Archive for the 'Walton-Style World Fu' Category

3 Principles

2009 Oct 3

In an effort to develop some Google hits that aren’t all about my embarrassing hobbies, I’ve started a new China-oriented blog to discuss my schooling, scholarship, experiences abroad, and whatever I’m currently reading. It’s called 3 Principles, after Sun Yatsen’s “three principles of the people.” If you have any interest in China, my professional life, or my thinking about international politics, culture, and identity, you should check it out. No knowledge of anything is required or assumed.

Generally speaking, my online life is going to be split in three directions, with this blog covering creative stuff (music, games, illustration), 3 Principles covering professional / scholarly stuff, and Facebook handling personal stuff like cooking and whatever social stuff I’m doing.

Jargon and the Categorization of Thought

2009 Sep 16

Here are some statistics on religion in China.

– about 8% of the Chinese population “claims belief in religion” (1997 survey)
– about 3-4% is Christian (CIA factbook)
– about 1-2% is Muslim (CIA factbook)
– about 20% is Buddhist (BBC/Chinese Gov)

What’s the jargon at work here, which makes these numbers really weird? If you guess it’s “religion,” you’re right! The modern Chinese word for religion was imported from Japanese at the turn of the century (and it was a relatively recent word in Japanese, as far as I know). Hardly anyone believes in religion in China (except for the Christians), but almost everyone goes to temples and participates in festivals on occasion (even the atheists).

For another example, see “peasant.” Is China still feudal? Why are its farmers called “peasants”?

Think about that the next time you pull out “story games” or “Narrativism” or “bird-in-ear.” What are you doing? You’re training your brain to think a certain way. Make sure that’s what you want to do.

/soapbox
/note to myself
/hypocrisy

It Begins: At Least 13 Dead in Tehran

2009 Jun 21

As the civil unrest surrounding Iran’s recent election becomes more violent, I can’t help but be deeply worried about what the eventual outcome will be.

My experiences studying the history and workings of Chinese internal security forces lead me to suspect that popular opposition to state authority is rarely successful if central leaders retain control of security forces and can convince them to shoot unarmed protesters. In Tian’anmen, this was a near-thing, since the both the People’s Armed Police (a paramilitary organization with no equivalent in the US) and local army units refused to use violence to clear the square, requiring central leaders to bring in military units from rural provinces, who had little connection to Beijing citizens and were more easily manipulated into seeing the protesters as hooligans or a threat to the nation. Of course, convincing security and army units to use violence to suppress Tibetan protests has never been a problem, as far as I know. If the Iranian protesters hope to survive — both individually and as a movement — they’re going to have to find a way to convince security and army units to refuse to perform the commands issued to them, which doesn’t seem likely at present; they simply don’t have widespread support in enough different channels to have their influence shield them from violence.

What outcomes seem likely or possible right now?

1. It looks like there will be no peaceful “color revolution,” where the unpopular and discredited regime steps aside or completely transforms, as happened in Eastern Europe. It also appears that there will be no successful violent revolution, where the protesters arm themselves and overthrow the current regime. The protesters are in too weak a position for either of those to work.

2. It seems unlikely that the current regime will reach a peaceful compromise with the protesters. People have died and there is too much anger and fear on both sides. From what I’ve seen, it looks like the election results will stand, as they are not being broadly questioned or challenged from within the ruling core of the regime. The isolated individuals within the regime that are siding with the protesters seem to be treading the path of Zhao Ziyang. If the Ayatollah steps in and personally mandates some sort of negotiations, maybe they can turn back from this road, but I don’t see that happening yet.

3. The most likely result I see, then, is that the protesters will be forcibly suppressed by security forces (and perhaps military forces, if it goes that far) on the orders of central leaders. This is the Tian’anmen result, basically, though it’s not clear that there will be one big incident so much as many smaller ones. While this will be disastrous in the short term for the protesters, it’s important to remember how influential Tian’anmen was for China, not just in preserving the continued rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime, but in exposing social divides and issues that the CCP must deal with once they had used violence to secure the regime’s survival, leading them to gradually build a new social contract with the Chinese people over the next two decades. China as it is today would not exist without Tian’anmen, which includes a lot of good as well as bad.

Of course, that’s little comfort to those who are about to give up their lives for what they believe in, either through bloodshed or by being locked away in prison or house arrest for decades. We can only hope that their suffering and the suffering of their loved ones will eventually lead to a better future for the people of Iran, whatever that future may be. And, of course, maybe my instincts are wrong and this conflict will proceed differently.

May we all be guided to the right path (Ihdinā ṣ-ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm).

From Gitmo to Bermuda

2009 Jun 15

Great article in the NYTimes about four Uighurs who were released from Guantanamo and are now free in Bermuda. Make sure you check out the slide show of them getting ice cream together. Hopefully, for these four at least, a happy end to a horrible, horrible ordeal.

Why This Matters

2008 Nov 5

I want to be able to tell my children what it felt like when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. Here goes:

Kids, back when I was 26, I had lost faith in America’s ability to live up to its own ideals. While I fully believed in the values of personal freedom, political agency, human dignity, social justice, and global leadership, the America I had grown up in seemed to only rarely embody those characteristics.

