulate his rights approach because he had read a newly available translation by the Jesuits of Mencius while in Holland. Mencius, being a Confucian, argued against intrusive state power and in favor of the interests of the people more than two thousand years before Locke. In the Confucian tradition, the state’s main responsibility is to provide social welfare (building roads, schools, hospitals, providing security, raising enough food, etc) and not sanctioning religion. The emperor’s basic role is role model and in the performing of rituals, not in the regulation of people’s personal lives.

For most of its history almost all religions, foreign or native were widely tolerated within China. There were no pogroms, no religious wars, no Inquisitions, no Crusades, no witch burnings, etc, etc in Chinese history. Christianity, Islam, Judaism all has had a history in China more than a thousand years old without any coercive state sanctioning or proscription of their practice or belief.

Chinese Christians, Jews and Muslims were made to observe laws other Chinese had to observe. They were never systematically singled out and persecuted like different religious adherents were throughout European history. Even during some periods in the Tang Dynasty when foreigners were expelled from China and foreign religious proselytizing made illegal, no attempt was made to prohibit religious practice by Chinese adherents.

Personal, social practices such as homosexuality was mostly widely tolerated in society. The government rarely if ever intruded in people’s houses or bedrooms. People, especially the Mandarin government officials openly criticized the policies of their government and even the Emperor himself (in fact, it was their jobs to do so).

It is no wonder that China did not develop an explicit and formal conceptual system to protect people’s speech, religious beliefs, and personal/social practices as no need was there to develop one. It is also no wonder that the west did develop one. It’s not that the Chinese don’t value the same things on an intuitive, moral level as westerners; it’s that there was a pressing need to make those basic moral intuitions into a more explicit and formal system so as to better protect people from violations in one society rather than the other.

I will say, however, the Chinese today may emphasize certain rights over others compared to most westerners. Americans, for example, may value the right to freedom of expression highly. While Chinese may value freedom from racism and economic freedoms and rights (access to health care, job security, etc) more than the freedom of expression but Chinese also value the freedom to express their religious and political views as well. The differences is a matter of relative degree in the hierarchy of scheme of values and how society ought to structure the laws so as to take into account those values. Any country that outlaws hate-speech may have a scheme like the Chinese over the Americans, say, valuing the freedom from racism over free speech but that does not mean that they do not value the later, just that when there is conflict, the higher-valued right ought to be the one that is prioritized over the lower-valued one in the law.

The rights framework was not conceived because of European High Mindedness as many westerners who love to engage in self-aggrandizement would like to believe. They are rather conceived by a reaction towards the rape of those rights by the religious, social and state powers that excessively and brutally controlled people’s lives. Many westerners also believe that the Chinese did not develop that tradition because Chinese culture or people do not value things like freedom and autonomy. But that is bigoted. It serves only to dehumanize the Chinese who are some of the most freedom loving people on earth.

It serves as no surprise, also, that Chinese people are now engaged in the discourse and legal codification making explicit what had already been valued such as protecting freedom of expression and so forth. Now the Chinese government is even further instituting the rule of law so as to protect people’s rights from unnecessary intrusion. This is a natural progression from the oppressive regime of the Cultural Revolution to the more relaxed environment most Chinese enjoy today to express themselves. Some westerners would like to take credit seeing this as influence of “western values” but this development is native much as the development of European and American Classical Liberal tradition was native to the west because it was a reaction against their own oppressive trends. China has far to go in this area but so do the west. Cultural centric and ethnocentric arrogance will not further the discourse but only hinder it.

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  1. Wayne
    January 22nd, 2012 at 00:05 | #1

    A very very good article. Extremely insightful.

    “I think that the explicit and formal framework of human rights developed in the west precisely because one was required to protect people from the systematic abuses of their society, their church and their state while no such explicit and formal system was ever required in China because such kinds and degrees of oppression of the many institutions of religion, politics and social practices rarely existed in China.”

    I agree. If we consider hate crime laws in the West (something I think is not specifically codified in most Asian countries including China), this does not demonstrate that Western civilization is more tolerant or is more anti-racist or anti-homophobic than Chinese civilization. The hate crime laws have evolved in the West to deal with the local conditions of Western societies.

    Afterall Chinese polities probably never even considered hate-crime laws, because bashing someone to death for his skin colour, or his sexual orientation simply does not happen in Chinese society, or for dating a different race is simply unheard of in the sinosphere.

    Chinese are simply perplexed and bewildered when you tell them that in the West today, gays can be beaten to death simply for being gay. While many Chinese may feel uncomfortably about homosexuality, killing someone for it is beyond comprehension for them.

    The end result of course is it would seem that most Western countries today, legislatively speaking, provides explicit protections against racism and homophobia than perhaps most Asan countries (although this too is debatable, considering the huge affirmative action framework for minorities in China – but the minorities policies relate of course to Marxist Leninist ideology – for example the criticism of Han chauvinism by the CCP).

    Thus if we look at the legal systems that evolved in Western societies, they do provide great protection of individual rights, and explicit separation of church and state (again Meletaus alludes to this above —why the explicit emphasis on religious freedom in the West –precisely because the West suffered from centuries of wars and mass murder fuelled by religious intolerance).

    Whereas while some Chinese societies have not had to fast track laws protecting racial minorities, gays, religious minorities, simply because Chinese civilization by default is relatively tolerant.

    This of course has resulted in a rather perverse situation, that because the West has explicit, and strong laws against most forms of intolerance, Westerners now point to Asian socities without these laws and say Western civilization is inherently more tolerant than Eastern civilization.

    But why the need to codify tolerance in the first place? Obviously because Western civilization has been incredibly intolerant for a large part of its history. This relates of course to her adoption of an Abrahamic faith. Dogmatic Marxism Leninism itself is a form of religion, with communist eschatology having an obvious parallel with the Christian doctrine of the fall, redemption, and the end outcome for humanity)

    However, the West has to be given due credit for one thing. Because religious intolerance and racial intolerance is such a strong part of its culture, these forms of intolerance have been put under the microscope and scrutinised to a greater degree than at any other time in history. In this way not only the legal rights, but the internal feelings of minority groups are examined and researched and this often finds its way into legislation.

    I feel both the Eastern and Western traditions can make their own unique contributions towards the evolution of human rights. The East in respect of religious tolerance, the West its emphasis on the rights of the individual (which come from the Christian religion and the notion of individual salvation).

  2. January 22nd, 2012 at 00:50 | #2

    Awesome read and liked your articulation, Melektaus.

    Wayne – read up on this article too by William Hooper – individual vs. collective:
    http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2010/09/william-hooper-the-scientific-development-concept/

  3. Wayne
    January 22nd, 2012 at 00:57 | #3

    One area where the West has been ahead of China, is I think they did not have anything like 株連九族

    The families of those beheaded under even a despot like Henry VIII were largely spared, with the punishment mainly being forfeiture of estates.

    However the pre-Christian Romans were different. For example the crime of a single slave, could result in all the slaves of the household being executed. And of course the Roman army had decimation – the punishment of ill-disciplined army units by killing every tenth man.

    The Christian religion however, emphasises the autonomy of each individual in deciding his own salvation. Thus the crimes of one’s family, the immorality of a family member did not necessarily lead to a stain on all the family (in theory if not always in practice).

    So I think we should give credit where credit is due. I think this is an important contribution towards human rights by Western christendom.

  4. January 22nd, 2012 at 07:36 | #4

    Excellent article, melektaus! A good read, here. The emphasis on historical factors is much needed – China’s geography made it very amenable to governmental centralisation (natural barriers from invasion, few natural barriers to movement inside China), whereas Europe’s splintered geography (mountains and rivers aplenty where they were least convenient) made it more amenable to fragmentation. Part of the reason that European law was so explicit with regard to rights was indeed the atrocious behaviour on the part of ‘secular’ government, but also because kings and nobles wanted formal agreements with each other to guarantee their loyalty. Treasonous and greedy nobles were not as easily dealt with in Europe as in China (and were therefore more common). In China, noblemen (at first; they were replaced beginning in the Tang dynasty with the intelligentsia) never really had any explicit reason to move beyond the customary obligations between lord and vassal – and they were bolstered at first by the humanistic philosophy of Zhou Gong Dan, and afterward by the civil service examinations (which served to promote the reigning symbolic and cultural order).

    I would note, though, with regard to the Christian religion, that there are two different tendencies. The older, intellectualist tendency has quite a great deal in common with the humanism of Mencius – the idea being that God’s character and virtue matters more than his power. (Confucius and Mencius, and later Zhu Xi, all held that the individual will was governed by a preexisting Good accessible through personal cultivation.) Unfortunately (perhaps spurred by the proliferation of treacherous noblemen), in later Christian thinking, voluntarism (where the sovereign power of God came to matter more than his character) won the day. There are still significant intellectualist currents in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican (to which I belong) communities.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectualism
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voluntarism_%28metaphysics%29#Medieval_voluntarism

    Others can make the case better than I can, but in a nutshell, voluntarism has been massively destructive as a philosophy, in that it dismantled the traditional ‘balance of power’ between the Church and the state, and promoted both the ‘stateness’ of the Church (the Spanish Inquisition) and the enrichment and political power of an increasingly omnipresent and overreaching state (rather than focusing on human development at home). The results (colonialism, international capitalism, slavery and wage slavery) have been tragic for a significant part of the world for the past four hundred years of its history.

  5. LOLZ
    January 23rd, 2012 at 01:38 | #5

    Great thesis on how Western liberalism came to be. Melektaus did admit that China has had a rather oppressive history for the last five decades in politics, religion, and freedom of speech. Regardless of the west’s progress I think it is important for China to become a less oppressive nation, simply because in Chinese history too much oppression will always result in revolts and no one likes revolts.

