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Dec 13

Is there a moral crisis in Mainland China?

Written by Allen on Saturday, December 13th, 2008 at 10:28 am
Filed under:-mini-posts, Analysis, culture, General | Tags:, , ,
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On my trip to Mainland China a couple of weeks ago, I happened to run into an old family friend who used to be my mom’s acupuncturist (who has since retired).  Despite having emigrated from the Mainland to the U.S. almost forty years ago, she still loves China – and has continually made her annual trip back to her home town for over three decades.  And this time – true to form, I saw her with 3-4 luggage in tow – full of gifts for her extended family and village friends.

However when we got time to sit down to chat a little, she lamented to me how she missed the old days when society was more simple and just.  She complained how everyone in China today care too much about material things – and look up too much to money.

I was somewhat surprised.

Yes, I know the headlines – tainted milk, infidelity, corrupt officials, etc.  But I did not appreciate the deepening moral crisis that the Chinese society is facing.

On my flight back to Taiwan, I happened to read a Time article on Jet Li’s recent visit to Sichuan to help commemorate 6 month anniversary of the Wen Chuan earthquake.  The article reported:

The celebrity duo [Donatella Versace and Jet Li - also known as Li Lianjie] is visiting a school and counseling facility for children affected by the Sichuan earthquake, paid for by Versace and operated under the auspices of Li’s charity, the One Foundation. … Hundreds of people pour in from the road or strain at the wire mesh that separates the school from the tract of temporary housing it adjoins. There is barely room to stage the songs and dances that the children have so assiduously rehearsed.

People generally don’t ask Li to do flying kicks or the wushu horse stance for the camera these days. They don’t even want his autograph much. What they want to do, amid the moral vacuum of modern China, is feed off the aura of a man preaching compassion and civic duty. When Li takes the rostrum, he reminds people of a time before land grabs, kickbacks and beatings — of a China in which people were not counterfeiting, short-changing, corner-cutting, milk-adulterating hucksters but virtuous and simple. “Before this country opened up, people were more focused on their spiritual lives,” he says. “Since this country opened we have been more focused on the material life. For the sake of Chinese culture, it’s time for a balance.”

I personally think people in China are no less (or more) amoral than people in America – or elsewhere in the world.  What difference there seem to be in morality is due to the different circumstances under which people find themselves.

In the relentless pursuit of economic development, China is a very stressful place to live today.  People are often forced to jostle to make a living just to make sure they – or at least their child – do not fall behind.

For people who have visited China recently, what are people’s impression of the morality of the average Chinese?

For Mainlanders, how many of you actually feel the society was more just or moral under communism?


There are currently 17 comments highlighted: 22515, 22573, 22578, 22583, 22589, 22590, 22652, 22743, 22813, 22972, 22988, 23061, 23072, 23085, 23425, 23433, 23471.

89 Responses to “Is there a moral crisis in Mainland China?”

  1. Father Christmas! Says:

    I’d say PRC citizens are, on the whole, less moral than ethnic Chinese in Taiwan, SE Asia, and the west.

    The PRC has lots of great and honest people of course, but I’d summarize the place as less moral overall than other Chinese societies, and less than western societies. The lack of morality makes everyday living more stressful than it needs to be for everyone.

    You can blame the lack of morality on level of economic development. More than that though I would blame the corrupt and hypocritical government.

  2. James Says:

    What are basing these assumptions on “father Christmas?” To me that reads like pure bullshit. It’s comments like that that incite misconceptions and unnecessary dislike between different ethnicities and cultures.

    Personally, I think that China simply hasn’t completed reached equilibrium and stabilized yet, where fortunes can be made in a day (obviously exagerating). It’s still rapidly changing, and so people find many opportunities to make a quick buck, which leads to more people taking the morally ambiguous road. Of course, most people in China have also experienced hard times, and so are more prone to sacrificing morals in return for financial stability for them and their children.

    Once China’s growth slows down to a lower level, and society begins to stabilize towards an equilibrium, people will gradually tend to gravitate towards actions that will help ensure the equilibrium, meaning an overall more “moral” society.

    Of course, there’s the question of what the whole concept of what being “moral” means, but I’ll take “immoral” here to mean performing an action for some self benefit that would result in worse conditions for others.

  3. Wukailong Says:

    I agree with James. Also, it’s hard to say whether a society as a whole have become more or less moral.

    I think this might be linked to something else, though. For good or bad, communism in China during the Mao era, like democracy in the West today, provided people with political and social ideals. When “getting rich first” became the only goal in life, it’s natural that people turn out more selfish and less interested in their communities. A lot of old people still hold a certain belief in these now gone ideals.

  4. GrandpaMasaki Says:

    I spent most of my time in China at a university campus, and the general consensus was that there was a lot of climbing over other people to achieve one’s goals, something I’d attribute to the deep rooted level of corruption. If there’s a morality crisis in China, it might have to do with the fact that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to succeed without playing the corruption game. As a foreigner, people were constantly trying to swindle and scam me, probably because a good deal of people saw me as an opportunity. Private business is ruthless and cut-throat because it lacks stability…one day you’re set up with a small store, a stand, etc, the next you’re out on the street, everything having been seized by corrupt officials. Larger private firms often suffer similar fates…so yeah, there’s a certain point in time where you just have to become an asshole if you want to survive.

    Just my 2-cents…

  5. FOARP Says:

    All I can say is what so many others have said already: that the period 1899-1989 saw every single structure of traditional Chinese society – moral or immoral – smashed. People can talk all they like about the corrupting effects of capitalism, but it does not turn friend against friend, child against parent, student against teacher, husband against wife and brother against brother in the way that the ceaseless political strife which has occupied most of the history of ‘New China’ has.

    In the immediate post-breakup former USSR they had a joke about the rebuilding of civil society after the fall of the communists: “You can turn a fish-tank full of fish into fish soup: the real trick is turning fish-soup back into a tank full of fish”. But perhaps this is making it sound overly difficult. There are already the signs of a regrowth of what might be described as the moral equivalent of a body-politic separate from the government is being seen in the rise of religious groups, charities, environmental movements, trade unions and educational groups. Much of what is criticised as moral decay or ‘westernisation’ is, in fact, merely the re-assertion of traditional values – good or bad. There is, in practice, little difference between the rows of ‘massage parlours’ and ‘barber-shops’ you see around South-East university and the open practice of prostitution in areas like Fuzi Miao in Nanjing during the Ming dynasty. Likewise, if people complain that many marriages seem to be far from love-matches, this in itself has a basis in ancient society.

  6. chinayouren Says:

    Great subject to discuss Allen. I do think there is a problem with morality in China today. IMO these 2 lines from your post and from Wukailong hit the nail:

    “In the relentless pursuit of economic development [...] people are often forced to jostle to make a living just to make sure they – or at least their child – do not fall behind.” AND “When getting rich first became the only goal in life, it’s natural that people turn out more selfish…”

    That is exactly the problem. The principle of “Get rich first” is in itself an immoral principle. It means exactly what it reads: First is money. Second is love, trust, truth, justice…

    OK, I know that the principle stated by Deng was not exactly this. It was “let some people get rich first”. He meant to say that inequality is the price to pay to develop the country. But unfortunately many in China, including a whole section of the “communist” party have interpreted it in their own interest, in the sense of: “Anything can be justified if it will make China (us) richer.”

  7. Jaysming Says:

    hey I am Chinese
    I found your passage by the search engine!
    I would like to say “not everyone like the people saying:“I believe that there are some people who are not moral in every country, not only in China ”。Most Chinese is kind!
    if you live in China ,you will find that China is a magic country!Cause there are too much people!
    you are taiwanese,all right?and the CHEN’s corruption is a big problem!
    something like this happens in many counties ,maybe we don’t know!
    Additionally,we may make friends !
    my msn is Jaysming@live.cn
    if you like ,you can add me!
    that‘a all!
    look forward to your replying

  8. Arch Angle Says:

    Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

  9. WillF Says:

    I’ve spent quite a bit of time in China, made friends, etc. and it seems to me that on the individual level people are just as moral as people in the US, where I live. In America I run into plenty of people who are Grade A pricks but obviously I have friends and acquaintances who I consider “moral.” The friends I made in China are just as moral in the sense that they care about their friends and family, they have dreams that they want to achieve through honest work, they care about the state of their country, etc.

    There obviously are some downright evil folks in China but there are plenty in the US too. I get calls on my phone 2-3 times a week from people trying to trick me into giving them my credit card information so they can steal my money. My girlfriend doesn’t like to walk alone at night in the US because there are violent predators out there. We’ve got a state governor trying to sell a major political position.

    And there are plenty of people in America who lament for the “good old days” when people were decent to one another. I’m not sure things were much different back then either.

    The real problem in China, if you ask me, is that it doesn’t have an effective legal system to force these evil people to behave. The American system is flawed, but I think on the whole it’s more effective in rooting out corruption than the Chinese system. We can debate endlessly over what needs to be done to solve China’s legal problem. But I don’t think it’s possible to “make” people more “moral.” We can only make it so that the system punishes those who would otherwise do immoral things.

  10. wuming Says:

    @WillF

    The American system is flawed, but I think on the whole it’s more effective in rooting out corruption than the Chinese system.

    US does not exactly root out corruption most of the time, it just legalize them so they are not called corruptions any more. George W. Bush and his cohort essentially drove this country into an abyss as result of their criminal negligence and sometimes outright criminality. But he will suffer no consequence other than that he will not be the president anymore. What do we call this? Rule of law or Morality?

  11. MAC Says:

    “The PRC has lots of great and honest people of course, but I’d summarize the place as less moral overall than other Chinese societies, and less than western societies. The lack of morality makes everyday living more stressful than it needs to be for everyone.”

    The place is, frankly, twisted. When I married my wife, she had to lie about why and how she was leaving her job because she was afraid that at minimum she would be mistreated in various ways, and at worst, somebody would try to sabotage her US visa- something that has happened to other people who’ve made the mistake of not treating their fellow Chinese with suspicion. And I don’t think it was just her own paranoia, as her boss was apparently skimming off everybody’s paycheck and had an employee who was paid extra to be a “spy”- and even if this wasn’t true, if people believed it so easily, what does it say about people’s expectations about others in society? What kind society is this where you can’t tell anyone good news because there’s a good chance that somebody will try to use information against you? Why are Chinese people constantly surprised- or even suspicious, trying to figure out what the “angle” is- when people do nice things for them in the US? Why does the word “honest” in Chinese often carry an undertone of “witless” or “naive”? Why do mainland Chinese in the US say things like (and I quote) “I prefer to work with Americans because Chinese are sneaky” and “I like living in the US because relationships are simpler”- while comments going the other way are in general diplomatic at best?

  12. pug_ster Says:

    @11 MAC

    Comparing morals from one country to another is like comparing apples to oranges. Have you ever try to buy a new or used car here in the US? How many of these car salesmen actually sells you a car with the price you expect anyways? When I brought my investment building here a few years back, the old owner didn’t give me all the deposit back. In my last job, my dishonest director made some kind of stupid plot to get rid of me so that he can hire one of his comrades who needed my position. In my current job, my less experienced co-worker was promoted because he kissed my bosses ass. In these experiences, I could probably conclude that Americans in general are not less moral people. However, in reality in every business or personal dealing you have to be careful and watch you back, whether the person on the other side is Chinese or American. And yes, sometimes you have to climb up the corporate ladder at the expense of others.

    Heck here in the US you have a corrupt Illinois Governor Blagojevich who won’t leave his office. I don’t have to explain you know what kind of President Bush is. And yesterday there’s an ex Nasdaq Chairman who swindled his investors of 50 billion. Those who think China is a corrupt country and thinks grass is greener on the other side should think twice.

    I think the main difference the US and China is that the US propaganda keeps hammering the idea that Chinese more dishonest people in order to claim the title of moral superiority.

  13. MAC Says:

    “However, in reality in every business or personal dealing you have to be careful and watch you back, whether the person on the other side is Chinese or American.”

    Sure- but in China, trusting people freely is like playing Russian Roulette with 3-4 loaded chambers, compared to 1 elsewhere. My parents used to run a produce stand, which operated entirely on the honor system- they had a small amount of produce stolen once, and never any money. This is quite a high amount of trust, and not even I would think this especially advisable in the US- but in China? There’s a small chance it might work out for a time, but we’ll never know, because virtually anyone in China would find this arrangement insane, because China is a zero-trust society. A lot of people are moral, but basically, nobody feels that they can afford to assume that anybody else is ethical- leading to a cycle where nobody is ethical. Why, for example, is it apparently relatively common for Chinese to move out without paying their last months’ rent? Because they strongly suspect their deposit will be kept in either case. Chinese people who bring this mentality to the US cause themselves a lot of unnecessary stress with worry that’s totally disproportionate to their real risks.

  14. GrandpaMasaki Says:

    Sorry pug_ster, but I really have to disagree. You can’t put buying a used car on the same level as having your property re-possessed by corrupt officials and resold below market value. Oh wait, there is no market. The state controls and fixes all market prices, so they can just sell it at whatever value they want to whoever gives the largest bribe.

    You’ve also got a government that controls and determines the flow of investment, often highly favoring state owned firms and making it near impossible for private entrepreneurs to obtain even the most basic loans necessary to finance their endeavors. I mean, what do you do in the face of corruption so intensely rooted in the system? At least I can start a business in the US without having to bribe my way through the process, and once it’s done I don’t have to worry about some official coming in and seizing my company.

