April 2008

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With just three weeks until president-elect Ma Ying-jeou’s inauguration, many Taiwanese and their friends and relatives abroad are experiencing a sense of optimism, perhaps best expressed in the frequent utterances of the phrase mashang jiuhao 馬上就好, which can mean either “Everything will ready right away” or “Things will get better as soon as Ma takes power”. At the same time, however, there is also a growing sense of trepidation about some of the challenges facing the in-coming Ma administration:

1. To begin with, much of Taiwan’s non-Mainlander population has yet to be convinced that the new administration will be sensitive to their needs. For example, when the first round of cabinet appointments was announced, more than a few eyebrows were raised about the sizeable percentage of Mainlanders in the cabinet (as of this posting, approximately 25% of the new cabinet appointees were Mainlanders, who make up about 15% of Taiwan’s total population). Others voiced dismay that southern Taiwanese elites like Chan Chi-hsien 詹啟賢, who worked hard to get out the vote for the Ma campaign, ended up being passed over for key positions. While the latest round of appointments has proven somewhat less controversial (at least in terms of sub-ethnic politics, but see #2 and #3 below), people will still be watching to see how things develop.

A related and perhaps even thornier issue is that of transitional justice (轉型正義), and in particular what to do about the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (國立中正紀念堂), which President Chen Shui-bian’s administration attempted to rename as the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall (國立台灣民主紀念館), only to have its efforts blocked by the Legislative Yuan. A similar problem surrounds the Cihhu Presidential Burial Palace (慈湖陵寢), to which Ma paid an emotional visit shortly after his election (see previous blogposts for discussions of these two sites). Concerns have also been expressed by the appointment of Wang Ching-feng 王清峰, former convener of the March 19 Shooting Truth Investigation Special Committee (三一九槍擊事件真相調查特別委員會), to the position of Minister of Justice.

2. A second challenge involves the merits of bringing back officials from previous KMT administrations, which has given rise to a sense of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” (from The Who’s rock classic “Won’t Get Fooled Again”). One Chinese expression currently being used to describe the situation is “old wine in new bottles” (老酒裝新瓶), although some wags prefer “old wine in old bottles” (老酒裝老瓶). While administrative experience can be most valuable, questions have been raised about when the younger generation will get its chance. There is also a pressing need to avoid returning to the corrupt politics of previous decades of one-party rule, especially since the overwhelming KMT majority in the Legislative Yuan bodes ill for the prospect of checks and balances. After years of voiciferous complaints about corruption during Chen Shui-bian’s presidency, it would be particulalry ironic if this spectre were to haunt his successor.

Another disturbing harbinger is a proposal put forth by the Soochow University (東吳大學) administration to restrict faculty participation in political talk shows. Although this proposal failed to pass the faculty senate, one professor is said to have withdrawn from a pro-green talk show due to pressure from the university authorities, including the Board of Directors. The current President of Soochow University is none other than Premier-designate Liu Chao-shiuan 劉兆玄, another former KMT official who has served as Minister of Transportation (1993) and Vice-Premier (1997).

3. Achieving a suitable framework for talks with China constitutes the third challenge. In the short term, establishing direct links and allowing Chinese tourists into Taiwan should not be too difficult to achieve, especially since the PRC seems highly willing to display its magnanimity in light of the Tibet fiasco. Things will get tougher as soon as issues of sovereignty are raised, however, as the Ma administration will have to convince the people, and especially the 42% of voters (over 5.4 million people) who supported the DPP, that it will not “sell out” to China. The utility of the so-called “1992 Consensus” (九二共識) in future negotiations also remains to be seen, while the appointment of “deep green” former Taiwan Solidarity Union (台聯) legislator Lai Hsin-yuan 賴幸媛 as chairperson of the Mainland Affairs Council (陸委會) has succeeded in offending many KMT members, some of whom are striving to assert their own authority over future negotiations. And, as if the situation wasn’t complex enough, the Ma administration will have to balance its desire for improved cross-Straits relations with the strategic needs of Japan and especially the United States, which will welcome exit of “troublemaker” Chen but may be wary of Taiwan’s becoming too cozy with China. (See also the analysis by Ting Yu-chou 丁渝洲, a former head of the National Security Bureau (國家安全局) during KMT rule)

4. Finally, as noted in this blog’s most recent post, it is still the economy (stupid). Closer links to China will come just as many Taiwanese and Western businesses are starting to abandon the Middle Kingdom in favor of shifting operations to India and the newly developing economies of Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and even Burma). More importantly, prices of essential commodities have yet to rise to free market levels, having been frozen during the recent election season. The Ma administration hopes to resolve this issue with one huge hike, which can then be blamed (with some credibility) on the out-going Chen administration. If prices continue their upward trend, however, Ma may end up like George Bush did in 1992. Ma has already expressed his concerns about his administration’s ability to fulfill its campaign promises regarding the economy during a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei on April 29.