    Back to the concept of human rights, personally I like the concept of it. However I think much of it is grounded in pie in the sky beliefs, and overly political. The whole talk about how we are all born free and equal is really BS when it comes to execution. People born in wealthier nations clearly are not equal to people born in poor nations and they clearly don’t act like equals when dealing with international conflicts. People born in the same nation but from different socioeconomic backgrounds clearly are not equals when it comes to opportunities in life no matter how a society tries to equalize everyone. The definition of Tyranny is in the eye of the beholder. A tyrant to one group of people may very well be the savior for another group. In every nation, certain groups of people will always be discriminated against due to their race, sex, religious, and certainly political beliefs. The difference between nations is really the degree of tolerance a society has towards different elements within, and I think culture is a strong influence on tolerance. However as the case with whats going in the Mideast in recent times I think it is fruitless for one group of people to force high political concepts like tolerance and culture on another. Tolerance should arrive as groups of people understand and accept each other, rather than being forced upon by a third group.

  6. raventhorn
    January 23rd, 2012 at 08:00 | #6

    System of government and political ideologies are the moral center or Conscience of the Rulers.

    Often times, it is not about what that moral center is, but that how well the Rulers obey their own moral center/Conscience.

    There is nothing wrong with having a high-sounding ideal, but it risks pompous piety.

    At the same time, there is something great in the plain humility of simple goals: food, shelter for the people, prosperity and opportunity for the children, etc.

  7. zack
    January 23rd, 2012 at 10:28 | #7

    @raventhorn
    it comes from the dominant religious ethics of the culture; in the case of the christian west, much emphasis is placed on appearing moral or propagating Christianity, as opposed to practicing a religion’s creeds such as say Buddhism.

    That’s why in western political thought, there’s a tacit acceptance of appearing moral thanks to one’s propaganda corps, but privately doing amoral things as espoused by Machiavelli; in terms of Chinese thought, the yardstick for morality is very private. The height of amorality is to disrespect and dishonour your parents and ancestors; the role of the sovereign in most Chinese dynasties was mainly religious as opposed to political-he mainly presided over religious functions and was supposed to serve as a role model for the people. Not saying the Emperors didn’t get down into the dirt in order to maintain their own mandate of heaven; the difference is that you won’t find an analogy of say, the Northern Crusades in Chinese history

  8. January 23rd, 2012 at 12:58 | #8

    Have to admit that it was a good article for most part except of the ending.

    The conclusion is wrong – starting from “Now the Chinese government is even further instituting the rule of law so as to protect people’s rights from unnecessary intrusion.”

    People are not protected when a woman gets a year of labor camps for a simple re-tweet.
    And the more and more strict limitations on micro-blogging show that Chinese government is making the “unnecessary intrusion”.

  9. January 23rd, 2012 at 13:33 | #9

    This is a good post. At the risk of oversimplifying, I offer this slightly humorous analogy.

    Just last week, I went to a parenting class. That teacher told us that one of her favorite things to do is to post rules on the fridge. Rule #4 might be something like: must clean after your self after you are done playing.

    Now of course, she said jokingly, we are not going to put all 89 or 899 rules on the fridge. We are going to put the most important ones, maybe the top 5 or 10. Which 5 or 10 depend on your family, your child, and your experience.

    If your child like to hit people, or talk back rudely, or have bad habits such as spitting or hitting the table during dinner table, those will take precedence. You are not going to put a rule like be polite to Grandmom is that is not (has never been) an issue.

    So the codification of law – of rights – how you frame issues – depend importantly on each family experience.

    The same is true of “human rights.”

    I may add – this is just my view – that “human rights” – as codified by the West may also serve the purpose for it to escape its historical terror. We may have raped the world and so on, but now that we respect human rights, we are above all that. We can never have Hitler now because we have human rights. We can never have colonization because we have human rights. We are now enlightened. We are now a different breed.

    Pointing readers at international politics, I will let the reader be their own judge.

  10. January 23rd, 2012 at 13:56 | #10

    melektaus, despite my compliment of this post, I also want to critique it.

    You wrote:

    For example, the west during the last 50 years have been the most religiously, politically and socially tolerant in its history while ironically, China, since having adopted a western political system (Marxism) have been its most oppressive regarding those institutions.

    Also LOLZ wrote

    Melektaus did admit that China has had a rather oppressive history for the last five decades in politics, religion, and freedom of speech. Regardless of the west’s progress I think it is important for China to become a less oppressive nation, simply because in Chinese history too much oppression will always result in revolts and no one likes revolts.

    I strongly take issue with this. The West has been “tolerant” because it stands without contest as the ruler of the world. It has vanquished during those times all viable challenges to it. Without any true challenges to its values, identity, security (military or economic), it can afford to be “tolerant.” Immigrants are welcome, but if you don’t speak English well, or if you don’t adopt American customs, well you are second class citizens if not worse (Chinese couldn’t become citizens of this nation until mid 20th century by the way). And on the International stage, it has acted without impunity to oppress and suppress the rest of the world. That is not true tolerance. True tolerance is about genuine respect of others. Not castration of others and then self congratulatorily say how tolerant it can afford to be now.

    I take issue also with your characterization that China has been “oppressive regarding those institutions” the last 50 years without qualification. You are guilty of viewing the world through Western lens.

    Why do you focus on oppression with regard to those “institutions”? Cultural revolution is an anti-cultural / anti-tradition revolution, of which religion is but a part. Why not talk about oppression with respect to all Chinese art / culture / traditions that have been lost during those times? Cultural revolution has been also oppressive with respect to so many other aspects of culture – of Chinese – culture that simply focusing on religion I think misses the big picture.

    Religion as we discuss them – in the context of politics – is by itself is a political term. Oli had an excellent post on religion that discusses that what is considered “religion” in one culture may not be in another. What is religion in one culture may be considered just a philosophy – or maybe even a cult I suppose – in another.

    Freedom of religion came about in the West not because religion was deemed a natural right per se, but because religions were battling each other for political power, with royalty being another force jockying for power – and other the everpresent people being yet another. To have a truce where religion steps back, where people have a voice, where royalty also have a say – the notion of a separation of church and state and or “freedom of religion” came to being.

    The cultural revolution as I said was an anti-tradition anti-cultural movement. It was not an anti-religious thing.

    It was genuinely believed that old culture and tradition was what was holding back human development, or human justice. The mayhem that developed was neither a Chinese thing nor Western thing, it was a Chinese in confusion thing. Not everything was about “oppression” in the cultural revolution though. My acupuncture was a red guard. She told me many terrible sufferings and stories. But she also resolutely say that it was also among the most idealistic and liberating times of her life. Many youths truly wanted to work for a better world for the masses. The fact that political forces existed that manipulated people – that the movement did not actually work (it did liberate Chinese from many forces, but at very high costs to Chinese people, Chinese culture, Chinese tradition, Chinese way of life).

    The rights Chinese envision should be measured against their own history and experiences, not those of other peoples. Even the general notion of “rights’ should be accorded based on their own history and experiences. In the West, rights are often framed in terms of what the people have, what the gov’t cannot take away. When Chinese think about rights, they should have a fuller understanding of rights as defined by their experiences. “Rights” are not necessarily things that defend against the gov’t, but also “Rights” that describe gov’t duty and obligation to the people.

  11. January 23rd, 2012 at 15:10 | #11

    Allen :

    The West has been “tolerant” because it stands without contest as the ruler of the world. It has vanquished during those times all viable challenges to it. Without any ture challenges to its values, identity, security (military or economic), it can afford to be “tolerant.” That is not true tolerance. True tolerance is about genuine respect of others. Not castration of others and then self congratulatorily say how tolerant it can afford to be now.

    I don’t deny that there is much insincerity in modern western “tolerance” for plural systems of religion, politics etc but I would not trade my position with that of the Spanish Inquisition or the times when “heretics” were burned alive. There is much more tolerance than those times even if much of that is not genuine.

    Why do you focus on oppression with regard to those “institutions”? Cultural revolution is an anti-cultural / anti-tradition revolution, of which religion is but a part. Cultural revolution has been also oppressive with respect to so many other aspects of culture – of Chinese – culture that simply focusing on religion I think misses the big picture.

    I don’t deny this. The CR was oppressive in all regards towards people’s behavior and thought. I did not mean to focus on religion in either Europe or China. Europe has been not just oppressive in regards to religion but all sorts of things in the past and today (philosophical/scientific ideas, foreign cultures, political ideas, etc). China was the same way during the CR. I believe that for Europe, Religion was a big part of that oppression directly and indirectly. For China, it was the adoption of a dogmatic political and economic system that had similarities to religion.

    Freedom of religion came about in the West not because someone religion was deemed a right, but because religions were battling each other for political power, with royalty being another force jockying for power – and other the everpresent people being yet another. To have a truce where religion steps back, where people have a voice, where royalty also have a say – the notion of a separation of church and state and or “freedom of religion” was born.

    That was definitely a part of the cause for religious tolerance. But the people who first formulated the Liberal tradition were not religious at all. As far as I know, they were all materialists. None believed in an immaterial soul or some magical supernatural power and none believed in a personal god and none practiced a religion. Because they were the conceptual fathers of Liberalism, they deserve much of the credit but I also agree with you that their philosophy were eventually accepted by religious people because they saw religious tolerance as a pragmatic virtue. In fact, John Locke, argued that even religious people ought to accept personal religious freedom because it was good for all religions, including whatever religion they ascribed. He was appealing to religious people by arguing an argument they would find beneficial despite the fact that he despised much of the Bible and the idea of a Christian god.

  12. January 23rd, 2012 at 16:19 | #12

    You wrote in the post:

    Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Baruch Spinoza and the American Founding Fathers were all what we probably would consider either atheists, agnostics or Deists

    And followed up in the comment above

    But the people who first formulated the Liberal tradition were not religious at all.

    I don’t think that’s correct.

    I am familiar with the works of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and American Founding Father, and I know they were – each and every one of them – religious. They may not have subscribed to particular sects of faith, but they were deeply religious – Christians – in their own way.

    In fact, the idea of rights as in “natural rights” were defined as “god given” during much of Renissance – and the genesis of much of western legal thoughts. If you see these philosophers labeled as heretics or atheists, they must be understood in context of the times then. They rarely mean that they don’t believe in a God per se.

