Foreign Elements: a guest post by Alec Ash

December 11, 2013

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Photo by Eelco Florijn. The picture was taken in Kham, Tibet, at the Dongdola pass.

There have been expats in China since the first Jesuit missionaries started arriving in the 16th century. But what characterizes the hundreds of thousands of Westerners who call China home today? And what are the challenges and identity issues that they face?

Tom Carter, originally from San Francisco, has been living in China for a decade. He did a well received book of photography [China: Portrait of a People] based on trekking 35,000 miles through 33 provinces for two years. More recently he edited a collection of true stories from expat China called Unsavory Elements, which has generated both praise and controversy.

I sat down with him over lunch in Shanghai, and followed up with questions over email, to dig deeper.

Alec Ash [AA]: Why did you feel there was a need for a collection of stories and anecdotes by Westerners living in China? What is it about that experience that interests you?

Tom Carter [TC]: It was a project whose time had come. The past decade has seen an unprecedented number of new books and novels about China, but aside from a handful of mass-market memoirs there was nothing definitive about its expatriate culture. As an editor and avid reader, I had this grand vision of an epic collection of true short stories from a variety of voices that takes the reader on a long, turbulent arc through the entire lifetime of an expat – bursting with ephemera and memories from abroad. That’s how Unsavory Elements was conceived.

Of course, the landscape of China in 2013 is vastly different than 2008 – generally considered the new golden age for laowai (foreigners) – and virtually unrecognizable from 2004, which is when I first arrived. Such rapid changes are the subject of just about every book on China these days. But swapping stories with other backpackers I bumped into on the road while photographing my first book, I noticed that there was something profound about our experiences and adventures – the tales we told might just as well have occurred in the 1960s or even the 1860s. And that’s when it struck me: the more China changes the more it stays the same. So I wanted to switch up the trends of this genre and feature stories that were not only timely but timeless.

AA: But how has the foreigner community in China changed over the past decades? Do you feel there’s anything Westerners in China have in common, among all the diverse reasons that people have to end up here?

TC: Expatriates in China are certainly a motley crew. I’ve lived and traveled extensively across many countries in the world, but none seem to have attracted such a diverse crowd as China, this eclectic mix of businessmen and backpackers, expense-account expats and economic refugees. It really could be the 1800s all over again, like some scene out of James Clavell’s novel Tai-Pan [about the aftermath of the Opium War] except now with neon lights and designer clothes. What we’ve seen this past decade surrounding the Beijing Olympics is history repeating itself. The Western businessmen who have come and gone these past ten years during the rise of China’s economy are the exact same class of capitalists who populated Shanghai and Hong Kong in the 1800s. They’ve come to make their fortunes and then get out – which is what we are witnessing with the recent expat exodus [now that China’s economy shows signs of faltering].

The darker side of China’s history also seems to be repeating itself. The Communist-conducted purges of “foreign devils” and foreign-owned enterprises that occurred in the Cultural Revolution are happening all over again – perhaps not as violently (with the exception of the looting of Japanese businesses during the Diaoyu Islands dispute in 2012) but certainly with as much vitriol. There was last year’s poster depicting a fist smashing down on the characters for “foreigner” and various video footage (possibly staged) of foreigners behaving badly, used to justify their Strike Hard crackdowns [against foreigners in China with black market visas]. The title Unsavory Elements is a playful homage to Communist terminology. To be sure, China has a love-hate relationship with outsiders – our success and our status here rises and falls on the whims of the government. In spite of this, as many foreigners continue to arrive in China as leave (or are expelled). So what do we all have in common? If nothing else, a degree of masochism.

AA: And how, if at all, does living in China long-term change you?

TC: I expect it’s tempered me, much like in metallurgy, from the constant pounding and heating and cooling and reheating of my patience. Suan tian ku la (sour sweet bitter spicy) is an old Chinese adage, and this country definitely serves up its share. But it hasn’t been easy to swallow. Westerners tend to arrive in China a bit hot-headed, and we’ve all had our explosive moments: with the taxi driver who runs his meter fast or takes us the long way, at a train ticket office jostling with queue jumpers, due to endless red tape, or when you are ripped off by your business partners.