    I understand the argument, and yes, the corporate world is an ugly place, and you’re right that you constantly have to watch your back. I’m not disagreeing, and I’m also not trying to claim that America is in some way superior. I do feel, however, that China, specifically since the 1990s, has created an environment that has made it very difficult to succeed while retaining one’s morality. You can’t afford to watch out for anyone but yourself, and if you want to succeed you’re going to have to stab quite a few backs.

  15. pug_ster Says:

    @13 MAC,

    “My parents used to run a produce stand, which operated entirely on the honor system- they had a small amount of produce stolen once, and never any money.”

    Here in the US, I have never see a store where you can pay by the ‘Honor system.’ I have heard of some pay as you wish restaurants though, but there’s not many of them.

    “Why, for example, is it apparently relatively common for Chinese to move out without paying their last months’ rent? ”

    Does that mean that Chinese are more dishonest? This is how Chinese conduct business much like why it is customary for people in China not to tip, and etc…

  16. pug_ster Says:

    @14 GrandpaMasaki

    You’ve also got a government that controls and determines the flow of investment, often highly favoring state owned firms and making it near impossible for private entrepreneurs to obtain even the most basic loans necessary to finance their endeavors. I mean, what do you do in the face of corruption so intensely rooted in the system? At least I can start a business in the US without having to bribe my way through the process, and once it’s done I don’t have to worry about some official coming in and seizing my company.

    Lol, I think you are talking about US companies here. They seem to be anxious to bail out the big 3 automakers, but not the foreign ones. The US always have some kind of hearing when China wants to buy some US company. Don’t forget how many banks are taken over for the FDIC and don’t forget what happened to AIG.

  17. MAC Says:

    I meant to say “operated entirely on the honor system on weekends,” which is a bit different. I’m not saying its a common way to operate or one that I would particularly recommend- but the fact that it would, in this case, not only work, but even be considered at all represents a huge gap in what people expect from others in the US and China.

    “Does that mean that Chinese are more dishonest? This is how Chinese conduct business much like why it is customary for people in China not to tip, and etc…”

    Maybe I need to look at more rental contracts, but I’m not under the impression that a deposit is explicitly INTENDED to be used differently from how it’s used elsewhere- mainly as insurance against wear and damage when people move out- but that it may have come to operate the way it often does simply because nobody expects that a landlord is going to actually return money to them after the fact. People’s assumptions about other people’s dishonesty may often be wrong- which is why I can’t stand living in China, because I don’t like to treat honest people like thieves, like Chinese people seem to think I should- but it seems that they’re correct often enough that their suspicion is, unfortunately, often justified. Meanwhile, when my wife brings these same suspicions into dealings in the US, she is wrong every last time, and causes herself endless worry over nothing. An old Chinese roommate was the exactly same way, suspecting ripoffs and schemes everywhere- probably because she was always scheming to cheat on anything involving money herself and assumed everyone else thought the same way.

    Phrases like “moral crisis” or “ethical vacuum” are not just used by bitchy, self-satisfied foreigners. In fact, I never would make such a statement to someone who hasn’t been there, because I’d probably sound like a huge racist or something. But when many Chinese are saying the same thing, you tend to think there may be something to it.

  18. FOARP Says:

    You know, although I have the feeling that this thread is going to be quite long, I personally don’t think that there is that much to say about morality per se. Is there such a thing as morality? Is it an intrinsic or extrinsic feature of human life? Is it culture specific? Are people in China naturally more moral than people in other countries? Did the communist party have a bad effect on morality? Capitalism? Westernisation? Modernisation (and is this different from modernisation)? These are all questions which people are going to answer without too much in the way of reasoning, and to be frank, although I think i know the answer to these questions, I couldn’t give more than a sentence for each, most of which would be entirely on personal grounds.

  19. Father Christmas! Says:

    James@2, I’m basing my comments on half a decade spent living in Taiwan and another half spent living in China, plus extensive travel throughout SE Asia (almost always staying in Chinatowns and interacting with Chinese people), plus dealings with ‘western’ Chinese, SE Asian Chinese, Taiwanese, and Mainland Chinese friends over a couple of decades.

    Sorry you don’t like the opinions I have formed. Naturally I can only speak from personal experience.

    I resent you accusing me of inciting ethnic hatred. Allen asked a question. I answered it. My answer made no claims about Chinese as an ethnicity being less moral than anyone else. I mentioned economic development, and (importantly) government as reasons for less moral behavior in China.

    Subsequent posters, and indeed Allen himself, seem to agree that China may score relatively poorly in terms of ‘morality’.

    So don’t jump on me for spreading ethnic hatred.

  20. LK Says:

    @ GrandpaMasaki #14
    First of all, the Chinese governments don’t control market prices. It was only the case only during the Mao ear. Secondly, the state does have quite a bit of control over investments. However, this has both upside and downside. The downside as you pointed out, it does impede private capital flow into the economy. On the other hand, it did shield China to some degree from the global financial crisis, or at least not as bad as in some European countries. That being said, current Hu-Wen administration now strives to change that, giving incentive for people to invest instead saving. Lastly, the Chinese governments won’t privatize those major state own companies anytime soon. But what they will do is to address the inefficiency issue. It is true that those state-own companies tend to crowd out the small private companies when accessing capital. On the flip side, in time of financial crisis as we currently experience, Chinese government is able to put together a stimuli package of 586 billion. Where do you think the money comes from? These major state-own corporations and of course the central bank. At least, the money is not squeezed out the tax payers’ pockets.

    I grew up in China and have witnessed series changes that China went through, the fall of gang of four, the Deng’s reform, the 1989 Tiananmen protest, Jiangzeming era. Having left China a few years back, I still visit China every year to see my relatives and friends and possibly continue to do so as long as I’m outside of China.

    Moral crisis? To some degree yes. In the early years before the start of reform, the society was impoverished. Doors in my neighbourhood often left open. Who cares to lock their doors when there is nothing to steel or lose? It was safer with hardly any crime. With reform, people got wealthier and at the same time more selfish. The demonstrated selfishness, in part due to the prevalent idea that “money matters”, also in part due to the relaxation of self-restrain. It was not that people were less selfish during Mao’s era, but rather the sense of selfishness was deemed politically incorrect and thereby suppressed. As the communism relaxed, so has the need to be correct or moral.

    Just as I concluded that China is in serious moral crisis, things start to look up. During the last two visits to Shenzhen, I noticed a considerable shift in their manners and spirits. Decades of economic growth lends ordinary Chinese greater confidence. There is a growing desire for responsibility that goes to both individuals and businesses. Contrary to other observations on this link, I saw improvements. People taking buses almost always give their seats to the elders, the mother-to be, the children and anyone they perceive need help. Those business owners that I dealt with are far more honest and sincere than those I encountered years ago.

    There has been a noticeable Confucianism revival in recent years. It becomes incredible popular that one can easily find Confucian related books and topics in bookstores and on TV. One other thing worth mentioning is the daily legal case study on TV with experts giving analysis and comments on each case. It on one hand reveals social injustice, while on the other hand it serves to educate the public about law.

  21. stuart Says:

    Yes, there is a moral crisis in mainland China. I’ve also lived here long enough to recognise that this lack of morality runs deeper than it does in other countries I’ve been resident in.

    Those that offer kneejerk defences along the lines “but US has this…western countries do that” are reacting blindly to a justified criticism of modern day ethics in China. The driving force behind this decay is the hard-wired concept that ‘the means justify the ends’. This leads to (and this is certainly a cultural distinction) the sense in the individual that they’ve done nothing wrong, whether, for example, they’re students caught cheating in an exam or officials stealing land from peasants.

    And the person who pointed out that a lack of rule of law in China is in part responsible is absolutely right. Until the judicial system operates independently of the state, the police are truly servants of the public, and the press can investigate corruption freely under the protection of the law, there’s little hope that people in China will grow up believing that to lie, cheat, and steal is unacceptable.

  22. pug_ster Says:

    @19 Father Christmas

    Actually, Allen said that he thinks that people in China are no more or less amoral than people in the US.

    @17 MAC

    Unfortunately, this is how people do Business in China, people fulfilling their part of their deal even if they seem suspicious of each other. In the end, at least neither of the parties feel that they got ripped off. I always fulfill my part of the bargain, whether dealing with westerners or Chinese. However, in the US sometimes I give people the benefit of the doubt and they do take advantage of it.

  23. EugeneZ Says:

    I do not think China has a moral crisis today more it has had in the past, nor do I think that China has a more severe moral crisis than USA, for example. China is where it is today just like US is where it is today, the two countries are at the different stages of development and also have different history and culture. Morality is an end result of all of that, not of something in itself.

    Does a man who has a mistress more immoral than a man who has 3 wifes back in old days? Did not Prince Charles have a mistress for years before divocing Dianna?

    This topic is very interesting, of course, and clarity of understanding is also the hardest. Should we allow Gay people to marry legally? Should we define in the state constitution that marriage is strictly between a man and a woman? If so, on what basis? Not too long ago, man can legally marry several women in many countries.

    In short, I do not think China has a morality problem, rather it has problems of development, rule of law, corruption, lack of freedom of press, lack of a robust civil society, and now an economic crisis. Those are the more tangible things to work on that really move China forward on its path of modernnization, not an attempt to improve China’s morality.

  24. Wukailong Says:

    A former colleague of mine, who’s Chinese, believed in the moral decay of Chinese society and thought that India, while in a bad economic state, surely must have a much moral population because of religion. I’ve talked to one person who’s been there and rejects the notion – Indians are not any more moral than people in other countries.

    I agree with EugeneZ: what China has is “problems of development, rule of law, corruption, lack of freedom of press, lack of a robust civil society, and now an economic crisis”. To that it seems to me there’s also a lack of trust, and too much materialism.

  25. MutantJedi Says:

    Every generation seems to need to be reminded by the older folks how immoral it is. Or the generation looks to the past as somehow better than today.

    For example, a friend of mine was pining for the golden age of the 1950′s in North America, which is a period of time some time before his time. He seemed a bit put off when I queried him just which golden ideal he pined most for – the status of minorities, women, or gays, just to begin the list.

    In China, you can find people who look to the Cultural Revolution as a golden age of morality. Oh sure bad stuff happened, they rationalize, but at least there was a sense of being together, a sort of a binding common cause, which seems to be lacking today.

    At Christmas time, we worry about being too materialistic so the past becomes less materialistic and more about the values we cherish, such as time with our families.

    Change is the one constant. Allen mentions the following:

    In the relentless pursuit of economic development, China is a very stressful place to live today. People are often forced to jostle to make a living just to make sure they – or at least their child – do not fall behind.

    The struggle hasn’t changed much, only its context. Without the economic development, there would be little worry, perhaps, about falling behind. Rather the worry would be about more basic things such as food, clothing, and shelter. Personally, I’d rather worry about my child getting into a good university than how will the family survive the winter.

    This sort of idealization of the previous age is not new. I read with amusement Confucius bemoaning the moral degradation of his generation. He too had a golden age in the past to bring into check the present. Bring into check seems to be what this whole thing is about. We use the past as a mirror to reflect what we feel is lacking in the present.

  26. snow Says:

    The moral issue is by nature derivative, a by-product of many more fundamental things in any society and it must be viewed in historical perspectives too. Were people in Dickens time more “moral” than people in China today? Didn’t money counterfeiting and tainted food due to capitalist greed become headline news a century ago in the US? In three decades China has accomplished a modernization (capitalization/commercialization) project that had taken western countries to achieve in two centuries (paraphrasing a German sinologist). The moral deprivation is only one and perhaps not the worst one among many huge prices paid for this pressing and stressful catching-up with break-neck speed.

  27. EugeneZ Says:

    Over the past year or so, I have actually spent some time pondering over the issue of morality. Such an excercise was triggered by a news report I read that in the US there is a lot of bias against people who do not believe in person God, much more than bias against people of color, homosextuals, etc. It is commonly believed that non-religious people tend to be immoral people. For example, only 6% of the US population would not vote a black person to be the president because of the color of skin, but 46% would not vote an atheist to be president.

    Not only I am an atheist, I want to be a self-confident atheist – confident that I can belive in no personal God and still believe that I am a moral person, and that I can lead a moral and meaningful life, a life with purpose. Hence my spiritual journey of understanding morality. It is a fascinating journey indeed. A lot of readings and thinking were required to understand the multiple dimensions of this issue. Many questions need to be asked, and need to be answered. For instance, what does morality mean? Do we all have the same definition of morality and who gets to define the standard of morality? Are Christians more qualified to judge than atheist or buddists? How does it relate to genes, culture, time, history, economics, education, etc.. If God did not create human beings, how did we come about?

    I really think that a question of morality about China’s society today needs to be put into the perspective of these questions. Europeans used to debate the question of how many angels can fit onto the tip of a haystack as the moral question of the day. Today, in California, where I live, we debate on the question of whether we should define marriage in constitution as a union between a man and a woman, thus exclusing gay marriages. Times change, circumstances vary, the issue of morality evolve over time and also over cultural, historical, and geographic differences.

