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Nov 20

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

The Other Side of China

Last week, I wrote about the sense of dynamism and opportunity in China that I felt during our Beijing Foo Camp earlier this month. All of the Chinese I met were wonderful to be with, and there wasn't a single sour note in my own experiences in Beijing, except for the pollution that I noted in that story.

But I also wanted to share some comments from various expats I met on my trip talking about some of the dark side of their experiences. I'm leaving off names, since I'm not sure that the people concerned would want to be quoted. These quotes are from several different people, with very different positions in the China market. A few were at the foo camp; others were not. They are from memory, and may not be exact.

  • "It's hard here. You get shoved, spit on. It's very much a "me first" culture, and if you don't fight for yourself, you get trampled. There are times I get back to the apartment from a long day outside, and I look in the refrigerator, and say 'We're out of milk.' But then I say, 'We don't really need milk. We can get by.' I just can't face going back out."

  • "I was riding my motorcycle one time when some kids ran out in the road. I swerved to a stop, just barely missing them. I was cussing and saying 'Didn't their mothers teach them to look before crossing the road?' My Chinese friend said, 'Isn't that the government's job?'" Wow -- that's a different sense of the responsibilities of family vs. government! And I will say that watching Chinese traffic is like watching a giant game of chicken, as bicycles routinely face down taxis and trucks. Everyone seems to have a deathwish -- and in fact, I'm told that the accident rate is astronomical, as everyone just tries to push by the next guy, regardless of the consequences.

  • "There's a tall building here with an observation deck. And on Sundays, the families come out to see the view. There are two types of family group: a group of three, and a group of seven. Remember there's a one-child per family policy. The group of three is a little girl with her parents. The group of seven is a little boy with his parents and both sets of grandparents. Every little boy is a prince, and there's this incredible pressure to perform. That's why I've had so much more success hiring women here."

I remember the last time the West had a love affair with China. Everyone was so idealistic about their turn towards the West and adoption of capitalism. And then the Tienanmen Square massacre happened. I'd just read Paul Theroux's book Riding the Iron Rooster, which told some very grim stories about a deep disregard for human life in China, and so I wasn't surprised.

And of course, it's worth noting that one of our friends in China told us that the average Chinese citizen believes that the Tienanmen Square massacre never happened. If they've heard of it at all, they believe it's western propaganda. And sources like the Wikipedia article about the event that I linked to above aren't available -- Wikipedia is blocked in China. (I also had frequent trouble getting to Google, though occasionally I got through -- and yesterday, I saw a slashdot story suggesting that China was throttling traffic to various western sites in order to help the local competitors.)

But one of the O'Reilly folks who attended the camp brought up another perspective:

"I was struck by the fact that the 'oppressed society' we hear discussed in our media is not how the general population feels. There is a true nationalistic "I love China" mentality. While they know their media is not free, they do not engage with that concept as a battle, rather it is an accepted reality. They joke about news channels going dark for a few minutes in the middle of a telecast but when I pushed they seem to believe they are "protected by the state".

In the grand scheme of things I have to admit I went to Beijing with preconceived notions based on our own media's positioning and bias. Yes, there are real limitations to freedom in China that we in the west consider oppressive, but the people are not oppressed. I found them engaged, smart and willing to help make a difference for their beloved nation.

I agree. Seeing what appeared to be "spin" in the China Daily, the English language paper handed out in our hotel, I was mindful of how much of what we read in our own papers is spin as well.

And to return to the feeling of optimism that I wrote about in my previous post, there were these comments as well:

  • "I love Beijing. It's the place to be right now. There's such a vibrant youth culture and the potential of this sleeping giant is incredible."

  • "There's more happening here right now than any other city in the world." (Spoken by a French art gallery owner now living in Beijing.)

  • "The training market is a huge opportunity waiting to happen. Government understands the need to educate and it's at the top of their priority list."

There's a way that China feels very familiar to Americans. The Chinese are very like us--competitive, outgoing, full of fun--and also sometimes brash and pushy, like us. But it's important to remember that they also have a different cultural history and values. There will be many surprises as the Chinese put their stamp on the world.

tags: china  | comments: 27   | Sphere It


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michael schrage   [11.20.07 11:31 AM]

yes - but what will the ratio of pleasant to unpleasant surprises be?

