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June 1, 2010

Evidence and Exclusions
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:14 AM *

Something fundamental has changed in China’s legal system. Like most discussions of the law, my explanation starts with a story.

A man named Zhao Zuohai quarreled with his neighbor, who then disappeared. Eighteen months later, a decomposed and headless body was found. After an interrogation that seems to have involved beatings, firecrackers, and being forced to drink water spiced with chili, Zhao confessed to murder. He was convicted and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted, but while he was in jail, his wife divorced him and several of his children were adopted.

And then, nearly a decade later, the neighbor turned up alive and well.

Mr. Zhao has been awarded compensation, and three policemen have been arrested, according to Xinhua. But this case, along with other recent events, appears to have struck a nerve in China. Five bodies of the Chinese justice system have just issued new rules to address the matter, and they’re getting some attention worldwide.

The BBC headline is typical of most Western reporting I’ve seen: China bans evidence from torture. It’s easy to leap from that to the conclusion that China has just banned torture. But, as the BBC article states, “Laws banning torture are already in place, but analysts say they are widely disregarded.” A close reading of the details shows that the change is less dramatic, but more revolutionary.

According to the China Daily (which follows Xinhua), two sets of regulations were issued on Sunday, May 30:

One rule is highly theoretical: it sets out an evidentiary standard for capital cases. It states the principle that “the facts must be determined according to evidence”, replacing the former requirement that convictions must be “based on facts and judged according to law”.

The other is more practical, dealing with what kind of evidence is admissible in criminal trials as a whole. As the China Daily article says, “facts and evidence must be indubitable and sufficient, and evidence in doubt or obtained illegally must be excluded.” Evidence obtained through torture (which is illegal) is inadmissible under that clause, as is anonymous evidence, testimony “made under violence or threat”, unqualified expert witness testimony, and unsubstantiated conjecture. Defendants can request an investigation into whether the evidence against them was properly obtained.

This second regulation defines what an American would call the exclusionary rule. The main role of the exclusionary rule in Western jurisprudence is to reduce the temptation of authorities to break the law and violate citizens’ rights in pursuit of evidence by making said evidence useless in court. I’d rate it as middling effective, on the whole, but even its worst incarnation is better than its absence.

Apparently, and rather astonishingly, there was no such thing in the Chinese legal system before Sunday. According Bian Jianlin, the law professor quoted in the China Daily article, “no previous law or regulation clearly stated that when evidence may have been acquired through forced confession it must be excluded”. Even with the NYT article as confirmation, I’m having trouble believing this; I’d almost be relieved to hear that I was wrong.

Mind you, there are plenty of loopholes left. Officials don’t always follow the stated laws (or the prohibition on torture would be enough). Also, I don’t see anything about fruit of the poisonous tree: evidence obtained using illegally obtained evidence. So one could still use inadmissible techniques to generate leads to admissible evidence. And statistics-driven policing is global, motivating and excusing the breaking and bending of rules.

But coming from societies where we’ve had the exclusionary rule long enough to take it for granted, where Jack Bauer and DCI Gene Hunt get a kind of sneaking respect for transgressing it, it’s refreshing to see one of the foundations of our legal systems reaffirmed, rediscovered, reestablished.


I am not a lawyer. I am not an expert on international relations. I am not an expert on China, Chinese law, or American jurisprudence. I know just enough to be dangerous. Fear me, but don’t rely on me.

Comments on Evidence and Exclusions:
#1 ::: Dave Robinson ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 10:45 AM:

Wow - even on a limited scale, this looks like a big thing.

#2 ::: Tazistan Jen ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 11:50 AM:

This is fascinating, and heartening. Conservatives here (U.S.) are always trying to weaken our exclusionary rule, which to be fair is much stronger than this. Legally, confessions obtained from torture shouldn't even be evidence. But according to the fruit of the poisonous tree concept, evidence obtained as a result of the torture is also excluded. So if you find out where the accused has hidden his weapon by torturing him, you can't use it in court. Conservatives' argument is that the police officers ought to be punished for violating suspects' civil rights, but evidence should still be allowed.

What China is saying now is what the courts here have said so far: if the evidence is usable, it will be collected. Nobody is going to punish police who help get convictions - it will just be excused and covered up. But if the evidence can't be used, the incentive goes away.

#3 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 12:12 PM:

It's stupendous.