    Consider Hobbes:

    Many people have called Hobbes an atheist, both during his lifetime and more recently. However, the word ‘atheist’ did not mean the same thing in the seventeenth century as it meant now. Thus when Mintz (1962), in a study of Hobbes’s critics that often mentions atheism, summarizes the reasons those critics gave for calling Hobbes an atheist, he lists the views

    that the universe is body, that God is part of the world and therefore body, that the Pentateuch and many other books of Scripture are redactions or compilations from earlier sources, that the members of the Trinity are Moses, Jesus, and the Apostles, that few if any miracles can be credited after the Testamental period, that no persons deserve the name of ‘martyr’ expect those who witnessed the ascension of Christ, that witchcraft is a myth and heaven a delusion, that religion is in fact so muddled with superstition as to be in many vital places indistinguishable from it, [and] that the Church, both in its government and its doctrine, must submit to the dictates of Leviathan, the supreme civil authority (Mintz 1962, 45).

    Thus, many of Hobbes’s critics in the seventeenth century, including those who vehemently attacked his religious views, still thought he believed in the existence of God. They thought, however, that he was a rather dubious sort of Christian. Other critics, however, have thought that Hobbes in fact denied the existence of God. This might seem a curious allegation, for Hobbes often talks about God as existing. Certainly, to read Hobbes in this way requires one to take some of his statements at something other than face value.

    Or Locke

    What were Locke’s religious views and where did he fit into the debates about religious toleration? This is a quite difficult question to answer. Religion and Christianity in particular is perhaps the most important influence on the shape of Locke’s philosophy. But what kind of Christian was Locke? Locke’s family were Puritans. At Oxford, Locke avoided becoming an Anglican priest. Still, Locke’s nineteenth century biographer Fox Bourne thought that Locke was an Anglican and Locke himself claimed to be an Anglican until he died. Others have identified him with the Latitudinarians — a movement among Anglicans to argue for a reasonable Christianity that dissenters ought to accept. Still, there are some reasons to think that Locke was neither an orthodox Anglican or a Latitudinarian. Locke got Isaac Newton to write Newton’s most powerful anti-Trinitarian tract. Locke arranged to have the work published anonymously in Holland though in the end Newton decided not to publish. (McLachlan, Hugh, 1941) This strongly suggests that Locke too was by this time an Arian or unitarian. (Arius c. 250-336 asserted the primacy of the Father over the son and thus rejected the doctrine of the trinity and was condemned as a heretic at the Council of Nicea in 325. Newton held that the Church had gone in the wrong direction in condemning Arius.) Given that one main theme of Locke’s Letter on Toleration is that there should be a separation between Church and State, this does not seem like the view of a man devoted to a state religion. It might appear that Locke’s writing The Reasonableness of Christianity in which he argues that the basic doctrines of Christianity are few and compatible with reason make him a Latitudinarian. Yet Richard Ashcraft has argued that comprehension for the Anglicans meant conforming to the existing practices of the Anglican Church; that is, the abandonment of religious dissent. Ashcraft also suggests that Latitudinarians were thus not a moderate middle ground between contending extremes but part of one of the extremes — “the acceptable face of the persecution of religious dissent.” (Ashcraft in Kroll, Ashcraft and Zagorin 1992 p. 155) Ashcraft holds that while the Latitudinarians may have represented the ‘rational theology’ of the Anglican church, there was a competing dissenting ‘rational theology’ Thus, while it is true that Locke had Latitudinarian friends, given Ashcraft’s distinction between Anglican and dissenting “rational theologies”, it is entirely possible that The Reasonableness of Christianity is a work of dissenting “rational theology.”

    Locke had been thinking, talking and writing about religious toleration since 1659. His views evolved. In the early 1660s he very likely was an orthodox Anglican. He and Shaftesbury had instituted religious toleration in the Fundamental Constitution of the Carolinas. He wrote the Epistola de Tolerentia in Latin in 1685 while in exile in Holland. He very likely was seeing Protestant refugees pouring over the borders from France where Louis XIV had just revoked the Edict of Nantes. Holland itself was a Calvinist theocracy with significant problems with religious toleration. But Locke’s Letter does not confine itself to the issues of the time. Locke gives a principled account of religious toleration, though this is mixed in with arguments which apply only to Christians, and perhaps in some cases only to Protestants. He gives his general defense of religious toleration while continuing the anti-Papist rhetoric of the Country party which sought to exclude James II from the throne.

    In summary, Locke’s idea of religious tolerance must be seen as one of an insider … not an outsider.

    I don’t deny that these philosophers were open-minded in intent and tried to strike down as many orthodox aspects of religion as possible – hence paving way for religions to be more “compatible” with each other. But to say they were not religious, or that they were atheists as we understand that term to be today – that is incorrect. Liberal thought as developed began as an enlightened reading of Christianity, not a repudiation of Christianity.

  13. Wayne
    January 23rd, 2012 at 18:45 | #13

    @Allen

    Loved your post. That is the only thing I take issue with in Meletaus otherwise excellent article.

    In history I think Mao’s reputation will only be enhanced. At the moment the Maoist period and Mao is demonized, and at best even some on this blog seem rather embarrassed about that period in China’s history.

    There are so many things to say, but the more I read of the period, and the more I talk to people who lived through the period, I do believe we cannot simply say the Cutural Revolution was a complete disaster. My mother-in-law, believe it or not prefers Mao to any leader afterwards, and she is not alone.

    The idea of the Cultural Revolution was to smash all old oppressive structures that had held the Chinese people back for centuries. Smash the four olds – Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas. Of course things went too far, but one can see the aims of the movement. And sure far too many people were wrongly persecuted (not because of government policy but because the masses took things in their own hands and went too far).

    But the positives of the period largely go unnoticed. During this period China underwent the greatest increase of life expectancy in history. And while higher education no doubt suffered, there was a massive increase in literacy at the grass roots level.

    As for ‘democracy’ how about the fact that for the first time in China’s history, perhaps the first anywhere, ordinary workers and peasants deposed elite bureacrats as leaders. And how representative of the ‘average’ person is the US governent and Chinese governments today?

    Think of some of the achievements of the Maoist period:

    Liberation of the country from imperialism
    Defeat of US imperialism in Korea
    Aiding the Vietnamese to defeat French, then US imperialism
    Perhaps the greatest sustained increase in life expectancy in human history (attested by all Western scholars)
    Literacy increased from under 20% to around 70 to 80%
    Significant economic growth and industrialisation
    The atomic bomb
    Putting up a satellite in space

    All the above in the teeth of international hostility – from the West and then the Soviets. China’s independence and willingness to forge her own path was established during these years.

    Here is what a Harvard study says about the Maoist period, in explaining why China is so far ahead of a country like India today (even though both countries started off on more or less the same footing in the late 1940s).

  14. Wayne
    January 23rd, 2012 at 18:48 | #14

    Comparing China with India over the past three decades, the Harvard study states:

    However, the authors note, China’s economy has exploded, expanding by 8.1 percent per capita per year on average between 1980 and 2000, while in the same time period India saw a sustained growth rate in income per capita of 3.6 percent–a rate that, while rapid by the standards of most developing economies, is modest compared to China’s. What accounts for the difference? Part of the answer, the HSPH team suggests, is that dramatic demographic changes in China began decades before those in India. After 1949, China’s Maoist government invested heavily in basic health care, creating communal village and township clinics for its huge rural population. That system produced enormous improvements in health: From 1952 to 1982, infant mortality in China dropped from 200 to 34 deaths per 1,000 live births. Life expectancy rose from 35 years to 68.”
    http://tinyurl.com/2fj2r4z

    It is seldom mentioned but amazing that China was already ahead in terms of life expectancy and literacy by the time of Mao’s death, than India today.

  15. Antioxidants
    January 23rd, 2012 at 22:39 | #15

    Whatever is accomplish during Mao’s era, it is in spite of Mao, not because of Mao. It is accomplished because the Chinese people are fundamentally good and industrious. Mao is a petty, conniving, scheming and power hungry individual who doesn’t have a conscience and who really don’t care about China. Crimes of Mao includes persecution of his many colleagues, cultivation of a personality cult, plunging China into chaos and anarchy for his personal political machination, among others. Mao’s China is a brutal China. Does anybody of here think that China’s past 30 years of development is possible if Mao is still alive.

  16. January 24th, 2012 at 12:58 | #16

    Allen :

    I don’t think that’s correct.
    I am familiar with the works of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and American Founding Father, and I know they were – each and every one of them – religious. They may not have subscribed to particular sects of faith, but they were deeply religious – Christians – in their own way.
    In fact, the idea of rights as in “natural rights” were defined as “god given” during much of Renissance – and the genesis of much of western legal thoughts. If you see these philosophers labeled as heretics or atheists, they must be understood in context of the times then. They rarely mean that they don’t believe in a God per se.
    Consider Hobbes</

    I think this is just a semantic point. You misunderstood what I meant by religious. I explicitly said that many of the fathers of the liberal tradition believed in god but that does not mean they were religious. The belief in god or gods is neither necessary nor sufficient for being a part of a religion. I know lots of people who believe in God but who are not religious (in fact are anti religion) and I also know lots of people who practice a religion but who do not believe in God (according to Daniel Dennett, a surprising large number of priests and pastors fall under this category)

    I knew perfectly well that Hobbes and Locke believed in a god (or at least professed to do so). So did some of Founding Fathers. But that doesn’t mean they were religious never mind Christians as we understand the term today.

    You may say that people who self-ascribe to be Christians but who do not believe in the divinity of Christ and of a personal god, and who are materialists are “Christians” but this seems artificial and forced to me. Would today’s Christians see these people as “saved”? How different are they from ancient philosophers were also ascribed the same beliefs before the birth of Christ? Not very, IMO.In any case it is a semantic point.

