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Aug 03

Why are the Chinese so upset II: Being an internationalist

Written by bianxiangbianqiao on Sunday, August 3rd, 2008 at 6:44 pm
Filed under:Analysis | Tags:, ,
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Thanks for all the thoughtful feedback to my previous post.

Your suggestions of overcoming East-West misunderstanding with multiculturalism (Alice Poon), attention to individual choices, within-group differences (Wu Di) and between-group commonality (Daniel) remind me of the Foreword written by former Japanese ambassador to the United Nations Hatano Yoshio for Nitobe Inazo’s well-known book “Bushido: The Soul of Japan” (Kodansha, 1998 edition).

Here are direct quotes (English Translation by William Carter).

“The world is rapidly becoming “borderless”…….But will there be a similar trend toward homogeneity, a similar “borderless” transformation, in the world’s way of thinking, in its values?……Another question I have is whether this trend toward homogeneity will mean that “Asian” ways of thinking will move in the direction of “Europeanization” or “Americanization”. It may be too early, however, to give a conclusion. This is because there is too strong a feeling of resistance on the part of Japan and other Asian countries……”

Hatano’s analysis represents a misunderstanding of the world and positions of the players’ in it shared by many.

The world is far from borderless. Ten years after Hatano wrote his article both Japan and US are finger printing foreigners’ at the border and the Chinese are imposing visa restrictions on foreigners during the Olympics. Large parts the Middle East have no connection with the rest of the world except via trade in oil or violence. Africa has little contact with neighboring Europe except via its refugees trying to sneak into Europe and the European authorities intercepting them at sea. Hatano’s old work place the UN is paralyzed by divisions and bickering. The Olympics has opened the Pandora’s Box of mutual loathing between China and the West. In a fragmented world where everybody is more psychologically isolated from foreigners than ever, Hatano’s concern about the “Westernization of Japan and other Asian countries” was misguided, just like the Chinese hope for their “one world, one dream” Olympics is muddle-headed. The Olympics has become a parade of relentlessly incompatible ideologies, values and politics between China and the West, as well as their stereotypical/suspicious views of each other.

Cross-border contact is indeed increasing and the world’s economic activities are getting integrated. However, the different groups are held together not by a new-found love, or a mutual fascination with each others’ uniqueness, but by cold-blooded, impersonal Capitalism. Cooperation and conflict, as well as people’s movements are driven by Capital’s drive to replicate and increase in value on a global scale, often at the expense of the people it controls. Why do you think foreign business people have relocated to Beijing and Shanghai despite the pollution? What motives drive non-Chinese to learn Mandarin?

How should individuals in Asian countries respond to the inevitable internationalization(國際化)? Hatano offered an advice from a sensai position, that we should all transform ourselves into internationalists (國際人), a concept he then defined with 4 requirements. Only the first two call for close examination.

“To be an internationalist, you must first of all have an interest in the world”, Sensai wrote.

On this front today’s college age Chinese are way ahead of their American counterparts. Their purview transcends the Chinese border in their education and career choices. Their language skills allow them to “swim in both Oceans”, as Fareed Zakaria has pointed out. There is no question about who and where the narrow-minded people of the world are.

“A second requirement for being a true internationalist is to have one’s own clear points of view and to be prepared to express them in a way that will carry weight with others”, Sensai continued.

Hatano sensai did not inform us what the purpose or objective of expressing one’s views and opinions is. Should you aim to convert the other to your position, or simply inform the other of your position (a more modest goal)? Consensus is almost always impossible among individuals holding different opinions. The pro-life versus pro-choice and intelligent design versus evolution debates have no sign of being resolved in the United States . Opposite opinions radicalize each other with each side interpreting the “evidence” as unambiguously in its favor and exaggerating the other sides’ extremism. The same logic applies to China bashing in the West and West bashing in China; neither side will be persuaded. Still, China and the West should continue to talk to each other, if only for the purpose of being informative (without being persuasive).

It is hard for Jack Cafferty to convince the Chinese that they are indeed a bunch of goons and thugs. It is hard for the Western activists to convince the Chinese that their Olympics are genocidal. It is equally hard for the Chinese to persuade Jack and Western activists that they are SBs. But I think it is still useful and productive that some Chinese do inform Jack and activists they are SBs. I think this is Hatano sensai’s spirit of “having one’s own clear points of view and being prepared to express them in a way that will carry weight with others”, an essential requirement for being an internationalist. I hope everyone takes this last paragraph with a sense of humor. Have a good weekend.