President Clinton was likable enough, but he did little to solve any of the long-term problems facing America and the world, despite a few efforts that ultimately came to naught. George W. Bush, who I was never able to truly call “my president,” trampled all over American values in multiple misguided attempts at confronting the challenges he and his advisers felt were more important. But there is nothing — nothing at all — more important than the things you believe in.

When I look at the monumental problems that America and the world will face in the coming decades (much less in your lifetimes, kids), my greatest desire is for America to be led by someone who has a deep, penetrating vision of what our country should be about, our spirit, our ideals, our sense of national identity — and that they be able to convincingly articulate that vision both domestically and abroad. I want a leader who can tell us why times are hard, why we have to sacrifice for the greater good, and what we are ultimately working towards.

Spending so much time abroad, most of it in China but meeting folks from all over the world there, I always felt that I had to apologize for America. People would ask me, “Why is American doing crazy thing Y?” and I would feel inadequately prepared to answer them. I didn’t know why we were doing it. I didn’t agree with it, plus, even worse, the explanation I had been given just didn’t hold up. It wasn’t even a reasonable decision that I could explain to others. And that is one of the key responsibilities of a leader: giving people a convincing reason for supporting — or at least, not opposing — something they don’t agree with.

But what happened during the Bush administration was America’s core values were being shoved aside for no good reason. By the end of their eight years in office, they couldn’t convince most Americans, much less people in any other part of the world, that their actions were for the greater good. The net result was that America’s so-called “victory” in the Cold War — a window in which our values had the opportunity to shine — was squandered as our country’s good name was dragged through the muck.

All that said, there were two parts of Barack Obama’s speech last night, the speech that marked his victory in the 2008 presidential elections, that indicate why I am so optimistic today, more optimistic about the future of America and the world that I have been in my entire life up until this point:

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it’s been done in America for 221 years — block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It can’t happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice. So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

And the second part (though I don’t think you “defeat” enemies so much as overcome them):

As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

To those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

I don’t think I can say it any better than that, kids. This is a critical opportunity to make things better, not just for America but for the world. And I truly hope that President Obama will be able to seize this opportunity and exert the kind of leadership that America is in dire need of at this time. Like the people of China and many other nations in this period of great transition, we have lost a clear sense of who we are as a nation. We need to find that before we are lost for good.

Barack Obama presents himself as someone whose personal vision of our national identity, our mission, and our future is very clear. For now, he has convinced me to share it, despite all the cynicism and hypocrisy that I grew up observing and participating in. Let’s hope, for your sake, kids, as well as the sake of all those currently living, that we’re able to realize some of this vision, that we can actually turn this world away from the path it is heading down.

I’ll Just Let Sam Sing It

2008 Nov 5

“It’s been a long time coming. But tonight, because of what we did on this date, in this election, change has come to America.” – Barack Obama

Learning to Not Be #1

2008 Sep 23

I work in an office with several folks who think it is in the best interests of the world if the United States is able to preserve its military and economic superiority over all other nations and thus preserve the Pax Americana that’s existed since the end of the Second World War. This is the basis of a large swath of American economic, military, and foreign policy for many decades (yes, even during the Clinton years), articulated by organizations such as the Project for the New American Century.

Personally, I think that the greatest challenge facing the United States (and possibly the world) in the next 50 years is figuring out how American can not be a superpower, since our predominance is impossible to maintain indefinitely. Unlike most other states, we don’t have much practice at playing second fiddle and are particularly bad at it. Additionally, the perpetual competition with all other nations in an attempt to preserve our superiority (in arms, in economics, in cultural dominance, spreading liberal democracy) keeps raising the stakes, making the possibility of America’s decline from the top spot more and more likely to be disruptive and violent, that we will either go down swinging or another state will feel required to muscle its way to the top.

In any political system, handling peaceful transfers of power between successive leaders, regimes, or political parties is critical for stability and preserving the legitimacy of the current system. The current global system of international relations between nation-states is such a political system. But I worry that the US is not prepared to peacefully transfer its superpower status to anyone, which will call the entire system into question, challenging it even more directly than it has already been in the past few decades.

China’s Response

2008 Mar 25

Time for a break from games to deal with the real world.

This article makes me really frustrated. It also, I suspect, represents the feelings of a sizable portion of the Chinese population, not just the government. But what it really symbolizes to me is a lack of any real communication, which is what is likely to continue if China’s Olympic year keeps going in the direction it’s been sliding down for the past few weeks. Protests and condemnation, especially from outside China, do not generally lead to any change of heart on the side of the Chinese government. Instead, it rallies the people and the state together against outside meddling. There is a persecution complex here, one that has developed over many centuries of outside abuse and internal weakness (and embarrassment about internal weakness).

China, as a couple of scholars have recently pointed out, is becoming a world power in the 19th century model. It never had a really colonialist or imperialist era of its own. It hasn’t suffered from massive military defeats due to its own over-reaching ambition (like the British or the Japanese or the Russian or the United States in Vietnam and Iraq). Nationalism hasn’t given way to jaded cynicism.

What this means: things will have to get much, much worse before there is much hope of them getting significantly better, since that would require a total restructuring of the current order. That means a lot of human suffering. (There will be no peaceful Color Revolution to democracy in China. That moment passed in 1989.) But, if the last month is any indication, the suffering may be beginning.