Few foreign writers ever admit to having these moments so I encouraged my anthology contributors to be more forthcoming about their darker feelings – seeing red, so to speak. Alan Paul, writing in the book about a stressful family road trip across Sichuan, has a line: “I stood there bitterly looking down into that hole, silently damning New China’s incessant construction.” I can relate to that every time I hear a jackhammer. Even the famously mild-mannered Peter Hessler confesses in his essay to going ballistic with his fists on a thief he catches in his hotel room. I’ve been there as well, taking out all my pent-up frustrations on some poor pickpocket who wasn’t quick enough to escape the reach of this 6’4” foreign devil. I expect that having had my patience tried so often here has forged me into a calmer, more levelheaded person than the clenched-fisted, teeth-gnashing, Thundarr the Barbarian in Beijing I arrived as.

AA: A foreigner also has special status and perks from being in China – for instance, they always stand out, whereas back home they’re just another face in the crowd.

TC: Special status, yes, but not in the way it’s been mythologized. Sure, in the countryside it’s nice to be invited in for tea by villagers who’ve never encountered a Westerner before, but in Shanghai you’re bumped into and cut in front of and run over by cars like any other laobaixing or common person. That oft-eulogized “rock star status” was more of a vague concept that the Chinese used to have about the West – the branded clothing, the rebellious music, the casual sex. But actually there’s nothing special about being gawked at, openly talked about and cheated because it’s assumed that you’re wealthy. And there’s certainly nothing special about the hell-like bureaucracy foreigners are burdened with, or not having access to basic public services like hospitals, schools and even hotels, or the frequent suspicions that the government casts over us.

In fact, in just the past five years following the global recession of 2008 – during which nearly every world economy collapsed except for China’s – our collective esteem in the eyes of the Chinese has plummeted from superstar status to that of some invasive species, a metaphor which the environment journalist Jonathan Watts also makes in the book, comparing non-indigenous plants with foreigners. And there’s a wholesale fumigation of Western corporations [that exploit China’s low labor costs], which the Communist government now considers a threat, like the imperialist military incursions of centuries past. They want and need our business, but they are no longer going to make it easy for us. As a result, the Xi Jinping administration is coming down hard on foreign firms that have historically gotten away with shady practices like price fixing, influence buying and general non-compliance.

AA: Do you think it’s hard to adjust to life back home if you return? With no cheap taxis, eating out, cleaners, massages…

TC: I honestly couldn’t tell you. I’ve only been back to the States once in nearly a decade; China is “home” now. I’m not that laowai who skips out on China when it’s convenient, or because living here is no longer convenient. I’m also not that Westerner who has a driver or only takes taxis – I ride public transportation and my rusty trusty 40-year-old 40-kilogram Flying Pigeon bike. Nor do I hire old ayis [housekeepers] to do my dirty work – my wife and I raise our child ourselves, make our own meals, and clean our home ourselves. I can just hear all the gasps from colonialist-minded “enclave expats” who could never conceive a life in Asia without servants.

I did live in Japan for a year after four straight years in China, and found the orderliness and politeness and emotionlessness of it all quite difficult to adjust to. So I spent the following year wandering around India, which provided me with a much-needed dose of dust and disorder. After that I returned to China and for the following few years lived in my wife’s native farming village in rural Jiangsu province. That to me was like an epiphany, as if I had finally found home. But for my wife – who in her youth had strived to escape the countryside and eventually made her way up to Beijing, where we met – it was coming full circle back to where she started. So now we divide our time between Jiangsu and Shanghai, which I guess gives each of us the best of both worlds.

AA: I’ve had friends who went back home after living in China, but missed the excitement and buzz so much they couldn’t help but come back. Is China a drug?

TC: I should first disclaim that the Ministry of Public Security takes drug dealing in China very seriously, as Dominic Stevenson, who wrote about his two-year incarceration in a Chinese prison for dealing hash, can attest. But I’d venture to say that, like any drug, it depends entirely on the user’s own state of mind. If we’re making metaphors, for old China hands I’d imagine their time here draws parallels with the soaring euphoria and bleak depths of smoking opium, while China for the uninitiated is probably a bit like bath salts: the constantly convulsing nervous system, the paranoia, the god-complex, the rage.