#4 ::: Irene ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 12:41 PM:

"Apparently, and rather astonishingly, there was no such thing [as the exclusionary rule] in the Chinese legal system before Sunday."

Why would that be astonishing, since China is still a one-party political system with little separation of powers? Not to mention that the list of actions Chinese law labels as "crimes against the security of the state" is, by comparison, very extensive.

This recent change in legislation is a step in the right direction, but as Abi notices, there are many loopholes. The most glaring, I think, would be definition of what constitutes or not torture and other illegal means of obtaining evidence. Just as the Bush administration managed to classify waterboarding as not torture, we should expect future news stories coming from China about miscarriages of justice where someone was coerced by legal means to sign a confession, only to be later exonerated by the alleged victim coming back...

#5 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 01:02 PM:

The other reason why this is astonishing is that in the traditional Chinese legal system, especially in the Ming and Qing legal code, law was predicated on torture being the way to establish truth.

Prisoners could not be convicted of any crime without dictating and signing a confession, but a huge array of tortures could legally be used to get that confession. There were at least some feeble safeguards, including an automatic appeal of the more severe sentences to higher levels for approval.

I think modertn China had ended up without any formal recognition of torture in the legal system and no safeguards against it, but with a deeply ingrained cultural belief that it's the way to get the truth. That's sure to end up with it being used extensively.

By the way, the police in Japan have a reputation for beating confessions out of suspects. I don't know whether the Japanese legal system has any safeguards.

#6 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 01:22 PM:

And, stateside, we have what most progressives would consider a "regression" in U.S. evidentiary rules: In a ruling that, as a minority opinion authored by Justice Sotomayor says, "... turns Miranda upside down..", the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, 5-4, that the long-standing Miranda protections against self-incrimination will not be afforded suspects unless they (the suspects) specifically invoke them.

#7 ::: Cat9 ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 01:49 PM:

Craig R. @ #9: I hadn't seen that Miranda ruling yet. That's a bit nerve wracking! I feel like I should distribute stickers reading "Don't forget to invoke your Miranda protections!" With my luck I'd manage to invoke it using a double negative due to stress, and it would all be for nought.

#8 ::: Cat9 ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 01:50 PM:

Wait, I take that back. The double negative would be just fine... See how confusing an issue this is for me? I don't want no Miranda protections indeed.

#10 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 03:02 PM:

I am cautiously hopeful about this. China does have a tendency to occasionally do or say something impressive so that it makes the papers, but then ignore it entirely. (See their occasional demonstrations of steamrollering pirated DVDs, but not otherwise actually cracking down on it all that much.) This seems big enough that it might make a difference, though.

#11 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 03:16 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 5:

According to Robert van Gulik, the custom in the Tang and Ming dynasties was to torture any defendant in a capital case in part as an entertainment for the people, whether or not it resulted in a useful confession.

Van Gulik was a 20th Century writer who was a sinophile; he discovered a book written in the Ming period about a judge of the Tang dynasty named Di Gong An and published a translation, "Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee". Then he wrote a series of mystery books with the character of Judge Dee as the detective. One of them was made into a TV movie, with Khigh Dhiegh as the judge and an otherwise all-asian cast (in 1974!). I've seen it; it's a lot of fun (Khigh Dhiegh was a bit of a ham, and he chewed up the scenery pretty well).

Despite that Khigh Dhiegh played a lot of asian characters (he was Wo Fat on "Hawaii Five-O" for instance), he was actually of North African extraction.

#12 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 04:18 PM:

Judge Dee could also punish the plaintiffs severely if he saw fit to do so. Bothering a judge or wasting his time was not a good idea.

I have not seen the movie, but I read all the Judge Dee novels I could get my hands on, and they were excellent. I particularly liked The Chinese Gold Murders and The Chinese Bell Murders. Engaging characters, wry social commentary, and a whiff of the supernatural.

#13 ::: MNiM ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 04:23 PM:

Debbie @9

The European Court of Human Rights has upheld the claim that torture threats made by police against a German child murderer had been in breach of his human rights. The court however ruled that he can not seek a retrial.

If the article is correct, he wasn't allowed to seek a retrial because the evidence wasn't used. I may be missing something, but the ruling, as the article presents it, seems fair to me.

#14 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 04:44 PM:

MNiM @13 --I find the judgment fair as well, I just posted the link as an interesting coincidence, given the discussion. Gäfgen, the convicted murderer, had hoped (cynically, IMO) that the use of torture at all would be grounds for a retrial. However, as the article noted, there was plenty of evidence to convict him otherwise.

