The Man Who Loved China

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George Victor
The Man Who Loved China

 

George Victor

Simon Winchester's account of how the brilliant Cambridge scholar, Joseph Needham, brought enlightenment to the Western World about Chinese science and custom down through the millenia, is itself brilliantly written.

Halfway through this brand new publication (off a library shelf), one is left amazed at the hubris of the West in its (continuing) ignorance of eastern history and equally amazed that it took a genius from Cambridge to present a holistic picture to the Chinese people themselves - until one gets into the book.

But "inscrutable" doesn't have a place in our lexicon anymore in association with the "far east", and can be relegated to memories of Hollywood's Charlie Chan? Needham banished such myopic racist language with publication of the multi-volume Science and Civilization in China, and Winchester has brought it to us, the unscholarly.

But where DO we turn for factual news to knowingly discuss events there? Our own media present a biased, business oriented picture of the world.

I will be visiting long-time friends in a Chinese immigrant family in July, with a gift to them of Winchester's book, and will have lots of questions for them about our need to incorporate their homeland in political discussion. Can't wait to hear their response!

Adam T

1.Have you checked out Needham's volumes?

2.Have you seen Gavin Menzies book 1421? He now has a sequel out called 1434 claiming that the Chinese sparked the renaissance.

Apparently Needham's encyclopedia is somewhere in the Kwantlen College Library, but I haven't seen.

George Victor

Winchester quotes extensively from Needham's work, but that is all that I have seen so far.

Should I have been reading National Geographic - or what could explain the apparent cultural silence (for me) about Needham before this? Or were the scholars out there aware of him before Winchester the great popularize got his teeth into the story?

Are we too full of ourselves and the mantra of our forbears with their pre-occupation with the classics of our Mediterranean beginning overlaid by the Judaeo/Christian tradition?

Liang Jiajie

quote:


Originally posted by George Victor:
[b]Winchester quotes extensively from Needham's work, but that is all that I have seen so far.

Should I have been reading National Geographic - or what could explain the apparent cultural silence (for me) about Needham before this? Or were the scholars out there aware of him before Winchester the great popularize got his teeth into the story?

Are we too full of ourselves and the mantra of our forbears with their pre-occupation with the classics of our Mediterranean beginning overlaid by the Judaeo/Christian tradition?[/b]


Generally people are interested in their family history or the history of their country. I think it's natural for people to prefer the study of their origins and that of their society because it answers questions relevant to their existence which is more fulfilling and practical. Even if Needham and his work is popularized, Pierre Berton will likely remain more popular.

George Victor

Quote

Generally people are interested in their family history or the history of their country. I think it's natural for people to prefer the study of their origins and that of their society because it answers questions relevant to their existence which is more fulfilling and practical. Even if Needham and his work is popularized, Pierre Berton will likely remain more popular.

_______________

I believe, Jiajie, that the works of the late Pierre Berton were a necessary addition to our knowledge. People are more and more playing "catchup" in that old sociological game of "cultural lag", where technology leads us into rather abrupt, even violent departure from earlier customs and mores. But then, folk in Nanjing, Jiangsu, have to know all about that, these days.
[img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]
Then along comes an eccentric Englishman who breaks all the moulds of convention, and by fluke,financed by prime minister in wartime, finds himself surrounded by an ancient culture that is almost unknown to his world.

In fact, not so much is known by the people whom he has come to study. Which puzzles him to the extent that he spends the rest of his life absorbed in the "Needham question": "why, if the Chinese were so clever and so endlessly inquisitive, inventive and creative, had they for so long been so poor and scientifically backward?"

I am anxious to know - halfway through the book -if Needham came to some conclusion on this. And I want to know why it's taken someone like Winchester to break it to me.

And I think time is running out on Homo sapiens' if we don't find some way out of the "old" nationalisms that worked so well to end the "old" imperialisms. "Questions relative to their "continued" existence" is what people must be looking for now, I believe.

At this moment, I'm wondering if my language is too apocalyptic, is dissuading someone from following up the Needham question - which has to do, obviously, not only with the governance of a country, but the expectations and self image of its people at the same time. This mutuality of governed and governing which is not understood, but which will have to be very well understood.

I look forward to more revelations in the last half of the book.

Adam T

I'm taking my second course in Chinese history this semester.

Chinese scholars knew about Needham and his work for a long time. If you search sites about ancient technology you will find his work sited.

quote:

Which puzzles him to the extent that he spends the rest of his life absorbed in the "Needham question": "why, if the Chinese were so clever and so endlessly inquisitive, inventive and creative, had they for so long been so poor and scientifically backward?"

Well, the "Needham question" has been debated long before Needham.

The generally accepted answer, which New Democrats won't like, is that in China businesspeople and merchants were looked down upon by government and society as the lowest level of society, they were the 'money changers' who did nothing but buy low and sell high and added nothing to society. These negative sentiments go back to at least the time of Confucious and probably earlier. The merchants had no protection whatsoever and could have their wealth confiscated at any time.

Consequently, the primary goal of the merchant wasn't to build the business over the long term, but to make enough money to be able to afford tutors for their son(s) so that they could take the government exams and become part of the civil service, which was the most exalted segment of Chinese society.

Without the incentive to build businesses over the long term, there was no incentive to create products that would increase productivity. There were similar problems for farmers with their difficulty of getting financing to invest in labor saving technologies.

The moral of the story is that without protections for private property and legal protections from confiscatory governments, as Adam Smith said, civilizations are unlikely to develop technologically.

The real surprise about China isn't that they didn't advance technologically, but that there were as many inventions as there were. The important point though, is that much of what was invented was never put into general use.

[ 01 July 2008: Message edited by: Adam T ]

George Victor

Without making this into another of the tiresome debates about the origins of economic waywardness, no doubt Adam Smith's denunciation of mercantalism would fit the picture once there was a trading kingdom that depended heavily on building trade.

But surely, the merchant was a bit hobbled by some extraordinary (in the European sense) customs? You hint at some historical factors.

And that poor fellow who was "naturally" executed for inventing a "flying machine", might have been excused for stepping out of line elsewhere? Perhaps not, if there is no tolerance for the nuttiness and eccentricity. Was there? Is there now? Do your studies take you far into Chinese culture, or just to knowledge of the niceties?

It may be that partial enlightenment comes only with reading the Wealth of Nations. God knows old Karl said that radical historical change in human freedom only awaited a material perspective on that change.

But I was hoping that Adam Smith's FINAL earthly concerns from moral philosophy about the potential dangers (to people, of all things) attached to his enterprise might be grafted to some ancient wisdom from a far older culture and save us from another - far more destructive - industrial revolution in a star wars setting.

Anyway, that is my interest in reading The Man who Loved China, and if you have some nuggets of info to impart, I'd love to hear them. Even an examination of the parallels between the west and east (or variations, of course) in the level of development of other factors as well as science.

But if you cannot resist the ideological urge to offer up a baiting phrase again - know now that it won't get answered by George from Coventry, a place to which I retreated some weeks ago to escape the nasties. Tell me about what you read in your studies and why, please, and present some thoughts. [img]cool.gif" border="0[/img]
p.s. Needham's Science and Civilisation in China, first proposed to Cambridge University Press in May, 1948, apparently runs to 24 volumes, and more are in the works.

[ 01 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

Stephen Gordon

quote:


Originally posted by George Victor:
Adam Smith's denunciation of mercantalism...

There are passages where Adam Smith noted the folly of protectionism, but it was David Ricardo who performed this particular smackdown. Credit where credit is due.

Adam T

I wasn't trying to bait anyone or anything. You asked for the reason why China never developed technologically as the west did and I gave you the theory agreed to by most mainstream economists and historians.

1.For what it's worth, Adam Smith didn't develop the theory, he merely observed what he saw was already going on and fought to have it codified in law.

2.I don't think mercantilism has anything to do with it. Mercantilism is macroeconomics and the reasons I've explained are more to do with micoeconomics.

3.As I said above, the problem was in China merchants were taxed arbitrarily by either the state or the local government officials or they could have their businesses simply taken away at any time. It would not surprise me, though I don't know of it, if inventions could simply be confiscated by the state.

All of this created a disincentive for people to grow businesses beyond, as I said above, the size required to hire good tutors to help their sons pass the state exams that would allow them to enter the civil service. Certainly it is probably extremely rare for businesses to pass down through generations. Why bother to invest in devising practical uses for new inventions or to develop markets for the inventions if you only plan on owning the business for a small numbers of years, have no plan to sell it and are aware that if your business gets too large it will be seen as a threat to the government and get confiscated.

As I said, the real surprise isn't that China didn't develop technologically, it's really that there was as much science as there was.

As I also said above, this prejudice in Chinese society against 'merchants' the 'goods traders who do nothing buy buy low and sell high' went back at least as far as Confucious and probably much further.

The Chinese hierarchy is generally considered to have been:
1.(civil) servants
2.peasants
3.artisans
4.merchants/landowners

Historians of China refer to this as SPAM.

This attitude does still exist in China even with the Communist Party's new ironic attitude towards making money. Chinese businesspeople today have far more legal protection if they enter into partnerships with western businesspeople than if they enter into business on their own.

It would be incorrect though to say that Chinese society was static for basically 2,000 years after Confucious. In addition to the theories of Gavin Menzies that the Chinese sailed the world, there were improvements in agriculture. They learned in parts of China to develop more than one growing season in China, as well they developed foodstuffs that could grow on previously marginally land like hills. All of this allowed for the population to boom to about 300 million by the early 19th century.

Of course, the large population does lead to the second reason given as to why China never developed technologically: with the large population there wasn't a great need to invest in labour saving devices. Personally I've always found this argument to be a bit weak. For instance, I'm sure the peasant farmers wouldn't have minded additional labour saving devices.

quote:

Anyway, that is my interest in reading The Man who Loved China, and if you have some nuggets of info to impart, I'd love to hear them. Even an examination of the parallels between the west and east (or variations, of course) in the level of development of other factors as well as science.

Tell me about what you read in your studies and why, please, and present some thoughts.


As you are no doubt aware, the main philosophical schools in China are the Confucious/Mencius, the Legalists and the Taoists. The Buddhists, imported from India come in there about 1,000 or so years later and seem to have mostly mingled with the taoists.