    Definitely China should debate the issue of morality and the whole society needs to engage itself in the soul searching of their history, presence, and the future and answer the question about who we want to be, and what kind of country we will become. But to say China is a less moral society than the west is an affront to the Chinese people, and shows lack of understanding of the issue of morality on the part of accuser.

  28. Wukailong Says:

    @snow: “Were people in Dickens time more “moral” than people in China today?”

    Actually, I read an amusing piece somewhere (might have been Time) on how Dickens went to the US and was enraged to find out that Americans were reading his books – in pirated form. He spent a lot of energy on deriding the immoral character of the new world after that. It seems the past is just repeating itself…

    @EugeneZ: As a European, this religious thing seems very strange to me, and I’m happy to hear you can cope with it. I’m not an atheist, but I consider an atheist environment natural, so the scarcity of religious practice in China have never really bothered me.

    Some people claim that Christians are actually _less_ moral than others, in statistical terms. That can very well be true.

  29. Allen Says:

    Lots of good comments. I hope this conversation will continue for a while.

    Since many people have asked regarding what is morality, I’d like to use Richard Dawkins (whom I highly respect) as a vehicle to throw in some thoughts.

    Dawkins is is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and popular science author – as well as a professorial fellow of New College, Oxford. He has published several best-selling books, including “the God Delusion,” “the Selfish Gene,” and “the Blind Watchmaker.”

    In the following video snippet, Dawkins argued that despite his generally tolerant nature, there are times when he (and supposedly any sane human being) has a right to be offended.

    In the video, Dawkins pronounced that he has a right to be offended when:

    • children anywhere are denied a proper education (picture in the background seems to show children studying the Koran in a Muslim religious school)
    • children anywhere are taught that they could spend an eternity in hell (more broadly, I take it that Dawkins believe that any use of fear as a means of social control – including religion – is immoral)
    • medical research is compromised by ignoramus beliefs (most likely referring to current freeze of federal fund for stem cell research in the U.S. by the Bush administration)
    • voodoo of all kinds are given equal weight to science (most likely referring to the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in many schools in the U.S.)
    • hymen reconstruction surgery of any kind is practiced (surgical restoration of the hymen is often practiced with the aim to cause women to bleed during post-nuptial intercourse, which in some cultures is a required proof of virginity)
    • female circumcision of any kind is practiced (popular practice in Africa, allegedly to numb permanently the female genitalia to help prevent women from being unfaithful)
    • stoning or honor killing of any kind is practiced (picture in the back shows a woman being stoned to death for wanting to marry someone of a wrong religion)
    • people eat too much meat (half facetiously in reference to Hitler)

    Do you consider all of the above to be immoral and unethnical? Would you remove any? Would you add any?

    Besides these points of morality (or amorality as the case may be), Dawkins also made one other point I think worth pondering.

    Dawkins argued that throughout history, “there is a logical pathway leading from religion to the committing of atrocities.”

    We can go back to the crusades, colonialism, and even the German Third Reich and see that so many of the most murderous episodes in history have been spawned and justified by ideologies that cast the aggressors in the righteous.

    Here is a thought. Even though Dawkins chose to focus solely on religion, I wonder if any over-sized sense of morality – or righteousness – by any people can in general be a dangerous development for the world?

    Dawkins argued that atheism or secularism does not offer the path to atrocities that religion does. I am not so sure about that.

    While it’s true that throughout history, so many murderous events have been perpetrated in the name of religion – or the righteousness, it’s also true today that people can fight in the name of democracy, freedom, or liberty in as blind a vigor as in the name of Allah.

    Similarly while I believe nationalism can be a strong tool for liberating and invigorating a people, I can also see that nationalism can blind a people also…

    Anyways – didn’t mean to be political. I guess my point is to throw some thoughts into what is morality and sound a small alarm that morality can often unfortunately be politicized as well…

  30. Leo Says:

    Somebody here mentioned the “moral golden age” of the Cultural Revolution. I think I can resonance that sentiment. I don’t want to say the CR is a generally right thing. I come from the China Town part of Shanghai, where the most population was working class. The fierce class struggles was a far far away thing from us. The children against parents, wife against husband, neighbor against neighbor senario, there was any, was rare. In my memories there were more opposite examples. In my experience, all the swindlings, fakeries began with the introduction of private economy since early 1980s, and people began to lock up their doors since early 1990s when migrant workers appeared en mass in the streets.

  31. pug_ster Says:

    I think Allen and EugeneZ brought up an important point. Many Western Countries recognize China as an Atheist country therefore thinks that people in China are less moral than they are. What Jet Li said earlier about bringing some Confucianism into China’s mainstream society is happening. I looked at some of the news coming from the chinadaily’s website and they start admitting that China does have some issues with human rights and food safety and hope that they are taking steps to take care of that. Chinese companies should take notice also. Even before Sanlu baby formula controversy, I know people in China who are willing to pay much more to buy baby formula from Hong Kong. Companies like Carefour and Walmart charges more for its products yet are very profitable because they have people who does quality checks on their products whereas locally owned supermarkets does not.

    I noticed when Jet Li going to the sichuan country is kind of a rare thing because Volunteerism is also something lacking in China, compared to Western Countries. It is not because that Chinese people don’t want to volunteer because in the wake of the Sichuan disaster, people do want to help without the aid of the government. There were no shortage of unpaid volunteers to help out with the beijing 2008 Olympics. I just hope that Chinese government can take steps which can promote volunteerism to help its poorer and less fortunate citizens.

  32. TonyP4 Says:

    Chinese morality has been changed with the capitalist influence. We let the flies in. Whenever there is a buck can be made, we make it without moral consideration. It could be natural. Here are my personal experience. Hope they are just few bad apples.

    1. Try to get a taxi from the hotel and tell him/her to go to Summer Palace in Beijing. S/he will tell you that it is closed for remodeling. S/he will suggest that a tour of several minor attractions with a fixed price for the cab service. I bet s/he pockets money from these attractions and laughs how many suckers s/he gets with his fellow cab drivers.

    2. Most if not all tours will take you to factories and tea farms and sell you stuffs. It is OK as it is the reason tours are not expensive. However, the stuffs they unload are the worst quality (great quality for same in Europe). I know horrible stories that the medicines have dates expired (first I do not trust anything made in China that I have to swallow), the Olympic toys are far worse and cost more than similar ones at the airport… The shopkeeper switched a defective merchandise – I must have a sign on my head to tell folks to cheat me.

    If they government does not step in, the tourist industry will go down after the toy industry and the food industry. Cheat me two times, shame on me.

    3. Watch out pick pockets in S. China and they try to steal your luggage with many tricks. A lot of Chinese movies described them such as Crazy Stone, World Without Thief (rough translation)…Same in real life.

  33. Jay Says:

    I’m not sure what the cause is but after a few years in China I can say that this is overall a less moral culture than any I have lived in. Cheating, in all its facets, is all pervasive in China. Whether it is cutting in line, bribing, poisoning, robbing, or just rudeness – it is everywhere. At the grassroots to the top of government. It’s not something you read about in the paper its something that hits you as soon as you walk out the door.

    Maybe it is because no one enforces the law, maybe its because religious or ethical teachings have been usurped by the State, maybe its because of the Cultural Revolutions destruction of traditional moral codes – but whatever the reason I think China is largely sick with materialism and me-ism.

  34. chinayouren Says:

    I don’t agree with Dawkins conclusion: “there is no such a logical pathway leading from atheism or secularism to any such atrocious act”

    Hitler, whether in his private life he was a Christian or not (that’s irrelevant), didn’t commit his crimes in the name of religion. His logical pathway led precisely from secularism to such atrocious acts.

    Thanks for posting the video, but I’m afraid I don’t share Dawkins’ views.

  35. Jane Says:

    I think by nature, people everywhere are no less or more moral than others. It’s the external environment that influences people’s moral choices. At this point in time, China clearly has a moral crisis. Chinese society as it is structured today does not provide incentives or rewards for people to be good (for example, if you don’t cut in line, push and shove, you’ll probably never get what you need). Rather, it rewards opportunism. It’s almost impossible to be a good person in China and rise to the top (be it in business or government or academia) because you would have been crushed to pieces by opportunists probably very early on in your journey.

    Although I would agree that there is a moral crisis in China, I strongly disagree that Chinese culture as a whole is more or less moral than others. It’s impossible to measure and compare moral aptitude as we (as a world society) don’t have a defined reference point yet given the very different cultures and perspectives. But what’s for sure is every culture has its brand of savageness lurking somewhere (every culture is after all an aggregate of individuals each with his/her own dark side floating somewhere in the cerebellum). It’s a matter of how and when and in what form it comes out…

    The recent financial meltdown in the US is a perfectly example. It’s really as much of a moral crisis as it is a financial crisis. When a society rewards people for being crooks and thieves, yeah, there will be crooks and thieves. The good thing with the US is, we have enough solid institutions to stop the rampant greed and repair its damages before the entire society collapses. I eagerly await to see if China and the Chinese can muster its own internal mechanisms to overcome its moral crisis.

  36. miaka9383 Says:

    I believe that there is a strong difference between morals and ethics. And the question that we are all seemingly to answer is “Is there an ethical crisis in China?”
    I do not believe that China has no morals, because everyone has morals, they know what’s right and what’s wrong. But do they follow and abide by their morals, that’s an ethical question.
    There are many many American Companies and people with questionable ethics, and it is not any less in China.
    Questions should be ask:
    - Is it ethical to allow massive pirating of music all over the world?
    - Is it ethical for the Chinese government to put up their firewall?
    - Is it ethical for Officials to sell office or lock dissendents in a mental institute so they can’t go to Bejing?
    - Is it ethical to release a top government official that has corruption charges with no bail paid in fear of violating his human rights?

    I believe that soon, ( I hope) there need to be code of conduct to enforce the morals. The U.S have people that have violated these code of conduct and they are all in trouble for it. But is Chinese music industry ready to sue the miillions of people that pirate and sell their music? or the local governemtn stop punishing dissendents? or stop the bribery that is going on in the private business industry to the local government ?

  37. Gaoshan Says:

    Money, power and status are king in China these days. They are far too dominant in my opinion. The more current generations seem focused on only the most superficial and hollow of things and this is sad. I hope that China will begin to move towards a more balanced life where the things that REALLY matter (friends, family, kindness, generosity) will have more of a central role in who people are.

  38. Tom Says:

    I am borrowing parts of Jerry’s comment from another thread, which shows that morality and fine ethics are not the result of RELIGION:

    “If a person doesn’t believe in a literal hell then what are they being saved from?”
    ["Billy Graham is going to hell."]

    Video interviews with Larry King and Robert Schuller helped showed us Billy Graham’s true colors[...] is he was never fundamental but always a compromising ecumenical preacher. He has always praised the Catholic Church and all Protestant denominations.”

    “Wow, [Pastor]Steve [Anderson], that is convincing, uplifting, hubristic, egotistical, delusional and humble. ::LMAO:: Another gutless fool promoting teleological reasoning as scientific proof. ”

    The Inquisition and the Inquisitors are still very much alive.

  39. Tom Says:

    I agree with Jerry’s assessment above.

    I also agree with WKL’s comment that although Dr. Richard Dawkins is a very good speaker and writer, he is sadly misguided [ an ideoloque and a dogmatist.]

  40. Mark Anthony Jones Says:

    I agree with FOARP – morality is culture-specific, and is never static, but always in constant states of flux.

  41. Allen Says:

    @miaka9383 #36,

    You wrote “Is it ethical to allow massive pirating of music all over the world?”

    I think it is a mistake that many characterize infringement of copyright or patent law as an ethical issue – using rhetoric such as “theft” to characterize “infringement” of intellectual property.

    This cannot be further from the truth. IP is a purely legal construct used to incentivize innovation and artistic work.

    It is important to know that in both the U.S. and Europe, the creation of IP regime is prefaced on the idea that making rights to ideas a property will make sense only if it in the end create more social good than bad (i.e. create more innovations despite the social cost of using the innovations).

    When IP cannnot serve that purpose – as in the patenting of ideas, business methods, genes, algorithms, etc. – the idea of IP for such subject matter does not make sense and can be categorically taken away (i.e. as in the case of most jurisdictions besides U.S.).

    It’s also interesting to note that at present, there is no criminal statute in the U.S. or Europe as a whole regarding so-called infringement of IP.

    Just 2 cents from an IP attorney.

  42. Wukailong Says:

    There were some comments about cutting in line and rudeness. I don’t think that’s so much of a problem of moral degeneration as one of education, what people refer to as “素质” here. A guy who went to India told me they have exactly the same problems, to the point where there are TV ads telling people to line up, and how society as a whole saves time if everyone takes care not to cut the line.

    Pirating, well… I grew up with pirated games in the 80s and early 90s. I must have played games in the hundreds, if not in the thousands, and almost everybody bought stuff cheaply from networks. It wasn’t supported by the country, of course, but neither was there much enforcement at the time.

  43. Charles Liu Says:

    FC! @ 19, I really don’t think people in Taiwan is distinctively more or less moral than people in Mainland. I mean look at the DPP Chen corruption case. The land grab Jet Li talked about also happened in Taiwan – how did the Lien family get so wealthy on land deals from the KMT government?