Increased Chinese tourism and investment in the housing market may help cushion any economic shocks, but questions remains as to who will really benefit from such growth. Most people tend to forget that those who profited from the stratospheric stock and housing prices of the mid-1980s were not ordinary citizens but wealthy speculators, many of whom had ties to the KMT. One wonders what they might be thinking now…

By Kate Merkel-Hess

Though published last year, James Mann’s The China Fantasy takes on renewed relevance in light of the recent Tibetan riots and various responses to them. In this little book (just about 120 pages), Mann argues that the grab bag of American policymakers, business leaders, and academics he calls the “China elites” have convinced Americans that more trade will lead to more freedom in China. Mann asserts that this vision, which he calls the “Soothing Scenario,” has led the United States to overlook human rights abuses it would not otherwise.

Mann is certainly correct in pointing out that the belief that greater engagement will bring political change in China directs current American foreign policy and popular opinion (and he does an admirable job of sketching the evolution of that policy over the past four decades). But his assertion that this viewpoint has been foisted on the US by a set of China-friendly elites—and he particularly singles out for blame academics who were trained in the 1970s and 1980s—simply doesn’t bear out. As Mann explains:

“For decades, the China hands proceeded through their careers without impediment. Indeed, some of them became so well established and so closely linked to American policy that they moved back and forth between academia and the U.S. government. But they continued always to be wary of a new return to McCarthyism. Hence, any upsurge in criticism of the Chinese regime, particularly in Congress or in the news media, was viewed as potentially threatening…It is against this background that we can examine the unfolding series of rationalizations put forward by American intellectuals over the past decades to explain away the continuing suppression of political dissent by the Chinese regime.” (43).

To whom does Mann refer here? He never elaborates or names names (other than David Lampton, with whom he debated the book’s central tenets in Foreign Policy). Nor does Mann articulate the transition in thinking of many American China scholars between the late 1960s and 1970s, when some did support movements like the Cultural Revolution, and the late 1980s and early 1990s, when, as the full picture and history of the Communist government’s actions emerged, many China scholars began to speak out against the Tiananmen crackdown and other situations.

Mann’s premise that the United States should re-examine its assumptions about the link between capitalism and democratic change is sound, as is his argument that the U.S. has ignored serious concerns with China’s policies in order to establish business or political relations (for instance, Google’s acquiescence two years ago to self-censor its searches in China). But Mann writes as though, in this view, he counters widely held opinions in business, politics, and academia. This is simply not true. Pragmatists may advocate engagement (can we truly imagine, say, imposing sanctions on China?), but the majority of China scholars hold a more nuanced view of the political realities.

By Timothy B. Weston

The US media rarely covers the regular people who are living in the areas of China with large ethnic minorities. In chatting with a Han Chinese student (Han Chinese are by far the largest ethnic group in China) at the University of Colorado named Leong, I was struck by his nuanced perspective on his experiences growing up in Xinjiang, a province in western China with large populations of Hui (ethnically Chinese Muslims), Uighers (Turkic Muslims), and other ethnic minorities. Given the recent discussions in the Western media—in light of the situation in Tibet—of Chinese policies toward ethnic minorities, I thought China Beat’s readers might be interested to hear from Leong.

(Timothy B. Weston conducted this interview with Leong on April 23, 2008.)

Timothy B. Weston: Please explain who you are and where you grew up and when?

Leong: I was born in Urumqi to Han parents. I grew up in Urumqi and lived there for 18 years in a neighborhood of kids from different ethnic groups, such as Uighurs, Hui, Tajikis, Kirghiz, Kazaks and Han. My school was ethnically integrated. Though most students were Han, there also many Uighurs and Kazaks and even more Hui. There were two kinds of schools in Xinjiang when I was growing up – one kind had students of all ethnic backgrounds and the language of instruction was Chinese. There were also special schools for ethnic minorities where instruction was in their native language. Otherwise the curriculum was the same. It was up to the parents where to send their kids. More ethnic students went to special schools where there were no Han Chinese and instruction was in their native languages. Recently the Xinjiang government combined the two types of schools together, so the teachers have to learn the other languages. According to the old model, when the students took exams to enter the next level of school they took different tests and answered different questions depending on who they were. Now all the questions are the same. Han Chinese kids never have to learn ethnic languages. There was no serious tension or self-segregation among students when I was a student. That is because all students speak Chinese and share the same culture and talk about similar subjects. When I was a student at a mixed school virtually all teachers were Han, though there were also a few Hui teachers, but none were Uighurs or Kazaks because they don’t speak Chinese. The mother tongue of the Hui people is Chinese.