I’d liken my own China experience to a decade-long acid trip. It began with liberating my mind from the restraints of Western society. Then I departed on an odyssey that took me tens of thousands of miles across China, experiencing various metaphysical and spiritual states as my journey progressed, punctuated by periods of intense creativity due to my heightened sensory perceptions. To a background score of warped erhu and guzheng [classical Chinese instruments], and the looped calls of sidewalk vendors echoing into the void, the kaleidoscopic chaos of this culture surged around me like the Yangtze river – in outer space. Now I’m one with China’s cosmic consciousness. I want to reeducate the communists with love. Or maybe I’m not even here. Maybe I really did perish during my Kora around Mount Kailash and none of this ever happened …

AA: Ground control to Major Tom. Your own story in the book is about a visit to a brothel with two lecherous laowai. How representative do you feel that this kind of foreigner in China is, especially those who come to try and pick up Chinese girls?

TC: It’s been fascinating for me to see how much polemic this single story has stirred. I kind of knew I’d be martyring myself when I decided to include my account of a boy’s night out at a brothel in the anthology instead of, say, a story about my marriage in a rural village, or about delivering our firstborn son at a public People’s hospital in the countryside. My publisher, Graham Earnshaw, even tried to warn me about the inevitable ire that would follow and suggested I pull the piece for my own well-being. His forecast was unfortunately accurate. Immediately following a Time Out review that dedicated most of its page space to criticizing my brothel story, certain women’s reading groups called for my arrest and deportation from China because, they said, I “patronized teenaged prostitutes”.              

And yet, the story has received as much praise as it has hate. An equal number of readers seem to find it refreshing that a foreigner is finally writing about experiences many single males in the Orient have had but never dared admit – especially not in print. And considering the Party’s penchant for keeping extensive dossiers on Chinese and foreigners alike, I can understand their reticence. But I can’t help but consider as downright disingenuous the glaring omissions of any situation involving prostitution – an impossible-to-overlook trade found in nearly every neighborhood in every city and town – by certain best-selling Western authors in China. Do they not consider the women of this profession worthy of writing about? Or are they simply lying?

I’m not saying I had some altruistic intention with my story – it was just an absurd situation that my friends and I got ourselves into that also happened to make for ribald writing. But the truth is, I conceptualized the entire anthology around that brothel incident, because I wanted to compile a collection of candid and truthful experiences that left nothing out, including visits to your neighborhood pink-lit hair salon. Only the discerning reader can tell you how representative it is of them, but maybe, nay, hopefully, my story will kick off a new era of honesty by Western writers in China. We’ll see.

This interview was first posted on Tumbler September 25, 2013 and on The Anthill.org September 26, 2013


Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Not Rule the World” – Part 12/12

December 8, 2011

Note from Blog host: Troy Parfitt’s closing statement of about 500 words appears first. To read Lloyd Lofthouse’s closing statement, you may have to scroll down this page.

Closing Statement [Parfitt]:

I would like to thank Tom Carter for suggesting and facilitating this debate. But most of all, I would like to thank Lloyd Lofthouse. True, this is his website, but Lloyd’s been key in getting this organized, and has been nothing but helpful, positive, and polite.

Between the episodes of verbal jousting, which hopefully have kept you interested and entertained, we’ve communicated amicably about China and related topics, which is great. Two literary publications have refused to review my book, one citing arrogance, the other controversy and bigotry. It’s a sign of the times (you have total intellectual freedom to say anything you want, except things people don’t want to hear), so good on Lloyd for being so tolerant of someone like me, whose views on China have little overlap with his.

China is a complicated subject, and because debate about it is so divisive, it’s sometimes difficult for people with only a casual interest to sort fact from fiction. To come to any kind of understanding, you’ve got to spend a lot of time reading about China, and it helps enormously to understand Mandarin and travel or live there.

The West has some serious problems; it always has and it always will. Somber problems are normal for human societies; we’re a troubled species. In light of Western inadequacy and hypocrisy, it’s tempting to see China as a land of answers and alternatives. China can appear as the great Other: the feminine to the West’s masculine; grace to aggression; cultivation to calculation. But that’s a romanticized construct located in the recesses of the Western psyche, with little basis in reality.

That’s not to say China isn’t a noteworthy subject; it’s a fascinating one. Nevertheless, determined and altruistic cadres, heroic Communist leaders, an overriding system of guanxi, a citizenry instilled with the wisdom and morality of Confucianism, a harmonious society, a glorious past, and a mission to help neighboring states, are concepts that exist largely in people’s imaginations. They are myths, both Chinese and Western, that mainly block the view.