It's important to note that the police involved were punished, although many here at the time felt that the actual sentence was too mild. Also, the officer in charge (Wolfgang Daschner) was fully aware of what he was doing and even documented it himself -- he was not comfortable with it, but under the pressure to try and find the kidnapped boy alive, decided to use threats.

I'm very glad that the court confirmed the unconditional ban on torture, and that the German government backs it.

#15 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 05:05 PM:

Bruce: I'm a Judge Dee fan since childhood (my mom had all of them) and yep, that was my starting point for that bit of knowledge, but I did check it. Modern-day fiction about the T'ang dynasty is a bit far-fetched as a fact source, after all...

(That's also why I did not mention what I remember from the Judge Dee books, that judges could be sentenced to death if a prisoner died under torture without confessing, as that was legal proof of the prisoner's innocence. I couldn't find other confirmation of that on a quick search.)

I agree the books are highly recommended.

#16 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 05:37 PM:

It means that they've reached the point that the Spanish Inquisition reached in the year 1715.

#17 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 05:37 PM:

Clifton:

The trail of reference is actually a bit longer than that. Van Gulik's books are based on a Ming dynasty book about a T'ang dynasty person. As I understand it, the original book contains a number of Ming dynasty anachronisms.

This fits nicely into the "Movies get the details all wrong" subthread in OT 141, where I just posted some examples of how the details are wrong because they're based on the details in previous movies instead of actual, you know, research.

#18 ::: MNiM ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 05:38 PM:

Debbie @14

Ah, yes, I'm with you now.

Also, the officer in charge (Wolfgang Daschner) was fully aware of what he was doing and even documented it himself -- he was not comfortable with it, but under the pressure to try and find the kidnapped boy alive, decided to use threats.

A real-world 'ticking time bomb' scenario, with somewhat predictable results, but I find the part where Daschner documented his actions really interesting. That's not something you see very often.

#19 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 05:43 PM:

Back to the OP:

I wonder if the motivation for this change was to reduce embarrassment in front of the international community, or to fix a broken legal system that would almost certainly result in innocent people being convicted of serious crimes. My inclination is to think the former, but the speed with which the changes were instituted makes me wonder. The Chinese government has never been very quick to change things for public consumption; they're much more likely to stonewall for awhile and then quietly change the rules while talking as if the rules had always been that way.

#20 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 07:48 PM:

Convicting the innocent is only one half of the problem. Any time you convict the innocent you let the guilty go free (presumably to cut off more heads, rape more women, rob or burglarize more, whatever the crime may have been).

If the only way to obtain a conviction is to obtain a confession, torture is perfect. It's guaranteed to produce a confession. But ... it does nothing for actually ending crime since the criminals are free to continue.

#21 ::: Abi's Mom ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 07:54 PM:

Fascinating. To me this demonstrates that even in a culture with far less sensitivity to individual rights than ours, a well-tuned legal system figures out, sooner or later, that evidence obtained under duress is unreliable. Something to remember the next time someone advocates torturing suspected "terrorists."

Legal systems are all trying to impose some order on the chaos of human behavior. In the process, they are often called upon, these systems, to determine the truth about facts which are in dispute. This comes up often in the guise of the "rights" of the accused (as we pat ourselves on the back for being very moral), and that is an important consideration, but perhaps even more important is the reliability of the "facts" which the system determines.

Accurate fact determination might be even more important, in the big picture, commercially than in the criminal law. In fact a modern commercial system cannot function at all without some legal system behind it, and the growth of China's economy may have caused thoughtful jurists there to reconsider ancient ways.

I'm a lawyer, but I know next to nothing about China.

#22 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 08:52 PM:

Another fan here of Van Gulick's Judge Dee stories here. I'd say my favorites would be "The Red Box" or "The Willow Pattern".

Anyway, "Famous Cases of Judge Dee" is available as a Dover paperback, and it has copious historical notes. The book (and VG's later works) are Ming Dynasty. Judge Dee is a Tang Dynasty character, but the assumption (shared by just about everybody except modern Westerners) is that things have always been just like they are now.

Couple of relevant factoids -- in the Ming system of justice, a criminal could not be punished until he confessed. Theoretically, a criminal could avoid punishment by simply not confessing. Torture, as everyone admits, is very good for producing confessions.