    Was KMT’s “3/7/5 Lease Reduction” at the expense of Taiwanese landlords who owned land under Japanese rule moral? Some of my friends are still pissed about that. How is that different than what Mao/CCP did when they redistributed land in Mainland? The only reason our history judged differently was because KMT was a “benevolent dictatorship” and non-communist “friendly regime”.

    And in America, that govenor who was arrested for corruption says he’ll rat out others in a deal, since he’s been at it for a long time. Do you think Donald Rumsfeld will ever be tried as a war criminal, under the “command responsibility” doctrine we’ve imposed onto others? Does such duplicity speak to our own morality?

  44. Wukailong Says:

    I’d like to make an addition to what Allen said. Intellectual property is a controversial concept, and Wikipedia even has an article about criticism against it:

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

    In Sweden there’s a political party dedicated only to this particular question:

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

  45. Father Christmas! Says:

    Charles Liu@43,

    In Taiwan I found rather less scam artistry at the retail level, dishonesty in personal relationships, and so on. People there are great when it comes to selling quality merchandise (i.e. few fake tea scams etc.), returning items lost in taxis, blah blah. . . Generally it’s just a nice relaxed place where you can let your guard down a bit without coming to grief.

    Obviously Taiwan has serious corruption in politics, organized crime, and so on. . . Plenty of problems. Overall I’d still put it ahead of the PRC though.

    This whole discussion is a bit of a mess because different people are defining ‘morality’ differently. I’m talking more in terms of businesses ripping off customers, dishonesty in personal relationships, people generally assuming the worst of others, that kind of thing. I’m not really talking about religion, sexual behavior, delinquent youth and so on.

  46. Charles Liu Says:

    We recently celeberated arrival of some VIP from Taiwan – turns out it’s some woman who sold magnetic/auric bra! And why is she so big? Just because VP Lu buys this crap about magnets in bras. Scam artistry goes to the Taiwanese, trust me – I konw people who’s bringing Manatech (look it up, some aloe health MLM scam from Texas) to Mainland after failing in Taiwan.

    Dishonesty in personal relashionship is better in Taiwan? Give me a break, I have cusins who cuss out their parents when they don’t give them money, run up gambling debt on wife’s credit card, hide at home to avoid friends whom they broken micro-loan (Dao3 Hwe4) with.

    I think you may be mistaken stress from competition with morality:

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/169164?from=rss

  47. miaka9383 Says:

    @Allen
    The reason I pointed it out, because in a way it is a personal ethical issue. Whether or not to partake in an illegal activity that you know it is wrong(i.e against morals and law) but you know everyone else is doing it….
    Being a software engineer in training(I am just a lowly intern) I found these ethical issues interesting. In what cases can software be patented? or copyrighted? Or is it even ethical to do so? Yes we have a right to our own intellectual property, but what if it is sold at an unfair price to the public? Wouldn’t it make sense to make it open source?
    In the case of music sharing, peer to peer, and other known copyrighted items, these are legal issues, but they are also civil rights issues and until the government and the corporations especially in China choose to enforce it (like the music industry here in U.S sueing students) this remain an open ethical issue…

    Though I was just pointing out that morality and ethics can sometimes use interchangeably but to me they both mean two totally different things. People who cuss in public? They just have no tact nor manners, which has nothing to do with morality…

    @Charles Liu
    Just a funny fact about Donald Rumsfield…
    He recently move to New Mexico a traditionally a conservative state, but its capitol Santa Fe is mini Hollywood which is full of liberals… Can’t understand why but he decides to move there.. well one day he decides to go out and eat, but he didn’t… he was booed out of the restaurant….. He will never be tried as a war criminal, but the people in New Mexico especially the liberals will never let him forget about it…

  48. Allen Says:

    @miaka9383 #47

    You wrote:

    Yes we have a right to our own intellectual property, but what if it is sold at an unfair price to the public? Wouldn’t it make sense to make it open source?
    In the case of music sharing, peer to peer, and other known copyrighted items, these are legal issues, but they are also civil rights issues and until the government and the corporations especially in China choose to enforce it (like the music industry here in U.S sueing students) this remain an open ethical issue…

    Yes all very interesting questions.

    However, many people will argue even against this basic premise: “Yes we have a right to our own intellectual property.”

    Take for example Einstein’s discovery of e=mc^2. Why doesn’t he have right to exclusive use of that equation. I mean – in our history – but for his discovery, we’d not have had the knowledge of such exquisite knowledge.

    One may counter – but someone else could have discovered it. This equation after all describes nature.

    Well, the counter would be – whatever invention you pick – someone else could have re-invented it also. If you really get down to it, it is really difficult to philosophically distinguish btw what is a discovery v. an invention.

    I was a software engineer for 5 years (at Hewlett-Packard and then later at a biotech startup), and many of us software engineers don’t think software should be patentable. Many of us prefer to freely share codes and thought that was a fundamental right to programming.

    Anyways – I don’t think I can win an argument that software should strictly not be patentable (many corporations such as Microsoft believe in patenting software), but I just want to point out that this is a delicate policy decision. I still don’t think it’s an ethical question – though I think your point is well taken: i.e. if it’s established law that software is protectable IP, then someone’s infringement of it may seem like stealing (though even under U.S. law, it’s not really, since it’s not criminal to infringe as it is to steal).

    P.S. I am not arguing that China is not obligated to crack down on “IP infringement” under WTO and other agreements. I’m just trying to dispel the notion that there is a normative IP right. IP right is a policy decision. If the affording of IP right doesn’t make sense for a society, it is perfectly fine to abolish such rights (this is even spelled out in the U.S. Constitution).

  49. Father Christmas! Says:

    Charles Liu@46, I’m going to duck out of this thread because things are starting to go in circles. Everybody is talking about different things, and my suggesting that ‘morality’ is less of a problem in Taiwan than elsewhere seems to be annoying people. I would have thought it was fairly uncontroversial. More developed areas tend to suffer less from many of the problems we are talking about.

    By dishonest businesspeople I do not really mean people pushing ‘magic’ bras, slimming creams, multilevel marketing, and so on. I was more referring to taxi drivers charging ridiculous prices to airport pickups, bar staff padding the tab and then assaulting drunk customers who refuse to pay, producers of fake booze that blinds, producers of adulterated milk that kills, the people selling fake tea leaves (a scam that seems to be growing more prevalent in Taiwan now the place is welcoming mainland tourists – not blaming the tourists, but I don’t remember previously finding fake tea in Taiwan), business people dicussing plan after plan that basically revolves around overcharging and underdelivering. Obviously these things go on elsewhere in the world, but I encountered far far far more of this stuff in the PRC than I did anywhere else.

  50. Tom Says:

    # 46

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/169164?from=rss

    Thanks Charles for the above Newsweek article.

    Is China the most stressful & immoral place on earth? I doubt it.

    As FOARP put it – morality is culture-specific, and is never static, but always in constant states of flux. These days I hear people sighing breaths of relief for putting their (some of) baskets of eggs in China rather than in America.

    There’s always been alot of talk about whose ways are the better ways. Under Socialism, the common folks are equally poor while under capitalism, to be filthy rich is indeed the place to be. However please don’t forget that only single digit percentage of any Capitalistic society gets all the benefits and perks, such as gov’t tax breaks & even bailout packages etc.

    On the other hand, I hear that socialistic Scandinavian countries have the highest western suicidal rates while Capitalistic America has the highest prison population. I have heard these arguments, debated in the pros and cons of the morals of the two -isms. Can anyone direct me to a book, an article or whatever they might have read with a good summary?

    Thanking you in advance.

  51. Wukailong Says:

    @Tom: “On the other hand, I hear that socialistic Scandinavian countries have the highest western suicidal rates while Capitalistic America has the highest prison population.”

    It doesn’t matter to me if people believe in the Scandinavian suicide myth, but it is, indeed, a myth:

    http://homepage.mac.com/jrc/contrib/sweden_suicide.html

    I haven’t checked out the prison population in the US, but I read somewhere that it’s actually highest in the world. Though, that too might be a myth. Any data? ;)

  52. Tom Says:

    USA # 1 Imprisoned population @ 715 per 100,000 people vs Cuba @ Zero per 100,000 people.]

    http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_pri_per_cap-crime-prisoners-per-capita

    Asian Suicide rate/trend vs. those of the Western world

    http://davisiaj.com/content/view/408/81/

  53. Jerry Says:

    @Tom #52

    The people at King’s College London’s International Centre for Prison Studies have a much different figure for Cuba. Cuba’s per capita imprisonment rate is ~487 per 100,000 as of the latest figures in 2003. The US is 738 as of June 2005 and China is 118 as of Dec 2003 (China’s figures do not include pre-trial and administrative “detainees”).

    Here are the key points they list in their report.

    Key points

    More than 9.25 million people are held in penal
    institutions throughout the world, mostly as
    pre-trial detainees (remand prisoners) or as
    sentenced prisoners. Almost half of these are in
    the United States (2.19m), China (1.55m plus pretrial
    detainees and prisoners in ‘administrative
    detention’) or Russia (0.87m).

    The United States has the highest prison population
    rate in the world, some 738 per 100,000 of the
    national population, followed by Russia (611),
    St Kitts & Nevis (547), U.S. Virgin Is. (521),
    Turkmenistan (c.489), Belize (487), Cuba (c.487),
    Palau (478), British Virgin Is. (464), Bermuda (463),
    Bahamas (462), Cayman Is. (453), American Samoa
    (446), Belarus (426) and Dominica (419).

    However, more than three fifths of countries (61%)
    have rates below 150 per 100,000. (The rate in
    England and Wales – 148 per 100,000 of the
    national population – is above the mid-point in the
    World List.)

    Prison population rates vary considerably between
    different regions of the world, and between
    different parts of the same continent. For example:

    • in Africa the median rate for western African
    countries is 37 whereas for southern African
    countries it is 267;

    • in the Americas the median rate for south
    American countries is 165.5 whereas for
    Caribbean countries it is 324;

    • in Asia the median rate for south central Asian
    countries (mainly the Indian sub-continent) is 57
    whereas for (ex-Soviet) central Asian countries it
    is 292;

    • in Europe the median rate for southern European
    countries is 90 whereas for central and eastern
    European countries it is 185.

    • in Oceania (including Australia and New Zealand)
    the median rate is 124.5.

    Prison populations are growing in many parts
    of the world. Updated information on countries
    included in previous editions of the World Prison
    Population List shows that prison populations
    have risen in 73% of these countries (in 64% of
    countries in Africa, 84% in the Americas, 81% in
    Asia, 66% in Europe and 75% in Oceania).

    World Prison Population List (seventh edition)

  54. TonyP4 Says:

    Besides moral, Chinese behave badly and unacceptable in today’s society esp. with their education level. They are: “Littering”, “spitting”, “snatching bus seats”, “queue-jumping”, “taking off shoes and socks “, “picking noses and ears (what to do with the deposits?), “baby pissing in public”…

    I’m always proud to be a Chinese, but feel ashamed when the Chinese doing any of the above in public. I use “tough country to make a living as an argument” that I do not buy myself. This is why the Chinese from mainland are discriminated rightfully so by Chinese in Hong Kong. Hope the next generation changes as bad habits are tough to change.

  55. Steve Says:

    As is usual for FM threads, the discussion goes into all kinds of interesting places but since I’ve been overseas for awhile and am just picking up on the discussion, I’d like to comment on Allen’s (welcome back, Allen!) original post.

    My comments are all based on my direct experiences and stories from close personal friends in China. But first I have to say that it is my deep personal belief that all people are basically the same inside; no average individual more or less moral or ethical than another, no matter where you go in the world. For me, the morals and ethics of society are completely dependent on their specific circumstances.

    The story Allen’s friend told him about simpler times when people could be trusted? I’ve heard that same story many times when I lived in China. Back during the CR when times were tough for everyone, since no one was above another everyone shared what they had and the joy of life was the friendship people had for each other. There was no stealing; nothing to steal. There was no corruption among ordinary people since there was nothing to gain by corruption or cheating and no one even thought about it. Everyone got together, shared meals, played simple games and were happy in a variety of small ways. That aspect of those times is missed by many these days.

    Once economic circumstances changed, people were no longer equal. Some got rich while others remained dirt poor and became envious of their success. The overriding idea was to get ahead for your family and yourself; “become rich”. I think in many ways it was a reaction to those hard times, but that is my speculation.

    One thing I did notice while there is that the morality seemed to be generational. Older people had the lowest morals, the 28-45 year olds were caught between a system they didn’t like but felt they had to accept, and the younger generation saw the inadequacy of the current morals and want to change them. How many times have I heard stories about two people who have been friends since childhood having a business together, then one of them screwing the other, absconding with the money and migrating to the States? There have been too many to count. Why the older generation acts in this way can be argued and discussed, but it can’t be denied. Personally, I believe corruption in government plays a huge part in this. Get burned a couple of times and it’s not too hard to talk yourself into doing the same thing, since “everyone else is doing it”. Could you say the first time you do something immoral, it is extremely difficult, the second time not so bad, and the third time considered “normal behavior”? I’ve been told that under the current legal system in China, it’s normal for the one with the most money to win, since they can just buy off the judge. That obviously needs to change.