People like myths; they’re easy to latch on to; easy to remember; they cover up what isn’t flattering; they justify, and can make you feel good. But they won’t bring anyone closer to understanding what China is, how it got that way, and where it might be headed. To do that, one needs to research, observe, and apply critical thinking. Counter evidence cannot be denied, dubious sources should be treated as such, and a sense of fairness must always be employed. Once you’ve got a working theory about China, its nature, and so on, you must test that hypothesis constantly; that’s how you’ll discover the wonderful and terrible truth.

Again, I’d like to thank Tom and Lloyd for setting this debate up. It was good for me to defend and reflect on my ideas, and China is such an important topic; debate about it is crucial.

Thank you very much.

Troy Parfitt

Closing Statement [Lofthouse]:

In the prologue of Lin Yutang’s My Country and My People, the author says few in the West understand the Chinese and their culture. He writes, “It is difficult to deny the Old China Hand (Note—foreigners that lived or are still living in China) the right to write books and articles about China…”

Lin Yutang says that only one in ten thousand of these “Old China Hands” understands China, while the other 9,999 results in a “constant, unintelligent elaboration of the Chinaman”. He mentions Sir Robert Hart and Bertrand Russell as examples of the few that understand China.

At the urging of Pearl S. Buck, “My Country and My People” was written and then published in 1935 and what Lin Yutang wrote then is still relevant today.

Pearl S. Buck writes in the book’s Introduction that when China was “not able to meet the dangerous and aggressive modernity of the West… They forced out of existence the old dynastic rule, they changed with incredible speed the system of education, and with indefatigable zeal they planned and set up a scheme of modern government”.

This metamorphosis of China that we have witnessed in the last few decades has almost eradicated severe poverty from more than 70% in 1949 to 2.5% of the population today in addition to the growth of a modern, Western style urban consumer middle class that is still a work in progress. This transformation took a literacy rate of 20% in 1976 and increased it to more than 90% today.

In 1949, we witnessed an element of that transformation as Mao declared war on Confucianism and then again as the age of Mao gave way to Deng Xiaoping’s “Getting Rich is Glorious” era, which turned China into the world’s factory floor. Then in 1982, China wrote a new constitution and started a process to reinvent its legal system to be more Western in its structure and laws.

I thank Mr. Troy Parfitt for his participating in this debate. However, he is not a Sir Robert Hart or Bertrand Russell.

In Part 1, he claimed that “face” was a license to behave however one pleases, which is not the case.

He then inferred that because Jonathan Spence never mentions Mao’s war on Confucianism in his biography of Mao that it never happened.

Yet, Henry Kissinger in On China made it clear that Mao was passionately and publicly anti-Confucian. Zhou Enlai even told Kissinger that Confucianism was a doctrine of class oppression.

Parfitt’s “gossip” includes his opinion of “Confucianism”, “face”, “Guanxi”, the “Mandate of Heaven”, corruption in China, and Mao being a monster that deliberately caused millions of deaths from a famine, which took place during the Great Leap Forward in a few of China’s provinces.

As Lin Yutang says, “It is difficult to deny the “Old China Hand” the right to write books and articles about China… Nevertheless, such books and articles must necessarily remain on the level of the gossip along the world’s longest bar.”

Return to the Discussion with Troy Parfitt – Part 11, author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas“, or start with Part 1.

See Discovering Intellectual Dishonesty – Part 1

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Not Rule the World” – Part 11/12

December 7, 2011

Tenth Question [Parfitt]:

What’s your take on Chinese education?

Answer [Lofthouse]:

China faces many challenges educating its youth. The Compulsory Education law took effect in 1986. In addition, because urban teachers continue to earn more than their rural counterparts do and because academic standards in the countryside are lower, it remains difficult to recruit teachers for rural areas, so China faces an acute shortage of qualified teachers.

It didn’t help that during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the education system was gutted and literacy dropped to 20%.  However, today, literacy is above 90% and improving.

After Mao’s death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping enacted gradual reforms that included not only the economy but education. One of the first changes was to get rid of Mao’s Little Red Book that inflamed a generation of radical youths during the Cultural Revolution.  Today, dogmatic Party slogans have no place in China’s classrooms.

While Chinese education stood still for twenty-seven years under Mao, Western educational science evolved emphasizing critical thinking and problem solving skills over rote learning, and now China is learning those methods and introducing them slowly as teachers are trained.

One component of change sees hundreds of thousands of university students earning degrees in America and other Western nations and then taking that knowledge back to China. In fact, many children of China’s top leaders are attending universities in the West such as Harvard or Stanford.