All these were mainly concerned with legal issues/government relations with people, psychology and proper relations between people. The Legalists could be fairly easily compared to Machiavelli while the Taoists, believed in the notion of "do nothing and all will be done." Which is not meant to be a joke or dadism, but is actually meant to mean that the minimum amount of action required to complete something is the best course of action to take. The western comparison would be to the idea of "the government that governs least governs best."

The leading western writer on China is a man named Jonathon Spence. Although a historian, he actually writes his books for the mass market.

Spence argues that Chinese philosophers did not add theories of the natural sciences/rationalism into their arguments until shown them by western Jesuit scholars in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The first course I took was called Ancient and Imperial China which is basically 5,000 years of Chinese history in one 4 month course. Other than learning about the philosophies, it was basically a blur. There were something like 20 different empires over the 3,500 or so years where recorded history is researched and verified. The instructor also complained greatly about it: "20th century European history alone is split into two sections and I have to teach 5,000 years in one 3 credit course."

The present course is much more compressed: Modern Chinese History Part 1. It covers from 1640 or so to 1912, the fall of the last Emporer. It covers the fall of the Ming Dynasty and the concurrent rise of the Manchu Qings, the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion and concludes with the fall of the Qing.

[ 01 July 2008: Message edited by: Adam T ]

[ 01 July 2008: Message edited by: Adam T ]

George Victor

Thank you for a wonderfully condensed overview.

I'll be on the lookout for Jonathan Spence...I'm certainly your mass market sort right now. Pre-digested is good from the perspective of a sponge. Times a-flyin' for this old fart.( And Gavin Menzies too, I guess.)

And I hope that our interlocutor from Nanjing, Jiangsu comes aboard this thread again with some reflections on the intellectual approach to Chinese history presented above. Or anything that he would care to comment on.

Right next to one-on-one conversation, I consider this to be, in Jack Nicholson's phrase, "As good as it gets."
(Oh, and New Democrats, by the way, cover an amazin' spread of ideological ground these days - warranted, I think, by the desperate search for a way out of our frightening existential dilemma. Open-minded is "good" in such a search).

[ 13 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

Sean in Ottawa

Menzies book is fiction without any scientific basis. Anyway, I hardly think that Chinese civilization ought to be measured by whether or not it got to North America-- and there is no evidence that it did other than fanciful interpretations by non-scientists.

I would not accept a country's view of itself without question. While it may be wrong for a western perspective to be used to represent China, a country's view of itself is not necessarily a lot more accurate than that of another although we should be looking to Chinese sources for non-prevailing opinions. My point is clearer when we consider Canadian perceptions about ourselves and our role in the world-- and how nationalistic and fanciful they often are.

Differences of perception between countries are not just factual either. They rely on cultural constructs that include value judgments as well as perspective. And usually only those of a given country are equipped well enough to consider these - or even recognize them

On any topic it is hard to find anyone BOTH knowledgeable and unbiased. Knowledge, even limited gets sorted into a person through bias and western people are notoriously unable to recognize this.

I guess the point is that learning is an individual thing and any one perception of anything should be open to criticism regardless of the source including local ones. Naturally, the more distant that perspective is the greater the suspicion ought to be.

The difficulty by many to face uncomfortable truths makes the process of understanding even more difficult since the distant perceptions are coloured by biases and a lack of understanding while the local ones may be influenced by wishful thinking. Simple answers are nowhere to be found.

I have found that often those who can be trusted the most are people who are close to something and have then moved away-- with respect to countries I am speaking of ex-pats but even they have biases.

Adam T

Menzies claims that his book is backed by significant prior scholarly research. I don't know if his book has any factual basis or not, but to declare definatively that it is 'pure fiction' is certainly going way too far.

The significance for China isn't just whether they reached North America but that, if it is true, for this brief period 1.China was entirely open to the world and 2.the superiority of technology the Chinese would have showed.

I made a couple errors in my previous post, upon further reflection.
1.Confucious was also interested in personal development and personal morality, though much of that was how it was to be expressed through proper dealings with other people.

2.SPAM is actually
1.Scholars (not civil servants)
and the rest is correct
In practice though, the distinction is non existent because all civil servants (except the eunichs and others finding personal favor with the emperor) had to be scholars and had to pass the civil service exams.

The primary positive of China was the degree it was a meritocracy and had no hierarchy based on birth (except for the Emperor himself). Even the landowners for the most part did not have the powers they had in Europe.

Not that I'm in a position to judge an entire society, but the main weaknesses are generally considered to be:

1.The lack of development technologically, which I've already mentioned. Some people may argue that technology is overrated, but as difficult as life is for small farmers now days, you can just imagine what it is what like for the peasant farmers of China who had to do practically everything by hand (they may have had the odd beast of burden).

2.The totalitarian society. This degree of totalitarianism kind of waxed and waned dependeing on the strengths of the various emperors. It was based on the notion that everybody was grouped into communities of around 10 people and was responsible for everybody else, which sounds nice until you know exactly what it means. Essentially, if one person broke the law and was caught, the entire group of ten would be held responsible if none of them had informed on the law breaker. It was essentially an early form of the secret police. As I said, not every emperor employed such a system.

3.The horrendous treatment of women. Confucious, for all his positives, taught that wives should be subservient to husbands, and women should have no role in official Chinese society. That is not an entirely complete picture because some women were treated better. They weren't allowed to take the civil service exams but some women were still taught alongside their brothers and became respected as tutors or as authors. Older women, especially grand mothers were especially revered.

The worst part of the treatment of women though was the horrific foot binding which essentially broke off the feet and left them with stubs to walk on.

4.The Insularity of Chinese society. They regarded everybody outside of China as 'barbarians'. Now, many of the people outside China were actual 'barbarians' nomads like the Mongols. However, they thought everybody else in the world was like that. They even referred in writing to the English as barbarians. Naturally not every Chinese person was like this, and there was some curiosity and decent treatment of foreigners when they first arrived, but there was also a view of Chinese being superior to the rest of the world and a large element of racism.

Of course, the English also saw themselves like that, and that culture clash was part of what led to the Opium Wars.

George Victor

Yes indeed Sean, between ethnocentricity and racism it's hard to get a handle on what is really going on. Can't depend on mainstream, even in old Canada - although Mike Valpy's reading of things in the Globe this past week, is an optimistic take on our current openess eh?

But that is why Needham is so wonderfully helpful. You must read him to appreciate my eureka reaction. Sort of like the moment when I came to understand Marx's idea of history, in real time. Our forbears were lied to a lot.

Then all that is left is trying to understand the roots of our ethnocentricity, going back many moons, and institutions like Macleans, still stirring the residual poison out there.

The media, of course, are central to an understanding. And its ownership.

Sean in Ottawa

Read about menzies here:
[url=http://thehallofmaat.com/modules.php?name=Articles&file=article&sid=91/]...
and here
[url=http://www.kenspy.com/Menzies/]http://www.kenspy.com/Menzies/[/url]

Yes I read his book and then moved on to read the responses. To describe the evidence as thin would be to suggest that there was anything in there at all. The book is instead a fanciful come-on for sales made up. There is not a single archaeologist willing to comment who does not scoff at what passes for research in that volume. Outside of speculation there is nothing. That Zheng He made it to Africa and up the Western Coast almost to Europe does not seem to be enough for Menzies in spite of the fact that the distance traveled dwarfs Columbus' trek.

Menzies bases his claim of a North American Chinese presence on a ruined windmill actually built in the 17th century.

Not content with fabricating past Chinese history Menzies claims he was born in China although it was proven that he was born in England.

Historians don't like him or the book:
FELIPE FERNANDEZ-ARMESTO, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY: To say that it as devoid of evidence, logic, scholarship and sense was just about the nicest thing one could say about it. Because, I mean, you've got to be either a charlatan or a cretin, you've got to be either, you know, a kind of con man, or an innocent idiot in order to produce a book which is so lacking in any intelligence or accuracy whatever.
BILL RICHARDSON, HISTORIAN OF CARTOGRAPHY: Personally, I think that it's quite disgraceful that publishers anywhere should con the public by producing such material which - without finding out whether there is any basis for its truth or not. Any investigation of historians of cartography could prove that a vast proportion of what Menzies uses is a fabrication, from his own interpretation.
DR ROBIN WATT, FORENSIC ANTHROPOLOGIST: The fact that they are supposed to be 35 Chinese junks washed up on the west coast of the South Island - There was supposed to have been a small town of something like 28,000 on the South Island, Chinese town. That type of evidence is just too fantastic. In fact, I think it's quite silly. It's a load of bollocks.
DR JAMES CHIN, CHINESE HISTORY SCHOLAR: Yeah, we just treat it as it's a novel - not the real history.
CAPT PHIL RIVERS, MASTER MARINER: It's just fiction, an - an historical romance.

George Victor

Okay Sean, I won't rush out and pick up Menzies' work.I remember the reviews from a couple of years back.

But please read The Man Who Loved China before dissing all work - even the scholarly - about early Chinese inventiveness! I'm near the last chapter, and will give a bit of a wrapup.

George Victor

A bit of history for review context:

In 1946, Theodore H. White and Annalee Jacoby’s Thunder Out of China attempted to explain social conditions and events for American readers just as nationalist and communist forces prepared for the struggle that saw Mao triumph in 1949.

Thunder was the last published work in book form to come out of China from a perspective sympathetic to Mao. Beginning in 1954, the academic, Joseph Needham - who got himself into very hot water among academics and the U.S. administration for his naпve take on the Korean War in 1951 - began publishing for a scholarly readership.

In the early 1970s, we students of the left found White and Jacoby’s take on things in 1946 just fine: Some people estimated “very roughly - that 30 per cent of China’s peasants are part tenants and part freeholders, another 30 per cent are tenants or landless farm hands, and 40 per cent own the land they till.

“Chinese landlords rackrent their fields to the last possible grain. On good lands they demand from 50 to 60 per cent of the crops; in some areas, including Chunking (Chongqing) they take up to 80 per cent of the cash crops.”

Few of the larger landlords lived into the 1950s, which we thought a not unjust outcome, and 25 years later, although we had some idea of the terrible effects of the Great Leap Forward, we were largely in the dark regarding the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution. A bit more came out in the 80s, and then there was Tiananmen … and then the economy began to produce for we consumers.