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19 Responses to “Why are the Chinese so upset II: Being an internationalist”

  1. MutantJedi Says:

    I would not be optimistic to convert the Jack Cafferty’s to anything. One of the reasons that makes Steven Colbert so entertaining is that he satirizes the image product of the Jacks, the Larrys, and the Glenns. Purposefully or not, Jack is an actor playing a role for money. As long as his role gets paid, he has a vested interest in continuing the part. Another reason that makes Colbert entertaining is that, along with others like him, he is one of the more honest American news sources as he is transparent about seeking to entertain.

    The problem with reacting to the Jacks with hurt and indignation is that you become their straight man, their foil, a mere part of their act – you fulfill the caricature role they set up for you. The Jacks jugular is the audience. Show the buffoon as irrelevant then his audience will dwindle. The actor that plays Jack Cafferty will have to re-invent the character or withdraw from the stage.

    Thus enter Fool’s Mountain and other stakeholders to present another voice about China. … every little bit helps temper the public image of China that the Jacks play against.

  2. Hongkonger Says:

    “Open-mindedness” must mean having the presence of mind of neither that of a gullible sheep nor a stubborn mule. There are knowledges which serve to unit people and dogmas that cause great divides. To use the key words or tenets of the few major religions, the fruit of the spirit is — Universal Love (Christianity), Peace (Bhuddism), One with Nature (Daoism). On the other hand, admonishments against knowledge that puffs up which cause exclusivity and a world divided are aplenty in Jewish & Islamic teachings.

    I am not religious nor am I anti-religion. Neither am I a Capitalist nor a Communist. I missed the whole fenqin movement and mentality by geography and western indoctrination. Yet, having lived in China for 5 years, I am beginning to understand the good and legitimate imperatives for these intelligent and over-aged fenqin (many still living overseas & with Ph.Ds) to continue their quest to counter the anti-China voices with eloquence in the acquired language of English, as well as in Chinese. To these old fenqin cum Internationalists, while Metrosexuality is what the rest of the frivolous affluent societies ever care about. To these “spirit-filled” brave fenqins, I say Bravo! Keep up the good work.

  3. Amen,so-be-it Says:

    In the book, ‘The Post American World,’ author Fareed Zakaria’ wrote:”for the first time in living memory—the United States does not seem to be leading the charge. Americans see that a new world is coming into being, but fear it is one being shaped in distant lands and by foreign people.

    Look around. The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Once quintessentially American icons have been usurped by the natives. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year. America no longer dominates even its favorite sport, shopping. The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. Antoine van Agtmael, the fund manager who coined the term “emerging markets,” has identified the 25 companies most likely to be the world’s next great multinationals. His list includes four companies each from Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, and Taiwan; three from India, two from China, and one each from Argentina, Chile, Malaysia, and South Africa. This is something much broader than the much-ballyhooed rise of China or even Asia. It is the rise of the rest—the rest of the world.” Amen,so-be-it

  4. Daniel Says:

    While America’s strong role in world events is very significant, in most of recorded history, it is just one slice of the whole pie. I still think in many aspects, the US will still be strong in many areas for several good reasons, but given time other countries will be able to empower themselves to fulfill their own unique potential and whatever goals they need to pursue to better their societies. By then, it shouldn’t matter too much of these other big boys. Of course, I’m speaking on idealistic terms.

    On the topic of religion, I used to have some misconceptions regarding Islam and Judaism but the more I read and interact with others regarding these religions, I feel that there is more than what the naked eye sees. I’m not sure how this might work for China or the few other countries, since the Bible isn’t as deeply imprinted in it’s society as others, but nonetheless, I think the “internationalists” should take some effort and time to investigate the Biblical religions. In one way(s) or another, whether indirect or not, small or big, positive or negative, etc. those scriptures left a big impression and impact on the whole world, with respect to the other non-Abrahamic religions/philosophies.

  5. Theo Says:

    Mutual loathing between China and the West? Some fear – or at least wariness perhaps, but I don’t see westerners loathing China. Among the westerners I know, most just aren’t really that interested in China and don’t have strong feelings about the country or its people. Despite China becoming more economically strong, it has not ‘engaged’ westerners in a cultural, intellectual or social sense. Maybe the Olympics will change that.