    I’ve found the individual morality of the average Chinese to be no different from anyone else, provided we are not talking business; then you have to be more careful. If you ask a Chinese businessman who has worked with other businessmen throughout the world, which nationalities he prefers to do business with; the country at the bottom of the list would be China. It’s not even close. Trying to say that China’s current morality structure is the same as Taiwan’s or the States or countries in Europe, as some have suggested, is simply naïve. If you don’t believe me, just ask a few Chinese businessmen. They don’t like it anymore than I do, but they don’t try to deny it. If you intend to do business in China and don’t take certain precautions, you’ll lose a lot of money. That’s just the way it is.

    I’m not sure if Confucian morals play a part. I’m no expert in this, but doesn’t the protection of your family come before the well being of friends or business associates? I’d like to hear what others might think about this.

    I don’t think the lack of business morals/ethics is a long term problem. I think it’s just a phase the society is going through on the way to becoming more developed. pug_ster #12 made the point of not comparing cultures. I agree completely! Family morals are higher there than in western countries. Sexual morals are higher and far more mature, at least in the Shanghai are among the majority of the younger generation. But Allen’s initial point is well taken. The trust that existed among people a few decades ago is no longer there, and is a very good topic of discussion.

  56. Allen Says:

    @Steve #55,

    Welcome back yourself! Where have you been?

    Anyways – good points as usual.

    From all the above, I guess by morals we can be talking about gov’t official ethics, economic equity, international trade fairness, human rights, social justice, personal spirituality, etc., etc.

    I don’t even know what I am most interested!

  57. Steve Says:

    Hi Allen~

    All I can say is that the food is sure good in Budapest! (well, only if you love paprika) :)

  58. Tom Says:

    Many have suggested that religion is the cure for the lack of social morals.

    I doubt that very much.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qYOBpUcqmk&feature=related

  59. TonyP4 Says:

    Hi Tom, how about all the fighting in the Middle East now and the past crusade? Religion is supposed to teach us moral and love each other, but we do the opposite. When my Christian brother-in-law agreed with Bush to send kids to kill in Iraqi at that time, I could not even discuss the topic as he and his preacher made up their minds.

  60. Tom Says:

    TonyP4

    As you can see when a fellow high profiled believer tries to make peace with other Christian denominations and non-Christian religious groups (like Muslims), other Christian religious groups (in this case a Baptist minister) who also preaches love peace and salvation from the same bible, when finding himself in disagreement with a fellow believer Billy Graham, also a Baptist himself, chooses instead to show utter contempt and preaches eternal condemnation:

    “Interviews with Larry King and Robert Schuller show Dr. Rev. Billy Graham was never fundamental but always a compromising ecumenical preacher. He has always praised the Catholic Church and all Protestant denominations.”

    I am an agnostic, which means I once made a choice to not be entangled with such dogmatic horse-shit, about God, monotheism, polytheism, commandments, legalism, moralism, rituals, fruitless debates over Creationism vs Intellegence Design vs Darwinism vs this and that theory, and whatnot because no one can prove or disprove these things.
    Thing is, I was unconscious and probably was a tiny speck – or nothing at all, in the infinity of the timeless universe – then one fine day I was formed, born, walk the earth and someday die, and becomes no more, like forever – perhaps back to whatever energy or matter that came from nobody knows where. Bottom line is, I don’t fxcking know – No body does, so, might as well keep it simple.

  61. TonyP4 Says:

    Hi Tom, totally agree. Religion is supposed to teach love not hatred. I have my moral standard and give more than I receive. It is not a bargain for me to do good. Religion seems to be a bargain to me: if you do good on earth, you have an eternal life or you will be re-born to be richer, healthier and wiser person.

    All Christians are good? How many children are sexually abused by the “fathers” and the church covers up? We cannot deny the good deeds that Christians have done to the poor countries.

    I envy those who give their lives to a cause. The suicide bombers will not go to heaven. There is no heaven. If there were one, the heaven described by the west should be same for Chinese, but not so.

    I doubt there is a god in any form. However, when I was young and need something, I prayed and I got it somehow. My toughest life was looking for my first job while I was out of money and my girl friend left me. However, I got a good job soon as it seems the Chinese saying “there is no desperate road” is true.

    My theory of no god. If there were one, all religions should be the same. There is no ghost to me. If there is one, the Chinese ghost and the ghost from the west should be the same. The Chinese ghosts jump with their tongues out. :) The Chinese never see a tunnel when they almost die. I can go on and on.

  62. Ms Chief Says:

    I agree with many of the posters here that Chinese have become too embroiled in the struggle to become rich.

    Why do people want to become rich? Because they equate money with having a better life. There is nothing immoral in that, but people can lose sight of what having a better life really means once they are in caught up in the chase.

    In their pursuit of a better life, they are pressured to keep up with the Joneses, to maintain their pride by showing to others what they have achieved, mainly in terms of material possessions. Again, there is nothing immoral about wanting to maintain family pride. My issue is with the somewhat misplaced sense of importance that is placed on material wealth and how it defines the person and their success, and the means people will go to in order to achieve it. It’s consumerism that’s driving the economy and making people financially better off, but it’s also what’s eroding people’s morals.

    I personally think Chinese people have become very materialistic. If you ask young women what’s the first thing they look for in a partner, about six times out of ten, they will say he has to be rich. The thing that concerns me is that people aren’t ashamed to admit it to the point that materialism is accepted as the norm and the pressure to gain material wealth and not be left behind is ever increasing.

    I’d say that the pursuit of money has taken the heart out of communities, bred hostility towards others and made people neglect family.

    People looking for high wages migrate to cities in order to find jobs. Everyone around them is a stranger competing for the same jobs rather than people who they know or trust. The extraordinary number of migrant workers mean that people have no history with each other, no attachments, no story. There’s just no feeling of community or the urge to treat others well and it’s much easier to cheat strangers. How many people in cities know their neighbours and consider them as friends? The sacrifice is being away from family and friends and lacking a sense of belonging to a community. It’s been well documented that the lonely life of a migrant worker often leads them to ‘immoral’ activities.

    In the pursuit of money, parents often no longer look after their own child but prefer to both work. The goal is to earn enough money to enable the child to have a good education and get them through university. This isn’t immoral but the sacrifices are that the parents miss their child growing up, a weak family bond and perhaps a lack of an optimum environment for the child’s development. This can cause social ills, such as the generation of spoilt ‘emperors’ and ‘empresses’.

    I don’t think that Chinese are intrinsically less moral than before but the environment has shifted into one which encourages this behaviour. The hearts of communities don’t exist in the same way which makes people feel less affinity towards each other. What I’ve described above isn’t unique to China as people all over the world are chasing money, but in China, the effect is amplified by the speed of development and change, and the number of people.

    I think it’s important for Chinese not to adopt Deng’s ‘To get rich is glorious’ as their mantra, not to make the mistake of equating money with happiness and never to lose sight of the pleasures in life that can’t be bought.

  63. Jerry Says:

    @Allen #29, #48
    @miaka9383 #47
    @Steve #55
    @Tom
    @TonyP4
    @Ms Chief #62

    #29

    Allen, this is a good topic, which probably can easily be expanded globally. I have never been to da lu. But I have the same questions about America, which I know well. Hence my belief that this is global.

    Here is a thought. Even though Dawkins chose to focus solely on religion, I wonder if any over-sized sense of morality – or righteousness – by any people can in general be a dangerous development for the world?

    Dawkins argued that atheism or secularism does not offer the path to atrocities that religion does. I am not so sure about that.

    Throughout history, so many murderous events have been perpetrated in the name of religion – or the righteousness.

    In today’s world, we can already see that people can fight in the name of democracy, freedom, or liberty in the same blind vigor as in the name of Allah.

    Similarly while I believe nationalism can be a strong tool for liberating and invigorating a people, I can also see that nationalism can blind a people also…

    Anyways – didn’t mean to be political. I guess my point is to throw some thoughts into what is morality and sound a small alarm that morality can often unfortunately be politicized as well…

    You hit the nail on the head: “I wonder if any over-sized sense of morality – or righteousness – by any people can in general be a dangerous development for the world?” I just wonder how new a development this is? I think that this has been around for a very long time, like maybe since the dawn of Man.

    Glad you are back, Allen.

    —————-

    #47

    miaka9383, that is a great story about Rummy being booed in Santa Fe. I wonder if that ever happens to Kissinger? Bush just gets shoes thrown at himself. :D

    —————-

    #48

    Allen, you argue (in a most attorney-like, legal fashion),

    P.S. I am not arguing that China is not obligated to crack down on “IP infringement” under WTO and other agreements. I’m just trying to dispel the notion that there is a normative IP right. IP right is a policy decision. If the affording of IP right doesn’t make sense for a society, it is perfectly fine to abolish such rights (this is even spelled out in the U.S. Constitution).

    Well, software IP issues have not been around for very long. So how do rights become normative rights and ethics become normative ethics? Over time? By realization that it is in various societies’ self-interests? I don’t know. How do they get abolished?

    Wasn’t slavery a normative right at one time?

    Furthermore, the current level of globalization has introduced all sorts of legal and IP issues.

    In my view, piracy is piracy. If you steal, you steal. And rationalization is rationalization.

    —————-

    #55

    Thanks for the post, Steve. You have far more international experience than most people. Thanks for sharing.

    Ah, yes, the “simpler times when people could be trusted”! You and I both grew up in the 50’s and 60’s when life seemed simpler, slower, more connected. Also more racism, more patriarchy, women treated as non-equals. The list goes on and on.

    As my dad has often told me, “These are the good old days.” Carly Simon also sang about that.

    BTW, “simpler and slower” are two of the reasons I moved to Taipei.

    Glad you are back.

    —————-

    Tom and Tony, I agree that religion can often be a major-league smoke screen, a euphemism of the first accord. That said, I like Allen’s broader, more inclusive definition of “over-sized sense of morality – or righteousness”. Religion often fits into that description.

    Religion is no cure for immorality, at all.

    Fritjof Capra, the theoretical physicist, wrote, “What we have is a crisis of perception.” I believe that if we could see the inter-relationships between ourselves and everything, we would cease and desist from behavior that damages us all. Unfortunately, the cerebral cortex and our “sense of sight” lie to us. We see the world as a world of distinct entities. The theoretical physicist, the Einsteinian, the epistemologist, sees the world as relationships. Everything is a relationship. No beginnings, no ends, no separation. They are constant flows of energy which just are.

    I think we need broader viewpoints and perspectives. A bigger picture. :)

    —————-

    #62

    Ms Chief, great post.

    Why do people want to become rich? Because they equate money with having a better life. There is nothing immoral in that, but people can lose sight of what having a better life really means once they are in caught up in the chase.

    I agree. The quest for richness, consumerism, materialism, the love of money and the desire for power can easily corrupt a person. Like an addictive drug, you keep wanting more and more. You don’t know how to stop.

    And to promote these “drugs”, we have television, news media, entertainment media, and internet. These media make the “lifestyle of the rich and famous” seem so inviting. They forget to describe the hollowness and emptiness of such a life.

    One example pops to mind. It is NewsChannel Asia, broadcast from Singapore. Beautiful newsreaders and interviewers (seemingly mindless to me), selling the “lifestyle of the rich and famous” to the many wannabe’s (as in, “I want to be rich”).

  64. pug_ster Says:

    #62 Ms Chef

    Funny you post something like that because there’s an recent Msnbc article about what you said.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28258378/

    It just reminds of one of my wife’s friend who is basically a workaholic and one of these Chinese who ran the ‘rat race’ for their quest for her slice of the good life. Over the years she developed this ulcer (at least that’s what I think) and it seems that whatever she did did not bring her job. She finally gave up everything, became a nun and even ceased to communicate to my wife.

    That being said, Deng’s quote ‘To get rich is glorious’ is wrong because being rich does not bring happiness. One thing China is surely lacking is the promotion of volunteerism. As I said, I’m sure that if China asked its richer and more fortunate citizens to give either time or money to its poorer citizens, China will be better as a more moral nation.

  65. Tom Says:

    “BTW, “simpler and slower” are two of the reasons I moved to Taipei.”

    Is Taiwan slow and simpler? I’ve never been there so that is a genuine question. America to me seems much slower though, to some extend more conservative than many SOuth East ASian metropolis. Well, I guess it depends on where in America we ‘re talking about. I was bored out of my mind spending a snowy X’mas in Vancouver, Canada once 2 decades ago, and I’ve never been back since :-)

    Everybody seems to assume – from popular hearsay – that “wealth can’t buy happiness.” Well, neither does poverty, that’s for sure. Some people totally change when they got richer. Others continue to be the same down-to-earth people as before wealth came to town. It’s people finding or failing to find the balance of either living a cursed lifestyle or a charmed life. Some do some don’t. A case in point, my Dad used to own two hunting guns and would hunt pigeons and wild boars weekly. But I swear never was he ever close to blowing his fellow hunter friends’ faces off. Guns and bullets don’t kill, brainwashed, insane, greedy and sometimes stupid people do.

    Make no mistake about it, it is Love that keeps the world go round, not money. Nevertheless, money is as indispensible as spending playtime and talking with your kids, assuring & re-assuring your wife that you love her by protecting & providing well for her and yours, and occassionally taking friends out for beer or dinning to give space and maintain social comraderies. Something like that.

  66. Allen Says:

    @Jerry #63,

    Hey Jerry – good to be back (sorry we weren’t able to meet up in Taiwan this time, but I promise to make more effort next time).