If an innocent person is tortured, everyone involved is subjected to the same torture. In the cover scene from "Famous Cases", the judge is convinced of the woman's guilt and orders her to be tortured; the court functionaries doing the torture are *not* convinced, and are making it look as bad as possible while doing the minimum of damage. They know what will happen to them if she's innocent ....

Execution warrants must be signed *personally* by the Emperor. Cuts down on executions by overenthusiastic regional authorities.

There was a class of official called the "Imperial censor". (I'm sure that's a bad translation). They're as near as I've ever seen in the Real World to Lensmen; they could request anything from anybody at any time for any reason with the full authority of the Empire, and they carried signed, blank execution warrants.

#23 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 09:10 PM:

Imperial censors sound a lot like Imperial auditors.

#24 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 09:18 PM:

Craig R. #6: the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, 5-4, that the long-standing Miranda protections against self-incrimination will not be afforded suspects unless they (the suspects) specifically invoke them

The members of the SCOTUS who voted to spay Miranda protections stand in violation of their oaths of office, and should be impeached.

#25 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 10:36 PM:

What specific part of their oath of office do you mean, Earl? I've looked it up, and reproduce it here:

"I, [NAME], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as [TITLE] under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God."

I don't see anything in the decision that would actually violate that oath, under reasonable interpretation, much as I disagree with the finding that they made.

#26 ::: Curmudgeon ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 10:56 PM:

What should be alarming here is that the Chinese are making progressive steps--no matter how small--towards respecting the human rights of their citizens while the western world is falling over itself to see which country can revoke basic human rights faster.

It's only a matter of time until the declining western standard of rights catches up with gradually rising Chinese standard. The way things are going right now, I suspect most of the "catching up" will be done by the west.

#27 ::: edward oleander ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 11:29 PM:

Understanding the Chinese Government:

Rule #1) The Chinese government doesn't really care about the health, safety, or longevity of it's population.

Rule #2) If any action by, proposal of, or legislation passed by, the Chinese government seems to put the needs, wants and desires of the Chinese populace ahead of the needs, wants and desires of the Chinese government, see Rule #1.

#28 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 11:37 PM:

edward oleander @ 27: Simply put, you have no idea what you are talking about.

#29 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 12:04 AM:

Jim Macdonald @20: I've found it an interesting exercise to turn the whole question on its head and ask -- if I was trying to induce someone to confess to a crime I knew they didn't commit, what would I do? And torturing them -- claiming to disbelieve them and turning the heat up every time they assert their innocence -- seems tailor-made for that purpose. I can't actually think of a better way to do it. And then I advocate for a criminal justice system that isn't designed to produce false confessions.

#30 ::: Curmudgeon ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 12:28 AM:

#27:

Understanding China:

1. Chinese people riot when they feel their health, safety, longevity, or prosperity has been unfairly compromised by their leaders.

2. The Chinese government really, really doesn't like riots.

3. The government sees improving popular health, safety, longevity and prosperity as a way to ensure social tranquility.

#31 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 12:29 AM:

Tom Whitmore #25: I don't see anything in the decision that would actually violate that oath, under reasonable interpretation, much as I disagree with the finding that they made.

Wow, there's nothing in there about defending the Constitution like there is for the presidential oath. Well, that explains a whole hell of a lot. My bad, I guess the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are allowed to disfigure the Constitution all they want after all. Ghod bless Amerika.

#32 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 12:45 AM:

Ok, there's another path. The presidents who nominated SCOTUS judges who mutilate the Constitution have sworn oaths to defend the Constitution. By nominating such hideously evil people to the bench, they are responsible for their actions that result (accessories). That makes former presidents Bush and Reagan guilty of treason. They can be tried for that (although Reagan would need to be dug up for the show trial). Ta da!

One other bit, Solicitor General Elena Kagan sided with the mutilators in this case; that makes her completely unacceptable as a candidate for the Supreme Court.

#33 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 01:33 AM:

Earl: If the role of the Supreme Court is to interpret/explain the Constitution one can't have them swear to, "defend it", against what are they defending it?

The problem is, actually, that Scalia, and his ilk, aver they are defending it; from after the fact changes to keep it a living document. Scalia argues that the only way to interpret it is to look to, "original intent".