    The fact of the matter is, they were persecuted harshly for their religious and philosophical beliefs. Whether you call those religious beliefs “Christian” or “atheist” or “deist” or “pantheist” is immaterial.

    Like I said in the blog, they self-ascribed to “Christianity” for obvious reasons. They were under threat of death. But if you actually read what they had to say, they have little in common with Christian doctrine (in fact, Locke admitted that his views had little in common with Biblical doctrines). The term Christianity and atheism had a very different meaning in those days. Even what we would call a deist may be self-ascribed as a Christian. I was using the term ‘Christian’ as it is used today, not in the 17th or 18th centuries.

    Whatever, you classify their religious beliefs, they were definitely outsiders. The very fact that they could only express their beliefs in Holland and never in their own countries testify to that fact.

    This is from your source:

    Still, there are some reasons to think that Locke was neither an orthodox Anglican or a Latitudinarian. Locke got Isaac Newton to write Newton’s most powerful anti-Trinitarian tract. Locke arranged to have the work published anonymously in Holland though in the end Newton decided not to publish. (McLachlan, Hugh, 1941) This strongly suggests that Locke too was by this time an Arian or unitarian. (Arius c. 250-336 asserted the primacy of the Father over the son and thus rejected the doctrine of the trinity and was condemned as a heretic at the Council of Nicea in 325. Newton held that the Church had gone in the wrong direction in condemning Arius.) Given that one main theme of Locke’s Letter on Toleration is that there should be a separation between Church and State, this does not seem like the view of a man devoted to a state religion. It might appear that Locke’s writing The Reasonableness of Christianity in which he argues that the basic doctrines of Christianity are few and compatible with reason make him a Latitudinarian. Yet Richard Ashcraft has argued that comprehension for the Anglicans meant conforming to the existing practices of the Anglican Church; that is, the abandonment of religious dissent. Ashcraft also suggests that Latitudinarians were thus not a moderate middle ground between contending extremes but part of one of the extremes — “the acceptable face of the persecution of religious dissent.” (Ashcraft in Kroll, Ashcraft and Zagorin 1992 p. 155) Ashcraft holds that while the Latitudinarians may have represented the ‘rational theology’ of the Anglican church, there was a competing dissenting ‘rational theology’ Thus, while it is true that Locke had Latitudinarian friends, given Ashcraft’s distinction between Anglican and dissenting “rational theologies”, it is entirely possible that The Reasonableness of Christianity is a work of dissenting “rational theology.”

    Also quoted from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    According to Strauss, Locke presents the state of nature as a factual description of what the earliest society is like, an account that when read closely reveals Locke’s departure from Christian teachings. State of nature theories, he and his followers argue, are contrary to the Biblical account in Genesis and evidence that Locke’s teaching is similar to that of Hobbes. As noted above, on the Straussian account Locke’s apparently Christian statements are only a façade designed to conceal his essentially anti-Christian views.

    Also there is a very large difference that is now widely accepted by philosophers who have interpreted the Locke’s views on rights that his “natural rights” is a very different concept from divine rights.

    Natural law is also distinct from divine law in that the latter, in the Christian tradition, normally referred to those laws that God had directly revealed through prophets and other inspired writers. Natural law can be discovered by reason alone and applies to all people, while divine law can be discovered only through God’s special revelation and applies only to those to whom it is revealed and who God specifically indicates are to be bound. …In practice, Locke avoided this problem because consistency with natural law was one of the criteria he used when deciding the proper interpretation of Biblical passages.

    As for Hobbes, there is no doubt in my mind that many people today would consider him to be an atheist or at minimum a deist or pantheist.

    Others have doubted the sincerity of his professed Christianity, arguing that by the use of irony or other subtle rhetorical devices, Hobbes sought to undermine his readers’ religious beliefs.

    Also see

    As Martinich (1995, p. 31) has pointed out, in Hobbes’s time, the term “atheist” was frequently applied to people who believed in God, but not divine providence, or to people who believed in God, but also maintained other beliefs which were inconsistent with such belief. He says that this “sort of discrepancy has led to many errors in determining who was an atheist in the early modern period”. In this extended early modern sense of atheism, Hobbes did indeed take positions which were in strong disagreement with church teachings of his time. For example, Hobbes argued repeatedly that there are no incorporeal substances, and that all things, including human thoughts, and even God, heaven, and hell are corporeal, matter in motion. He argued that “though Scripture acknowledge spirits, yet doth it nowhere say, that they are incorporeal, meaning thereby without dimensions and quantity”.[17] (In this view, Hobbes claimed to be following Tertullian, whose views were not condemned in the Nicene creed.) He also, like Locke, stated that true revelation can never be in disagreement with human reason and experience,[18]

    As for the history of Liberalism, it was a negative reaction against religious intolerance, not as a extension of some particular religion:

    Liberalism started as a major doctrine and intellectual endeavour in response to the religious wars gripping Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries,…

  17. January 24th, 2012 at 18:06 | #17

    @melektaus

    Hmm … Ok…

    I think we were arguing a little semantics, and I may have framed my disagreement a little too broadly.

    I completely agree with your last quote on liberalism as a negative reaction against religious intolerance not an extension of a particular religion.

    The main point I wanted to bring out was that liberalism – starting with separation of church and state and freedom of religion – started out a negative reaction to a political struggles of religions – which did not really happen in China. To characterize Chinese development / culture in terms of religious oppression – which in my reading you did, at least with respect to China’s modern history – is to see Chinese history through Western eyes. That was my only substantive issue with your post.

    But now looking back at your response #10, I am satisfied. But I still want to warn, to characterize China as “oppressive” in terms of “freedom of religion” etc. during CR I think misses the picture – the whole point of this post. The notion of freedom of religion was formulated in the West because religions took a political role in society that ultimately created too high a cost for society. That did not happen in China – even during the CR (unless you think communism as a sort of religion that fought against other religions). A bargain was then struck in the West to guarantee some “freedom” if religions don’t play more politics (separation of church and state). To apply the result of that bargain to characterize China when China didn’t have that history or problem – when China’s issues were entirely different – is to force Western values upon China.

    I again recommend Oli’s excellent post on China and religion in my earlier comment. I will try to do a post pulling together our discussions on religion during the earlier days of this blog soon…

  18. Rhan
    January 24th, 2012 at 18:58 | #18

    I think Oli did say the Chinese are superstitious but not fanatical with regard to religion, therefore freedom of religion and secularism is a pretty ‘foreign’ concept to people like me. I only start to grasp what all this is about when there is call to make my country an Islamic country when religion + politics start to permeate into our life, surprisingly the answer to deal with theocratic is freedom of religion and secularism but I think this is limited to Christianity only, I am not that sure about Islam, so far there is only a handful Muslim majority country like Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia could preserve some feature of secularism.

    Allen, I can agree that majority Chinese belief system is perhaps like you and me, a mixture of Buddhism and some superstition, however we can’t deny the fact that the number of Muslim Chinese and Christine Chinese is growing, and might pose a threat later on, and the China government may have little choice but to be ‘oppressive’ for the sake of peace. I don’t think many Chinese care about the Western perspective, their concern were mainly drawn from Taiping Rebellion.

  19. January 24th, 2012 at 19:24 | #19

    @Wayne 13

    I am agnostic about Mao for now. But in the big scheme of things, I look to Mao as a hero. Whatever his shortcomings, he unified China first time during the modern era. He had China stand up against Western imperialism as well as Soviet aggression. He also as you mentioned liberated and advanced China in so many other ways.

    We can argue how successful he was, but it was also definitely not a complete failure either. Just like we can argue about Qin shi huang, he was a founding father of Imperial China just as Mao is of Modern China. That I will forever be grateful…

  20. January 25th, 2012 at 14:32 | #20

    @Allen

    In the blog, I argued that it was a lack of oppression that was a distinctive factor of only one aspect of Chinese culture (namely, the lack of an explicit and formal development of human rights). I certainly don’t want to say that this was the only distinctive force behind Chinese historical development, just how it relates to modern discourse on human rights.

    As for the CR, yes, I do actually think it has the hallmarks of religious dogmatism and intolerance because I think Marxism is a very similar system to dogmatic religion.

  21. Wayne
    January 26th, 2012 at 00:40 | #21

    Melektaus: I sort of understand where you are coming from. Regardless of the positives and/or negatives of the Maoist era, certainly it was an era where people were expected to conform to a certain ideology, and any deviation from this was considered counter-revolution (the equivalent of heresy in an Abrahamic religion).

    Having said that, I do kind of think that a fault of traditional Chinese (and Asian) culture, is a sort of moral relativism. Tolerance is good – up to a certain extent.

    But at the same time, I love the quote of G K Chesterton “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.”

    Chinese pragmatism, has its unfortunate side effects. Our meekness in front of foreigners, trying to buy them off, the sheer amount of running dogs and hanjians who want to suck up to white folk.

    I think a bit of certainty, self-confidence in what one believes, and the willingness to fight for this is not that bad a thing.

    Look at the Muslims. That is essentially an intolerant faith. But these are confident cultures, the people fight for their civilization, and their women do not run off with the most useless sack of shit white man.

    And the reason why Chinese today, suck up to whites so much is because we measure the success of our civilization by the criteria the white man evaluates his.

    But during the CR this was different. China decided on her own path, and was proud of that path, and considered herself unique. Sure a lot of fucked up stuff happened.

    But a lot of fucked up stuff happens today. Chinese mad on dolce gabana, and rolex watches, and making Shanghai a paradise for white folk is surely at least as fucked up?

  22. January 26th, 2012 at 10:23 | #22

    @melektaus

    I still don’t think CR was about “oppression.” It’s about a set of policies that we don’t agree with, that went awry in several ways. I don’t know if one can from that experience say that certain things will now always be off limits to policy – i.e. certain things now become rights. Some might say Chinese tradition and culture should never be attacked. Others might like the Western view – and stress that people must have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, etc., etc.

    But we can agree to disagree. And I am sure we will have more opportunities to discuss those in the future.