    You wrote:

    Furthermore, the current level of globalization has introduced all sorts of legal and IP issues.

    In my view, piracy is piracy. If you steal, you steal. And rationalization is rationalization.

    OK – that’s fair enough. But I suppose you can go one step further and say breaking the law is breaking the law! But to me, there is a sense that morality occupies a different plane than simply complying with the law.

    Anyways, my fundamental point in my previous post is we musn’t lose sight that the purpose of IP regime is to a create social good (i.e. innovations) – not to protect “intellectual property” rights (i.e. as a basic “right” to property) per se. Legally speaking, “intellectual property” is really a misnomer.

    Anyways, back to China: given China’s economy is not based on creative innovations, there is no reason to have an IP regime. Of course, that doesn’t mean that China should not consider one since it may want to move onto a more innovation-based economy, and since an IP regime may be the vehicle China needs to build that economy.

    You are definitely right that IP rights today also reflect international trade obligations, not just domestic policy. However in this context, disagreements about IP is no more different than disagreements regarding beef, rice, textile import/export issues.

    Using the word “stealing” – with the connotations of moral wrong – is, I think, too strong a word – and not helpful to understanding the fundamental issues at play.

    Just my 2 cents! :-)

  67. Jerry Says:

    @Allen #66

    Allen, I am not a lawyer. IMHO, there are way too many laws in this world. (As far as too many lawyers, I tend to think so, but I am no expert. :D ) And laws are opinions. Sometimes they are bought and paid for by huge multinational corporations, who only have their own interests at heart. Sometimes they are based on ethics. Sometimes based on common sense. Sometimes on arbitrary opinions of what is considered necessary for a civil society. Sometimes for the common good, whatever that is. Whatever. They are just opinions.

    When I write about stealing or piracy or rationalization, I am not writing in a legal, moral, ethical construct. I am just talking what I consider reality. Call something the way it is. Don’t candy-coat it. It is just having a clear view of something. No spin, no rationalization, no excuse-making.

    I look at things in an epistemological, theoretical physics construct; through the eyes of relationship and connectedness. Everything is a relationship, everything is connected, everything impacts everything else, and there are no distinct entities. Distinct entities are a construct of the mind/brain, the cerebral cortex.

    So let’s take a look at “piracy”, for example. My questions are not legal or ethical. If I were to pirate some software, I ask, “How does piracy affect the relationships between me and those around me? Between me and the people who created the software? How does this impact all of my relationships? Am I hurting myself as well as others? Am I cutting off my nose to spite my face?” Now you may call these moral or ethical questions, and perhaps they are. Well I have lots of questions and few answers.

    You commented:

    OK – that’s fair enough. But I suppose you can go one step further and say breaking the law is breaking the law! But to me, there is a sense that morality occupies a different plane than simply complying with the law.

    Allen, as I said, I believe laws are opinions. I would not go the one step further. I rarely use the context of “breaking of laws”. The epistemological, Einsteinian construct is far more relevant to me.

    Let me finish by quoting Fritjof Capra and Albert Einstein. I wrote these lines earlier.

    I am a guy who resonates with what Fritjof Capra said in Turning Point, “ultimately these problems must be seen as just different facets of one single crisis, which is largely a crisis of perception. It derives from the fact that most of us, and especially our large social institutions, subscribe to the concepts of an outdated worldview, a perception of reality inadequate for dealing with our overpopulated, globally interconnected world…” I resonate with what Einstein said, “The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them.” These 2 statements resonate very deeply inside me.

    Thanks Allen. Perhaps, as usual, we will agree to disagree. And that is ok.

    Just my 2 shekels (₪2) worth :)

    BTW, your “2¢ worth” is devaluing by the day, thanks to our buddies Greenspan, Rubin, Bernanke, Paulson and those malevolent thieves on Wall Street. :D ::LMAO::

  68. FOARP Says:

    “Anyways, my fundamental point in my previous post is we musn’t lose sight that the purpose of IP regime is to create social good – not to protect “intellectual property” rights (e.g. perhaps as a “human rights” to property) per se. Legally speaking, “intellectual property” is really a misnomer.”

    I am not a fan of the idea of IP as ‘property’ rather than ‘rights’, but if you want to put it like that, there is no such thing as ‘property’ full-stop, merely rights to use things for certain purposes. You may think you ‘own’ you house, but in reality what you have received are bundle of rights that can be divided up for specific uses in specified manners. Intellectual property only differs in that the areas within which these rights may be exercised are more limited. Patents only grant a monopoly over the commercial exploitation of the invention, trademarks only grant a monopoly over the use of the trademark as a badge of origin in the course of the specified area of trade, designs only grant a monopoly over the commercial exploitation of the 2D/3D shape, copyright only grants protection against unauthorised copying of a way of expressing an idea. In the case of patents the monopoly granted is limited to a roughly 20-year period, designs receive anything from 3 to 25 years of protection depending on whether they are registered or unregistered and on the jurisdiction, copyright receives 70 years post-mortem protection. All of this can vary from country to country, and countries are free within the bounds of treaty obligations (particularly those under TRIPS) to order compulsory licensing of products which might otherwise be protected by patent rights, or even, in some cases, the manufacture of a patented product in another country for domestic use (e.g., Ghana can order generic anti-HIV drugs under compulsory licence from Brazil).

    As for China not needing an IP protection regime as it is not an ‘innovative’ country, well, all I can say is that even if this was true, consumers would still need to be allowed to identify products (trademarks), and authors still need to be allowed to profit from writing books (copyright). Fortunately, it is far from accurate, SIPO, the Chinese State IP office, receives more applications for patents and utility models (a kind of mini-patent) than the European Patent Office does, and whilst the quality of a lot of these applications may be dubious, it is certainly improving. Chinese society is benefiting from the strengthening of the IP regime there, and will benefit from further strengthening of IP protection, as will other countries which are currently being flooded with counterfeit goods produced there.

  69. Steve Says:

    @Ms. Chief #62: I’ve lived in a few boom towns in my day and your description of modern day China reminded me of those times. Everyone was from somewhere else, pursuit of fortune was the prime directive, friendships were temporary and sometimes abused, etc. After awhile, you start to realize that it’s just exploitation in a way, and that you only need so much ‘stuff’ and the rest is waste. I mean, a purse holds stuff. Do you really need to spend $1000 for something to hold stuff? Or $3000 to know what time it is? Or $60,000 to drive from here to there?

    In the end, what do we really remember? We remember the friend, not the car he/she drove. We remember our child’s first word, not the brand of crib they slept in. Happiness is derived from loved ones, family and friends and certainly not from flying first class, which is just comfort. Maybe we can say, “Lack of money is the root of all evil”? Once you have enough to be comfortable, most of the rest is just envy, greed and power. I appreciate and agree with all you wrote.

    @Jerry #63: I had a history teacher in high school, Brother Beyer, (best history teacher I ever had) who always said “the only thing good about the ‘good old days’ is that they’re gone.” He then gave us a myriad of examples from his younger years to illustrate what he meant. My grandfather said exactly the same thing; that the best time to live was right now and things have never been better. We all tend to have selective memories of past times. I’ve noticed that people who believe in reincarnation were always famous people in their past lives, never the snot nosed, ragged clothed peasant that Michael Palin used to portray all the time in those old Monty Python shows. (but he sure knew his political theory) :D

    In your reply to miaka9383, you mentioned Kissinger. I thought I read somewhere that he can’t travel to certain countries because they’d arrest him as a war criminal; something like that. Or maybe some countries were trying to put him on an international list like they did to Pinochet? Do you know anything about it?

    @Tom #65: I can’t speak for Jerry, but when I lived in Taipei I also found it to be simpler and slower, but not in the way you might think. You look around and there are crowds everywhere, hundreds of small mom and pop shops, noisy, bustling, etc. But underneath all the noise, it was peaceful. It’s hard to describe but once I had things figured out and knew where to go for what I needed and wanted, things were very easy. No need for a car except when leaving town, since everything I needed was within walking distance and if not, the subways, taxis and buses would get me there. Food was cheap and really good. There were a million things to keep me interested and most of them were either free or inexpensive. It was fun to just mosey about on weekends.

    Want to buy fish? We’d walk over to the underground fish market near our condo, have some proprietor offer me a shot of liquor at 8 AM, watch my wife cultivate relationships with the vendors so she would get the best deals and highest quality fish (my wife is a legend in the Chinese community for her bargaining skills), get a few things and back to the condo. Yes, it was more efficient to go to the Welcome supermarket but the quality wasn’t as good and it was cold and impersonal.

    I’ve noticed there is no such thing as a shy Chinese person because you haggle from such a young age and you do it all the time; you’re just used to people. I got a kick out of the maps there; they were terrible. Why? No one uses maps. You just ask directions. You don’t ask them once, you ask every 100 meters since if a person doesn’t know how to get there, they’ll still give you directions so you take a running average and you can eventually find anything.

    @Allen, Jerry & FOARP: Regarding the IP discussion, I think FOARP summed it up nicely in #68 but the discussion between Jerry and Allen reminded me of something I noticed a long time ago and had forgotten about until reading your comments. Jerry, you had written, “In my view, piracy is piracy. If you steal, you steal. And rationalization is rationalization.” This to me is an absolute moral/ethical position, and the typical way of thinking for western cultures.

    Allen wrote, “Anyways, my fundamental point in my previous post is we musn’t lose sight that the purpose of IP regime is to create social good – not to protect ‘intellectual property’” rights” and “Using the word “stealing” – with the connotations of moral wrong – is, I think, too strong a word – and not helpful to understanding the fundamental issues at play”. This to me is a relative moral/ethical position, and the typical way of thinking for eastern cultures. Westerner: Lying is always wrong. Easterner: Lying to someone to keep them from losing face is acceptable since it accomplishes the greater good.

    So I think China looked at IP rights as not being in the best interest of China while China was poor and developing, so they looked the other way. These days, they want to develop their own IP, as FOARP showed with the patent applications, so IP protection is becoming more important to them. When we think of IP protection, we usually think of Microsoft Windows, Louis Vuitton purses, movie DVD’s etc., but the other side of that are fake drugs that can kill people, knock off products that have no safety standards and a lack of innovation since the investment can’t be justified. So the relative position of the government can change without being hypocritical in their eyes, but would appear to be hypocritical to a westerner who thought in absolute terms.

    Anyway, that’s my theory. What do you all think?

  70. miaka9383 Says:

    @Allen
    I have a really good question for you…
    If open source is allowed everywhere, no one patents or copyrights their software, then how do we promote innovation of ideas? I mean in this case, China has a lot of graduate students studying here in American doing research, but what is preventing them from doing it there? Is it because they don’t have a strict enough IP Regime to promote that?

    P.S. sorry one question turns into another

  71. FOARP Says:

    On the idea of piracy being theft: Simple answer – no. People might like to think of it being theft, the software and film industry might like to push that idea, but on a simple analysis of the fact, the copying of copyrighted goods is not theft. It is much better to talk of it being free-riding, the use of the copyrighted work for profit without permission of the author. Its effect might be similar to theft – lost sales for example – but it does not deprive the author of the work, or of the ability to profit from the work themselves. This might sound like sophistry, but ask yourself whether you really believe that 20th Century Fox is missing out on DVD sales in China due to ‘piracy’. How many Chinese can afford to pay the best part of a month’s average wage for a box-set of Friends? Not very many, in fact very few indeed.

    I went to an interesting talk by, Bill Patry, the chief copyright counsel of Google last year on the subject of what he termed the IP “moral panic”, after which I was rather puzzled by how he could talk for so long and not mention piracy in the third world. Here’s what IP super-guru Jeremy Phillips had to say about it:

    “You mention that Bill didn’t say anything about the point that “More than half the world’s population live in countries where it is almost impossible to find a genuinely un-pirated DVD/CD, how can international copyright enforcement even begin to catch up with this?”. This makes it sound like an omission – but it wasn’t the subject matter of his talk at all. If he had mentioned the subject, it would have been to say that the vast infringement that takes place in countries where genuine products can scarcely be purchased can be described as (i) theft of property by users or (ii) failure to engage in a meaningful socio-economic relationship on the part of copyright owners – depending on your choice of metaphor.

    “Technology hasn’t stopped moving and the law hasn’t even really adjusted to the changes of the last fifteen years – what about the next fifteen?” likewise wasn’t relevant to his topic.

    “Isn’t there a vast disconnect between the law and the way that people actuallly treat copyrighted material?”. I think Bill did actually mention this, but not in the way you might have expected. He explained that the law is premised on metaphors of property and theft, which are not metaphors recognised by the public at large for their unauthorised activities.”

    The real harm of ‘piracy’ is in the way in which it makes it difficult for China to develop its own home-grown software, fashion and film industries, and in which it destroys the link between branding and the quality of goods, thus making it difficult for consumers to avoid poor-quality (and perhaps dangerous) products.

  72. Steve Says:

    I just saw this column by Tom Friedman of the NY Times concerning corruption, morality, China and the USA: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/17/opinion/17friedman.html?_r=1

    Thought you all might be interested on his take…

    @FOARP: When I went to the cinema in China, I noticed the price was equivalent to about $7-8 US and wondered why they would keep it so high as to put it out of reach of most people. I think part of the reason was that there are so few cinemas there, they just didn’t need to devalue the price when they could be profitable at that level. But to essentially put the cinema experience out of the reach of ordinary people could only mean their only recourse was to buy DVDs at prices they could afford.