In 1991, setting up a clothesline over the back deck, I purchased some “made in China” clothespins, some of which still survive. By the end of that decade, the clothing hanging on that line was made in China or somewhere close by. (Still holding out for Stanfield’s underwear and socks with a maple leaf label and other items where possible).

Now, Chongqing boasts 38 million people, the most populous city in China and probably the world, with changes “of a scale and sweep that Needham could never have imagined. Sixty years in the life of a city that , like Chongqing , is 1,500 years old might seem like nothing - London has changed dramatically in its past six decades, as have Paris, Cairo, Moscow, and Rome: yet in their essence these western cities are still today much the same as they always were “ ; but Chongqing, says Winchester, has become a “future world, part Blade Runner, part Shinjuku, part Dickensian London, that is profoundly unrecognizable, a place to take away one’s breath.”

Late in the Ming dynasty when Henry 8th was pursuing wives and emptying monasteries throughout England, Chinese cooks in a couple of geographically strategic areas found “cooking with gas” to be just the ticket. And the scholars of their area would have been able to print up a book with scientific notations about such phenomena some seven centuries before that. Go figure, Gutenberg. And there are many pages filled with such revelations.

As his books rolled off the presses, Needham’s name was restored, to the point where he was elected master of his college, “not merely a force to be reckoned with in the academic and literary worlds, but a figure of stature and power in one of the greatest universities in the world - and so a force in the realm as well.”

And a committed socialist through his time there, living and dining with both his wife Dorothy and his Chinese-born mistress, Lu Gwei-djen, (whom he married after Dorothy’s death in 1987) through more than half a century, Needham unveiled the Middle Kingdom to an amazed world where Western scribes still struggle to adapt to both the old and the new reality of China.

And now, the importance of this in 2008? Well, some of us became environmentally conscious in the 1970s. And that has grown to mean that works like this one are evaluated for any thread of hope that they might contain, a bolt of rational lightning!

There were no serendipitous bolts of enlightenment coming out of The Man Who Loved China. Just the sort of brilliance and tolerance that overawes and causes all doors to open for the individual, and leaves hope that such openness can be reciprocated and reproduced on the scale of whole societies.

But right now, China is an excuse for the neo-cons and we the not-so-neo-con to do diddly-squat, collectively, about reducing carbon emissions. Margaret Wente can prattle on with impunity about Canada’s 2 per cent contribution to the global problem being nothing in the face of China’s yatata yatata, ad infinitum. And it’s an excuse for us all, right across the political spectrum.

Margaret knows we are all too “human” in our weakness, our love of the late George Carlin’s “stuff”(He, too, knew us, but we could laugh at his stuff).

I think that it is a huge mistake to let China off the Tibetan hook. That’s just international capital (which includes our pensions, of course) pandering to a terrifying nationalism that is now just about capable of anything. Oh, we can hunker down and tell ourselves that it is just a phase of development that will cool out and we will somehow all live happily ever after. But I think that is the stuff of fairy tales.

We have to do with less and show China that we can do with less ,and we have to do it for the kids, who have no idea what we are preparing to leave them. And if the Chinese so love the few children they are allowed by law, they should begin, any time now, to act out of that sentiment - those who are not having to go through a period of denial in their media similar to the Exxon-sponsored effort here. That should be the line in the sand that we expect our elected representatives to put forward at international gatherings.

It’s about all that we might have in common, enabling us to rationally adjust our consumption to fit Earth’s capacity, far as I can see. But I have no idea what the take on environmental destruction is among the 1.3 billion people surrounded by it, how it is explained to them, what it might mean through the smog.

Perhaps much like Steve’s consumer/taxpayer minions on this patch of planet where such news (and thought) is avoided like the plague?

Liang Jiajie

quote:


Originally posted by George Victor:
[b]

In fact, not so much is known by the people whom he has come to study. Which puzzles him to the extent that he spends the rest of his life absorbed in the "Needham question": "why, if the Chinese were so clever and so endlessly inquisitive, inventive and creative, had they for so long been so poor and scientifically backward?"

I am anxious to know - halfway through the book -if Needham came to some conclusion on this. And I want to know why it's taken someone like Winchester to break it to me.[/b]


I'm assuming you've finished reading the book. Needham never reached a definite conclusion to the above question despite having gathered a vast amount of empirical evidence to prove his hypothesis that Chinese science and technology was surpassed by that of Europe in the seventeenth century because capitalism never completely developed in China. Is that what the author of your book writes regarding your question?

Needham is famous in sinology which is a natural consequence among people who are passionate about China. That said, if one isn't passionate about China, Needham isn't required knowledge and no fault or moralizing should be assigned to those ignorant of him and his work. Needham himself knew nothing about China until he met persons from that country and such lived experience that initiate an interest or passion still works today in spite of the much larger body of knowledge of China to which foreigners have access. I don't think ethnocentrism or arrogance explains Needham's obscurity outside the world of sinology.

George Victor

quote:
"I don't think ethnocentrism or arrogance explain Needham's obscurity outside the world of sinology."

I agree.
But I believe there are huge ideological reasons for his obscurity, as you can see from the formulations coming out of schools of economics, a discipline and science that must be seen to explain all variations from the pattern of development that was laid down by Scottish philosophers in the eighteenth century. [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

It has always been a matter of keeping certain historical truths from the "great unwashed" that has allowed them to be made malleable and manageable. And so the great silence, even in this oh so democratic part of the world with all of its freedoms, for the last half of the 20th Century.

As I say above, Needham is an example of what might be accomplished in a new enlightenment - one that is going to be necessary, in my estimation.

But, again, I do not know whether my babblings about the condition of spaceship Earth following a review of a book about a Chinese scholar, make any sense to you. I do not know your background, your interest outside of sinology, your concerns for environmental conditions there and here, or your thoughts on the chances for future generations - which motivate this grandfather!

Clearly, I'm not reading just out of a concern for the accuracy of Needham's findings. In fact, I'm more taken by the fact that he lived as a communist supporter through a Cold War that darn near did us all in!

But please, could you answer some of my questions about how the people of your region feel about these questions of our existence, our shared existential concerns? My immigrant Chinese friends may not have the same understanding.

I do hope that you can find a copy of Winchester's work and so better understand my concerns...a fairly well-read fellow for whom Needham's revelations only suggest a continuing suppression of knowledge. And there is nothing worse than being kept in the dark, about anything, but particularly as we work out new paradigm(s) for survival of the species, including ours, right?

Thank you.

[ 07 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

[ 07 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

Liang Jiajie

I want to be sure I'm reading your posts correctly.

quote:

Originally posted by George Victor:
[b]
But I believe there are huge ideological reasons for his obscurity, as you can see from the formulations coming out of schools of economics, a discipline and science that must be seen to explain all variations from the pattern of development that was laid down by Scottish philosophers in the eighteenth century.
[/b]

You mean that he was obscured because he was a Marxist?

quote:

And now, the importance of this in 2008? Well, some of us became environmentally conscious in the 1970s. And that has grown to mean that works like this one are evaluated for any thread of hope that they might contain, a bolt of rational lightning!

There were no serendipitous bolts of enlightenment coming out of The Man Who Loved China. Just the sort of brilliance and tolerance that overawes and causes all doors to open for the individual, and leaves hope that such openness can be reciprocated and reproduced on the scale of whole societies.


You're essentially inspired by Needham's universalism which led him to reorient the history of science? And you think that his brand of universalism, his attitude toward a foreign culture, his willingness to question accepted knowledge and methodology, can guide the present and future generations toward a philosophy and methodoloy which will solve our environmental problems?

quote:

We have to do with less and show China that we can do with less [...] But I have no idea what the take on environmental destruction is among the 1.3 billion people surrounded by it, how it is explained to them, what it might mean through the smog.

Chinese workers and intellectuals learned about Marxism, Communism, and communist organization from Europeans at a time when they sought to explain China's technological backwardness. Consider the impact those philosophies had on twentieth-century China. Perhaps the Chinese studying and living in countries where the environment has become a significant political or social issue will import their experiences and knowledge back to China, as their predecessors did with Marxism, with a similar effect.

Chinese in the middle- and upper-classes are generally more patriotic than protective of the environment. Environmental pollution in the past and the present is regarded as a necessity towards economic modernization which is considered a part of building a super powerful China. Factories in Beijing were not temporarily closed to protect the environment. They were closed to prevent complaints from athletes about poor air quality which would embarass Chinese for whom the Olympics are a status symbol.

Another factor in the formulation of environmental policy is the authoritarian nature of the central and provincial governments. There is an environmental movement in China, but it's practically non-existent in the consultation and formulation of policy, therefore its role is limited to public education. Policy is directed by the bureaucratic elite which must simultaneously consider economic development and environmental protection.

[ 07 July 2008: Message edited by: Liang Jiajie ]

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

quote:


There is an environmental movement in China, but it's practically non-existent in the consultation and formulation of policy

Here we pretend there is consultation in the formulation of policy.

Liang Jiajie

quote:


Originally posted by George Victor:
[b] ]But, again, I do not know whether my babblings about the condition of spaceship Earth following a review of a book about a Chinese scholar, make any sense to you. I do not know your background, your interest outside of sinology, your concerns for environmental conditions there and here, or your thoughts on the chances for future generations - which motivate this grandfather![/b]

I forgot to reply to this. Yes, of course, I can relate to your "babbling." One conviction that I have acquired as a student of history and of foreign cultures is that there is nothing absolute about the pattern of political, social, and economic development of the civilization through which I came into this world. The present state of my civilization (and the world) was not delivered to us in a misty realm of genesis -- we made it what it is. I believe in the human agency to create, destroy, and rebuild social institutions. I have also learned that societies will always have segments that will resist change but that change eventually occurs when people realize that it is either necessary or inevitable, when the conscious or unconscious preferences of the masses dictate to the powerful or, better, steamroll over them. Those are the convictions that underpin my prudent optimism for the future environment and that guide me through the study of the past.

But I worry too much about the future despite my awareness of the great capacity of our species to identify problems and find solutions. This is simply my nature.

Adam T

Re Needham's previous obscurity. My guess would be:
First, I don't know if he's all that obscure anymore. "The Man Who Loved China" has been on the bestseller list for many weeks.