Mike   [11.20.07 11:42 AM]

Freedom is innate to the human condition - as such, it cannot be willingly given up, even by the individual. At least that is how I see it. The Chinese government is oppressive. State-controlled media is oppressive. The one child policy is oppressive. Teaching school children false history is oppressive.

Just because the citizenry wants the best for its country does not mean its country is not oppressive. People get locked up for disagreeing with the government. That is oppressive.

John Dowdell   [11.20.07 12:30 PM]

Thanks again for the write-up, Tim... appreciated.

Ditto the "very like us" observation -- I didn't see anything I don't see in San Francisco -- just a different blend, that's all. I found it much easier to share a smile with strangers in Beijing, but strangers treat each other better in traffic here. Different blend.

One other memory: the dawn raising of the flag at Tiananmen Square. Crowds of thousands coming from all over the country, to have their photo taken, to show that they were there at the heart. It was genuine.

A lot of us on this planet now do happen to have been born in China, in India, in Africa. That's reality. In the techblogs I often see a tendency to treat only urban US/EU as real... no dawn flag-raisings, true, just a slightly different blend.

Wai Yip Tung   [11.20.07 01:37 PM]

Right now the West have two opposing view of China. One is China as an enemy, an oppressive government full of hidden agendas to exploit the world and a threat to welfare that the West enjoyed historically. On the other side are people who are fascinated by the long and glorious history of China and are bullish that the industrious people will propel themselves to the center stage of the world. Obviously both side has elements of truth and neither of them have a complete picture. While I don't hold the negative view, I'd say there is merit on those views. Nor do I think people should idealize China because someday they will be disillusioned when they finally see China's limitation.

Having straddle different cultures myself I have formed some theory regarding these cross-cultural interaction. The opinion people make is often a reflection of themselves. A cynical person focus more on negative issues. An optimists focus more on the positive ones. I think the readers of Radar tend more to be optimists and thus will express more positive opinion than the general public.

An universalist see common value among people despite the outward difference. That's why Tim said "The Chinese are very like us". When one find such insight it can often strike a deep chord. I was so moved by Satyajit Ray's film Aparajito. As an urban kid, my life is as different from previous century's Bengali villagers as it can be. Yet I can totally connect the characters, especially with the scene when the mother reluctantly sent the boy off to city for education. There is a kind of love that is universal and transcend above superficial difference.

A discriminator (a poor term perhaps, I use it without any negative connotation) can sense a small difference between different cultures, like the motorcyclist's remark about "family vs. government". They often express frustrations because of the mismatch in people's thinking and expectation. But being discriminatory is not always a bad thing. Something the contrast leads to better self understanding. For example, this person may now realize in his culture the family plays a bigger role than the government, which is not necessary true in other country. This may never crossed his mind if not for this interaction.

These general ideas aside, I think it is extremely interesting to engage with China today because it is one culture undergoing a massive transformation, from impoverished to prosperity, from rural to urban, from isolated to connected. Not all thing in this transformation will be rosy. Nevertheless many new ideas will emerge and countless stories will need narration. I think this is an very interesting time in history.

Wai Yip Tung   [11.20.07 02:14 PM]

About Tienanmen Square massacre, I can fill in more details here. It is not that people deny it has ever happened. But they have a very different version of story. In 1989 there was a riot in Beijing that threatened the nation. It was a triumphant that the government has put down the unrest and restored the stability of the nation (and in doing so a small number of rioters are killed). This is the official propaganda. It may come as a shock to you that people believe in such a twisted story. But there are limited information source and propaganda can sound convincing.

Jonno   [11.20.07 02:18 PM]

Tim, the ones you may have met may not be oppressed but many are. Those who are religious (Christians, Buddhists, Muslims etc.) are oppressed and those who disagree with he government/party are oppressed.

I work with and have many Chinese friends. They, as you mentioned, did not know about the Tienanmen Square massacre before leaving the country.

Thomas Lord   [11.20.07 02:30 PM]

In the US, as little as 100 years ago, the very highest levels of jurisprudence had, for example, very little respect for the working conditions of laborers. Looking back at some of the decisions today, most of them would find some of the decisions clearly oppressive. There are lots of similar examples in US history.