The first schools to see changes were in Shanghai about 18 years ago, and the results were dramatic when fifteen-year-old Shanghai students took first place in every category in the 2009 international PISA test, which has components that test critical thinking and problem solving skills.

However, China’s central government was quick to announce that the rest of China would take about fifteen to twenty years to catch up to Shanghai.

I understand that over the doorway of classrooms in Shanghai are signs that says something like “there is more than one answers for each question” and the dogmatic methods used for centuries are being phased out as teachers are retrained but change is slow and the challenges many. Teaching an old dog new tricks is not easy.

Response [Parfitt]:

I taught in Taiwan, where, like China, schooling is test-based, geared toward entrance exams, and bolstered by rote memorization. School days are long (8 to 13 hours), homework received in heaps, and evenings, if free, filled with cram-school classes.

The goal is admission to National Taiwan University, nationally number 1. Globally, it has a Times Higher Education World University Ranking of 115.

In that index’s top 100, China has only 3 entries. Australia has 5, America 52. China’s flagship, Peking University, is ranked 37.

“More than one possible answer,” is great, but I wonder how China can transition to Western education without belittling Confucian principles. I also wonder about returning students, who sometimes find it difficult to assimilate after Western exposure. Returning scientists have said it’s most important to report what superiors want to hear, and that they are powerless to change things. Change requires freedom; freedom is impossible.

Final Word [Lofthouse]:

Most students in collective Confucian cultures have no problems learning from Western educational techniques while surviving the influence of Western values after returning home.

In Singapore, Confucian beliefs are so autocratic, parents face harsh penalties and jail time if a student’s schoolwork suffers. In addition, Singapore students face caning when breaking rules, yet fifteen-year-old students in Singapore placed fifth in the 2009 international PISA test.

In fact, among the top eleven nations that scored significantly above the OECD average in the PISA test, five were cultures influenced by Confucius.

Shanghai-China placed first, South Korea second, Hong Kong-China fourth, Singapore fifth and Japan eighth, while the US placed seventeenth.

In addition, the US may have 52 of the top 100 universities but 62% of foreign students attending US universities are from countries influenced by Confucius, and Doctoral-level institutions, for example, reported an increase of 130 percent, on average, in Chinese students.

Continued on December 8, 2011 in Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” – Part 12 or return to Part 10.

See Discovering Intellectual Dishonesty – Part 1

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Not Rule the World” – Part 10/12

December 6, 2011

Ninth Question [Lofthouse]:

What is your opinion on Tibet as part of China and how would you describe the Tibet issue?

Answer [Parfitt]:

Westerns tend to idealize Tibet and know little about its history or society. I wonder how many readers are aware, for example, that Tibet was invaded by Britain in 1903, with the British killing 3,000 Tibetans and sending the Dalai Lama fleeing to Mongolia.

Tibet remains an acutely backward society, filled with superstition, quackery, sorcery…. Until recently, mutilation was considered a valid punishment.

Tibetan history is riddled with violence; Tibet was once an ambitious military state. Tibetans often fought against, and defeated, the Chinese. They toppled China’s emperor in Xian in the eight century, illustrating that the mighty Han were really limp wristed. The Tibetans withdrew after the Chinese acknowledged the Sino-Tibetan border, etc., but the Chinese never forgot how the long-haired barbarians caused them to lose face. Revenge is such a potent element in Chinese culture; an ever-present theme.

Savage-brimming “borderlands,” like Mongolia, Tibet, and Taiwan would have to be Sinicized. Taiwan got away. Mongolia became a Soviet suzerainty in exchange for aid. Tibet, which had swapped its martial tradition for Buddhism, was ripe for the picking. With the Korean War, larger powers were distracted. There were several reasons for China’s invasion and annexation of Tibet, but the paramount one was revenge.

Chinese rule in Tibet vacillates between cultural suffocation and cultural genocide. Oh, and murder. It isn’t known how many Tibetans have died under Chinese occupation. Thousands, tens of thousands…. Nobody is sure, and estimates from Dharamsala have been unreliable. Tibetans are forced to sign conduct agreements; life in Lhasa is closely monitored by the police; there are informants, spies; Tibetans who aren’t deemed patriotic citizens are jailed, tortured…. It’s a shitty situation.