His argument would be more convincing if he had ever had a come before him in which the "original intent" was at variance with his personal prejudices/philosophy and if he hadn't been one of the five who ruled for Bush in Bush v Gore; and been so at odds; in that opinion, with every other case he'd opined on in the holding they used to justify installing Bush.

For that one, I think impeachment could be warranted.

#34 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 01:53 AM:

I don't think the SCOTUS is going to be as progressive as I want it to be, at least not in my lifetime.

#35 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 01:06 PM:

The key question in that oath is "what is 'justice'?" -- always a tricky question. If one believes it's punishing the guilty, that leads one direction; if one believes it's protecting the innocent, that leads another. And if one tries to believe both, the gray cases will tear one apart like a ripsaw.

And it is echoed in Anatole France's "The law in its infinite majesty forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread."

Addendum: according to Wikipedia, judges have to take two oaths, of which that is one; the other is the "support and defend the Constitution" oath. As Terry points out, they believe they are doing so.

#36 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 01:37 PM:

Justice is what I say it is; unfortunately, I do not have the ability to enforce this point of view. All I can do is attempt to manage chronic outrage fatigue.

#38 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 02:57 PM:

Earl Cooley III @ 34:
I don't think the SCOTUS is going to be as progressive as I want it to be, at least not in my lifetime.

My guess is you're going to have to come back at least a couple more times before SCOTUS leans far enough over to satisfy you, or me for that matter.

#39 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 03:28 PM:

Scalia, if you read him, is to all intents a monarchist. You could make a case that one cannot be a monarchist and support the US constitution at the same time.

But I'd like to hear more about the change in Chinese law, and how it came about.

#40 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 06:14 AM:
1. Chinese people riot when they feel their health, safety, longevity, or prosperity has been unfairly compromised by their leaders.

2. The Chinese government really, really doesn't like riots.

3. The government sees improving popular health, safety, longevity and prosperity as a way to ensure social tranquility.

Or, in official Chinese government jargon, a harmonious society. Chinese netizens have taken to using "harmonized" as an ironic euphemism for censored, e.g. "That thread about the Sichuan earthquake has been harmonized." This in turn led to some forums adding it to their lists of banned words.
#41 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 08:33 AM:

If you go back and read the Chinese classics, you note that there's a chap named Meng, known to us as Mencius who sets out the standard for governance thus: "First come the people, next come the altars to the gods, last comes the ruler." Mencius also believed that a legitimate ruler could not be overthrown, stating "I have heard that the fellow Zhou was overthrown, not that a king was". Perhaps the Chinese are coming back to that part of their tradition.

#42 ::: dajt ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 12:17 PM:

My impression of China is that there are many overlapping factions in the government: a "Return China to its rightful place as the leader of the world" faction, a "I don't care as long as I get mine" faction, a "Democracy is good" faction, a "Communism is good" faction, a "the business of China is business" faction, a "Bring back the Emperor" faction, etc, all of whose machinations and goals are hidden behind the traditional Chinese governmental opaqueness. I take this recent legal change as a sign that the "rule of law" factions have managed to successful maneuver around the "corruption is good" factions.

This change does raise my hopes that China will eventually become a country where the law is respected rather than being seen as a tool of the government corruption engine, but I fear it will still take a few hundred more years.

#43 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 02:36 PM:

Gag Halfrunt @ 40: "Or, in official Chinese government jargon, a harmonious society. Chinese netizens have taken to using "harmonized" as an ironic euphemism for censored, e.g. "That thread about the Sichuan earthquake has been harmonized." This in turn led to some forums adding it to their lists of banned words."

A few years back the Chinese internet was gripped by the dramatic struggle between the River Crab (a homonym for "harmonious") and the Grass Mud Horse (a homonym for "Fuck your mother"). There were plushies made.

dajt @ 42: "a "Bring back the Emperor" faction,"

Where did you get that idea?

"This change does raise my hopes that China will eventually become a country where the law is respected rather than being seen as a tool of the government corruption engine, but I fear it will still take a few hundred more years."

I'm croggled at the idea that China doesn't respect laws. It's quite extraordinary. The fact that the laws they respect and the legal tradition those laws are based on is unfamiliar to you does not, I'm afraid, translate into a disrespect for law.

