Britain and Canada

From Maclean’s Magazine:

We should celebrate Canada’s British influence, not denounce it

Don’t send laudable British legacies such as free economies, free peoples and intellectual freedom down the ‘memory hole’, writes Mark Milke

Five years ago, when I visited Hong Kong on think tank business, almost every politician, civil servant and business person I met emphasized two priorities vis-à-vis the regime in Beijing: How they in Hong Kong wished to retain capitalism and the rule of law.

The comments stood out because I’d never heard a Canadian civil servant or politician express such sentiments. But I recall them now for another reason: Because British influence mattered and positively so, not only in Hong Kong but, I would assert, in Canada.

For Hong Kong, the desire to retain the rule of law and free enterprise are utterly understandable today to anyone who looks across the territories’ border to the crony capitalism and politicized courts in China proper.

But the mostly beneficial British presence between 1841 and 1997 is also worth recalling given what Hong Kong escaped under British governance: China’s turmoil, civil war, communist insurrection and then murderous Mao-Tse Tung policies. In short, the population of Hong Kong was spared the worst excesses of what twentieth-century China endured while the United Kingdom governed the territory and until July 1, 1997.

By coincidence, July 1 was not only the 20th anniversary of the British handover of Hong Kong to China but was, of course, the 150th anniversary of Confederation in Canada. Regrettably, there was a plethora of hand-wringing commentary that doubted and outright damned Canada’s birthday as not worth celebrating. I take a very different view: That Canada and her British heritage are infinitely valuable and worth every birthday candle that can be lit.

Be it Hong Kong or Canada, three British influences should be recalled and celebrated: The emphasis on free economies, free peoples and intellectual freedom.

Read the whole thing.

Happy New Year!

Chinese New Year, that is. This is Year of the Rooster. You’re probably familiar with the paper placemats in Chinese restaurants that detail the signs of the Chinese zodiac (Tiger, Rat, Boar, Horse, etc.), and the characteristics of people born under each one. I always wondered whether actual Chinese people paid attention to this, but I was pleased to discover, when I visited that vast and fascinating country, that yes, they do. As it happens 2005* was also year of the rooster, and in June of that year I was fortunate to participate in a Fulbright-Hays Faculty Development Seminar in China, which explored the impact of the Great Western Development Program on China’s ethnic minorities. I remember seeing roosters everywhere, and I managed to acquire a set of paper cut-out roosters as a souvenir. Here are some of them:

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According to Wikipedia, there is a further cycle of the five elements (water, wood, fire, earth, and metal), so the whole zodiac takes sixty years to complete. The year 2017 is Fire Rooster, and people born this year are “trustworthy, with a strong sense of timekeeping and responsibility at work.” Apparently a rooster’s lucky numbers are 5, 7, and 8, lucky colors are gold, brown and yellow, and lucky flowers are gladiola and (appropriately enough) cockscomb.

By the way, if you are interested, I have added an essay about my time in China to a tab above.

* Or, technically, February 9, 2005 to January 28, 2006. If your birthday is in January or early February, you have to make sure that you were actually born in your putative year. Certain websites can help you out.

Pinyin

From the BBC, via Instapundit:

China’s Zhou Youguang, father of Pinyin writing system, dies aged 111

Chinese linguist Zhou Youguang, who created the writing system that turns Chinese characters into words using letters from the Roman alphabet, has died aged 111.

Mr Zhou and a Communist party committee spent three years developing the Pinyin system in the 1950s.

It changed the way the language was taught and helped raise literacy rates.

Mr Zhou, who was born in 1906 during the Qing Dynasty, later became a fierce critic of China’s communist rulers.

He died in Beijing on Saturday a day after his birthday, Chinese media reported.

As a young man Mr Zhou spent time in the US and worked as a Wall Street banker.

He returned to China after the communist victory in 1949 and was put in charge of creating a new writing system using the Roman alphabet.

“We spent three years developing Pinyin. People made fun of us, joking that it had taken us a long time to deal with just 26 letters,” he told the BBC in 2012.

Before Pinyin was developed, 85% of Chinese people could not read, now almost all can.

Pinyin has since become the most commonly used system globally, although some Chinese communities – particularly in Hong Kong and Taiwan – continue to use alternatives.

It is also widely used to type Chinese characters on computers and smartphones, leading some to fear it could end up replacing Chinese characters altogether.

The achievement protected Mr Zhou from some of the persecution that took place under former leader Mao Zedong.

However, he was later sent to the countryside for re-education during Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

In his later years he became strongly critical of the Chinese authorities and wrote a number of books, most of which were banned.

In a 2011 interview with NPR he said he hoped he would live long enough to see the Chinese authorities admit that the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989 had been a mistake.

He said ordinary people no longer believed in the Communist Party, and that the vast majority of Chinese intellectuals were in favour of democracy.

Interesting. I’m surprised that a Wall Street banker would find employment with the Chinese Communist Party but stranger things have happened. But why did the CCP want to come up with a new system of Romanization? What was wrong with the earlier Wade-Giles system (apart from the fact that it was produced by westerners)? Pinyin isn’t entirely accurate itself – but nothing can be, given that certain sounds in Mandarin simply don’t exist in English or other European languages.