Probably the saddest part, beyond the death and repression, is that Western governments have been reluctant to act. UN resolutions are useless, too. The West criticizes China’s involvement in Africa, accusing the Chinese Communist Party of doing business with any two-bit thug-state, but China represents the biggest thug-state on Earth, only its leaders often wear nicer suits and have American PhDs.

For further reading, see Patrick French’s Tibet, Tibet and Ma Jian’s Stick Out Your Tongue.

Response [Lofthouse]:

In October 1885, Robert Hart wrote a letter to his London agent saying China did not want Tibet exposed to Western trade and influence.

Then in a 1903 letter, Hart mentioned the 2,000 British troops that invaded Tibet. Since China claimed Tibet as its territory, the British were warned to leave or risk war.

As for claims of cultural suffocation and genocide in today’s Tibet, anyone that reads the article in the October 1912 issue of National Geographic Magazine by a Chinese medical doctor sent to Tibet in 1907 would discover that Tibetans are better off today.

If Tibet returned to the situation Dr. Shaoching H. Chuan described in National Geographic [including many photos], it would be an inhuman act. Under the CCP, the quality of life in Tibet has improved dramatically from that feudal culture where 99% of the people were slaves to a dogmatic religion and rich landowners.

Final Word [Parfitt]:

Stick Out Your Tongue, which should erase any idealized notions of Tibet, was blasted by the CCP for failing to depict “the great strides the Tibetan people have made in building a united, prosperous, and civilized Socialist Tibet.”

Yes, China has made improvements in Tibet. Even the Dalai Lama admits this.

Still.

Canada is less advanced than America. Canadian news stories sometimes conclude: ‘Unlike the US, Canada doesn’t have a law/committee/policy/plan to deal with ‘subject.’ But I don’t think America should invade, force the government to London, destroy the hockey rinks, ban national institutions, torture new and ungrateful “American citizens,” or put them in front of firing squads – to rescue them from their own ignorance.

If China hadn’t invaded, Tibet might have gotten assistance from the West. But China’s concern about Western influence in Tibet was one reason it invaded.

It was not for Tibetans that China annexed Tibet.

Continued on December 7, 2011 in Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” – Part 11 or return to Part 9.

See Discovering Intellectual Dishonesty – Part 1

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Not Rule the World” – Part 9/12

December 5, 2011

Eighth Question [Parfitt]:

Martin Jacque’s When China Rules the World seems to speak to a contemporary belief that China has what it takes, not only to become a nation among nations, but to dominate in the 21st century and beyond. Do you think Jacques presents a solid case? Why or why not?

Answer [Lofthouse]:

Jacques bases his flawed theory on the fact that according to even the most conservative estimates, China will overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy by 2027 and will ascend to the position of world economic leader by 2050.

He then predicts that when China is the dominant power, it will make the rules and spread its values as the US has attempted since World War II.

However, China may learn from the West that attempting to spread its values to every section of the globe leads to failure and thus avoid what already happened to the British Empire.

For example, today, the US (like the British Empire) has fought a string of wars contributing to a national debt of more than $14 trillion.

In 2008 dollars, Korea (1950-1953) cost $320 billion; Vietnam (1965-1975) $686 billion; Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) $96 billion; Iraq (2003-present) $648 billion; Afghanistan (2001-present) $171 billion; and Operation Noble Eagle (2001-present) $33 billion.

To discover what China might do once it is the world’s economic leader, all one need do is learn what happened with Ancient China’s Armada, or read Henry Kissinger, who wrote that China does not claim its contemporary institutions are relevant outside China.

In addition, China may heed Amy Chua of Tiger Mother fame.  In World on Fire, Chua, a Yale Law Professor, makes a strong case that spreading the values of a super power to other countries only breeds ethnic hatred and global instability.

Then in Days of Empire, Chua examines the most powerful cultures in history—from the ancient empires of Persia and China to the recent global empires of England and the United States—and reveals the reasons behind their success, as well as the roots of their ultimate demise.

No, I doubt that China will attempt to rule the world.  Although one cannot predict with accuracy what the future might bring, if China’s leadership stays on course, it will be satisfied to achieve its goal of converting China to a consumer economy similar to the US with a middle class approaching 800 million people.

Response [Parfitt]:

I agree Jacque’s theory is wayward (an exercise in wishful thinking) and concur America has been involved in pointless and costly wars, but I don’t see how military campaigns are examples of America “attempting to spread its values.”