    I wondered why Hollywood just didn’t sell real DVDs at the 12 RMB level, a bit more expensive than the pirated ones but not so much and with much higher quality. Once people got used to the real thing, they would more than likely shun the pirated editions and as China developed and incomes rose, they could nickel/dime the price up to a more profitable level. Build the market, then increase the price slowly.

  73. Allen Says:

    @FOARP #68,

    You are certainly right that “property” in general is a figment of legal construction that represent a “bundle of rights.”

    But if you look to the history of property right (as in real property right, for example) in the the US (sorry, since I learned in the U.S., I only know about history of common law), you will see it is not based on a basic personal “right” to property such as a basic personal right to own real property or personal property.

    Besides, the “bundle” of rights of IP is rather limited. Unlike real property right, which can last forever and be passed from generation to generation, one cannot do so with IP rights (e.g., copyright, patents).

    There are also many other limitations. For example, within the patent regime – some jurisdictions allow patenting of genes, some don’t; some allow patenting of surgery techniques, some don’t; some allow the patenting of algorithms, some don’t. Some allow certain medical diagnostics tools, some don’t any at all. I can go on…

    Suffice it to say, patent policy is best understood as a part of industrial policy to promote the useful arts, rather than some basic legal doctrine advocating a “basic” right normatively protect artists’ or engineers’ labors.

    One thing I want to say: copyright, patents, and trademark are very different IP regimes (very different areas of law). They are lumped together because of the misnomer of calling them intellectual property.

    And as far as trademark is concerned, it is probably the least “property-like” of all. Trademark is a concept created to protect consumer’s expectation regarding sources of good and services (branding, if you will). Unlike normal property, if you don’t use it (or if customers stop recognizing it), you will lose it.

    Trademark is also best understood as a policy rule: it was created to help consumers identify sources of goods in a reliable way. It has nothing to do with an individual’s basic right to own a “personal mark.”

  74. FOARP Says:

    @Steve –

    “I wondered why Hollywood just didn’t sell real DVDs at the 12 RMB level, a bit more expensive than the pirated ones but not so much and with much higher quality.”

    The danger with that would be a) parallel imports (or just plain old smuggling) of the genuine Chinese DVDs into western markets would then cut into the distributors main markets, and b) the profit margins wouldn’t be that high – pirate DVD sellers can only sell so low because 1) half their DVDs don’t play or only last a few months before they’re unwatchable and 2) don’t need to pay off the costs of the original production. a) of course is the main problem, as long as the pirate DVDs you see on the streets of London/New York/wherever (which, if they follow the average for counterfeit goods seizures, are 80-90% from China) are of much lower quality than the ones you buy in the high street stores then DVD distributors still have a market, at least amongst those with no internet access.

    As for the article, well, I stopped reading Tom Friedman about the time he started reading like someone with an extremely warped world-view (round about 2000). This article hasn’t done much to bring me around – I’m sorry, but I don’t remember ever hearing from anyone in any country “I wish my country could be as un-corrupt as the US” or talking about the US as if it were the beacon of morality which he seems to think it was. I have never been to the US, have never worked for a US company, so all I can go on is what I know from people I know who work/live/come from there, but even before 2000 the Americans were seen as only marginally above the French in the corruption stakes here in the UK, and our perception has only gone down-hill since then.

    At any rate, in my opinion morality is not proved by the absence of immoral conduct, but by the force with which immoral conduct is repudiated and the vigour with which people act to repair the damage done. If the United States can repair the damage done by men like Madoff, if the incoming government can fully repudiate the torture program of the Bush regime, punish all those responsible, and ensure that it never happens again, then we will see the true moral character of the United States.

  75. Allen Says:

    @miaka9383 #70,

    You wrote:

    If open source is allowed everywhere, no one patents or copyrights their software, then how do we promote innovation of ideas? I mean in this case, China has a lot of graduate students studying here in American doing research, but what is preventing them from doing it there? Is it because they don’t have a strict enough IP Regime to promote that?

    These are good questions. Many papers have been written on whether software should be patentable.

    I have no problem with IP for software if it promotes overall innovation. But there is currently no evidence of it.

    If you take into account the tremendous amount of fees paid to lawyers and the fact that almost all licenses in the software industry are carried out by counting the number of patents rather than substantively evaluating the patents, you will see that software patents is probably more an inhibitor than a promoter of innovation.

    To be fair, for some companies, having IP is the underpinning of their business plan (certain start ups, also many so-called “trolls”). For some other companies, having IP is the means to prolong their market power (microsoft and ibm are big filers of software patents; even though most of their patents are junk, they can still scare the heck out of you when they demand you for a license (which company has the resources to review all of ibm and microsoft’s patents?)).

    For many other companies though, software IP is an inhibition to innovation. The reality is that for almost any software you write, if you look hard enough and make enough arguments, you will probably find some patent that disclose something similar to what you do. This can be a strong disincentive to write software. At the very least, it is a distraction for most software companies who have to have internal legal depts to field routine and pervasive threats of lawsuits.

    Anyways – IP policy is a complex subject. And patent for software and business methods (not available in most jurisdictions except the U.S.) are still controversial.

    There’s no way I can cover everything, but I will end with one quick point. You mentioned that China researchers prefer to work in the U.S. instead of China because the U.S. has better IP law. My view is that there are many reasons for the brain drain from all over the world to the U.S. I don’t think it’s U.S. IP protection though. Please keep in mind that we only started to have software patents starting in the 1990′s. I don’t think you will find many people knowledgeable in the field who think that there is an uptick of software innovation starting in the 1990′s (in fact most will call today’s software bloated and inefficient).

    Anyways … if you are very interested in this, perhaps you can think about going to law school! :-)

  76. Tom Says:

    # 29

    Allan,

    Here’s an email reply I received from a recoverying-Christian, now almost atheistic:

    “I prefer friendly dialog to Dawkin’s hostility; I agree with the points he raises to some extent although I find him too extreme.

    When Christians or atheists try to pin all the atrocities on the other group I’m skeptical. Every group seems to have extremists who commit atrocities, and it’s not because of their beliefs/non-beliefs; those simply form a context that they use as an excuse.

    If the religion/atheism were to blame then ALL people in the group would commit atrocities and clearly they don’t. When Dawkins lumps atrocity-committing religious people with those who aren’t doing anything terrible even if they do have beliefs he thinks irrationally, and he loses credibility with me.”

  77. Steve Says:

    @FOARP #74: I pretty much came to the same conclusion per the reasons you listed. I don’t think paying off the costs of the original production are much of a problem because those costs would be absorbed by other countries and once you get beyond that, the only overhead is in manufacturing and packaging which are pretty minimal. But legitimate versions smuggled to other countries, especially Japan where the market is pretty clean, and would hurt bottom line profits. I think the big markets in the States aren’t as much direct sales but mostly sales to rental companies, which wouldn’t be affected. Sooner or later all this will go digital and I’m not sure how you keep the cat in the bag at that point; no different from P2P music.

    I agree with you about Tom Friedman; I linked because the article referred to China. I think he was far more effective when reporting about the Middle East, especially the situation in Israel and the bordering Arab countries, but when he got popular he started taking those notorious two week trips as so many reporters do, to different countries where he then becomes an expert and makes all sorts of pronunciations about their system, etc. and that’s when he loses me. Let’s find a catch phrase; how about “flat earth”? Then let’s write a book about it, simplifying everything to fit our catch phrase. As a literary device it’s been used for ages, but rarely is it accurate.

    I couldn’t agree more with your last paragraph. I’ve always wanted to take all those politicians who insist water boarding isn’t torture, and subject them to water boarding for a few days. I have a feeling their opinions would change just a bit…

    @Tom #76: I’ve always been fascinated by theology but bored by religion. Religion takes all the wonder out of the eternal questions and turns everything into mindless dogma, at least to me. I guess that’s why I appreciated Joseph Campbell’s work so much; how the external and internal are one and the same, similar to what Jerry said. I find it fascinating that Eastern religions don’t separate God and Man like western religions do. I love the philosophical concepts of the Dao De Jing but was amazed when I visited the Taoist temples and saw nothing but animist religious symbolism. Even the Buddhist temples have a lot of superstition and ritual, which I guess is what most people crave but it leaves me empty. Western religions and denominations seem to spend a lot of time trying to prove their version is right and everyone else is wrong. I read the Bible metaphorically; they read it literally, which to me only turns God into a magician.

    Being from New Jersey, when I first moved to Houston back in the late 70s I started hearing about something called “The Rapture”. I had no idea what this was so they explained all about people vanishing, etc. I researched it and found some minister named John Nelson Darby had invented the entire concept back in the early 1800s. But everyone who believed in it insisted it had been around since the early Christian days. It was like, “Don’t confuse me with the facts.”

    I find the mountains far more godlike than any church. I feel like a part of the whole when I’m up there.

  78. Ms Chief Says:

    @Jerry #63: I agree with your analogy of the quest for riches being a drug that we can’t wean ourselves off. I think it’s very sad how modern civilisation seems to have lost the plot and children now aspire to become part of the vacuous celebrity culture. ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_7725000/7725217.stm ) It’s happening all over the world. Gone are the days when people dreamt of working hard for the greater good. People just want to make a quick buck with minimum effort because the media has demonstrated via methods such as reality TV that there’s an easy route and as a result, we’ve sold out. We’ve allowed people to become rich and famous though things like kiss and tell, and we’re so bombarded with amoral behaviour all the time that we’ve become numb to it and accept it as the norm.

    @pug_ster #64: Thanks for article – reflects my thoughts quite well. Interestingly, Chinese do not have much respect for rich citizens from the mainland because they are considered immoral. ( http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2007-09/12/content_6098768.htm ) I think this points to a bigger issue that people believe corruption is endemic in society and have accepted that the only way to get get ahead is by underhand means. It’s near impossible to stamp out corruption in a single party authoritarian state. If the powerful people in charge are assumed to be immoral, why should ordinary citizens strive to be any different? As for rich Chinese who help the poor, people are quite sceptical about their true motives. They suspect that it’s not altruism but ‘face’ and public image that they care about. I’ve even heard stories from the earthquake donations turning into ugly competitions where those that gave only a little were victimised.

    @Steve #69 : I disagree that lack of money is the root of all evil. I’ve found that the poorest villagers tend to be more honest, simple and are less likely to rip you off than business people. I believe that wanting things is the root of unhappiness and evil. People in the developed world have overcomplicated their lives by wanting too much. They spend all their lives working in order to earn enough money to be able to buy rubbish that they don’t need, and China’s middle class seem to be following suit. It’s a slightly different story for the majority of the generation of 35+ adults who are workaholics living for the future because of a lack of social security. They work with good intentions for their child and to be comfortable in their retirement but they neglect their duties now.

    Sometimes I go round in circles and drive myself mad thinking about a world with little or no consumerism. I’m almost sure we would have a better quality of life. Why do we need to keep growing economies? The happiest countries ( http://www.happyplanetindex.org/list.htm ) all seem to be fairly poor. Why do we need to work so much when there are people without jobs? I spend ages wondering what would have happened in economic terms if Roosevelt had decided not to make the 40 hour week standard and instead passed the Black-Connery bill (max 30 hour week), or even if we had a 3 day week, but my head keeps threatening to explode! If anyone can answer that for me, I would be most grateful!

    To summarise, I don’t think morals have changed much but society has become more selfish and ruthless because of:

    1. The breakdown of communities due to mass migration. It’s a dog-eat-dog world where everyone else is an obstacle, not a human being. In China, the migration has been so rapid that city social infrastructure cannot keep up. I see places like Shenzhen as soulless, where you would never choose to go unless necessary. (See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7754861.stm – although it’s a study from the UK, the causes are still relevant and represent a growing trend.)

    2. The acceptance that corruption and immorality are intrinsic in government and business practices and that it is part and parcel if you want to get ahead.

    3. Misplaced emphasis on wealth due to pride / peer pressure / increasing greed. Even parents put pressure on their child to become rich in order to make them proud.

  79. Opersai Says:

    Personally, I’m too young to tell if Mainland Chinese are more or less moral than before communist ruling. Though I would admit there is a need for spiritual (not necessarily religious) pursuit. For my generation of people, I remember when I was a kid, like 6, 7ish, I could remember singing songs that preached us to to good things. For example, returning 1 cent picked up from ground to police men (“我在马路边,拣到一分钱,交到警察叔叔手里边…“) But as I grow up, I could feel this kind of beliefs was shaken, and I was very confused. Why should try to find the owner of a lost wallet? Why not just take the money and keep it. Who will know? What’s the reward for me if I try to find the owner? Sometimes, it felt like doing good does not get good for return. So why should I keep doing it?

    I stuck to my belief, maybe it looks silly sometimes, but I believe it’s the right thing. I think a lot young people went through the same kind confusion as I did. Though we were taught of all kind of good, but when we get in contact of the real world, it’s so harsh, so competitive, and sometimes good people doesn’t survive. I think the modern China right now is very confusing and chaotic place. There is not quiet a standard rule. The law can not be always trusted. The unspoken moral code was tramped over. The society has grown so quickly, the old order was abandoned, but a new, commonly acknowledged invisible order has not been set. People are confused. But I don’t think this is fatal, or OMG! THIS IS END OF THE WORLD! No, I think this is a process. We are just on the road of recovering.