Prior to this book I would guess:
1.His work is too expensive and probably just too much for most people. It encompases several volumes.

2.It might be written in a very academic style. I have no idea if it is, but it sounds like it might be.

3.He likely just didn't popularize it. As I said, I'm a regular listen of Coast to Coast and they often have guests on who speak of ancient technology. Michael Cremo the author of [url=http://www.forbiddenarcheology.com/]Forbidden Archaelogy[/url] is a regular.

I'm sure there are people here who will say Forbidden Archaelogy is all garbage as well.

George Victor

May I first say how reassuring it is to have you, a self-confessed “prudent optimist”, also say that you “worry too much about the future”. I do hope that there are many, many more of your “nature”.

And secondly, Jiajie (if I may properly address you this way?), your reformulation of my questions bring a coherence to our exchange of thoughts that confirm for me we are on the same track. I’m not being oppressively “apocalyptic”, my July 1st posting concern.

Not so reassuring is the thought that your “middle and upper classes (are) more patriotic than protective of the environment”. This is not the commonly expressed view of our class situation vis a vis the environment - but it is the understood situation: those who have the most to lose, are last over the top (to use an expression from trench warfare a while back). They are also the readers and the most manipulative of the great unread.

And, of course, all security is at stake if the corporations in which we invest are at risk in some total retreat to an agrarian past.

We, Homo sapiens, do indeed “make it what it is” as you put it, a materialist understanding that bothers more than a few of the churchgoers over here; an element that has reached miniscule proportions in your country, I believe? (Although there is definitely a Calvinist factor in that sentiment, and behind our own early “conquest of nature”, as Weber has pointed out.)It’s not the thought but what you DO in nature that counts, as far as our environmental “footprint” is concerned. Praxis?

But is the “bureaucratic elite which must simultaneously consider economic development and environmental protection” in China, more slanted toward the “development” side of things, like our own Alberta, which, in terms of economic growth and enormous consumption of energy resources, is the closest thing we have to your own situation? Do they just dispense thoughts or edicts on what is (or should be) “proper” in attitude and environmental action? What is the bureaucrat’s training and education today. Heavy on the math?

Given our understanding of what peasant life was like in 1946, and, indeed, the contrasts between city and rural life in 2008, one could understand the tendency toward the development side of things. We have the same “tendency” at each election . Your “Authoritarian central and provincial governments” apparently do not necessarily lead to solution of the problem - stark need to protect the biosphere. J

Your re-statement of my immediate question, can Needham’s universalism, knowledge and approach be used to “guide the present and future generations toward a philosophy and methodology which will solve our environmental problems” is accurately put, but, I hope, understood as something of a straw to clutch at in a sometimes seemingly hopeless pursuit. It’s really a question to you, a sort of “What do you think?” poser. And frankly, your relativity, clearly stated, twice, while a necessary position for the study of other cultures, makes me uneasy in repeating my earlier statements, but I must, because I have to find a political position that I think will help your politicians and bureaucrats decide in favour of the environmental considerations:

Quoting myself:

I think that it is a huge mistake to let China off the Tibetan hook. That’s just international capital (which includes our pensions, of course) pandering to a terrifying nationalism that is now just about capable of anything. Oh, we can hunker down and tell ourselves that it is just a phase of development that will cool out and we will somehow all live happily ever after. But I think that is the stuff of fairy tales.

We have to do with less and show China that we can do with less ,and we have to do it for the kids, who have no idea what we are preparing to leave them. And if the Chinese so love the few children they are allowed by law, they should begin, any time now, to act out of that sentiment ( those who are not having to go through a period of denial in their media similar to the Exxon-sponsored effort here).

That should be the line in the sand that we expect our elected representatives to put forward at international gatherings.

It’s about all that we might have in common, enabling us to rationally adjust our consumption to fit Earth’s capacity, far as I can see. But I have no idea what the take on environmental destruction is among the 1.3 billion people surrounded by it, how it is explained to them, what it might mean through the smog.
Perhaps much like Steve’s consumer/taxpayer minions on this patch of planet where such news (and thought) is avoided like the plague?
Edit: Sorry I've used a narrow colloquialism here in talking about "Steve". Ever since George Bush told the world how much he liked Canada's prime minister, and called him "Steve" a year or two back, I've always referred to Prime Minister Stephen Harper as Steve. Not an endearment on my part!
(end of quote)

I appreciate your patience, and ask for it again, if you could tell me what you think of my strategic concern, a Canadian position, out there in the world.

If that is something that could “get you in hot water”, please leave it simmering on the political fire, unanswered.

George

[ 08 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

[ 08 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

quote:


Originally posted by George Victor:
[b]Thunder was the last published work in book form to come out of China from a perspective sympathetic to Mao. Beginning in 1954, the academic, Joseph Needham - who got himself into very hot water among academics and the U.S. administration for his naпve take on the Korean War in 1951 - began publishing for a scholarly readership.[/b]

If you want a book about the rise of the Communist Party I think you might want to read Red Star OVer China. An excellent historical piece of journalism.

[url=http://books.google.ca/books?id=amXicbM6BCkC&dq=red+star+over+china&pg=P... Star Over China[/url]

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

quote:


And if the Chinese so love the few children they are allowed by law, they should begin, any time now, to act out of that sentiment ( those who are not having to go through a period of denial in their media similar to the Exxon-sponsored effort here).

That should be the line in the sand that we expect our elected representatives to put forward at international gatherings.

It’s about all that we might have in common, enabling us to rationally adjust our consumption to fit Earth’s capacity, far as I can see. But I have no idea what the take on environmental destruction is among the 1.3 billion people surrounded by it, how it is explained to them, what it might mean through the smog.


You tell them. Euro-centric ideas are all the planet needs.

How is the environmental destruction Fort McMurray is undergoing being explained to us. What bureaucrats are making the decisions that are so critical. Are they corporate bureaucrats only or are they from the Alberta civil service. Why will they not release the details of the contracts that allow this devastation?

If you loved your children those are the questions you might want to ask?

George Victor

"You tell them. Euro-centric ideas are all the planet needs." (end of quote).

Wish ideas had that impact. They usually have to be accompanied by something more concrete - and in China's example, something phoenix-like every couple of decades. That is one of the aspects of that society that puzzles the heck out of me. How can a society be upended so often and then rise from the ashes and overnight perform miracles?

Part of it, of course, depends on starting from nothing - the historical condition of the peasant. Anything is better than what is left behind.

And then there are the numbers! Not only of labourers, but of any profession you want to name. All familiar with an IT world where tradition means boo-all. Instant gratification.

And there's a leadership that does not let little things like peasant dislocation stand in the way of the bulldozer. The peasant may have "traditionally" been no. 1 in some idealized, historical ranking, but convention has obviously gone by the board with local administrations.

It seems to me we are looking at a growth of productive capacity and use of resources approaching that of wartime mobilization.

And the U.S. has gladly sold its budget and the dollar in the name of globalization (stopping short of selling out resources, an act in which Canada excels).

Think back to the late Pierre Trudeau's concerns for "rising expectations" in Canadian society of the 1970s. Then multiply that a thousandfold.

But more than new expectations, I'm concerned about new "dependencies" - particularly energy.

Any way you cut it, logic says speak up now or think Gotterdammerung. But speak up and do what?

Liang Jiajie

quote:


But is the “bureaucratic elite which must simultaneously consider economic development and environmental protection” in China, more slanted toward the “development” side of things, like our own Alberta, which, in terms of economic growth and enormous consumption of energy resources, is the closest thing we have to your own situation?

The most recent research on your question concluded that the concern of pollution among policymakers rises in proportion to the level of pollution in their localities provided that the locality has reached a good level of development. The other conclusion is that policymakers in less developed areas are more reluctant to implement environmental regulation if it will hinder economic development. The article is entitled [i]Bureaucracy Meets the Environment: elite perceptions in six Chinese cities[/i] by Yanqi Tong in The China Quarterly (2007).

quote:

Do they just dispense thoughts or edicts on what is (or should be) “proper” in attitude and environmental action?

NGOs and each level of government have make public relations campaigns in the past similar to what there is in Canada on television, billboards, and on the radio.

quote:

What is the bureaucrat’s training and education today. Heavy on the math?

Similar to Canadian bureaucrats. The training is diverse.

quote:

We have to do with less and show China that we can do with less [...] It’s about all that we might have in common, enabling us to rationally adjust our consumption to fit Earth’s capacity, far as I can see.

You want the Canadian government and people to lead by example and you want to convince the Chinese government that protecting the natural environment serves a common interest, namely humanity. There is no disagreement here. But remember that many Chinese are already trying to protect the environment.

quote:

I think that it is a huge mistake to let China off the Tibetan hook.

How would you characterize the Chinese presence in Tibet? How would you characterize the response of Tibetans to that presence?

George Victor

Hello

I get the feeling that we have just about completed our discussion on matters environmental , one is to “remember that many Chinese are already trying to protect the environment,” and perhaps that is about all that can be hoped for at the moment?

Okay, but I believe reformers everywhere need some outside help in the form of pressure to increase the tempo of reforms. Just as we of the environmental set in Canada look forward to European pressure on our ruling neo-cons to get real. And now the U.S. government is preparing (we hope) a hard line on Alberta’s tar sands product. Even the modestly aware editorial page editor of our local news sheet says in an editorial today that the “G-8 blows hot air” from the Hokkaido gathering.

My personal hobbyhorse in matters of energy follows the path of one James Lovelock, whom you have perhaps read (the Ages of Gaia ) and whose theory of how Earth (as a living entity) maintains thermal balance for current life forms, involves naturally adjusting biological control of greenhouse gases, etc. Note: I believe we may expect entry of someone else on this thread with the name Lovelock now in view.

Lovelock advocates nuclear energy to “keep the lights of civilization burning” while we come to a new understanding of our place in the great biological scheme of things.

China is doing this, and I hope there is enough uranium (along with wind turbines, etc.) for the period of re-adjustment away from the industrial world…which is happening over here through globalization, and which is greeted enthusiastically by the wishful set’s mantra about a post-industrial nirvana, something about the blackberry itself saving the day, even in the face of rising joblessness.