    There are other things we disagree. I think you had earlier commented (can’t find it now) that moral rights can be rationally derived. I had argued that they can’t – that moral absolutism is dangerous for the world – – that they are a product of Western narccisim that developed in the wake of colonialism – that they are the root of intolerance, bigotry, and many wars in the world.

    Again, in good time, we will discuss more about that.

    As for

    Wayne #20, I obviously don’t agree with everything said, but one thing stands out. For better or worse, China needs to find and strike her own path. The success of the West of was built upon imperialism and colonialism and is in the long run unsustainable. China finding a path that empowers her people in a way that is sustainable, that is fair to the world, is not only critical for the world, but will finally draw a curtain on half a millennium of rape and plunder of the world.

  23. January 26th, 2012 at 12:01 | #23

    @Allen

    I am not saying that the CR was only about oppression though I think it was a large aspect of the CR that oppression, religious, political, etc was involved. Chinese religions suffered during that time as well as all sorts of alternative economic, political, social, ideas that may have contributed to China’s rise.

    I think there’s a false dichotomy and a false categorization here when you categorize moral rationalism as western. Moral rationalism is inherent in almost all cultures except for modern post modernism which is a western phenomenon. That is the only western lens that I think is being seen through when people deny the world’s moral systems (which tend to make absolute claims) for a moral relativism that is a recent western phenomenon and I believe a serious bane on the world.

  24. January 26th, 2012 at 12:14 | #24

    @melektaus

    That is the only western lens that I think is being seen through when people deny the world’s moral systems (which tend to make absolute claims) for a moral relativism that is a recent western phenomenon and I believe a serious bane on the world.

    Good – perhaps I myself am the one colored by Western lens.

    In any case, when you have time, maybe you can blog a little about moral rationalism. I myself have given up (as I think you also did accurately accuse me of in that earlier comment) because when I look at the the way Western moralism was used to subdue the world, followed by the falling apart of moral systems around the world (Chinese included – it is still not back), I think, moralism really hasn’t provided much answer to the world’s problems.

    They are either strong and corrupt … or weak and useless.

  25. Wayne
    January 26th, 2012 at 12:19 | #25

    China finding a path that empowers her people in a way that is sustainable, that is fair to the world, is not only critical for the world, but will finally draw a curtain on half a millennium of rape and plunder of the world.

    Very well put. The Western powers got where they are today, largely by screwing the rest of the world. And they still do.

    China won her independence, remained independent, while at the same time inspiring and extending a helping hand to oppressed people all over the world. From 1949 to today more people have had their lives improved, their health improved, and their material condition improved than at a rate that is simply unprecedented in modern history. Unlike the West this has happened without China invading other countries and exploiting foreign people for land and resources. So it is a very remarkable achievement.

    China, did not take the road of development followed by Japan after the Meiji restoration and have some sort of extreme nationalist agenda, and then follow the path of the Western imperialists. She did not follow the road of America with its idea of its own innate superiority and manifest destiny. Instead China’s attitude was China was an oppressed nation herself, and stood with other oppresssed nations against imperialism.

    This is rare in history. Where has a great power in history, instead of trumpeting its own superiority and wanting to become an imperialist, said no, we will never be an imperialist power. Instead we will identifiy and support other oppressed peoples and Third world peoples, because that is what we also are.

    That is why China’s road is so unique, and a great contribution for freedom and human rights around the world.

  26. January 26th, 2012 at 12:36 | #26

    @Wayne #24

    Your writing is an inspiration – even with the occasional f_k and other swear words mixed in between… 😉

  27. January 26th, 2012 at 12:49 | #27

    @Allen

    I plan on blogging about it. There’s a couple of blogs I’d like to get out of the way first though. Suffice it to say now that the western post modern movement does a serious disservice to non western traditions of moral thinking despite their purported “respect” for alternative viewpoints. It’s not that western “moral” dogmatism is absolute that is the problem when it has caused so much grief to the world, it’s that it was wrong in significant detail. But once you start talking about wrongness (or rightness), you imply a kind of rationalism or realism. much of the absolutism is actually religious dogmatism, formed by faith, which is by its nature not rational but only “known” to the faithful. That is fundamentally perspectivist and relativist. What is god’s revelation for me is not for you, etc. Only rationalism can get out of that system of faith.

  28. January 27th, 2012 at 15:52 | #28

    Read  ‘Simon Patten on Public Infrastructure and Economic Rent Capture’.  

    As You read it, ask  if China is becoming “the world’s most rent-free economy” and if the CCPC does not incarnate Thorsten Veblen’s complementary hopes for ‘the rise of the engineers’?  There are several supports for my suspicion:

    Sun Yat Sen wrote in 1922: “I intend to make all the national industries of China into a Great Trust owned by the Chinese people, and financed with international capital for mutual benefit.”  

    Though Sun was not a Party member, he was and is an acknowledged founder of modern China who strongly influenced and inspired Mao and the others.  The CCP, as a post-revolutionary government, had a free hand in redesigning the economy from scratch.  Sun’s visionary statements had been imprinted on their young minds.

    Before Deng launched his opening up to Capitalism he and others conducted a thorough investigation of what they were getting into (and discussed their conclusions very publicly with the people: “When you open the windows, some flies get in”).  

    Being great consulters of archives, I suspect that the Chinese consulted the West’s heterodox texts, like Patten’s, and explored the roads we in the West had not taken.  They also had extensive visits and discussions with thoughtful types like Lee Kuan Yew, an old Fabian Socialist.

    This latter hypothesis was strengthened when I heard Chinese PM Wen questioned by Fareed Zakaria about Mill’s “invisible hand”.  Mr. Wen countered by quoting, extempore,  at length from ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’–a heterodox text in the West and much more pertinent than the oft-misapplied “hand”.

    Veblen’s utopian-rationalist vision, ‘The Engineers and the Price System’, would have been equally appealing and seems to have been incarnated by the CCPC, since eight engineers comprise the Standing Committee and are known for their honesty, competence, and rationality.

    The Chinese are notoriously averse to wasting money for any purpose and ‘rent’ is a waste that the Part founders knew intimately and explicitly rejected.  China’s  banks are therefore quasi-public utilities, as are all strategic industries.  Its land leased to individuals.

    Finally, a recent quote that reflects the tone of the Chinese Government’s approach:   “A neutral government shaping national consensus.”. –The China Wave: the Rise of the Civilizational State.  Zhang Weiwei.

  29. January 27th, 2012 at 16:09 | #29

    History is written by the winners. In the case of the Cultural Revolution, the winners were the people who the CR was attempting to unseat: the Chinese bureaucratic and Western Capitalist elites.

    The European elites were rightly freaked out by the sudden transfer of power to the unwashed masses, just as the European monarchies were by the French Revolution.

    The newly-installed Chinese elite was beginning to behave like their Imperial forebears (which was the whole genesis of Mao’s revolution) and behaved as all elites do.

    This is nota “them and us” critique. It’s merely an observation of how human beings–myself included–behave when we are emotionally immature and feel that our status is threatened.

    For a broader perspective, I warmly recommend the two books.  ” The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village” is a wonderful book: a brief, simple, and straightforward account of village life as it evolved over the 10-year period.  The emancipation of the villagers was exactly what Mao had hoped for.  It is sad to see how the local elites reasserted their control at the end.
    The second book,” The Battle for China’s Past”, provides a broader perspective about the revolutionary experiment that China represents, and defends its successes against revisionist of historians in both China and the West.

    e@Wayne

  30. January 27th, 2012 at 16:17 | #30

    Or this: Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winner, points out that in 1949 China and India had striking similarities in their social and economic development. But, Sen goes on to say, over the next three decades, “there is little doubt that as far as morbidity, mortality, and longevity are concerned, China has a large and decisive lead over India.” As a result, Sen estimates that close to four million fewer people would have died in India in 1986, if India had had Mao’s health care system and food distribution network.1
    1. Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, Hunger and Public Action (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp. 205, 214. 
    Noam Chomsky made an interesting calculation using Sen’s data. There is this anticommunist study called The Black Book of Communism. It talks about what it calls the “colossal failure” of communism and accuses communism of having caused the deaths of 100 million people. Now even if that number were true, which it is not—still, as Chomsky puts it, and let me quote: “in India the democratic capitalist ‘experiment’ since 1947 has caused more deaths than in the entire history of the ‘colossal, wholly failed…experiment’ of communism everywhere since 1917: over 100 million deaths by 1979, tens of millions more since, in India alone.”2
    2. Noam Chomsky, “Millennial Visions and Selective Vision, Part One,” Z Magazine (January 10, 2000)
    http://revcom.us/a/046/health-care-economy.html@Wayne

  31. Wayne
    January 27th, 2012 at 17:05 | #31

    @Godfree Thank you.

    Chomsky and Sen’s point is correct. China did far better than any other developing country of comparable size in improving the well-being of her people during the Maoist period. In China’s performance on health indicators is on some levels worse than the Maoist period.

    Of course the 100 million killed by communism put out by the ‘black book of communism’ is simply a pack of transparent lies. In fact socialism is what saved and improved more lives than any other political system in the 20th century. Even the worst periods of the Maoist era were far better than pre-revolutionary China.

    The real cold blooded killers are the Americans who think nothing of immolating hundreds of thousands of non-white people to further their own aims of world domination.

    That vicious crone Madeleine Albright sums up the US attitude perfectly:

    Lesley Stahl asked her “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” and Albright replied “we think the price is worth it.”

    Imagine the outcry in the West if some Chinese leader had said something similar!

    Frankly I am a bit disturbed by those, even among us ‘pro’ China people, who seem to swallow hook line and sinker the Western propaganda about the first thirty years of the Peoples Republic. Many things were done wrong, but that is no reason to disown that period entirely. We should be proud of the Chinese revolution, we should be proud of those heroic early generation of leaders who sacrificed everything to liberate China from imperialism.

    They made mistakes, did some wrong things, for sure. But Marxism Leninism was good for China. It saved China, as President Hu said in 2009 when celebrating the PRC’s 60th.