    Now, there had been a few waves for renewing traditional values. Like couple years earlier, Confusion was getting popular again. Last year, media caught notice of young University students trying to re-popularize 汉服 (unique cloth worn by Han ethics), and trying to renew traditional value through it. I see that people in Mainland China trying to find lost pieces of culture and tradition. I see them trying to reconstruct a new belief system. Though it’s very chaotic and confusing right now. But I’d rather that they went through such process and reconstruct a new order that fits them; than copy & pasting something foreign and developed elsewhere.

  80. Steve Says:

    @Ms. Chief #78: Oh, my bad. What I meant to say was “perceived lack of money is the root of all evil”. You just put it much better than I. :)

    It seems that the greed for more beyond life’s basic necessities is what drives so many to neglect their families in order to get more stuff. The person who we consider filthy rich compares him/herself to Bill Gates and feels poor. I look at Governor Blagojevich of Illinois; super successful at a young age, governor of a major state, future presidential ambitions, wife from powerful Chicago political family… he throws it all away in order to make a few more bucks when his financial future is already assured. It’s just overwhelming greed, that’s all. I’d agree with you that some of the happiest people I’ve met are quite poor, but it was so important that they shared the little they had with me.

    Back in the 70s when it was relatively safe to do so, I hitchhiked about 26,000 miles or so around the USA and eastern Canada. Once out of the big cities, people were incredibly hospitable to me. I always had a free place to stay, had oh so many meals bought for me, played amateur psychologist for a lot of them (people are amazingly open about their lives to someone who they’ll drop off soon and never see again), and was just overwhelmed at all the kindness shown to me, a stranger. This seems to be a universal trait, no matter what country you are in. But I wonder if the more advertising we’re exposed to, no matter where we live in the world, isn’t changing perceptions among even the poor you mentioned. I was reading about Bhutan and how TV came there about ten years ago. Today they have a few (though not many) social problems brought about by exposure to outside influences.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that as nations become wealthier, their homes tend to get much bigger and become their fortress. They interact less outside their homes and I think the society suffers. One aspect of life in China and Taiwan that I really enjoyed was spending so little time at home. I spent the vast majority of my time getting to know people that I saw everyday, whether at the coffee shop, breakfast place, gym, hair saloon, etc. So we never felt we needed a bunch of stuff for our condo since we were rarely there.

    Ms. Chief, I always enjoy reading all your comments. :D

    @Jerry, do you feel living in Taipei has made you less materialistic?

    @Opersai #79: I think you answered your own question. By recognizing overt materialism isn’t a good thing and China needs a new belief system, you and your generation have taken the first step towards creating that system. The form that system will take is still pretty amorphous but you’ll figure it out. I’ve heard comments like yours from the younger generation and it gives me great hope that things will change in the future. No one wants to be constantly looking over their shoulder and not be able to trust their neighbors, business partners or friends.

    China has its own unique culture. No cutting or pasting would ever work there. I think China will take ideas developed elsewhere and massage them to fit into their society, or come up with entirely new ones that make sense. Culture is not something that can be exported; it is always home grown and that’s what makes travel so interesting for me, to see how each society handles life’s challenges and opportunities.

  81. FOARP Says:

    @Allen – I’m currently at law school, and am hoping to work as a solicitor specialising in IP after I finish – I did a masters in IP at CCLS in London, and I worked in patent drafting when I was at Foxconn – but I’m quite aware of how difficult it is to get a job working in that field, even with prior experience. My biggest problem right now is concentrating on doing my essays for next term – someone please stop me from wasting time on the internet!

  82. Allen Says:

    @FOARP #81,

    Hey – I’ll consider you a colleague then!

    About the job market, it changes often, so don’t worry too much about it. Over the long term, I think prospects for working in the IP field is still bright.

    Sure – IP rights can be strengthened and weakened, but in whatever form, as long as societies and economics are technologically based (I don’t see an end to that any time soon yet), IP policy will always be important.

    If (whenever) you do need a more nuanced perspective from someone across the “pond” (or just someone who’s been in the field for a while), just email me (my email is listed in the “About” pages). I’d love to chat.

    Of course, now that I know you are a colleague (in addition to a fellow blogger), I expect that I can call on you anytime I am in London to visit as well! :-)

  83. miaka9383 Says:

    @Allen
    No I don’t want to be a lawyer, it would just make me stay in school longer than I already am.
    I just like to ponder on these questions since China is growing so rapidly, but it seems to me that they are doing things without thinking of the consequences or with disregard. IP, piracy and other unethical behavior is just a side effect of this growth at any cost. I am not sure this is the right way to go for China…

  84. HongKonger Says:

    # 77

    “Religion takes all the wonder out of the eternal questions and turns everything into mindless dogma, at least to me….“The Rapture”. I had [...] found some minister named John Nelson Darby had invented the entire concept back in the early 1800s. ”

    Steve,

    I’ve been through the valleys of religiosity, and has failed or yet to reach the mountain heights of “God’s” dwellings… The beam-me-up-Scottie “Rapture,” and other dispensationalist theologies were pure fictions it seems.

    ” I find it fascinating that Eastern religions don’t separate God and Man like western religions do
    [...] I find the mountains far more godlike than any church. I feel like a part of the whole when I’m up there.”

    Steve, those are profound and meaningful words to many, I am sure.

    Thank you.

    A recovering Christian, now a happier Agnostic,

    HKer.

  85. Jerry Says:

    @Steve #69

    I am just back from HK, where I went, fortunately, without the benefit of my laptop. :D So I am playing catch up.

    I would like to report that, at least in HK, the consumeristic, materialistic purveyors of French and European luxury goods are thriving. Not a boycott in sight. Quel dommage! I will back there in January with my daughter. I will give you an update after that.

    Like, Ms. Chief, I disagree with what you wrote (which you later amended), “Maybe we can say, “Lack of money is the root of all evil”?” Poverty, as far as I care, sucks. I also view it as economic slavery. I still believe that the love of money is the root of some, maybe even most evil. (It is very hard for me to say all evil.) Fie on consumerism and materialism. Like I said, for a lot of people, consumerism and materialism are like addictive drugs.

    Regarding “past lives” and reincarnation, I actually think they are extensions of Einsteinian “time” concepts. The multidimensionality of hyperspace might, in the long run, explain UFO’s, time warps, aliens, angels, ghosts, NDEs, séances, shadow people, and other currently unexplainable phenomena. When people encounter inexplicable phenomena, they tend to see it in acceptable/comfortable metaphors. Which leads me to the next item.

    You wrote, quoting me:

    Jerry, you had written, “In my view, piracy is piracy. If you steal, you steal. And rationalization is rationalization.” This to me is an absolute moral/ethical position, and the typical way of thinking for western cultures.

    Simple answer: Nope! If I wanted to, I could have written it better, but that is why we have conversations. Answer is still “No”. BTW, if I want to make a judgment, on moral, ethical or legal grounds, I am usually pretty direct about it. I would have said that “piracy” is wrong.

    To me, the important thing is to see things clearly; we are not talking judgment here. That is why I write about Capra’s “crisis of perception”. That is why I write:

    When I write in that manner about stealing or piracy or rationalization, I am not writing in a legal, moral, ethical construct. I am just talking what I consider reality. Call something the way it is. Don’t candy-coat it. It is just having a clear view of something. No spin, no rationalization, no excuse-making.

    I look at things in an epistemological, theoretical physics construct; through the eyes of relationship and connectedness. Everything is a relationship, everything is connected, everything impacts everything else, and there are no distinct entities. Distinct entities are a construct of the mind/brain, the cerebral cortex.

    So let’s take a look at “piracy”, for example. My questions are not legal or ethical. If I were to pirate some software, I ask, “How does piracy affect the relationships between me and those around me? Between me and the people who created the software? How does this impact all of my relationships? Am I hurting myself as well as others? Am I cutting off my nose to spite my face?” Now you may call these moral or ethical questions, and perhaps they are. Well I have lots of questions and few answers.

    We can ask many more questions about piracy, such as “what is the root of piracy”? Looking at the roots will show the interactions of many parties. I use the same method when I look at the roots of terrorism. BTW, piracy is a non-starter for me. Sorry, Billy Boy (Gates).

    Many people seem to handle issues like piracy by either pointing the fingers of morality at the “offenders” or the offenders rationalizing and spinning. They never make it past the “crisis of perception”. I would prefer to have a clearer, more realistic perception. Then you can explore the issue on a different level. And maybe approach equitable solutions.

    Remember that I am also irascible and, at times, an “agent provocateur” (proudly so). Sometimes I will throw out some hardball statement(s) just to get the ball rolling or people thinking. ::LMAO:: :D And there are some here who just leap at that bait I throw out. :D Hey, you got have fun some times.

    And, Steve, what is “greater good”? And in whose esteemed judgment?

    Steve, besides Taipei being simpler and slower, it is also more personal. I love the way the girls at Carrefour (jiā lè fú) spoil me. And at all the small shops I frequent. Gotta love it. And I have a nice big apartment I can escape if I need to. Kind of like my castle.

    BTW, a random thought just came to me. I have never seen China send in a military force to deal with software, music, or movie piracy. But when a boatload of oil onboard a Chinese vessel gets pirated, in comes the navy. Oy vey, is this moral relativism? ::smirk:: ::LMAO:: ::ha ha:: :D :D

  86. Allen Says:

    @Steve #69,

    You wrote:

    When we think of IP protection, we usually think of Microsoft Windows, Louis Vuitton purses, movie DVD’s etc., but the other side of that are fake drugs that can kill people, knock off products that have no safety standards and a lack of innovation since the investment can’t be justified.

    Yes – the issue of fake drugs is somewhat under the umbrella of IP, but not really. It’s really about supply chain monitoring / safety….

    You also wrote:

    This to me is a relative moral/ethical position, and the typical way of thinking for eastern cultures. Westerner: Lying is always wrong. Easterner: Lying to someone to keep them from losing face is acceptable since it accomplishes the greater good.

    I’m not sure I follow the losing face accomplishes greater good thing. But you, FOARP and others have (implicitly or not) mentioned a point that I intend to follow up in a separate thread, the point being: is rule of law an end in itself or a means to accomplish some other nobler ends?

    Anyways, back to IP: the arguments I was making (social good vs. private rights as it applies to the IP regime) are both “Western” arguments in the sense that they are found in standard Westerm law school curriculum.

    If you look into big picture – the legal history and theories of IP – you will find the social good argument is the basis of most legal papers justifying the IP regime while if you look into the daily details – the rhetorics of the lobbyists and patent bar – you will find private rights.

    Maybe the eastern v. western is also there, but in this case, I was only bringing arguments from what I know practicing law in the U.S. and having written two law review papers in the subject (both touching on the subject area of “public goods”).

  87. Steve Says:

    @Jerry & Allen: Aha, I needed to reply to both of you but couldn’t remember which post this was under. :)

    Jerry, I need to apologize to you about categorizing your position as “absolute”. I let my mind get ahead of my words, so mea culpa. Your thinking is certainly not one dimensional but what you and Allen said reminded me of something I noticed in a West vs. East type of thing. My point was to talk about relative morality vs. absolute morality. I realize now I categorized you too closely to people like Dobson and Warren, so your objection was certainly warranted. I’d say I owe you a beer, but not sure if you drink so maybe some vegetarian xiaolongbao at Din Tai Fung. :)

    What is the “greater good” and in whose esteemed judgment? That’s easy! The “greater good” is determined by whoever wins the last election and we must all blindly follow their edicts. If we are American, we must obey Obama the Magnificent. If we are Chinese, Hu Jintao is our guru and Wen Jiabao is our kindly grandfather. :D

    @Allen: Since you’ve lived in both Taiwan and the USA, your perspective is also very balanced between west and east. What I meant by a relative position is that, as an example, lying to someone in order not to hurt their feelings seems from what I’ve seen to be more common in the east than in the west. Personally, I like the eastern way better than the west.

    Allen, when it comes to IP law, I solemnly acknowledge your expertise. I’m not joking; I mean that. You know more about it than I ever will so I just like reading what you say and filing it into my memory. That’s what makes FM so interesting to me; we have a lot of expertise here that is way beyond what I know. I have my particular area of knowledge, but know so little in other areas where we have some real experts.

    Hmm… so next time my Windows XP screws up, Jerry will explain why it wasn’t his fault! :P

  88. Opersai Says:

    I just saw this post over at ESWN: The Most Beautiful Female “Lei Feng”

    http://www.zonaeuropa.com/200812c.brief.htm#016

    A woman give her overcoat to a elderly beggar by the road in the snowing Beijing. “Lei Feng” was a role model during the culture revolution. He is often used as representation of bravery, passion and kindness for modern mainland China. it’s heart warming to see it around the Christmas.

    Merry Christmas everyone.

  89. Jane Says:

    Another point I would like to add. As a pre-med student stuyding here in the U.S., I’ve heard how negatively doctors are treated in China. The medical costs are so high yet for medical doctor working in China it’s still among the lowest in the nation!! I’ve heard doctors in China get stabbed, robbed, killed, murdered. Why has China stooped so low! It’s beyon my comprehension!

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