Nor do I see the relevance.

Amy Chua is eminently unintelligent and Henry Kissinger should be taken with a grain of salt. His claim regarding China’s lack of a claim that its institutions are relevant outside China constitutes a logical fallacy – ‘appeal to ignorance,’ which occurs when an arguer treats a dearth of evidence as reason to believe a claim is true or false. Whatever the Chinese claim (seldom where you’ll find the truth) they believe, wholeheartedly, that their culture, conventions, institutions, etc. are superior to all others. Chinese writer and critic Bo Yang said Chinese people believe their culture is “indestructible,” and cite the Sinicization of other nations as proof.

Final Word [Lofthouse]:

Parfitt claims “New York Times Bestseller” Amy Chua is “eminently unintelligent”.  However, “The Economist” selected “World on Fire” as one of the “Best Books of 2003″, while “The Guardian” said it was a “Top Political Read”.

More examples of America’s “attempt to spread its values” may be found in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and The Office of International Religious Freedom with its mission to promote religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy.

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and its amendment of 1999 mandates that nations that do not comply with these American values are subject to further actions, including economic sanctions.

As for Bo Yang’s opinion that China’s collective culture is “indestructible”, he is referring to the fact that other countries have been “strongly” influenced by Confucian humanistic values such as Korea, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Continued on December 6, 2011 in Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” – Part 10 or return to Part 8.

See Discovering Intellectual Dishonesty – Part 1

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Not Rule the World” – Part 8/12

December 4, 2011

Seventh Question [Lofthouse]:

How would you describe the differences between urban and rural China?

Answer [Parfitt]:

In some respects, urban-rural differences are not unlike those in North America. In others, they are profound. People are generally more sophisticated in Chinese cities, especially along the coast. I found country folk to be friendly (one family put me up for the night in their home in the middle of nowhere), but impoverished. I spent a day driving through the backwaters of agricultural Hunan and never saw a single piece of farming equipment. Something else that struck me was the voluminous countryside pollution, which some Chinese will tell you is mist or fog. Apparently, Chinese mist and fog smell like turpentine.

I’m aware that in some villages, Party officials listen to local concerns and try to make improvements, but there’s so much graft in this “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” that rural people regularly lose out. Sure, they can migrate to cities, but the hukou, or household registration, makes this illegal (China does not have mobility rights; the hukou creates a sort of caste system), and migrant workers are often discriminated against and denied state services.

Naturally, many of China’s peasants are not happy with their situation or local cadres. A lot of “mass incidents” – riots, protests, strikes – transpire in rural areas, and, from the Ministry of Public Security’s own admissions, we know these number in the tens of thousands per annum. And this is the flipside to China’s glorious development, its Tom Sawyer cleverness in turning itself into the world’s factory floor: farmers forced to irrigate crops from factory-poisoned rivers decide to complain one day and are rounded up, beaten up, locked up, tortured – perhaps in an illegal or “black jail.” This is what China has become. Cadres seize land, sell it to developers, force citizens out of their ancestral homes, pay them a pittance, and threaten them to shut up. Scenarios like this play out literally hundreds of times a day, and except for the occasional corrupt-official-show-trial-and-execution the people are the losers. What the Party calls socialism is really state-capitalism, kleptocracy, Orwellianism, and coercion.

“If there is hope,” wrote Orwell, “it lies in the proles.”

Here’s to hope.

Response [Lofthouse]:

Graft in China exists at the provincial and local level, but is not as bad as India where corruption/graft is estimated at about 50% of GDP and those living in poverty [more than ten times China] are worse off.

The hukou Parfitt describes exists but to understand why requires one to know China’s history before 1949 when life in rural China was worse.

David C. Schak’s paper on Poverty in China points out social unrest in rural China was also common during the 19th century, which had to do more with an unsustainable population than anything else did.

Schak says prior to 1949, marauding armies often confiscated crops and forcibly conscripted men leaving the peasants with no resources, and he describes factories hiring day laborers by throwing the number of tallies for the number of workers they wanted into the crowd of job seekers and letting them fight.

Final Word [Parfitt]:

Corruption in India isn’t germane to this debate.

A June 29, 2011 article in The Atlantic reports the People’s Bank of China announced “17,000 Communist Party members and state functionaries… illicitly obtained and… smuggled out of China… $124 billion from the mid-90s until 2008.”