And, of course, the one-child policy, first advocated, I understand, by the late Dr. Ma, is clearly an absolute necessity. Here, the Canadian religious right is fulminating about a medal of honour just bestowed on a humanitarian doctor who forced legal acceptance of the early termination of pregnancy only one generation ago. We will have to break with many more old taboos in years to come, as Thorstein Veblen advocated 100 years back. (Is he on any reading lists with his Theory of the Leisure Class, etc., over there? His concept of “conspicuous consumption” certainly fits all cultures.)

But now, “How would (I) characterize the Chinese presence in Tibet? How would (I) characterize the response of Tibetans to that presence?”

In carefully nuanced language.

First, a little backgrounder for some understanding of my position. I’m a Canadian nationalist who, in his lifetime, also has come to accept the nationalism of French-speaking Quebec. So, I certainly understand China’s nationalist assertions - up until 1954.

It is my understanding that the Panchsheel Agreement of that year, negotiated by Nehru and Zhou Enlai , included India’s recognition of Tibet as a part of China.

I also am told - without any research on my part - that an independent Tibet had functioned as a “buffer state” between its neighbors for 2,000 years.

My new, revised view of “legitimate” nationalisms does not encapsulate the violence that has been visited on the people of Tibet, or the program of emigration from east to west that will obviously end in the sort of balkanized settlement that has marked Europe and the middle east since 1919.

And I believe it is incumbent on the international community, through an assembly of all the nations, to state just that, and to institute meaningful economic pressures. They’ll soon be needed anyway as China emulates the west in its hunt for resources in Africa.

The Tibetan response? Seems sort of Ghandian to me. Blood largely on the faces of fellows in long robes and sandals.

But, then, perhaps your news sources are better than mine (which have been kept in the dark in recent weeks).

Postscript on the environment:

Originally posted by Wilf Day:

If I was in China, and people in Canada asked me "why do you not conserve energy more, or use solar power or wind power, and cut back on your use of fossil fuels?" I think I would try to answer politely, but it might be hard.

I would answer that the central government has greatly increased its committment to the environment since the early 1990s by legislating an impressive regulatory framework to protect the environment and that its implementation is mostly dependent on provinical and local governments, that Wen Jiabao recently admitted that what his government, and its predecessors, has legislated is still not enough to protect the environment, and that the central government has initiated projects to rejuvenate grasslands and forests. I would admit that more needs to be done such as clarity and public input in the decision-making process regarding environmental policy at each level of government.
I would speak about the public education campaigns initiated by NGOs and government-regulated environmental groups.
I would finish by saying that it takes time.
I would not answer from within an oppositional frame of mind by summarizing the environmental damage caused by industrialization in Canada. That position is outdated, unproductive and, at this point in the history of China's natural environment, hypocritical.

Again, you employ the relativism of the scholar, but I believe we need to take positions and action, ASAP, given our new, necessarily supranational understanding of Homo sapiens place in nature, without borders, in situ.

Wilf Day

quote:


Originally posted by Liang Jiajie:
[b]the concern of pollution among policymakers rises in proportion to the level of pollution in their localities provided that the locality has reached a good level of development. The other conclusion is that policymakers in less developed areas are more reluctant to implement environmental regulation if it will hinder economic development.[/b]

Which would surely be true the world over. Those who prattle about "the mysterious Orient" should consider this obvious point.

However, it is interesting that Yanqi Tong seems to have found some policymakers satisfied that their locality "has reached a good level of development." My quick impression was that all localities are ambitious for a lot higher level of development. But I didn't see any northern cities like Shenyang or Harbin. Have they really reached the point where pollution is more important than development?

quote:

Originally posted by Liang Jiajie:
[b]How would you characterize the Chinese presence in Tibet? How would you characterize the response of Tibetans to that presence?[/b]

My impression is that all the noise has been made by the "Tibetan government in exile" and those living in western countries who have links to it. I can understand the feelings of those who fled Tibet in 1959 and their descendants, just as I understand the feelings of Kashmiri Muslims, Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and any other group that has been fighting a losing battle since 1947 or 1959. But I have no real evidence that a large number of current residents of Tibet share those feelings. I would guess that current residents have different concerns: the influx of new residents, mainly Han Chinese, that came with the railway. This of course was predictable and inevitable, which is why China postponed building that railway for so long. I don't know whether anything can be done to improve that concern in the short run. I would guess that there is more discontent among Uighurs than among Tibetans in China.

All of which is written in ignorance, simply because you asked.

Liang Jiajie

quote:


Again, you employ the relativism of the scholar, but I believe we need to take positions and action, ASAP, given our new, necessarily supranational understanding of Homo sapiens place in nature, without borders, in situ.

My relativism is not merely bookish. It has also developed from my life experience and that of my family. It has been however tempered by a few absolutes to which I have subscribed for a long time, one of which is that there can be no economy without the natural environment. I therefore share and appreciate your sense of urgency, and I agree and support your call to encourage the government of China to participate wholeheartedly in international institutions designed to advance practical efforts to protect our natural environment. Even the central government shares some your sentiments.

But your position seems to assume that all conditions of life in the world are equal while they are not so. Our supranational absolutes could easily be applied if all the world's conditions were equal, but the governments of China and Canada face different barriers when planning and implementing their environmental policies, and I would argue that China has more barriers to overcome. Even those conditions within China are not equal. The central government is authoritarian, but it cannot control every member of the massive bureaucracy required to govern the world's largest population which has diverse local interests. It is therefore much more difficult to uniformely apply a policy across China when there is corruption and when some localities produce relatively no pollution but have no access to clean technology as they develop their local economies. The central government will have to partly rely on the importation of clean technology by foreign governments and private companies, a process that has already begun, to clean the environment and prevent more degradation. The effort and implementation cannot only come from the central government. Every level of government and every citizen must contribute. There is more work to be done in China than in Canada.

quote:

I would not answer from within an oppositional frame of mind by summarizing the environmental damage caused by industrialization in Canada. That position is outdated, unproductive and, at this point in the history of China's natural environment, hypocritical.

The central government's habit of deflecting foreign criticism regarding its policies suggested that two wrongs can make a right. It suggests that unchecked pollution from development in China is justified because pollution was also a part of Canada's economic development. I want to turn away from that. It is time to find as much common ground as we can while taking into account our real and practical differences.

quote:

My new, revised view of “legitimate” nationalisms does not encapsulate the violence that has been visited on the people of Tibet, or the program of emigration from east to west that will obviously end in the sort of balkanized settlement that has marked Europe and the middle east since 1919.

I have accepted as fact that the central government will not abandon Tibet. I have accepted as fact that the international community cannot, and is not capable, to force the central government to grant independence to Tibet. And I have accepted as a fact that most Chinese would not support a central government willing to succumb to international pressure on such an emotional issue. I therefore work with those assumptions while contemplating the Tibet question.

At the moment, it would be much more fruitful to lobby the central government to protect and encourage Tibetan culture. The immediate concern for those animated by this issue should be the sinonization of the economy of Tibet. One of the characteristics of the modern economy is that you must speak Mandarin to participate in it because its leaders and its majority are Han Chinese. This could compel Tibetans to relegate their languge to the private sphere, which has already begun, where it can petrify. It would be difficult to protect the language through literature because the resources to do so may be difficult to access. Implementing a policy that would permit access to the resources required for the protection and flourishing of Tibetan culture should not be a threat to the central government's interest in the region. At least this program of action would provide for the dignity that the flourishing of culture gives its people. In the long term, perhaps it would satisfy a significant enough segment of the Tibetan population that will remain nationalist but accept that Tibet is a part of China. A situation that should be acceptable to the central government.

[ 09 July 2008: Message edited by: Liang Jiajie ]

George Victor

Yes Wilf, no assumptions about mysterious east.

The concept "inscrutable" was laid to rest along with Charlie Chan in an earlier post. No heavy ethno stuff being traded in this thread. [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

George Victor

I am looking at a philosophical position in your last response that is new to me. I can see it now in your earlier postings.

Please give me an evening to mull over your response - chiefly to do with its sense of "inevitability". I'm quite floored.

The Chinese political situation is obviously much more complex than that of staid old Canada -but we would lose Alberta from confederation, and perhaps Saskatchewan and British Columbia as well i our central government in Ottawa again attempted to control the fossil fuel market and maintain reserves for our rainy future.

They (Alberta certainly) would become part of the great republic to the south in a heartbeat.

George

Wilf Day

quote:


Originally posted by Liang Jiajie:
[b]One of the characteristics of the modern economy is that you must speak Mandarin to participate in it because its leaders and its majority are Han Chinese. This could compel Tibetans to relegate their languge to the private sphere, which has already begun, where it can petrify.[/b]

Can you explore this further, please?

A lawyer from Shanghai tells me that the working language of court sittings in Shanghai is Wu. Not exactly "the private sphere." Of course everyone needs to speak Mandarin, but can also speak their local language, as I understand it.

Of course Shanghai has at least 13 million Wu-speakers, and there were[url=http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=wuu] 77,175,000 of them in 1984,[/url] says Ethnologue, in Shanghai, in Jiangsu and in Zhejiang. [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_%28linguistics%29]Wikipedia says it had at least 77 million speakers as of 1991:[/url]

quote:

making it the second most populous Chinese language after Mandarin, and the 10th most populous language in the world.

[url=http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=bod]But Central Tibetan had only 1,066,200 speakers in China (1990 census).[/url] So it might be a lot harder to keep it viable? But [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibetan_language]Wikipedia quotes a 2003 report that [/url]

quote:

none of the many recent studies of endangered languages deems Tibetan to be imperiled, and language maintenance among Tibetans contrasts with language loss even in the remote areas of Western states renowned for liberal policies ... claims that primary schools in Tibet teach putonghua are in error. Tibetan was the main language of instruction in 98% of TAR primary schools in 1996; today, putonghua is introduced in early grades only in urban schools ... Because less than four out of ten TAR Tibetans reach secondary school, primary school matters most for their cultural formation.

So it's not clear to me what is needed for Tibetan to survive.

George Victor

[QUOTE]"You tell them. Euro-centric ideas are all the planet needs." (end of quote).

Wish ideas had that impact.

This seems not a bad sentiment to use as a jumping off point for the thoughts that follow. In retrospect, I'm not sure that our "philosophies" are so much at variance (love to see something on Darwin) as explanations for changes occurring in both of our societies. We're far from the end of history, hopefully.