We evolved away from those times with pain, but with pain limited to a few acute episodes. For example, the union movement provoked bloodshed, but it only took a few examples of that to provoke a widespread search for better alternatives. In the end, many labor issues were worked out in the civil sphere, rather than by physical confrontation.

That was able to happen in part for three important reasons: One, people had some vague but reasonable idea of what a better system might look like. Two, information travelled fairly freely, in spite of competing attempts to put propoganda spin on things. Freedom of association was the main guarantee of that spread of information, with press freedoms a close second but press freedoms were neither entirely necessary or sufficient on their own. Three, the relevant politicians, during this evolution, were in part beholden to the voters: an obligation that can be corrupted to an extent, but only to a certain extent. For example, violence against citizens (e.g., the McCarthy trials) can certainly occur to some extent but, in the end, the "have you no sense of decency" moment is sure to arrive.

China does not much enjoy a government that is beholden to citizens in an orderly way, nor a particularly free press, nor a robust freedom of association, nor a cultural image of a better life (other than a material ambition involving cars, and big houses, and nice TVs and so forth). A few decades ago, that was the origin of the "China Threat Theory": a powerful state so divorced from the interests of its people that it is likely to have power structures which will evolve chaotically and abruptly rather than than structures that will evolve smoothly towards a more prosperous future for all.

However, modern China looks different:

Free-er association and Free-er spread of information are an increasing fact in China and that trend is certain to continue. It is a strong side effect of modernization that the amount of communication and diversity of communication that goes on goes through explosive growth and slips well outside of government's capacity to fully regulate.

So, you might observe that many Chinese do not believe certain parts of well proved history to be true but: we are probably very close to the high-water mark and, in the future, not so many people will be "in the dark".

Or, you might observe that Chinese nationalism is an important part of the strength of China: but you should also notice that as information about China's history and situation becomes more clearly known, to more people, that this will add nuance to the average concept of what it means to be nationalistic in China.

Moreover, the Chinese government seems at least partly aware of all of this. For example, their technological measures for limiting Internet access are intrinsically elitist: the Chinese elite is unlikely to be much obstructed. And, related, the Chinese government seems to be making every effort to rapidly grow the size of that elite. And so, while I'm sure the discussions internal to Chinese government are not so simplistic, I wonder if we can't see the present moment as a kind of orderly, deliberately slow, liberalization of association and press in China.

If so, "as the news spreads," the revolutionary dynamic will be inevitably renewed: new shared visions for a fairer national structure will emerge, and the people will begin to find ways to demand this of their government. It doesn't look so far-fetched to me that, in effect, the current government is making many efforts to prepare to meet the newly awakening citizenry half-way and on orderly, peaceful terms (the clear alternative is uprisings!). (Note, I am not predicting the dissolution of Communist government in China: I'm guessing that there will be an increase in the level of participation *in* rather than *under* that government. I'm also most definitely not predicting a smooth, easy, peaceful evolution. I think they are making many obvious mistakes in every aspect of modernization (sorry) and that these are going to lead to painful steps in the evolution. I think the mistakes are the predictable consequence of being too controlling of the "group psychology" of the citzenry and too hubristic about the environment and therefore the government is failing to take sufficient risks accelerating the expansion of the elite and, meanwhile, salting the earth. With more elite (more "eyeballs" studying the "bugs" in the social structure) debugging will be much, much more efficient.)


Ullrich   [11.20.07 04:19 PM]

Thanks for sharing your views on China, Tim. I've been living in Shanghai now for about a year. The people I've been talking to (middle-class) are aware of what happened in 1989. They are aware that the Internet is censored, and a student of mine even showed me some clever ways to access Wikipedia.
What I find really sad is that they distrust their government they same way it distrust them. While looking at Pudong, the amazing new district of Shanghai, I asked a friend whether he felt proud when he sees the skyscrapers. No, he said, what he sees is that rich people got richer.

mage ringlerun   [11.20.07 05:59 PM]

and why do people keep saying China will be huge? They are thinking about nothing but the financial component and assuming that it will permeate the culture as well... sure, many people view financial success and production as important... but the only thing dominating "importance" it is not!

as a classic example... the USA might be financially great... but what do most people think of the US:
* arrogant, ignorant, loud and completely completely irreverant to the environment and human life

Zach   [11.20.07 06:54 PM]

I've been living on the Tibetan plateau for about a year and half. Here are some comments I've heard in the past few days from Tibetan acquaintances, most translated from Tibetan. For context, recall that that the Dalai Lama recently received the Congressional Medal of Honor with President Bush personally residing over the ceremony, something that's made China very unhappy. I hope the world understands the gravity of what is happening in China's present day Tibet.