Furthermore, there is no reasonable argument to be made that China is a kleptocracy. Corruption certainly exists--and is quite widespread--but it isn't remotely the fundamental character of the regime in the same way that it was of, say, Yeltsin's Russia. The first and foremost goal of the Chinese government is alleviating the crushing poverty and deprivation of the Chinese people, and the Chinese have been amazingly, shockingly successful at achieving that goal. Corruption is tolerated insofar as it does not interfere with that goal.

#44 ::: edward oleander ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 11:06 PM:

Heresiarch: (edward oleander @ 27): Simply put, you have no idea what you are talking about.

Heresiarch, you are, of course, correct. The recent elimination of hazardous materials in the manufacturing of childrens' toys, the zero tolerance of safety violations in the Chinese mining industries, the repeal of the death penalty, the unilateral reduction of nuclear warheads, and the resurgence of open democracy (especially on the Internet), all show me the error of my ways.

With shining examples like those, we can ignore the tiny infractions like their business practices in Africa, the tacit approval of female infanticide, their new status as the Earth's largest supplier of greenhouse gasses, their ongoing support for North Korea, and the treatment of Tibet.

The first and foremost goal of the Chinese government is alleviating the crushing poverty and deprivation of the Chinese people

And where did that crushing poverty and deprivation come from? From the government itself, which still supplies both in bulk. Modernization and standard of living increases are happening, but only insofar as they serve the long-range goals of the Chinese government vis-a-vis the reestablishment of China as a world superpower.

#45 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 02:35 PM:

edward oleander @ 44: "The recent elimination of hazardous materials in the manufacturing of childrens' toys, the zero tolerance of safety violations in the Chinese mining industries, the repeal of the death penalty, the unilateral reduction of nuclear warheads, and the resurgence of open democracy (especially on the Internet), all show me the error of my ways."

Yet you choose to regard each and every one of those as clear and unambiguous evidence of the sociopathic nature of the Chinese government. The possibility that they are problems inherent in trying to govern the largest, fastest-changing nation in the history of the world, difficult compromises between competing priorities, or the product of a different conception than yours of what is best for the Chinese people seems to escape you entirely. Though really, having nuclear weapons, that's just plain as day--"sociopathic disregard for the well-being of their own populace" is certainly what pops to mind when I think about France.

"And where did that crushing poverty and deprivation come from? From the government itself, which still supplies both in bulk."

So you are arguing that the Chinese government decided to addict its own populace to opium and forced itself open to Western exploitation? That it decided to invade itself and rape and pillage its way through its own countryside? That it decided to execute a political purge on itself amidst its own invasion, igniting a civil war (against itself)?* Because that's where the sad state of affairs in China originated.

Strangely, I remain unconvinced that you know what you're talking about.

"Modernization and standard of living increases are happening, but only insofar as they serve the long-range goals of the Chinese government vis-a-vis the reestablishment of China as a world superpower."

So when the Chinese government does good, it's just selfish self-interest at work, and whenever they do wrong, it's clear evidence of their disregard for the welfare of their people! That's a nice bit of epistemological closure you've got there. Your psychological insight into people you've never met is astounding.

---

*Awkward, I know, but you have to expect a certain amount of incoherence if you decide to treat the Qing dynasty, Western imperial powers, the Guomindang and the CCP as a single "Chinese government."

#46 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 02:56 PM:

heresiarch@45: Well, the "cultural revolution" could reasonably accurately be described as "invade itself and rape and pillage its way through its own countryside". I remain haunted by the idea that they couldn't have gotten rid of a lot of old cultural stuff any other way than waiting multiple generations, and wondering if could possibly have been worth it, doing what they did. I hope not, and Taiwan seems to have done better with less cost.

#47 ::: nekonoir ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 11:07 PM:

@ddb

I remain haunted by the idea that they couldn't have gotten rid of a lot of old cultural stuff any other way than waiting multiple generations, and wondering if could possibly have been worth it, doing what they did.

Do you feel the same way about the Spanish, and their attitudes toward the rule of Franco?

#48 ::: edward oleander ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 08:37 AM:

@ heresiarch (45) - And, I, strangely enough, remain unmoved by your apologetics. Painting the Chinese government as a misunderstood benevolent guiding body that's merely trying to do the best it can with a difficult past and unwieldy circumstances shows either an optimism I cannot feel, or an understanding of the situation which is flawed from the roots.

That the Chinese nation and peoples were treated unfairly by Western powers is not in question. That China has unique challenges because of it's diversity and size isn't either. What is in question is how Chinese governments over the past couple thousand years see their citizens.