    Americans worship George Washington, who swapped a slave for a barrel of molasses.

    So even more so, we should not denigrate our equivalent of the founding fathers, in the same way the Americans do not denigrate theirs. It is especially disgusting when Chinese do this to curry favour with whites —-like the yellow dog Jung Chang.

  32. tc
    January 28th, 2012 at 07:39 | #32

    By far Wayne’s comments are the most interesting. He keeps me coming back to read this blog many times a day. Great thinking, Wayne. Thanks.

  33. January 28th, 2012 at 07:49 | #33

    US massacre exposes double standards
    MY TAKE
    Alex Lo
    Jan 27, 2012

    http://www.scmp.com/portal/site/SCMP/menuitem.2af62ecb329d3d7733492d9253a0a0a0/?vgnextoid=bb25ee5943a15310VgnVCM100000360a0a0aRCRD&ss=Columns+%26+Insight&s=Opinion

    When I read about the slap on the wrist US Marine Sergeant Frank Wuterich received for the massacre of Iraqi civilians, I couldn’t help but imagine what a similar scenario might look like for China.

    Imagine violent protests spiral out of control in Tibet and Beijing sends in the army. A platoon of PLA soldiers goes into a Tibetan neighbourhood in search of weapons and “terrorists”. Its team leader tells his troops to “shoot first and ask questions later”.

    When they come out, 24 civilians lie dead, most of them women, children and the elderly. No weapons have been found; no suspects have been arrested. We have no idea what really happened. The only fact is the dead bodies on the ground.

    An international outcry ensues. Rights groups vie for the most inventive adjectives to condemn Beijing and the army. China’s president is denounced as “a war criminal” and the occupation of Tibet “a crime against humanity”. Major Western capitals join in the condemnation and call for sanctions. The Dalai Lama joins Barack Obama in the White House as the US president calls for a probe by an international team of experts and jurists, warning that any findings may be referred to the International Criminal Court.

    Under pressure, the PLA puts the platoon leader, a sergeant, on trial. He pleads guilty to dereliction of duty and is demoted to private, with no jail time.

    Sorry, like many Chinese, I am just plagiarising American originals, in this case, the real-life massacre of 24 civilians by US Marines in the Iraqi city of Haditha in 2005.

    There was, of course, no such international outcry; and no one called for the head of George W. Bush, Obama’s predecessor. Wuterich is the only soldier to have been court martialled. He walked away a free man this week. His only punishment is to be demoted to the rank of private. He said he and his men acted according to the US Marines’ highest ideals.

  34. January 28th, 2012 at 08:45 | #34

    @Ray #32

    In some ways, this might an extension of my China Hacking post (http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2011/02/china-hacking-poisoning-and-piracy/).

    Any problem with China is attributed to the system, the culture, society, the whole of the leadership (i.e. legitimacy of its whole governance structure). Any problem in the West is narrowly confine to a few insignificant individuals…

  35. wwww1234
    January 28th, 2012 at 09:07 | #35

    @Ray

    that is the natural and expected result of a voting system as practiced. The merit of the system excludes all non voters.
    In the case of foreigners, it will keep leading to injustice, exploitation and wars.
    In the case of the not yet born, it will ruin the planet.
    Western democracy can hardly be the foundation of “human rights”.

  36. raventhorn
    January 28th, 2012 at 13:29 | #36

    Speaking of HR:

    Taiwan Diplomat gets 2 months time served and fines and deportation for abusing Filippino servants:

    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/01/27/sentencing-set-in-kc-for-taiwan-official/

  37. January 28th, 2012 at 15:04 | #37

    @Ray

    I fear that the actual situation may be even more hypocritical than Lo suggests in his piece. China’s control of Tibet is legitimate and has been an overall benefit for the Tibetans. While US’s invasion and occupation of Iraq is unilateral militarism and has destroyed that country. Massacres aside, the whole reason for the US being in Iraq has to come into the equation.

  38. January 28th, 2012 at 15:11 | #38

    @Allen

    Great point! That is one way to isolate problems so that it is off people’s hands. It’s not MY problem, it’s always someone else’s problem. It’s the media’s, it’s Bush Jr.’s, it’s so and sos. No accountability is ever taken by individuals in the west. At the start of the war, over 70% of Americans supported it and the US would have never brought on the war had public support hadn’t been so high. The public must take some responsibility for their role as well as those in power. This is especially true in self-proclaimed democracies. With power comes responsibility and the US public can’t have their cake and eat it too. They can’t just take credit where credit is due with also taken responsibility for have they have fucked things up either for themselves or for others.

    You are also no doubt correct that Americans often blame Chinese culture or Chinese people in general for things that are mostly attributable to individuals. That is the converse from how they look at themselves. There is a phenomenon in psychology that details a similar phenomenon called fundamental attribution error.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_attribution_error

  39. Wayne
    January 29th, 2012 at 06:18 | #39

    Americans perhaps earn perhaps 10 to twenty times more than the average Chinese, pollute about three or four times more than the average Chinese, and consume five or six times more than the average Chinese. They seem little concerned that they may work one hour to pay for a Chinese product which involved the equivalent of 50 hours of accumlated Chinese labour to produce. This is the legacy of imperialism, where non-white people have to work a lot harder than white people in the global economy to survice.

    And the United States, is absolutely merciless in putting its own economic interests over the interests of other peoples.

    If you asked the average Chinese person, what he or she wanted, either an American life style in the economic sense, or an American system in the political sense, what option do you think he or she would choose. I can say with 100% certainty that 99.9% of Chinese would choose the former.

    So if Americans were really so concerned with the well being of the Chinese people, instead of all these barkings on ‘human rights’, why not help the Chinese people along the path of what they really want – economic advancement – and voluntarily pay say twice as much for every item made in China, with the extra going to the poor Chinese worker down the end of the line. After all this would simply be pay back for centuries of Western imperialism.

    It is incredible that Americans commonly advocate for ‘freedom and democracy’ for the Chinese, yet live happily a privileged lifestyle earning 10, 20, even 50 times more than the average Chinese worker. A rather convenient choice on their part.

    And yet these same Americans demand that China cut back its carbon emissions (even though the US pollutes far more per capita than China), and ask that the Chinese cut back on improving the standard of living.

    Americans, and Westerners in general are transparent hypocrites. They do not care one iota about real human rights, the human rights that Chinese people really want. They just like to posture about ‘freedom and democracy’, while they live off the labour of non-white peoples the world over. These hypocrites need to be condemned and exposed for the racist trash they are.

  40. January 29th, 2012 at 09:47 | #40

    Those who carry the banner of “human rights” usually are the ones trying to eck out a living propagandizing the narrowest views about that idea. This breed of people indeed rarely care about the plight of other people.

    Those who genuinely care work silently – they know how bastardized the words “human rights” have become.

  41. raventhorn
    January 29th, 2012 at 11:15 | #41

    I recently read a blog article from an American journalist commenting on the Apple’s story of Chinese competitiveness.

    She absolutely railed against the Chinese competitiveness, saying the Chinese way is the road to hell.

    She wrote, she doesn’t think that Americans should be competitive like the Chinese, because no American would want to live like the Chinese workers in Foxconn factory dorms.

    True enough perhaps on the standard of living.

    But then again, is it really sustainable for the world of 7 billion humans to live like her ideal of the average Americans? No.

    And isn’t the very fact that 375 Million Americans are consuming so much more than the rest of the world, creating poverty and inequality on the rest of the world?

    So, here is classic zero-sum game:

    Are Americans willing to consume say 1/2 of their current rate, so that the rest of the world can consume perhaps 1/8-1/16 more comfortably??!

    Like it or not, resources are limited, and 1 way or another, 7 billion people will have to share.

  42. Wayne
    January 29th, 2012 at 13:58 | #42

    @raventhorn

    Are Americans willing to consume say 1/2 of their current rate, so that the rest of the world can consume perhaps 1/8-1/16 more comfortably??!

    Of course they won’t. Westerners are fuckign selfish.

    Consider just climate change.

    The average American is responsible for 19.8 tonnes carbon emissions per person, and the average Chinese citizen 4.6 tonnes.

    Does Obama go to the climate change talks and offers to say meet the Chinese mid-way when it comes to carbon emissions? That is has Obama offered to allow the Chinese to increase their emissions to 12.2 tonnes per person and the Americans down to 12.2 tonnes per person?

    Of course not. The Americans instead demand the Chinese reduce their emissions and growth rate!

    The average Chinese person, in fact 99.9% cares far more about an improving their own living standards, than simply putting a tick on a piece of paper once ever four years.

    So why does the West not help the Chinese with real ‘human rights’, and do more to promote the Chinese standard of living? It would be justified payback for centuries of imperialism.

    It is because the West does in fact not care about any human rights for the Chinese people. Human rights is must a smoke screen to advance their own neo-colonial agenda.

    If China is not strong, China will end up like Iraq today, like Afghanistan today, and like China during the invasion of the eight allied powers. That will be when the human rights of the Chinese people are no better than that of the Eastern Europeans under Nazi occupation.

  43. Wayne
    January 29th, 2012 at 14:39 | #43

    she doesn’t think that Americans should be competitive like the Chinese, because no American would want to live like the Chinese workers in Foxconn factory dorms.

    Basically this American journalist is either a liar or very ignorant.

    Americans did work like this when they were at a similar stage of economic and social development as China is now. And they exploited child labour ruthlessly (at least China has laws against this and in general is far better than the record of other developing countries when it comes to this).

    Show this ignorant journalist these links:
    http://tinyurl.com/7y9925b

    And this one is particularly good:
    http://www.learnnc.org/lp/galleries/child-labor/

    And ask this journalist —-how many people died constructing the Hoover dam?

    These Americans are so ignorant of their own history. The reason why the Chinese work harder now is because they want to catch up.

    But the US at the same stage of economic and social development as China, was far worse. It openly, legally exploited child labour.

    There is no end to the hypocrisy and ignorance of these Westerners.