Some Links

• From TheProvince.com: Evidence that Greeks settled in China in the 200s BC and may have helped to construct the Terra Cotta Army.

• From Curbed.com: “Definitive proof that no one did costume parties like the Bauhaus”

• From the Telegraph: “The Norman Conquest was a disaster for England. We should celebrate Naseby, not Hastings”

China as an Empire of the Mind

Courtesy Tim Furnish, who is teaching for Reinhardt this semester, an interesting article by T. Greer on The Scholar’s Stage:

One of the more interesting unsolved puzzles of world history is why the region of the world now known as “China” has spent most of the last millennium united under one political regime, while all other centers of civilization, be they in Europe, the Near East, or the great Indic river basins, passed their days divided. Some push the unity of “Inner China” (modern China sans Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan) back even further than this, and speak of a single Chinese empire stretching back to the beginnings of antiquity. This is not warranted. While inner China was united under one political regime several times in the first millennium, it was just as often divided between many warring nations and claimants. Were world historians writing their tomes in the 4th century AD, they would conclude that China was a land just as prone to division as Europe. In the millennium that preceded the Sui Dynasty’s conquest of Inner China, the Chinese world had spent more centuries divided than united.

Things did not stay this way. In 581 AD he Sui Dynasty brought all of inner China brought under one regime’s control for the second time. Over the centuries this feat that would be repeated by the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, andQing in turn. Western history has no parallels to this. There was only ever one Roman Empire. Once it fell, no caliphate has ever matched the glories of the Umayyads.

Explanations for China’s peculiar path are many. Some of these theories are more popular than others. The most popular is that Chinese unity was a product of Chinese geography. I debunked that notion in one of the more popular posts on this website. Read that post here, if you are interested; I will not retread that argument in this post. Here I want to tackle another common explanation for Chinese unity: China persisted through the centuries, this theory goes, because the idea of China as a unified empire persisted through all that time as well.

Read the whole thing to discover why Greer disagrees with this theory.

Cultural Revolution

Presumably this is the “30% wrong” part of Mao’s legacy. From the National Post:

Cultural Revolution was a big mistake, official Chinese media reaffirm, as 50th anniversary passes

BEIJING — China’s official media reaffirmed on Tuesday the Communist Party’s longstanding judgment that the Cultural Revolution was a catastrophic mistake after staying silent on Monday’s 50th anniversary of the start of the decade-long upheaval.

The official party mouthpiece People’s Daily published an opinion piece on its website precisely at midnight on Tuesday unequivocally praising the 1981 party resolution that condemned the bloody political movement launched by Mao Zedong to enforce a radical egalitarianism.

“Our party has long taken a solemn attitude toward bravely admitting, correctly analyzing and firmly correcting the mistakes of our leadership figures,” the piece read.

The party has long suppressed open discussion of the tumultuous period, fearing that could undermine its legitimacy to rule and lead to direct criticism of Mao, the founder of the communist state who remains a revered figure.

So political observers have been closely observing the party leadership’s attitude toward the milestone as a bellwether of the country’s ideological direction. No official commemorations have been held, although some Mao loyalists have staged private events.

You Say You Want A Revolution…

In preparation for our discussion of Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro’s Son of the Revolution in History 306 on Tuesday, I’m pleased to discover that Stefan Landsberger’s collection of Chinese propaganda posters is still up, on a new site. Here is one from the heyday of the Mao cult:

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“The sunlight of Mao Zedong Thought illuminates the road of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” Reproduced by permission of Marien van der Heijden of Chineseposters.net.

Another artifact from the Cultural Revolution, one that Mr. Liang himself amassed a collection of: the Chairman Mao badge. A representative sample of these may be seen at Maozhang.net. When I visited China in 2005 one could buy them here and there, although my hunch is that most of them didn’t actually date from the Cultural Revolution. Still, they made good souvenirs, and I acquired a number as gifts for people in North America. Here are a couple I kept for myself:

MaoButtons

And if you’re going to be buying Mao stuff, how can you not pick up a Little Red Book?

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Now, as everyone knows, China is not really Communist anymore, even though the CCP jealously retains its grip on power. Deng Xiaoping (d. 1997) was the figure largely responsible for steering the Chinese economy away from its Maoist shackles and replicating some of the success of Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Mao, however, remains a revered figure; his disastrous policies (like the Cultural Revolution and especially the Great Leap Forward) are explained away with the party-line fact that “Mao was 70% right and 30% wrong.” Thus, the series of currency notes released in 1999 featured a portrait of Mao on all denominations! Here is one left over from my trip:

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(One woman suggested that this was a sop to old people who felt betrayed by China’s current direction. Nineteen ninety-nine also marked the fiftieth anniversary of the declaration of the People’s Republic of China.)

Other appearances of the Great Helmsman include:

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Mao’s portrait on the Tiananmen Gate, where he proclaimed the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.

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A line of people waiting to be admitted to Mao’s Mausoleum in Tiananmen Square.

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Poster of Mao (accompanied by posters of Stalin, Lenin, and Marx) in a bookstore window, Beijing.

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Statue of Mao in Kashgar, Xinjaing Province.