TW: Was your parents’ generation equally integrated with the other ethnic groups?

Leong: It was even more integrated than in my generation. My parents had a very close Kazak friend. My parents felt equally friendly toward all ethnic groups. Some Han Chinese were very biased, however. I lived in a mixed area of the city, where people regularly interacted with others from different ethnic groups. Some who live in more exclusively Han areas display bias toward other ethnic groups. I did not understand the difference between myself and other ethnic groups until I was 5 or 6 years old. I only knew their faces were different. In festivals they would dress distinctively, but otherwise we all dressed the same way.

TW: How are ethnic relations changing as some in Xinjiang are becoming more wealthy?

Leong: From the perspective of the market economy, now that there is a free market there are definitely some groups that are more talented, shrewd and able to take advantage of the new opportunities. In villages this is less true. Some who have become wealthier are traveling more to the Central and Western Asia for business and are exposed to Islamic fundamentalist ideas and as a result are becoming more fundamentalist. These people, when they come back to Xinjiang, sometimes propagate fundamentalist ideas such as the idea of a Holy War against the infidels and in favor of an independent East Turkestan state. Their immediate goal is an East Turkestan Islamic state. But so far there has not been a survey that indicates how much influence those radical ideas and are having in China. I do not personally know anyone who has become a fundamentalist.

TW: To what extent are members of other ethnic groups in Xinjiang trying to move inland, to other parts of China?

Leong: It’s a general trend that with a booming economy people want to move to more prosperous areas to make money, and many succeed. But that number is smaller than the number who travel to Central or Western Asia, where the ethnic groups are more similar and thus easier to navigate. Many who travel to Central and Western Asia are not radicalized. Only some are radicalized. I have a Uighur high school classmate whose father did business in Western Asia but showed no signs of fundamentalism.

TW: In your entire life in Xinjiang you never personally encountered any separatists?

Leong: No, never. It’s my sense that these radical ideas are not dominant among ethnic people. Another reason might be because it is very dangerous to discuss these ideas in public. In this sense, it’s consistent with the general political atmosphere in China. Of course, I did encounter racial discrimination and was at times taunted by students by other ethnicities because Hans eat pork and are not Muslims and are viewed as infidels. I was robbed many times by older kids from other ethnic groups when I was growing up. They picked on me because I am Han. But all ethnic groups have bad people. Generally, in the U.S. life is peaceful but we cannot deny that there are crimes and racism here, too. In every society, there are some people who are not satisfied with the status quo, who are discontent with others. For me, the taunts and robberies do not change the larger reality that the different ethnic groups mostly live together peacefully in Xinjiang.

TW: Are you still in contact with friends from your childhood and if so which types of people?

Leong: I call my friends in Xinjiang several times a month. I call them because they are my friends, not because they are of any specific ethnic groups. Some of the people I call are Uighurs.

TW: As someone who grew up in that environment, do you think you think differently about the recent troubles in Tibet?

Leong: Yes, definitely. The experience of living in Xinjiang, where there are other ethnic groups, leads me to understand that there are some problems with the Chinese government’s policies toward minority ethnic groups. I tend to think that some Tibetans are truly unhappy. In the free market economy local officials are more powerful and have much more leeway over the implementation of policies set by the central government and frequently they carry out polices that benefit themselves, which means they may distort or ignore the central government’s preferential polices toward ethnic minorities.

TW: How do you respond to the outpouring of Chinese nationalism in reaction to criticism of China’s Tibet policy from outside China?

Leong: First of all, I think it’s understandable because the claim from some Tibetan exiles is that Tibet should be separated from the People’s Republic of China. When we study Chinese history we know how much Chinese sacrificed to hold the country together. I understand the Han response to the separatist movement in Tibet. But I also think the extreme nationalist reaction is dangerous because it has resulted in a lost chance for all Chinese people to examine what is going wrong with ethnic policies. The outpouring of nationalism focused too much attention on patriotism and away from the very real problems at hand. There’s been too much focus on the separatist threat and bias in the Western media. Many Chinese people think about this the way I do but do not want to speak out because they are afraid of being labeled traitors, which comes in handy for those stupid so-called “patriots.”

TW: What do you think of Beijing’s handling of the recent ethnic conflicts in Tibet and Xinjiang?