  44. January 29th, 2012 at 14:39 | #44

    @raventhorn

    Most Chinese would not want to live like the tens of millions of Americans who live in abject poverty, who work as much as and as hard as anyone in the world and for as little and in the worst conditions possible. Look at the ghettos in the US. I also live in an area that is near the traditional coal mining center of the US and it has a vicious history of worker oppression in the most unimaginable working conditions. That blogger ought to spend some time in some Appalachian factory or coal mine workers to see some real oppression.

  45. Wayne
    January 30th, 2012 at 21:01 | #45

    This is FUCKING DISGRACEFUL:

    http://www.chinasmack.com/2011/stories/foreign-men-boast-about-sexual-conquests-in-china-reactions.html

    Chinese women, to tell the truth are by and large dirty fucking slut traitors.

    They spread their fucking cunts for the biggest loser white man.

    If anyone here reads stuff like this and their blood does not boil, they are not a man. They are a hanjian:

    At a glance, a foreign man of 18 years old to 81 years old, regardless of physique and regardless of appearance, sleeping with tens of Chinese women over 1-2 years of staying in China is basically the average. If effort is made, even sleeping with 1-2 hundred Chinese women is an easy affair (this is referring to women who aren’t prostitutes). Many [of these women] are students, white-collar workers, Chinese women with character and looks. What more, not a penny is needed, with many Chinese women instead paying money for laowai to sleep with them, even taking them out to show them off to others, as if it gives them “face”.

    WHAT IS THE CHINESEN MAN GOING TO DO ABOUT THIS?

    ARE WE DOGS OR MEN?

  46. January 31st, 2012 at 08:40 | #46

    @Wayne

    To be honest, some of this is probably just bravado boast. You know the people who boast most are teenagers – the ones who fantacize but don’t get much. Then you get middle aged men who are looking for sexual conquests to define their otherwise pitiful life.

    Some of it might be true though. When I was in Shanghai, once “local girls” found out that I was from America- many wanted to talk to me, have tea, get to know me better, take me to see their home. In some ways, I think they were prostitutes, but they certainly didn’t look like it. They dressed normal, went to school, etc. So maybe they weren’t full time dress dirty prostitutes, but they were prostitutes no less.

    Of course, these women don’t just go for white male, or any male from abroad, but all male with money – old, infirm rich males included.

    This I think is just a sign of the times, unfortunately. People are so driven to move upward (moneywise) – that for many women it means looking strictly at money.

    Should I be upset? As a Chinese, a little. My feminist friend was even more upset. As a humanist, Chinese or not, one should definitely be concerned. What drives these women to have such low self esteem?

    Yet – however bad this is, this is only the tip of the ice berg in terms of social problems arising from China’s fast dash to development. The Milk scandal and other frauds are another symptom. Corruption is yet another. The loss of traditions (a lot were already lost during the cultural revolution) is yet another.

    So what to do? I don’t know. These are for the people themselves to figure out. I hope the economic development continues rapidly enough that more people will not feel so desperate anymore.

  47. pug_ster
    January 31st, 2012 at 12:36 | #47

    @Wayne

    Seriously, stop this crap. Don’t make this personal.

    @Allen

    Agreed. I think the problem is that somehow many Chinese think that America is paved with gold and thinks that America is so much better than China. I wish that the Chinese Media would have Russia Today’s like reporters to report about the problems in America and America is not exactly as accommodating to Chinese as many Chinese would think.

  48. LOLZ
    January 31st, 2012 at 13:34 | #48

    Wayne :
    WHAT IS THE CHINESEN MAN GOING TO DO ABOUT THIS?
    ARE WE DOGS OR MEN?

    This is obviously off topic.

    Wayne, while I agree with your point at post #42, I think you should tone down the racial rhetoric. Unlike most other groups, Chinese have a history of marrying off to different races/ethnicity for multiple reasons. It has always been the caucasians who have trouble dealing with people of other races (especially blacks) being intimate with white women, and I think this speaks volumes to their lack of self confidence. As a Chinese guy who has mostly dated non-Chinese women and eventually married to a non-Chinese, I have came across situations where people of other races/ethnicity bashed me for “taking their women”. I find this to be ridiculous.

    Now I do acknowledge that Asian Americans males have it bad outside of Asia. The media by and large pretend that we don’t exist. There also appear to be certain segment of Asian women who think that hanging out with caucasians somehow props up their social status. Some caucasian asianophiles also like to rub it in the faces of Asian males (like the guys in the Beijinger forum). However, trying to preserve racial purity is a fool’s errand. At the end of the day, as long as you are satisfied with your own partner, who cares what others do with theirs?

  49. January 31st, 2012 at 14:38 | #49

    @Wayne

    Very off topic. I am also skeptical of the first-hand reports of internet trolls.

  50. January 31st, 2012 at 16:36 | #50

    @Wayne
    You are too easily provoked. People in Asia know when they are being taken advantage of. One reason the Philippines closed down Subic Naval base is because a prostitution town kinda sprung up besides it. So the behaviour of those predatory men will hurt their position in the future.

  51. Citizen
    February 13th, 2012 at 21:47 | #51

    @melektaus
    ‘It is no wonder that China did not develop an explicit and formal conceptual system to protect people’s speech, religious beliefs, and personal/social practices as no need was there to develop one. ‘

    Hmmm….any women at all on Hidden Harmonies? (or Hmong, or Hakka, Tibetans…)

    ‘The impact of the several millennia of oppression and devastation imposed by the feudal patriarchal system on Chinese women was exceptionally grave. In political, economic, cultural, social and family life, women were considered inferior to men. This was profoundly manifested in the following ways:

    Possessing no political rights, women were completely excluded from social and political life. Economically dependent, women were robbed of property and inheritance rights and possessed no independent source of income. Having no social status, women were forced to obey their fathers before marriage, their husbands after marriage and their sons if they became widowed. They had no personal dignity or independent status, and were deprived of the right to receive an education and take part in social activities. They enjoyed no freedom in marriage but had to obey the dictates of their parents and heed the words of matchmakers, and were not allowed to remarry if their spouse died. They were subjected to physical and mental torture, being harassed by systems of polygamy and prostitution, the overwhelming majority of them forced to bind their feet from childhood. For centuries, “women with bound feet” was a synonym for the female gender in China.’

  52. February 14th, 2012 at 01:09 | #52

    @Citizen

    Hmmm – interesting you choose to read history ignorantly through the narrow lens of today’s standards. The future may view our society as barbaric in many ways as well – despite all the rights and freedom and technology we have… (see this short video clip from Lawrence Summers (former dean of Harvard Univ), or this essay on the barbarism of Western capitalism, or this book on the barbarism of U.S. interaction with the world, or this recent essay or this Chomsky article on the barbarism of U.S. foreing policy – effectively the foreign policy of the (U.S.-led) West)

    In any case, I’m not sure how your points about women relate to this post – which is about the general framework of human rights as they arose from the Renaissance on as compared to the lack of such framework in China.

    You choose to focus on women’s rights…

    The notion of women’s rights is a rather late development. The rights discussed here were not designed to address women’s issues. (If they were, women suffrage would not have taken so long to arise). While women’s rights activists in the West did recently adopt the framework of rights to push for “women’s rights,” the communists had their own framework for liberating women having little to do with the rights discussed here. Many other frameworks (including Confucian framework) could have been used to advance those when the time was right. Looking back on history, one can see that women rights movement really came into force after WWII – during which women in large numbers got a taste of working and financial independence. Technology and industrialization has made society such that confining women to traditional roles became too oppressive. It became an issue of justice.

    You also mentioned Hmong, Hakka and Tibetans – you need to elaborate since I can’t read your mind.

    Here is the thing: while the rights framework as invented and interpreted by the West has been used to push for certain types of liberation, liberation marches by its own rhythms and beats – rhythms and beats that are rooted in the human condition and experience – rhythms and beats that are not wedded to any one ideology …

  53. Nihc
    February 14th, 2012 at 05:56 | #53

    I maybe wrong, but my understanding is that foot binding is a status symbol, only the rich people can afford to do it. Poor women who have to work in the field cannot afford to bind their feet. The rich landed gentry who do not have to work can afford to display the extravagance of foot binding. (That’s what my tour guide have to say anyway, that his grandmother who came from a rich landlord family had bound feet). My own grandmother or her mother before her did not have bound feet. Not sure how far it goes back though. Also, have you ever seen those cute little shoes for bound feet? Women are known to be irrational when it comes to ‘beauty’ and willingly subject themselves to surgery and drastic actions to boost their desirability, its possible that the whole culture grow out parents desired to secure good marriages for their daughters. Not that men ever needed to see little feet to lust after women.

    In any case, I don’t think Chinese women in the modern society are being oppressed in particular, especially compared to Middle Eastern countries, with the exception of those unfortunate enough to fall into victims of human trafficking.

  54. Nihc
    February 14th, 2012 at 05:57 | #54

    Also, Hakka are Han in the ways that Hmong or Tibetans are not, what about them?

  55. Nihc
    February 14th, 2012 at 06:02 | #55

    ” They had no personal dignity or independent status, and were deprived of the right to receive an education and take part in social activities. ”

    How long ago was this? Is this even relevant to the modern day? My grandmother who was from a farming background is literate and read the Chinese newspaper everyday. She is even a successful stock investor. Besides, if you know anything at all about Chinese culture, you would realize ‘mothers’ and ‘grandmothers’ are held in the highest esteem.

    “The impact of the several millennia of oppression and devastation imposed by the feudal patriarchal system on Chinese women was exceptionally grave.”

    Frankly I don’t see those several millennia of oppression as being relevant to the modern day issues. Perhaps the so called “oppression” wasn’t even half as grave as claimed.

  56. Nihc
    February 14th, 2012 at 06:06 | #56

    “Possessing no political rights, women were completely excluded from social and political life.”

    Hmm, Wu Zetian ring any bell? How about Empress Dowager Cixi?