  6. Netizen K Says:

    Although there are opposing views in the world and people hold them very strongly, there are ways for people of different views come together. It’s called rationalism. People act rationally. Here I offer a model on how things to come about:

    Conflict -> Concensus -> New conflict -> New concensus -> Process continues

    According to this model, there will always be conflicts, but people will come to concensus despite or because of conflicts. As people evaluate the adverse consequences of continuing conflicts, they come to a rational concensus about of the rules of conduct and accommodation of interests.

    As new conditions appear, the concensus may no longer hold, and thus new conflicts occur. People will then try to seek a new concensus under the new conditions. New rules of conduct and new accommodation of interests are established.

    That’s how society progresses. Thus, we shouldn’t be afraid of conflicts. We shouldn’t be afraid to confront existing concensus.

    In the recently collapsed Doha WTO talks, India, China and other developing countries decided to confront the West-dominated free-trade concensus. We’ll see if a new concensus will emerge. Personally, I’m sure it will.

  7. Charles Liu Says:

    This reminded me of a lecture I heard years ago on the politics of multiculturalism.

    I was suprised to hear that multiculturalism may merely be “managed” by mainstream America. I think it also applies to the China bashing we’ve witnessed:

    http://www.colorado.edu/EthnicStudies/ethnicstudiesjournal/Civil%20Rights.html

    “The answer, I believe, lies in America’s growing insecurity about its preeminent position in the world, its global economic competitiveness, and its national identity as a people, a nation, and a culture. The new immigrants, because they are predominantly non-European and nonwhite, reinforce the contemporary multicultural challenge to the triumphalist construction of America as an English-speaking, culturally European nation that is the embodiment of the superiority of Western civilization. Seen in this light immigrant bashing is part of the backlash against multiculturalism.”

  8. Otto Kerner Says:

    Is the United States not an English-speaking, culturally European nation? I don’t think that’s a “triumphalist construction”, but simply an apt description. We won’t get anywhere by refraining from calling a spade a spade.

    I was quite surprised to read Saxton’s “forceful” analysis (quoted in the Hu-DeHart article), particularly the part where he points out, “Moderately tolerant of European ethnic diversity, the nation remained adamantly intolerant of racial diversity. It is this crucial difference that has been permitted to drop from sight. ” This is a fact of history that is hardly obscure; it is difficult to miss. Obviously, the average guy off the street doesn’t understand anything about history, but, if Mr. Saxton is saying that this fact has dropped out of the sight of some intellectuals, I’m afraid I must suspect that those intellectuals have been practicing willful blindness.

  9. Karma Says:

    Should you aim to convert the other to your position, or simply inform the other of your position (a more modest goal)? The pro-life versus pro-choice and intelligent design versus evolution debates have no sign of being resolved in the United States ….

    There is a third – humbler, but perhaps more important – objective for participating in forums like this. It is to express oneself in the broad daylight of potential opposition – and in that process, self-enlighten oneself.

    In my experience, rarely do I change others’ mind because of anything specific I say. However, I notice I do form valuable insights often in trying to articulate myself in front of good, respected opposition. I think this forum provides that.

    So when things get too heated, I try to remind myself (not always successful) that it is not about shouting the others down – or even winning! More importantly, it is about articulating about ones’ views, helping to build a community that fosters on mutual respect – and in the long term, indirectly, helping everyone (myself included) achieve more insights and understanding…

    Happy 100th day!

  10. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Karma:
    couldn’t agree more. Well said!

  11. Amen,so-be-it Says:

    @Daniel:
    My fav saying “The way that can be named is not the way” Lao Zi.
    Jesus said: “The KINGDOM of GOD (Love/peace/eternal) is WITHIN you.”
    Elsewhere he reminded his audience, ” Know you not that you are gods?”
    This is why I totally agree with Karma who wrote:
    “There is a humbler,..more important – objective for participating in forums like this. It is to express oneself in the broad daylight of potential opposition – and in that process, self-enlighten oneself.”

  12. bianxiangbianqiao Says:

    Karma,

    I agree with you on

    “There is a third – humbler, but perhaps more important – objective for participating in forums like this. It is to express oneself in the broad daylight of potential opposition – and in that process, self-enlighten oneself. ”

    My only reservation is that self-enlightening cannot replace actively coping with each other in the world. Each one of us can be as enlightened as Lao Zi and Jesus, as Amen, so-be-it hopes, but we still have to deal with each other at the human level (as individuals and groups), equiped with little more than entrenched biases and bigotry.

  13. Alice Poon Says:

    @ Karma. Well said. I was just thinking a little while ago: the most valuable thing I’ve achieved by starting to write my blog a year ago is self-enlightenment and the precious knowledge of my own limitations.