Leong: I think as a political party that is ruling over a modern and in some respects a post-modern country like China, the Chinese government’s tactics and actions are reminiscent of those used by nineteenth century political actors. They do not understand how to communicate with the rest of the world in a way the rest of the world can understand. They show little knowledge of public relations. I think there are many good things going on in the ethnic regions, such as preferential policies, but why does the rest of the world know so little about this? And why does the rest of the world have such a bad view of what China does in these areas? The public relations is terrible and stupid—for example, the recent decision to kick foreign journalist out of Tibet. As someone from Xinjiang, I mostly have no criticisms of the Chinese government’s current polices in the ethnic regions. Generally, the ethnic groups really do benefit more than the Han. On college entrance exams the ethnic groups are given preferential treatment, and they do not have to submit to family planning policy. They have their own TV programs in their own languages. The Han are actually the minority in Tibet and Xinjiang, in a numerical sense. I disagree with Western media accounts that report that Han Chinese are pouring into Tibet. Unlike Tibet, Xinjiang is rich in natural resources and business opportunities, and not located at a high altitude; it’s more comfortable for Han Chinese, so more Han come to Xinjiang than to Tibet. But at the same time, many first or second generation (after the founding of People’s Republic of China) Han Chinese left Xinjiang because they were disappointed by the policies and quality of life there, which is due to the huge gap between the western region and the eastern coast. This has been under reported.

TW: How do you feel about Xinjiang as your home?

Leong: I love Xinjiang, its culture and its people (regardless of ethnicity). It is my home.

Images borrowed from the following websites:
Xinjiang in China Map from: www.ccc.nps.navy.mil/images/si/xinjiang.gif

It can become numbing to try to keep up with all the stories about the torch and keep track of where exactly it has been and is going next. Still, it remains fascinating to see how the response to it have varied from place to place. Plus there are some intriguing locales such as Pyongyang are on the horizon. Fortunately, for those who want a quick visual reminder of what’s happened so far, as well as a guide to where the flame is headed, there’s a handy interactive map in the Financial Times.

With a name like the FT’s, clever multimedia visuals aren’t the first thing that come to mind, except maybe ones that show bulls and bears fighting it out to illustrate the latest stock market developments. But the FT is often unusually good at covering China, and this is not the only nifty Olympic-related visual at their site. I also like their visual timeline of China’s involvement in the Games, which includes a reminder of the now often forgotten moment in 1960 when an element of protest came into the Rome 1960 Opening Ceremonies, due to a flap over how Taiwan’s team had to describe itself. So much for the tired notion that the Games have never been politicized before, or have only been politicized in a few hot-button years, such as 1936 and 1980.

Many of us who write for China Beat are also teachers. There are multiple web resources that we use, recommend, and, in some cases, have even contributed to. If you teach about China, or are interested in learning more about how Chinese history is being taught in the United States, take a look at these innovative websites and programs.

1. Asia for Educators: Based at Columbia University, this website provides a variety of background information for educators on Asia history topics like the Song Dynasty, China and Europe comparisons, Chinese religion, and the Mongols. The website includes images, literature selections, some clips of college professors discussing the topics (you need RealPlayer to view the videos), and links to lesson plans, teaching guides, and other resources. The Asia in the Curriculum bulletin board is also run by this organization.

The Asia Society: The New York-based Asia Society works to promote understanding and interactions between American and Asian institutions. Their “Ask Asia” website includes activities for kids as well as lesson plans for teachers at K-12 levels. Those who are looking for ways to integrate Chinese history into their world history curriculums are particularly encouraged to check out the Society’s Silk Road Encounters site. (For more on the Silk Road, see also the China Institute’s From Silk to Oil, downloadable online, and the interactive maps at the University of Washington’s Silk Road site.)

Expanding East Asian Studies: Also based at Columbia University, the ExEAS site includes detailed lesson plans, syllabi, and teaching guides on a wide range of East Asian history and literary topics. Mainly targeted toward the college-level, some of the material and activities could be adapted for high school classrooms.

Morning Sun: This is a phenomenal website for resources on the Cultural Revolution. Though the website does not contain set lesson plans, it does include translated materials from the 1960s, clips of movies and revolutionary operas, radio broadcasts, song clips, and many photos. (For another website that relies heavily on images for teaching, see Visualizing Cultures, MIT’s Visualizing Cultures project, run by Japanese historian John Dower and linguist Shigeru Miyagawa. Though mainly focused on Japan, one of the lessons is on the Sino-Japanese war.)

Visual Sourcebook of Chinese History: Historian Patricia Ebrey prepared this site which, like Visualizing Cultures, relies on images to cover social history topics like clothing, religion, homes, and gardens ranging in time from ancient China to the twentieth century.

6. And, as a bonus, a world history site,
World History for Us All: Developed at San Diego State University to engage “big history” and provide resources to K-12 teachers of world history, this site features lessons on historical topics ranging from Out-of-Africa to globalization.

Coming next week: five stand-out Chinese language and literature websites.

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