  57. Nihc
    February 14th, 2012 at 06:10 | #57

    “In political, economic, cultural, social and family life, women were considered inferior to men.”

    Isn’t this true as well in the west?

    ” Having no social status, women were forced to obey their fathers before marriage, their husbands after marriage and their sons if they became widowed. They had no personal dignity or independent status, and were deprived of the right to receive an education and take part in social activities. ”

    No social status? Pretty sure life for rich princesses, empress, concubines and so forth were far superior to males of lower rank.

    I wish white people wouldn’t come up with bullshit about things they are completely ignorant about. It doesn’t endear them to even people who do not live in China like me.

  58. Nihc
    February 14th, 2012 at 06:14 | #58

    Also, that obedient thing, isn’t it true of the west as well? Pretty sure its even in the Bible with the whole ‘obedient wife’ stuff. Not to mentioned ‘obedient children’. Guess them kids don’t have ‘rights’ either.

    I think white people simply have the Christian mentality of demonizing other people for no good reason.

  59. Nihc
    February 14th, 2012 at 06:28 | #59

    @Wayne

    Wayne, women who sleep around don’t have ‘character’. They might have looks though. But its not like they are quality spousal material.

    In any case, I don’t live in China, but I do live in Thailand where similar things happen with the expats.

    Our middle-aged NZ neighbor was married a young Thai bar girl. But she went out all the time spending his money and slept around when they were married. He has to financially take care of their son. His best friend who also married a Thai bar girl was even murdered for his money! These relationships might not be as wonderful as you think… There are even news of expats committing suicide here once the Thai girl spent all his retirement funds and left him lonely and penniless.

    My friend’s cousin also married a girl from China, but once she arrived to Australia, she disappeared with his money…. I mean, just count yourself lucky you don’t meet people of bad character.

  60. February 14th, 2012 at 07:53 | #60

    @Citizen
    “Bound feet” was practiced mainly by the upper-class womenfolk in China. It was believed to make a woman walk more daintily. Of course such a luxury was not practical to the rural ladies, who had to tend the fields. The thing was “bound feet” as a practice was not forced upon women. They were “into” the practice as they believed it made them more attractive. This was not unlike the extent to which some European women in the 19th Century would wear tight-fitting corsets so that their bodies would literally become warped, again to appear attractive. One may argue that women were forced to conform to patriarchal standards in order to appear attractive. I would agree. However, it would be simplistic to call women victimised by such conventions, as they would be rewarded (and thus empowered) if they succeeded in appearing attractive under such standards. Nor was/is this phenomenon confined to China. Today, many women are modifying their bodies in a bid to appear more attractive under modern standards. Plastic surgery, breast enhancement through implants and liposuction warp a woman’s form so that it appears beautiful to males (nothing has really changed after all these years). However, modern modification techniques can prove to be even more dangerous than “foot-binding” and corsets because not a few women have perished as a result of complications in the process of plastic surgery and breast implantation.

  61. Hong Konger
    February 14th, 2012 at 19:39 | #61

    @ Sigmar — Foot-binding was forced. It started when girls were very young, when their bones were still soft — far too young to make decisions. If you read the histories, there are many stories of girls being forcibly held down and screaming with pain while the bindings broke the bones of their feet without pain-killer. The pain would go on for years, sometimes for life.

    My great-grandmother had bound feet in China, and was crippled for life. After the revolution, she could barely survive in a modern city like Hong Kong — she could hardly walk anywhere herself, much less take a bus, go to the bank, play with her grandchildren. My mother remembers an old lady who was just left to sit on the sofa and hobble around the house.

    I don’t think anyone would think that that was rewarding or empowering. Even if a woman “benefited” somehow from being attractive, it was so she could be sold into a richer family. And simply being a pretty thing that was traded — that’s not empowering.

    As for corsets, I don’t think they caused the same childhood pain as foot-binding. Even if they did, two wrongs don’t make a right.

    I’m against modern plastic surgery, unless you’ve been in a car accident or something. But it’s usually done by women (and men) who make a choice, with modern medical treatment and anesthetic. It’s sad and stupid that there are rare cases of people dying in surgery, but I don’t think that makes ancient foot-binding any better.

    Chinese history is a wonderful thing. But there are some practices best left to the past.

  62. February 14th, 2012 at 22:19 | #62

    @HongKonger
    To be sure, there were those who were forced. Just as there were those who volunteered for the procedure, because rich males looked favourably upon such things. There would be some who went through the practice with the hopes of being able to marry into a rich family, and succeeding. However, I think you misunderstand me. In no way have I stated I supported the practice of foot-binding, nor have I stated that foot-binding was “right”. Women with deformed feet obviously cannot function normally in society, having their mobility impaired. We are on the same wavelength on plastic surgery. However, I did not state that foot-binding was “better” than plastic surgery. On the issue of empowerment: again, beautiful women are often objectified and their beauty sold as products. Feminists would call these practices dehumanising. However, there are many instances of “trophy wives”. Should one’s beauty be traded for riches? To me, it’s up to the individual. I dare say there will some women who would happily make that trade, because they feel that the benefit is worth the cost. The same thing for trading beauty for attention and respect. Some women go for plastic surgery because they want to “feel” beautiful, and thus more appreciated. In any case, such practices are still happening today. Which is sad. China has long banned the practice of foot-binding, but the modern practice of plastic surgery has now steadily crept into her society, sometimes endangering her womenfolk.

  63. Citizen
    February 14th, 2012 at 22:47 | #63

    @Allen, you say that’s an ignorant reading of history; Nihc says ‘I wish white people wouldn’t come up with bullshit about things they are completely ignorant about.’

    In fact that description of the several millennia of oppression and torture suffered by half the population of China comes from the All China Women’s Federation. Google it.

    I wish yellow people wouldn’t come up with bullshit about things they are completely ignorant about.

    Seriously, I too have reservations about that reading, but at least its written by women, unlike all the responses here (I assume – do correct me if necessary).

    The relevance here Allen, is that Melektaus’s thoughtful piece seems to state that the West developed measures against oppression because it was a bigger problem there than in say China. And likewise China didn’t because there was no need for it.

    My point is simply that there was plenty of oppression in China too (or at least that’s the view of the largest Women’s group in China). You would also hear plenty of accounts of oppression (invasion, forced assimilation and so on) if you listened to other victims in Chinese history – hence the reference to Hmong, Tibetans, Uighurs, even Hakka.

    And if we followed Melektaus’s logic, wouldn’t the Communist revolution which happened in China, but not in the West, and which was intended to end the oppression of peasants, be proof that there was more oppression in China than in the West?

    I don’t really see how anyone can adjudicate which civilisation was more oppressive (and Melektaus’s claim for example that ‘For most of western history through the last 2000 or so years, one may be burned alive for practicing a religion not sponsored by the state.’ is simply historical nonsense). Each civilisation has and had practices which we now consider barbarous.

  64. Nihc
    February 15th, 2012 at 21:54 | #64

    China especially during the Qing dynasty was extremely extremely oppressive, there’s no argument about that. You can be killed by the government for not wearing the Manchu queue. And there was endless rebellion during that dynasty, and could hardly even be described as Confucian. I don’t think any kind of development of humanistic systems could prosper in that society. But the queue is now no longer relevant to the issues today.

    I am not sure I know why Hakka keep getting mentioned, I know quite a few Hakka friends, and they are quite nationalistic and proud of being Chinese (perhaps even better Chinese than other group). Perhaps I should invite some into the discussion? Not sure why they are relevant to the issue since after all Sun Yat-sen is a Hakka who famously led the Xinhai revolution. So is Deng Xiaoping. Or even the leader of the Taiping rebellion Hong Xiuquan.

    I know that the Hakka are among Chinese a particularly close-knitted group because they historically come into conflicts with many other Chinese group. (Even in Taiwan). That definitely give them a certain siege mentality. But not sure if that can be considered exceptionally oppressed in anyway. You could argue that their rival groups were only different because they got to the better farm land first so had an easier time. Also their involvement in politics like the Taiping rebellion obviously draw the ire of the government, hence becoming target of oppression. But hey, the Manchus have been overthrown and assimilated. Not a problem any more.

  65. February 15th, 2012 at 23:03 | #65

    @Citizen

    I think we need to discuss what is “oppression” then.

    Just because something is not something we approve today does not necessarily it was “oppressive” then.

    In Europe, we definitely had political groups (churches and government) fighting over each other – hence the importance of “freedom of religion” as a truce – a compromise. The powers to be were especially brutal – hence a backlash from the people for certain basic rights.

    As for China, emperor had a mandate of heaven only if they provided for justice for the people. Things never reached the level that naked power religion and religion-backed royalty did. Now did things get – at certain periods in China – as bad in China as Europe? Sure – in terms states not doing good for the people. But the problem was attributed to specific people at the top – hence revolutions and dynastic changes. People really didn’t lose faith in the system. The problem was not really characterized systemically as a problem of naked power – which needs to be curtailed by rights. The problem was deemed an ethical issue of the ruler and effectiveness issue of governance.

    Of course, that changed when China encountered an industrialized West and Japan. But that’s another matter…

    Now if you disagree with the above characterization, that’s fine. There have been many debates on why China never industrialized while the West did. You get a whole gamut of explanations – from culture to geography to political development to quirks of history… There is definitely room for discussion.

  66. February 15th, 2012 at 23:13 | #66

    @Nihc

    Hakka lived traditionally in peace with other Chinese in history although they were persecuted at certain times of history (one of my uncles is a Hakka). Tibetans and Uighurs too ave traditionally lived in peace within the Chinese empire. Sure you can find periods when there have been conflicts between different ethnic groups and the central government – but so can you find periods when these subgroups have fought with each other. The existence of conflicts (whatever form) does not equate to “oppression” – which we really ought to define more clearly. Oppression as we use in today’s political discussion is a politically charaged term that equates to some kind of travesty – implies a right and a wrong side – and implies that there is a normative solution – be it civil rights guarantee or some right to self determination to secede and form a nationhood…

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