"The military showed up at our monastery a few days ago and forced each monk to denounce the Dalai Lama and affirm that China and Tibet are one nation. Those who refuse were told they would be sent to prison."
"In Lhasa [the historic capital of Tibet], there's an unofficial rule that if you hit a monk with your car you only have to pay 2000 yuan as a penalty."
"Any Tibetan who goes to India in the near future will not be permitted to return to Tibet. Any Tibetans in India now will not be permitted to return."
"Adults must submit in writing their travel history to the local police. They want to know who has been visiting that exile Tibetan community in India."
"Children are no longer permitted to become monks before they are 18. This is a new Chinese rule. We are ignoring this when officials are not around."
"We asked our lama how we should respond to officials when they ask us to denounce the Dalai Lama. He said don't either denounce him or not. So we said 'We denounce violence, lying, and non-virtue.'"
"The government is no longer permitting our annual community Buddhist ceremonies."
"Many people are saying the past few weeks are the beginning of a new Cultural Revolution in Tibet."
"Look at all the military personnel in Dardo. They are everywhere."
"They threatened to close the schools that Rinpoche started. If it wasn't for the people saying how important the schools are they would have been closed. Now the government says the school must have a Chinese principal."
"We are hearing a repetition of Mao's 'religion is poison' from the Chinese."
"We have no freedom."

Tibet is on the "other side" of China, both in space and otherwise. The amount of racism from the Chinese against Tibetans is astonishing. Literacy requirements in Tibetan schools entail knowing Chinese entirely and merely the 30 letters of the Tibetan alphabet. Tibetans are made to feel their country and lifestyle are backwards and that they are unintelligent and dirty. While on the face of things the government expresses the importance of preserving and promoting the integrity of all its "minority" groups, there are strong, systematic efforts to coerce people into adopting Han ways of seeing and doing things.

Further, Tibetan areas have essentially become welfare states. Every year the amount of subsidies for development in Tibetan areas increases while the revenue coming out of these areas appears to be decreasing. People are becoming almost entirely economically dependent on the PRC and not acquiring skills that help them actively take control of their own local economies. The majority who do make money in Tibet are Chinese entrepreneurs involved in tourism and mining. The extensive amount of the latter has visibly left scars across the Tibetan landscape and decimated the health of Tibet's rivers with silt accumulations.

Sure, there are a positive things happening in Tibet. However, these are harder to see when the government is so aggressively attempting to suppress any strong feelings of Tibetan identity or nationality. Perhaps unlike many in Han areas who do not have clear knowledge of Tiannamen, in addition to the injustices they feel today, most people here do remember hard times and oppression of the past. Like Hans and Americans, Tibetans too are full of fun, outgoing, and sometimes brash. Unlike the Hans though, what Tibetans do not have is any assurance that, in spite of the lack of freedoms, the system can or will ever work out in their favor.

Douglas   [11.20.07 07:56 PM]

Appreciated you discuss what China looks like,though, how divided these comments are.

Thijs   [11.20.07 10:57 PM]

Tim. You obviously invite the wrong set of people to your excellent events. If people are expecting Western values in a Eastern, semi-communist, third-world country, they should have stayed at home. Sure, there are many things both pleasant and unpleasant about living and working in China. But the interaction between different cultures and bridging those gaps should be something you look forward to.

Richard Smith   [11.20.07 11:29 PM]

Having just returned from Beijing myself I can relate to many of your comments. I had a devil of a time getting gmail to work, it was consistently hijacked - a router or dns-based highjacking, and quite sophisticated, as it resisted almost all of my efforts to go around it (it finally succumbed to me installing google toolbar and then invoking the more complex URL that the toolbar issued). The hijack went to "baidu" the google competitor.