Well, let me see how it looks on the screen:

I’m going to pose this all as a rather large - and probably unfair - question: Which approach or understanding, yours or mine, is most likely to arrive at a solution to this world-encompassing problem, which, to me, boils down to the creation of a human society that can survive its collective effect on nature (environment, ecosystems). Differences in levels of development and scale aside, what philosophical position must underpin any reform action?

Turning in desperation to my “The Oxford Companion to Philosophy” (Ted Honderich, ed.) I read: “Chinese philosophy. Philosophical thought in China has a predominantly practical character, being motivated primarily by a concern with the ideal way of life for human beings and, for some schools of thought, also by a concern to maintain social and political order.”

There is far more about “reflectivity”, etc., and you may find it comically simplistic, simply another “western take on the east”, but that opening statement seems to be where you are “coming from” in our discussion so far.

And it invites the question: When you say we create our world, just where do “we” fit in. That is, I see “Darwin’s discovery”, Homo sapiens, as a species whose failure to recognize limitations has always been a result of hubris - but in the past we could fault the gods. And you don’t subscribe to “genesis” (above).

But, then, mustn’t we point out as the holders of wisdom (the old problem of the role of the - gasp, here goes that word - intelligentsia) that, before Chinese and Canadian there came just biological old “us”?

Perusing Jonathan Spence’s The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution, 1895-1980, we see, fundamentally, a list of people fitting that elite category, Mao, Zhou, etc., a list of well-to-do people who fought, really fought, for the material betterment of the common people. There is a picture of Mao Zedong’s first wife, Yang Kaihui, who was “arrested and shot in 1930”. Their two sons, a baby and a toddler, are in the picture.

And the people, who had little to lose, came out.

Today’s “revolutionary”, there and here, is faced with telling the commoner and elite alike that that material carrot of a better life means death of a habitable world. What a downer! And what a task it poses for they who want to mobilize for action!

Yesterday, the fellow who created Canada’s first mutual fund (1954) died, and was eulogized in our national newspapers as the one who opened up the investment world to our common man. And, of course, a “worker’s” investment in the market does conflict with Marx’s idea of class struggle.

A half-century after investing was made easy for us - possible for some - the political implications of this are still not understood. Capitalism remains “the enemy” for we of the left, here , but the 2001 Nobel Prize winner for economics can write in the same newspaper about market failure: “One senior Chinese official was quoted as saying that the problem was that the U.S. government should have done more to help low-income Americans with their housing.”

Now it’s not a people thing, it’s just bad economics.J

The economist, Joseph Stiglitz, says its just a failure of this economic aberration , neo-liberalism, a throwback to early 19th Century Britain.

“Neo-liberal market fundamentalism was always a political doctrine serving certain interests. It was never supported by economic theory. Nor, it should now be clear, is it supported by historical experience. Learning this lesson may be the silver lining in the cloud now handing over the global economy.”

Wise men, but for their ilk, in China or the U.S., environmental matters are still “externalities”. My, how nice it must be so see the world’s problems from the wrong end of a telescope. You just narrow the perspective to a dimension that is capable of solution by logico-scientific method.

James Lovelock found mainstream biology wanting because of an ever narrower disciplinary focus demanded by institutions of high learning. By making enough money from his scientific inventions (working for NASA and later) he could live and write independently, creating a new explanation for Earth’s current atmospheric temperature(s) and composition of atmospheric gases. And giving us the means to understand why we must reform.

In China, as here, the sky has to darken with effluent before the local higher life forms begin to agitate for action.

Canada’s best known political philosopher, Charles Taylor, who was once a student activist and member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the more fundamentally socialist predecessor to our New Democratic Party , wrote an important paper in 1974. I was a graduate student at U. of T. looking, unsuccessfully, for a way out of the economic growth dilemma.

The need for zero economic growth was last seriously debated in public then, and was laughed off the news pages with the onset of stagflation. But Taylor left a parting thought that I have clung to since. Perhaps, he wrote, all sides and viewpoints will coalesce when things become bad enough and the need for action is clear. We might then all row together in the spirit of Dunkirk (where a third of a million soldiers were taken off a French beach in spring of 1940 by a flotilla of pleasure craft that came out of every port and estuary of southern England’s coasts).

[ 10 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

[ 10 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

Liang Jiajie

quote:


Originally posted by Wilf Day:
[b]
Can you explore this further, please?
[/b]

The modern economy in Tibet was created by Han government workers and Sichuanese immigrants in search of opportunities for a better life. When I write modern economy, I refer to the many small businesses such as kioskes and restaurants and the companies that are part of the central government's development initiatives such as the construction of new infrastructure. Many of those businesses are owned by Sichuanese, particularly in Lhasa, and are often linked by familial relationships and friendships which has led to some city streets and blocs of cities to be dominated by Sichuanese businesses. So a pattern has developed where Sichuanese immigrants find work or start a small business with the support of family members or friends already established in Tibet without having to know Tibetan.

Also, the language of government is not Tibetan. Han government employees sent from the interior such as clerks, who must interact with the public, and teachers, who are there to increase the number of teacher, are not required to learn Tibetan, and the civil service examination emphasizes Mandarin.

The official curriculum states that Mandarin should be the language of instruction for all high school students but, as your source states, primary schools are not teaching enough Mandarin. (A situation that will change as more Han teachers settle in Tibet.) Moreover, that source claims that most Tibetan youths leave school before middle school, so not enough Tibetans are learning Mandarin, a situation that leaves them with poor prospects for a career in a new economy dominated by a foreign language and will demand more education from its workers in the future.

My concern is that Tibetans will be marginalized from the new economy and that their language is being placed on a course towards endangerment. A significant problem for us is that we do not have reliable statistics for the number of Han of have settled in Tibet, so it is difficult to quantify the situation.

Liang Jiajie

quote:


I’m going to pose this all as a rather large - and probably unfair - question: Which approach or understanding, yours or mine, is most likely to arrive at a solution to this world-encompassing problem, which, to me, boils down to the creation of a human society that can survive its collective effect on nature (environment, ecosystems). Differences in levels of development and scale aside, what philosophical position must underpin any reform action?

Turning in desperation to my “The Oxford Companion to Philosophy” (Ted Honderich, ed.) I read: “Chinese philosophy. Philosophical thought in China has a predominantly practical character, being motivated primarily by a concern with the ideal way of life for human beings and, for some schools of thought, also by a concern to maintain social and political order.”

There is far more about “reflectivity”, etc., and you may find it comically simplistic, simply another “western take on the east”, but that opening statement seems to be where you are “coming from” in our discussion so far.

And it invites the question: When you say we create our world, just where do “we” fit in. That is, I see “Darwin’s discovery”, Homo sapiens, as a species whose failure to recognize limitations has always been a result of hubris - but in the past we could fault the gods. And you don’t subscribe to “genesis” (above).


I think the hubris proceeded our perceived separation from our natural environment which began with agriculture and urbanization, but I think our ancestors had been aware of their limitations long after agriculture and urbanization began. They understood the fragility of crops and irrigation and they recognized that the natural environment dominated them despite their harnessing of, for example, water for irrigation. Perhaps the end of recognition began with mass industrialization where many of our ancestors no longer had to grow and hunt for food and fabricate their clothing. Most of what was needed to survive began to be done by others where our ancestors could not see them, a way of life that has become completely realized today for most of us.

I do not have a systematic philosophy to offer, but I think we should accept the following: 1) the natural environment mostly dominates and controls us 2) we may dominate and control some of our natural environment for survival provided that it is done sustainably 3) and we need the natural environment but it does not need us.

I have to respond to your second paragraph in the above quotation at a later time.

George Victor

Thank you. I look forward to your evaluation of that second paragraph.

I find that I am benefitting most from the clarity of your explanations of a proper position for Homo sapiens in relation to nature.
However, while a materialist position must begin with means of production, in a historical context, the sociiologist in me cries out for its expansion into the cultural events that parallel material "progress" (using the old Scottish assumption - and my own view of human progress until halfway through my life.For instance we began, early on, doing very painful things to other animals, four legged and two, to appease the gods that would guarantee good weather, fertility etc.?

Mark Twain was probably the earliest one over here (an early George Carlin, with whom he has been compared) to point to religious foibles, and the hypocrisy of Christian racism, before and after the U.S.Civil War.

I very seldom look at Time magazine, but came across the July 14 Canadian edition featuring the Annual Making of America Issue which, after several years of famous presidents, features Mark Twain: "How he changed the way we view politics, Why he was ahead of his time on race, What his writing can teach America today."

The essays on Twain are stunning, showing his travels around the world helped enlighten his world view.

But in addition, Time's Global Businesss section looks closely at attempts by the Sino-Japan Friendship Center for Environmental Protection, whose officials in Beijing are concerned with bringing Japanese technology to China. There are now 18 "model projects" in China, sponsored by this - obviously Japanese trade-centered - undertaking.

The comparative statistics: Japan produces eight times more GDP value per unit of energy consumed.

Now, if they can just break free of measuring "progress" in terms of GDP? [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

[ 11 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

Adam T

Some support for Gavin Menzies

[url=http://www.straight.com/article-152876/who-were-bcs-first-seafarers?#] Georgia Straight[/url]

Actually, Menzies is hardly mentioned at all, but:
1.They do criticize the criticism of him: "Menzies is a liar, they said. Worse, he’s a charlatan. What often got lost in the tirades against Menzies and his mistaken predecessor Heyerdahl—they did get important things wrong—was this increasingly accepted premise: early Asian and, perhaps, American peoples had been crossing the Pacific for centuries, perhaps for millennia, before Europeans appeared on the scene."

2.There is support for the idea of the 'increasingly accepted premise': "B.C. archaeologist George MacDonald, 70, director emeritus of the Bill Reid Foundation, is one of those who didn’t succumb to the scientific conceit of the Americas’ isolation from Asia. He has believed all along that Asian traders and ideas have come to these shores since… well, forever.

“It’s harder to explain why they did not come than why they did. The first emperor,” he says, referring to a different Chinese myth dating to 210 BC, “sent his fleet across the Pacific to find the ‘land of immortality’. Those ships disappeared. Then came Fu Sang. There had to be Chinese ships that came here!”