One would hope that the CCP made rural life better. When it came to power (1949), things couldn’t have been much worse. China was broken, having experienced 22 years of warfare. This is part of what makes the Communists-as-heroes-of-the-people argument so weak; this, and the mayhem, murder, and neglect ushered in by Mao, whose desire to transform China into a socialist utopia resulted in a famine that caused the deaths of millions.

How anyone could purport to love China and its people, and downplay or deny such an event, as Mr. Lofthouse does on his site, is a grave insult to China and its people.  [Referring to Mao’s ‘alleged’ Guilt in the Land of Famines]

Continued on December 5, 2011 in Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” – Part 9 or return to Part 7.

See Discovering Intellectual Dishonesty – Part 1

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Not Rule the World” – Part 7/12

December 3, 2011

Sixth Question [Parfitt]:

Governments and human-rights groups have heaped criticism on China about human-rights issues. Is such criticism justified?

Answer [Lofthouse]:

No!

The evolution of human-rights is mostly a Western political phenomenon based on individualism dating back to the Greek City States hundreds of years before Christ and the Western Roman Empire (27 BC – 476 AD).

The timeline of the Ongoing Struggle for Human Rights in the West shows the first mention of an alleged human rights violation in China (according to Western values) was the 1989 (so-called) Tiananmen Square massacre.

However, you set the record straight on your Blog, June 4, 2011 in The Tiananmen Square Myth and I have written of this issue in  What is the Truth about Tiananmen Square? and The Tiananmen Square Hoax.

Examples of the slow progress of the evolution of human rights in the West may be seen in 1791 (fifteen years after the U.S. Declaration of Independence), when the U.S. Bill of Rights incorporated notions of freedom of speech, press, and fair trial into the new U.S. Constitution.

In fact, in 1920, the League of Nations Covenant required members to “endeavor to secure and maintain fair and humane conditions of labor for men, women and children,” but it took the US twenty-one more years before stricter laws banning the employment of underage children was declared constitutional in 1941 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Note, none of these early gains in the political arena of human rights took place in East Asia.

In addition, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) did not join the United Nations until 1971.

Since then, in human rights issues, the PRC has been increasingly successful at maintaining their positions. In 1995, they won 43 percent of the votes in the General Assembly; by 2006 they won 82 percent.

SFGate.com quoted Li Junru, deputy director of the China Society for Human Rights Studies,  who said, “Since China adopted [its] reform and opening-up policy in 1978, the country has witnessed the second great liberation of human rights, as…reform in [the] economy, technology, education, culture, (and) politics…”

Since all of East Asia including China are collective cultures, the face of human rights may not fit the West’s definition of it.

Response [Parfitt]:

China’s culture isn’t collective. China is fond of saying it’s collective, that’s its strength, and the West should take a lesson, but if there’s one overarching rule in the Chinese universe, it’s this: the more you hear something, the more you can be assume it to be untrue.

‘Collectivism’ is a euphemism for ‘subservience.’

The Foshan incident highlights China’s awful individualism; 20 people ignoring a small girl hit by a truck. Western individualism may be extreme, but Westerners can act collectively when it counts. They often assist people in crisis, for example.

Cultural moral relativism argues there is no absolute truth, and no matter how dreadful circumstances become, they are forever valid. Cultural moral relativism isn’t unlike Orwell’s doublethink: “to hold simultaneously two opinions that cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both; to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it.”

China’s human-rights: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China

Final Word [Lofthouse]:

Regarding collective cultures, ERIC.ed.gov, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U. S. Department of Education, offers a definitive definition.

ERIC says, “The remarkable differences between the East Asian cultures of China and Japan and the American culture make acculturation of East Asians into the mainstream of United States society extremely difficult.

“Characteristics of individualistic cultures include: the individual as an autonomous entity; egalitarianism; competitiveness; and self-reliance.

“Characteristics of collective cultures include: individuals as interdependent entities; hierarchism; cooperativeness; and self-denial (sacrificing one’s own desires or interests).”

In Litigation Nation, I explained why the behavior of a few individuals during the Foshan incident cannot be used to judge a nation.

A better example would be the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which affected almost 46 million Chinese in 10 provinces.

In Recovering from a Beating by Mother Nature, I compared China’s recovery to how America dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Continued on December 4, 2011 in Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” – Part 8 or return to Part 6.

See Discovering Intellectual Dishonesty – Part 1

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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