More seriously, I can also affirm that the "fatigue" of doing daily things can build up, especially among westerners. Life isn't easy there, for anyone. Curiously, this is combined with the verve and excitement of a "happening" place. Perhaps it isn't so much due to spitting and shoving as it is just the fatigue felt in any huge city.

Speaking of spitting and shoving, compared to ten years ago the spitting is down considerably and the shoving - I think - is not as bad if you realize that most of it is not as aggressive/ill-mannered as you imagine it to be. Most of the aggressiveness is imputed by westerners, who would find shoving, at home, to be very bad manners. In a giant crowded city, however, it is more of a survival thing and quite often it is completely benign (as on a bus or subway) and people are just edging past you, a little more closely than you are used to but with no ill intent. At the same time, they will creep in front of you in a line (as in the lines to buy a ticket or a food item on the street), and that is a little harder to take...

One thing I try to keep in mind when I am there is that most people my age (I am 48) who are still alive in China (and of course there are millions who didn't make it) have survived multiple perilous revolutions, abrupt changes in political correctness, and quite possibly starvation or near starvation. Under those circumstances, what kind of person would I be? Would I put such a high value on "politeness"?

Olivo   [11.21.07 02:01 AM]

Why should it be surprising that a Chinese defends his government in front of a foreigner? If an Italian tells you about the Italian government, he will be unable to utter a good thing. However, if an American criticizes the same government, the Italian will defend it strenuously. I've certainly observed Americans doing the same. Why should it be any different for the Chinese?

It is however true that, as you point out, Asian systems of values are very different. I wonder how many of us comprehend the real extent of these differences. In my experience Asians (not only the Chinese) are often willing to accept limitations that seem very restrictive to Westerners, in exchange for "returns" which are important to them- financial security, for example. Although to us (perhaps to Europeans even more than to Americans) these compromises seems morally unacceptable, many Chinese can't even begin to understand where our problem is.

I've met Westerners who arrive in Asia thinking that the only reason Asians compromise their political privileges is because they are ignorant or ill-informed. After a brief attempt at "educating the locals", they realize that trade-offs are often deliberate or, at least, thought to be the least of possible evils.

It is somewhat limiting to restrict our observations of these differences to political and economic choices. Equally surprising perspectives can emerge when we analyze inter-cultural differences on, say, romantic love, marriage, physical closeness, sense of humour, and so on. I believe that it is only by taking this broader perspective that we can hope to lessen our biases.

Alex Tolley   [11.21.07 07:07 AM]

The Chinese emigrants to the US bring their "my nation is great" attitude with them and deliberately avoid learning about the the not so great history that mars this vision. Don't forget that China will at some point annex Taiwan, oppressing that population that has experienced greater freedoms than the mainland.

Tim O'Reilly   [11.21.07 08:54 AM]


First off, these comments weren't necessarily from people at my event. Secondly, though, they were presented as "the other side" -- they were just random comments that I picked out as interesting, as a counterpoint to the overwhelmingly positive and exciting comments I heard (and from the same people.)

You make it sound like some kind of weakness to have perspective, rather than just be an unabashed booster.

Bob   [11.21.07 09:26 AM]

Funny comments from Western. As a Chinese who has been living in Canada for almost 5 years, what I can say is that : Before you say anything about China, please, please read some books about Chinese history and its cultural system, especially its value system. And plese stop thinking these world with only one value (say, human right which is defined by Western value and religious tradition). Just give you an example, in Chinese history, we have thousands of GODs in our religious system living together peacfully and they all have there own roles. All religions had a good life in China unitl Western's invasion with Christian. But in Western, you think only one God can exist in this world, that's how you bring wars with Muslims. We are more flexible than Western. For example, our Communist party can do capitalism today. It's just a name. What's the matter!

And for the Taiwan and Tiebet comments. Soo Funny, anyway, What I would say is : Read book. Read that history and get to know what was the role of CIA and US in these issues.

Tim O'Reilly   [11.21.07 10:33 AM]

Bob --

Thanks for your comment. While many people may take issue with your idea that Western values are really only one option out of many, you're right. That was one of the things I had half articulated in my mind that I didn't really get out in the piece.

Civilizations differ. Rome was once the greatest civilization on earth, but thought nothing of having people kill each other for sport.