[ 11 July 2008: Message edited by: Adam T ]

Wilf Day

[url=http://www.southchinasea.org/docs/Asian%20maritime%20&%20trade%20chronol...'s a remarkable chronology of Asian maritime history to 1700 AD [/url]published by a maritime musuem in Kuala Lumpur. Although they note:

quote:

Not all of this information is reliable - but a few decades ago, perhaps very little of the early history would have been believed by the cynical and Euro-centric, and archaeological discoveries since then have so often validated or exceeded legend that we are not inclined to be too dismissive. There is an extraordinary volume of documentary evidence in Asian and Middle Eastern languages not directly accessible to us. Also, the combination of snippets of varying quality, and from different cultures, may sometimes build up to an overall impression more convincing than the individual parts.

Sources are of very variable quality - sometimes tertiary or even more distant from the first hand accounts, but we have tended to include interesting assertions, using the best references to hand, and allow the reader to discriminate.


It seems the Maritime Silk Route was quite important. I found this bit fascinating:

quote:

24 BCE: Augustus Caesar sent an army to capture Aden. Thereafter, the Romans opened sea routes to India, where they could buy Chinese silk, bypassing war-torn areas and diminishing the role of Persians and Arabs who previously dominated the trade.

early C1st CE: Strabo described the expansion of Asian trade under the Roman emperor Augustus (27BCE-14CE); previously 20 ships a year passed from the Red Sea into the Indian ocean; now ships were departing in convoys of 120 from the upper Red Sea port of Myos Hormos alone.

23 CE: Chinese emperor Wang Mang died, after amassing a vast percentage of the world's gold reserves - which caused disruption in Rome, where emperor Tiberius banned the wearing of silk. Tiberius is deemed to have been worried about the trade deficit and the outflow of hard currency.

Roman coin finds in India are predominantly in the south and suggest the use of an overland route from the Malabar to the Coromandel coast. The coins all have gold or silver content, and are predominantly from the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius (14-37 CE) - the two sound-money emperors. Fewer ships sailed around south India, but C1st Roman coins were found at Kadmat in the Lakshadweep islands.

Arikamedu near Pondicherry in southeast India was a thriving port, peaking in 23-96 CE (the Roman trade between 30 & 50 CE), and a permanent base for western merchants known in Indian literature as yavana.

c.45 CE: Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka visited Emperor Claudius in Rome. Trade subsequently improved.

52 CE: The Roman chronicler Pliny complained about India's trade surplus. He also described a kingdom in the south of Sri Lanka, probably Tissamaharama.

54-68 CE: The Roman emperor Nero debased the currency, which rapidly became unacceptable. Few Roman coins are found in India from Nero's reign onwards. Indian traders started to take more interest in opportunities to the east.


Americans wondering why their dollar's value is dropping should take note.

[ 11 July 2008: Message edited by: Wilf Day ]

George Victor

The 2,000-year-old "China syndrome" currency factor strikes again,aided by George "Nero" Bush, who isn't about to ban the importation of anything that might hurt his standing among Walmart consumers, his last bastion of electoral support. [img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img]

But then, who is going to do a Tiberius in the land of consumer/taxpayers ?
(I still think self image of the masses has a great deal to do with social change - or lack of it)!

Of course, Tiberius came out of the army and had the legions for support, so didn't have to give a damn about the masses - for whom old Nero fiddled. And John McCain was (is) a guy who might have that sort of military support...so...hmmmm.

[ 12 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

[ 12 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

Liang Jiajie

quote:


Originally posted by George Victor:
[b]Turning in desperation to my “The Oxford Companion to Philosophy” (Ted Honderich, ed.) I read: “Chinese philosophy. Philosophical thought in China has a predominantly practical character, being motivated primarily by a concern with the ideal way of life for human beings and, for some schools of thought, also by a concern to maintain social and political order.”

There is far more about “reflectivity”, etc., and you may find it comically simplistic, simply another “western take on the east”, but that opening statement seems to be where you are “coming from” in our discussion so far.
[/b]


So perhaps I have inherited Confucian principles which are operating at the level of the unconscious? I do not subcribe to Confucianism or any other ancient philosophy, but I accept that modern cultures often contain residual elements of their predecessors, and China is a very good example of that process.

Yes, social stability or order is very important in a society, especially if that society is preparing for change. If change is needed, stability is required because it provides the necessary conditions to start the process of renewal, a process that cannot be violent and sudden because it causes disruptions that often make life unworthy of living for too many except those leading the renewal. If their is a general consensus among a society's prominent leaders that a general renewal is necessary, or that a particular change should take place, the process of change should be prioritized so that the disruption is minimum. Prioritization is crucial because it compels activists to set realistic goals that each build a step towards the ultimate goal. This process strengthens a movement because each step of the process builds a section of a foundation on which the movement's inheritors can focus on immediate, attainable goals, thanks to their predecessors, and build their section of the foundation until one group of inheritors completes the new structure.

Consultation of opposing, viable viewpoints is another crucial element in this process so that uneducated and unthoughtful plans pressed and completed under coercion are avoided.

quote:

However, while a materialist position must begin with means of production, in a historical context, the sociiologist in me cries out for its expansion into the cultural events that parallel material "progress" (using the old Scottish assumption - and my own view of human progress until halfway through my life.For instance we began, early on, doing very painful things to other animals, four legged and two, to appease the gods that would guarantee good weather, fertility etc.?

I considered including religion in my previous post to you, but I lack detailed knowledge of the relationship between religions and nature, and theology in general, past and present. However, I think spirituality has an essential place in whatever philosophy of environment and theology is developed. In this regard, the indigenous religions of Canada may have something to teach us. Whatever theologies or philosophies are developed, it should be assumed that the environment educates us regarding our place on this planet and in the universe and that our planet is not a mere brutish transit station to a better place.

Wilf Day

China's leaders and the Internet, by Li Datong:[url=http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/china-s-leaders-and-the-internet] Hu Jintao has a "webchat" with members of the public[/url]

quote:

This was the first time that a senior party official had publicly engaged with internet users. There was no real substance to the online conversation, but it was symbolic: it showed that the party has finally and formally acknowledged that the internet is an important source of public information and opinion.

Indeed, there has been a sudden increase recently in the number of senior officials claiming to be regular net-surfers. Wen Jiabao says he goes online everyday; Hu Jintao himself said during his webchat that "through the web I want to know what netizens are thinking about and what their opinions are" and that "we pay great attention to suggestions and advice from our netizens".

As the nature of the technology makes control of the internet difficult, the net has became the most effective arena for the Chinese public to comment on national affairs.

This freedom is now under threat. China has established a huge online police force, which patrols the net, issuing orders for removal of all information or opinions that it believes to be "harmful". The police do not have the resources to inspect all of the vast mass of online information, so they make use of modern technology which will not allow posts containing "sensitive" words to be published. The list of sensitive words changes constantly, and posts containing the words are automatically blocked. Hu Jintao is probably not aware that his own name is often classified as sensitive.

The government has also employed large numbers of "internet commentators": people who pose as ordinary internet users and post comments aimed at "guiding public opinion". These people are paid per post, earning themselves the nickname "the fifty-cent party."

. . the people who chatted to Hu Jintao were in fact stooges. Hu himself was tricked by the internet police, and only saw two or three sycophantic questions from planted sources. I have seen many of the questions from internet users that did not reach Hu, and can confirm that many contain sharp criticism. These questions represent true public opinion, but did Hu ever get to see them? I strongly doubt it.

As soon as local officials hear that national leaders are coming to visit, they carefully plan every last detail of the trip. They make sure that all locals are singing from the same song-sheet, and sometimes officials even camouflage themselves as members of the public.

Almost every member of the current leadership has been tricked in this way. The only way around it is to unleash "surprise attacks". Wen Jiabao has been known to tell drivers that he needs to use the toilet so that he can be let out of the car and walk to poverty-stricken villages which have had no time to prepare for his visit.

If the government gave the media the right to report and investigate effectively, leaders could read the truth in the newspapers while sitting in their offices. This would be far easier and more accurate than making hurried trips to areas where a veil of obfuscation is drawn over the truth.

For China's leaders to go from seeing the internet as a dangerous "unstable element" which needs to be tightly controlled, to seeing it as a source of truthful information on public opinion, is a form of progress. But there is a paradox here: leaders are aware that a clear understanding of public opinion improves their legitimacy, while at the same time their own censorship departments are twisting or shutting out true public opinion. If this paradox is not reolved, the authorities will never really know what the public thinks, and will become an object of public ridicule again and again.


Adam T

quote:


Originally posted by George Victor:
Turning in desperation to my “The Oxford Companion to Philosophy” (Ted Honderich, ed.) I read: “Chinese philosophy. Philosophical thought in China has a predominantly practical character, being motivated primarily by a concern with the ideal way of life for human beings and, for some schools of thought, also by a concern to maintain social and political order.”

This isn't an area I'm an expert on (not that I'm really an expert on China at all) but there clearly were a number of philosophical/religious factions that veered off into the mystic. I'm not quite sure what happened, but after Taoism mixed with Buddhism some of the adherents became fixated on the Jade Record, which has major parallels with the western ideas of heaven and hell and devils and gods.

That said, and again I'm not 100% sure of all this, the Taoist religion maybe isn't the same as Taoist philosophy.

There were also a number of what are known as 'millenarial movements' in China that started off as kind of religious cults and ended up trying to overthrow the government. The most famous of these were the Taoist influenced White Lotus socieities and the Biblical influenced Taiping Rebellion. Of course, part of this is due to China, as we see from Tibet, not being solely a homogenous country made up of Han Chinese, but a multi ethnic country with (now) Tibetans, Hakka Chinese (who were the major faction in the Taiping Rebellion), Muslims up primarily in the North West, Mongols, and presumably as well now converted Christians, Buddhists and probably several more.

So, it would probably be accurate to say that Confucian (and Legalist) ideas and ideals were a major influence on all the Han Chinese, but it should be remembered that at the time of Confucious (5th Century B.C) neither Tibet nor what is now Northwestern China were part of what was then China. It would I think make sense to assume that Confucian Legalist ideals had less of an impact in those areas.