    @BXBQ. It is exactly through engaging others in dialogue that one comes to be aware of one’s own biases and bigotry. Hopefully through such a process, we can all learn to be more tolerant of other people’s viewpoints and rectify our own prejudices.

  14. Karma Says:

    @bianxiangbianqiao

    My only reservation is that self-enlightening cannot replace actively coping with each other in the world. Each one of us can be as enlightened as Lao Zi and Jesus, as Amen, so-be-it hopes, but we still have to deal with each other at the human level (as individuals and groups), equiped with little more than entrenched biases and bigotry.

    I agree with this … in this way:

    In talking about self-learning, I was only observing that all learning / insight must be driven by the individual. There is no point in force-feeding one’s perspective to another.

    But you are right. This is a forum for discussion – not a platform for soliloquy. So I probably unfairly overly de-emphasized the discussion value of this forum in my previous post.

  15. Wu Di Says:

    The short answer to “Why are the Chinese so upset?” — Because they are force-fed simplified, binary narratives.

    Let me elaborate:

    Self-enlightenment through writing and engaging ones’ critical capacities and coping (engaging) with each other are certainly noble goals, and important first steps. But I think in the longer run we need more than that. We need to figure out a way to help people recognize the value and necessity to learn thinking for themselves so they can develop an understanding of which news or explanations are worth believing and which are only there to mislead them or cover up agendas or responsibilities.

    The difficulty is that there are forces that are interested in making us believe, or buy, or think, what they want us to. Most institutions/organizations recognize that it is easier to attain their goals (be it profit, legitimacy, etc) by manipulating people’s thoughts, and this of course is easier as long as people are NOT doing too much thinking on their own — i.e. by keeping them ignorant or make them feel irrelevant.

    @Karma: You write: “[A]ll learning / insight must be driven by the individual. There is no point in force-feeding one’s perspective to another.”

    This may be true for you and a minority of people who know about the importance of free and independent thinking. However, whenever I look at mainstream media (all over the world) I see that force-feeding (or ‘converting others to your position’) is the game of the day, a game played quite successfully, I might add. Some try to make us believe that Obama is a Muslim and a flip-flopper, and we (scarily many of us, anyway) believe it; some make us believe that the conflict in the Middle East is what makes our gas prices rise (true to some extent but most of the truth is hidden), some make us believe that China is led by an evil communist regime (well, let me not go into that now), some make us believe that as long as we have ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ everything is going to be great, etc, and whenever we trust the authority behind a certain media outlet, or simply lack the time or capacity to think things through for ourselves, then more often than not we choose to believe the simplified narratives presented to us.

    Personally, whenever I watch/read mainstream media (be it in China/U.S./Europe) or listen to politicians (wherever they are based) I feel that they try to force-feed me. Lots of critical questions pop up — but of course the medias’ or politicians’ success depends on devising strategies to either not answer such questions or simply label them ‘irrelevant’.

    So what we need is more than self-learning or simple dialogue. All the hidden agendas behind those narratives need to be exposed, in new media that steer clear from those powerful agendas, gain people’s trust and develop the authority that helps them evolve into civic platforms that compete and ultimately transcend the simplified, binary narratives (often of the ‘mine-is-bigger-than-yours’ kind) we get from listening to mainstream media.

    So again, to summarize my point: In my opinion, it is binary narratives that makes people upset. And people who are upset are easy to control. They are perfect consumers and citizens, oh, I mean consumer-citizens — not quite the same thing 🙂

    Just my 2ct. Sorry if I’m off topic.

  16. yo Says:

    @wu di
    “The short answer to “Why are the Chinese so upset?” — Because they are force-fed simplified, binary narratives.”

    I believe that this is too dismissive of their feelings and doesn’t take into account that people, forced fed or not, are also upset about being forced fed binary narratives of an opposite viewpoint. Many liberals in America were very upset about being branded as un-American, however many of them were very open minded.

    Personally, I am very wary of questioning why people are upset, considering it’s their own personal emotions.

  17. Wu Di Says:

    @yo: I agree, and actually believe that short answers don’t make much sense anyway. The world is too complex for easy answers.

  18. yo Says:

    @wu di,
    I can agree with that 🙂

  19. Hongkonger Says:

    Well said Karma, WUDI & BXBQ are absolutely right too. I remember there was a passage where Jesus also warned his disciples to be as wise as serpents and innocent as lamb, something like that, no?

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