Great revolutions in civilization are complex. The renaissance took place at the same time as the Inquisition -- and in his own lifetime, someone like Botticelli swung from being a leader in the new opening of the arts, the painter of the Birth of Venus, to being a follower of Savonarola!

And civilizations change. Islam was once the most tolerant of religions, now everyone thinks of it as intolerant. Christianity has a tradition of incredible cruelty and intolerance side by side with its "golden rule."

China might become the dominant civilization of the twenty-first century. Many westerners naively assume that if that happens, it will be because they become "like us." But in fact, China will have its own take on what it means to be a modern nation, and will change the world in the same way that America did.

America is very different from Europe, despite all that we have in common. China is very different from both, again, despite all we have in common.

I like your comments about the different kinds of flexibility in the Chinese mind.

Tim O'Reilly   [11.21.07 10:43 AM]

Olivo -- great comment. I particularly liked this bit, which echoes things that I heard as well:

"In my experience Asians (not only the Chinese) are often willing to accept limitations that seem very restrictive to Westerners, in exchange for "returns" which are important to them- financial security, for example. Although to us (perhaps to Europeans even more than to Americans) these compromises seems morally unacceptable, many Chinese can't even begin to understand where our problem is."

I note from your email address (which is visible to me in the admin interface to the blog) that you're living in Singapore -- which is, of course, another country where people have made some of these tradeoffs, and seem relatively happy with the results.

Richard -- great comments as well. Good point about what people have survived. Again, that was a point that was made by a couple of the people I talked with. It's something I should have gotten into the post.

Simone Brunozzi   [11.21.07 12:21 PM]

Tim, you hit the point: China is crazy, and its growth is both insane and insanely competitive.
That's the main reason, I think, the party is still trying to resist democracy, to avoid civil wars and street fights everywhere.
It is also very true that Asians accept limitations better than Europeans, expecially in exchange of financial security.

I really hope that those facts will change in the future, and that asians, and chinese, will be able to live in a more "nice" world.

Andrew Russell   [11.21.07 03:40 PM]

The fact that China becomes a super power is an interesting one, a commenter above talks about Money, and they were right, it isn't just about money.
It is going to be culture, westerners will learn and absorb and start to understand some parts to the Chinese culture, we have already learnt a little and we will continue to learn a lot more as China becomes more important to us. Every question session at Seminars about the Long Now has a question 'And how does that relate to China'.
In terms of weight of influence, currently the US is the centre of gravity, the pendulum will start to swing towards china, by any measure it deserves international top-billing.
China will need to transform itself and avoid revolution, famine, fragmentation and lots more serious challenges that are heading towards it like a freight train. I have no idea how the China of 2017 will look, but I know it will be severely different.
I fear the worst and hope for the best.
I have more at stake than most, now that I have irrevocably tied my interests to the fate of China by Adopting two girls from China.

Alex Tolley   [11.21.07 07:30 PM]

perhaps you can explain why the comments on Taiwan and Tibet are so funny?

As far as Taiwan is concerned, the assumption that it will become re-united with the mainland is quite common amongst the relatively recent Chinese immigrants I have spoken to in the Bay Area, and also echoed by a conversation I recently had with an academic who studies China. Are you saying that the PRC has no designs on Taiwan, or are you making suggesting that when the re-unification occurs, that the Taiwanese will not lose their freedoms? Certainly my experience in Hong Kong suggests otherwise.

Zach   [11.22.07 05:56 AM]


Having lived in and studied Tibet for a while and appreciating the value of responsible ethnography, I can say confidently that all of what I am reporting from Tibet represents authentic responses based on Tibetan values. There's surely a good amount of campaigning on behalf of Tibet that is infused and shaped by "Western" sensibilities and values, however I don't believe that is the case here. I haven't been soliciting these comments; they've been reported to me only in the past few days as the CCP has been more aggressive in it's propagating its own values upon Tibetans. If we are going to plea that we think flexibly across many different definitions of value, then I think we'd need to ask the CCP to do the same when thinking about Tibet. Tibetans are not Chinese and live in a profoundly different cosmology than the Chinese ever did. That's evident in the history books and dominant discourses that shape both countries.