[ 12 July 2008: Message edited by: Adam T ]

George Victor

Mornin' Wilf

I wonder at the use of "paradox", a term from literary evaluation to describe police action by the state to end open discussion. The word is often associated with accidental and means for me a more subtle distinction.

Even the Marxist idea of "contradiction" suggests a more subtle understanding of two things in opposition, intentionally or not.

Paradox does not describe a sort of Goebbels gone IT situation (although, of course, his would have been only a 1984, one-way device).

[ 13 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

George Victor

H'lo Adam T

Your scholarly input continues to be instructive.Thanks.

What I'm hunting around for in that Oxford companion right now is a reply to Jiajie that can perhaps give a name to a philosophy we perhaps share - but which has been buried at this end under the less than subtle, all-encompassing name, humanism (right next to our friend David Hume oddly enough, or paradoxically)!

Liang Jiajie

quote:


Originally posted by George Victor:
[b]

What I'm hunting around for in that Oxford companion right now is a reply to Jiajie that can perhaps give a name to a philosophy we perhaps share - but which has been buried at this end under the less than subtle, all-encompassing name, humanism (right next to our friend David Hume oddly enough, or paradoxically)![/b]


I simply considered myself a realist.

George Victor

Ah.

But that also smacks of fatalist. And I wonder if that really fits?

It certainly does NOT describe the position, philosophy, worldview or whatever of those in power at ANY time, eh? (Just had to add that little Canadianism at the end for a light touch to a very serious subject).

George Victor

A bit of history and a position:

If Rachel Carson had not written her 1962 work, Silent Spring, she would have been acting as a realist, accepting the effect of industrialization, chemical invention in the pay of that industrialization, and simple population growth as inevitable.

Her instant following of thousands and even millions also did not accept the situation.

Just finished reading a piece in our absolutely necessary national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, about the production of Agent Orange in the late 60s at a little chemical plant just a few kilometers from where I’m writing. The waste destroyed the groundwater sources for the town of Elmira, and folks came to my water bottling operation (the first in the region) for help. One of them told me of a conversation some time earlier with the widow of the plant manager responsible, Louis Klink. Old Louis, it turned out, was afraid of not being able to retire on the income he expected if he had complained to the board.

It had seemed to me that a correspondence course in water chemistry would pay off by the late 80s, having read Carson 25 years before - and I had sampled industrial effluent for the first Pollution Probe in 1970. Acting responsibly with realistic expectations - that’s the hard part. Oh, and yes, we produced only the 18 liter , returnable bottle. Still great to avoid the swimming pool effect of chlorine in drinking water as well as biological bits, despite the possible ramifications of drinking water from #7 plastic. Should be healthier bottles available soon (we live in hope).

I’m afraid most educated people go “realist” out of a desire to feed their family and themselves and out of concern for their old age. Heck, university students today can get worked up about control of the operations at their school’s pub, but the days when two busloads would come from that institution (University of Waterloo) to help editorial staff on strike picket a newspaper in Peterborough are history.

Silent Spring brought focus and a scientific explanation to all those whose experience of their natural world was being changed, degraded by the inroads of the productive system that had brought a plethora of consumer goods to the post-war citizen. Even poor old Malcolm Lowry (Under the Volcano) ruminated about the replacement of God by the American washing machine, from the isolation of his Vancouver area beach just after the war (Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place).

Obviously, the hold of “materialism” broke the old mould in the western, liberal understanding of the word, a turning away from the ideational world with its roots in religion - and governance aided by the mindless suppression of thought among the masses. At least, that how I’ve always read the thoughts of everyone from Marx to Mao on the subject of subjugation. In praxis, enlightenment seems to be more useful before the revolution than after.

Unfortunately, Canada’s famous philosopher is quite Hegelian and religious, and although he is active politically as a progressive (60 years) - like his onetime CCF fellow sympathizer and prime minister in the making, the late Pierre Trudeau - can marvelously summarize our environmental dilemma, has “contributed to the theory of responsibility”, and posed the timing of a solution, he sharply criticizes “naturalism”. I’ve tried reading his work, but am not up to the mental footwork, need it partly digested.

By the way, Taylor was one of two eminent and learned people who toured Quebec recently to listen to complaints about the inroads, not of materialism but of multiculturalist (my American spell check won’t accept that word!) inroads in the province. You may well be very aware of the fellow through your own studies?

Anyway, that’s what “realist” means to me. Avoidance of responsibility, finally. And I still don’t believe you fit that category of thought.

Anyone who is worried about the future “too much” and identifies with nature instead of creatons of the mind, fits the category of naturalism, which is where I’m at, I guess. Thought you might have fit in there also.

[ 13 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

Wilf Day

quote:


Originally posted by Liang Jiajie:
[b]Another factor in the formulation of environmental policy is the authoritarian nature of the central and provincial governments. There is an environmental movement in China, but it's practically non-existent in the consultation and formulation of policy, therefore its role is limited to public education. Policy is directed by the bureaucratic elite which must simultaneously consider economic development and environmental protection.

The central government is authoritarian, but it cannot control every member of the massive bureaucracy required to govern the world's largest population which has diverse local interests. It is therefore much more difficult to uniformely apply a policy across China when there is corruption and when some localities produce relatively no pollution but have no access to clean technology as they develop their local economies. The central government will have to partly rely on the importation of clean technology by foreign governments and private companies, a process that has already begun, to clean the environment and prevent more degradation. The effort and implementation cannot only come from the central government. Every level of government and every citizen must contribute.

I have also learned that societies will always have segments that will resist change but that change eventually occurs when people realize that it is either necessary or inevitable, when the conscious or unconscious preferences of the masses dictate to the powerful or, better, steamroll over them.[/b]


I am very interested in local and regional government in China. If even provincial governments are too remote and unaccountable, change will start at the local and regional level. This has often been the case in many cultures.

So let's look at[url=http://nanjing.jiangsu.net/] Nбnjīng. [/url]I realize Nбnjīng (Nan = southern, Jing = capital) has been the educational center in southern China for more than 1700 years, but most Canadians know nothing about it. (I just learned Xi River is the oldest man-made canal in the world, constructed before 484 B.C.)

Nбnjīng Shм is what Canadians would call a Regional Government or Regional District, which is often translated as a "prefecture-level city" although prefecture-level cities are so large that they are not cities in the traditional sense of the word at all. The whole province of Jiangsu has only 13 prefecture-level regions.

[url=http://harrysworldatlas.blogspot.com/2007/01/china-cn-jiangsu-province-n... The Region contains the Nбnjīng metropolitan area and 2 counties. [/url]It has an area of 6 501 square kilometers and a population of 6 126 165 in the 2000 census.

At the next lower level,[url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanjing] it is divided into 11 urban county-level districts ("qū") [/url]which Canadians might call "boroughs" or "cities," as well as the two counties ("xiаn").

At the lowest level, in the "city" of Nбnjīng the 11 urban districts are further divided into 57 "street committees" ("shмchщ") which Canadians might call "neighbourhood councils", 9 urban townships ("zhиn"), and about 46 various other subdivisions. The two counties comprise 17 satellite towns ("zhиn", also translated as urban townships.) The total Nбnjīng region has 129 "township-level units" including the street committees.

As I understand it, those "township-level units" have contested elections, making their councils somewhat accountable. Deputies to people's congresses of township-level units are elected directly by their constituencies to five-year terms. Does this also apply to people's congresses of the next level, the 11 urban county-level districts ("qū") and the two counties?

And how much power does the Jiangsu CPC Party Chief have over the party chiefs at the Region (Shм), the middle level (qū and xiаn), and the lowest level?

Are decisions like building[url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanjing_Metro] Nбnjīng Metro Line 2 [/url]taken at the Region (Shм) level, or the provincial level?

Nбnjīng Region runs right up to Zhenjiang Region, the prefecture-level region to the east which has 2 841 856 people. It also abuts on the southeast Changzhou Region (population 3 776 270) and on the northeast Yangzhou Region (population 4 588 554). It also runs up to Mǎ'ānshān Region in Ānhuī province (pop. 1,243,900.) Do each of these regions have their own daily newspapers? (I don't know any way to hold a level of government accountable without a daily newspaper reporting on it.)

[ 13 July 2008: Message edited by: Wilf Day ]

George Victor

Four summers ago, during a federal election, I wrote a column for The Record, a subsidiary of Torstar, one of Canada's big newspaper chains, that began: "If a working democracy is founded on an enlightened electorate, we are in big trouble."
The article was headed "An uninformed electorate is a dangerous thing."

It ran, in 2004, but the current editorial staff would never allow its publication.

Its theme was the political ignorance of the electorate in the middle of a federal election in which the media were egging on voters to be angry, but not informing them about the choices they had.

That paper no longer allows such self-critical assessment, its opinion page sanitized. Our "democratic freedoms" have retreated, even as the newspaper becomes, editorially, a staunch proponent of conservative values, opposed to government intervention. It is reacting to the need for more income - trying to attract more advertising, reflecting the capitalist malady, sharpened in this age of proletarian investots, of an insatiable need for improvements in the bottom line.

The post-modern distaste for history or anything outside of consumerism and contemporary mass communications is now acceptable opinion.

But it is still a far cry from the situation reported by Geoffrey York, a Globe and Mail correspondent in Beijing, reporting on July 7: "Although foreign journalists are often obstructed or pressured, the controls on the Chinese media are much stricter. The government sends weekly faxes to Chinese media outlets, announcing the laest restrictions on their coverage, the report (by Human Rights Watch) says.

"And at China's state television network, the computer terminals of all journalists are linked to an electronic system that tells them the latest decrees on issues that they are prohibited from covering."

God (that mythical creature) knows where the mind of the average Chinese citizen is "at", these days. But I would think not open to ideas about a growing environmental threat to the life of our species. Perhaps only at the pathetic level of understanding of George W. Bush some years ago?

But perhaps you do not know, really, about the level of thinking of the mainstream citizen of China, Jiajie, the potential for change? It is obviously more difficult to categorize 1.3 billion people in attempting to speculate on where we have to go next, politically, to improve chances of our success at survival?

All talk of confidence, ultimately, in the ability of "the people" to make the right decision, aside?

[ 15 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

[ 15 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

[ 16 July 2008: Message edited by: George Victor ]

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