While we are on the topic, invoking cultural relativism could be called highly post-modern. The argument of multiple values and frames of reference are concepts that have echoed loudly throughout the West in the 20th century with the help of American and European thinkers like William James and Einstein. Should we say that any Chinese person who invokes any of these concepts have subconsciously picked up these ideas from the broader (typically Western) intellectual discourses that permeate so much thinking of people in the contemporary world? In this vein, there's nothing particularly "Chinese" in a word you are saying. Or might we be more righteous and concede that reasonable people anywhere can and will come to the same novel conclusions about the world based on their experiences? The latter option seems a little more respectful of people's intelligences. In this direction, what makes human rights particularly "Western"? At the end of the day, people living here in Tibet say they'd like govern themselves, to live according to their set of values and not one enforced upon from the outside.

I'd add we don't need any special cultural insights to decode China's position on Tibet and Taiwan. Power and control are not complex ideas. The CCP doesn't want old kings returning and it is easy to understand why. In this light, as much as I'd like, it is hard to take the CCP's references to history very seriously. Maybe you can point me to some intellectually rigorous sources?

Don Bailey   [11.23.07 06:24 AM]

Regarding the disbelief among Chinese that Tienanmen Square ever happened, many Americans still believe the 9/11 terrorists were dispatched here by Iraq, that Iraq was the prime breeding ground for terrorists.

Tim O'Reilly   [11.23.07 07:56 AM]

Don --

I'm really glad you brought that up. It's so easy to forget just how much of the same government spin we have here -- and, as note, just how many people believe it.

There are always elements of storytelling in any government's relationship with its people, but the current administration has in fact taken a huge step backwards, telling very big lies to support policies that would be completely rejected otherwise.

That's why so many of us have been terrified of the huge steps backward in fundamental freedoms in the US under the current administration.

This doesn't excuse the Chinese doing it. It just points out how both countries have a long way to get towards being a free society as we have long understood it in America. And that's an interesting point: China is becoming more free, while America is becoming less free. At the same time, China is becoming more vibrant and powerful, while America is in decline.

I wonder if there's a connection. (Said with irony.)

bob   [12.06.07 10:07 AM]

""I really hope that those facts will change in the future, and that asians, and chinese, will be able to live in a more "nice" world.""

aha, ha, what a funny comment to me. We will see 1k years later.

bob   [12.06.07 01:20 PM]

Remeber, CCP is first a Chinese party and then a communist party. CCP won the civil war because the leader of the other side read Bible and take American advice. Mao Zedong read Chinese history and used Chinese traditional war and political philosophy, not communism. That's also the reason we won Korea War when US had just won two world wars and reached its peak. Communism is just a jacket that CCP borrowed from Western world when people were eager to import some new ideas and communism was popular at that time. There is a famous Chinese saying: "use tiger's coat make big flag". Now we are taking off this coat slowly and quietly because it is not useful anymore and actually harmful to our international relationships. We've been doing this for more than 17 years. No one in China really believe in communisim today but also many of us would not clearly admit that we don't believe in it anymore. Why? if you don't understand, you are normal because you are a Western. Chinese value is more like: blend every force together and try to mix and balance them so no one is unhappy at least and then the peace comes. Think about it. That's why we don't like neither Christianity nor Islamism but we like Buddhism. We hate aggressive religous and actions. Buddhism is "go out of the world" but Christianity and Islamism are so "go into the world, fight and change it on behalf of the GOD"

This is just a example that most of Western can't understand. They usually respond me like "God is God, Satan is Satan. how can they live together". But to a knowlegable Chinese, this statemetnt is just so funny.

So here my suggestion is : don't waste you time on judging China only by your Western standards (like economic numbers, human rights etc.) unless you really understand China's philosophy and cultual. A good way to achieve this is to read Chinese history record. There are many interesting stories there where you can find out how Chinese deal with a certain issue.(like the story of three kingdoms) Remeber, we are first Chinese then individuals living in a world influenced by Western culture. We grew up with Chinese cultural background and then try hard to learn Western culture. We are mixed and complicated.

I'll talk about Taiwan and Tiebet issue later. A little bit lazy to write a long comment right now. Anyway, let your Western guys, who can't even read Chinese book and have not lived in China for at least 5 years, discuss Chinese issues here without more Chinese participation. I just found out that looking at these kind of threads is actually very interesting for a afternoon break.

I may come back occationally. But right now, I need to look at my stocks.......

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