You see, I don't think much has really changed there. The current Communist regime has had 60 years to differentiate itself from the various regional and Imperial governments that have existed back through recorded history. When the Chinese have been left free of external influences, the rulers and systems that have coalesced have generally treated the populace as a commodity. Cattle would be good comparison. The smart farmer more or less takes care of his cows, or he will soon have no income. However, there is never any doubt that the cows do not enjoy true freedoms, the rights of human beings, or in many cases, a happy ending (from the cow's point of view). They are cows, they have a place and a purpose in the celestial dance, and that's the end of it.

I applaud that the Chinese government seems to be taking a step in the right direction with the recent ruling. I understand that real change comes in baby steps, and it's unreasonable to expect China to suddenly import both our Constitution and OSHA. But I also have difficulty believing in the smiling benevolence of ANY government that refuses to allow it's commoners any participation in, or oversight of, it's processes. China's government is NOT of, by, and for, the people.

#49 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 02:36 PM:

ddb @ 46: "Well, the "cultural revolution" could reasonably accurately be described as "invade itself and rape and pillage its way through its own countryside"."

Only if you were feeling excessively poetic, and do forgive me, but under the circumstances I prefer more exact language.

It's important to keep in mind that the Cultural Revolution, while quite nasty, doesn't hold a candle to the Great Leap Forward. Between 1958 and 1961 mass starvation killed off tens of millions--according to most estimates, an order of magnitude more than died during the Cultural Revolution. The disaster of the Great Leap Forward was the product of bad information and a belief in the power of human will alone to shape reality. Kind of like neocon geopolitics that way.

(A round-up of historical Chinese death estimates)

"I remain haunted by the idea that they couldn't have gotten rid of a lot of old cultural stuff any other way than waiting multiple generations, and wondering if could possibly have been worth it, doing what they did."

I'd go with "No." To both questions.

edward oleander @ 48: "Painting the Chinese government as a misunderstood benevolent guiding body that's merely trying to do the best it can with a difficult past and unwieldy circumstances"

The only light under which the Chinese government looks entirely benevolent is in comparison to a caricature such as the one you've been putting forward. I'm not arguing that China is a great big misunderstood teddy bear, or that China is Batman--not the hero they want, but the hero they need, etc. etc. All I'm arguing is that the motives of the Chinese government are far more complex than "The Chinese government doesn't really care about the health, safety, or longevity of it's population." I'm saying that your position makes me yearn for dajt's pro-Imperial faction because at least it acknowledges that the government of the largest country in the world might not be entirely homogenous.

"You see, I don't think much has really changed there."

I can't even begin to explain how wrong this paragraph is. Your understanding of China seems to be composed of one part panicky Western media narratives and one part vaguely racist historical essentializations, with no sense of change or complexity. You treat the entire Chinese government as an undifferentiated bloc of cynical sociopaths, of a piece with all Chinese governments ever, with no recognition of any other possible motivation. In your story there is no patriotism, there is no national pride, there is no solidarity, there is no humanity. There is no change, no movement. It is a crude parody of reality, a caricature composed in ignorance.

Shorter me: you have no idea what you're talking about.

#50 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 08:40 PM:

heresiarch @ 49, et. al.:

The central narrative of what has been going on in China for the last three decades or so is, quite simply, the largest transfer of wealth [1] in the history of the world: the development of rural China.

The motivations of the current Chinese ruling hierarchy are certainly varied and complex, even by the standards of ruling groups in other modern nation-states. Unsurprisingly, there are many shadings of tone and emphasis among different official (and unofficial) pronouncements of what can be / is / should be done about any particular aspect of this type of development, much less the order in which certain things should be done, and by whom, as well as what actions or conditions may (or may not) be prerequisites for something else. However, transforming an entire society (the rural majority of the country, as distinct from the cities and Imperial Court [2]) from an agricultural peasantry never more than a few months from mass starvation, into an intgrated and essential component of a large modern nation-state, is clearly seen as an achievement that will not only bestow the Favor of Heaven (TM) on those who accomplish it, but earn those responsible a Place in History (TM) at least equal to that of the Great Sages and Rulers of the past.

The chance for the managers involved to get even richer (proportionally) than the nominal beneficiaries of the development program is [3] merely an incidental (though very pleasant) side effect. As is a reduction in the size and frequency of revolts by starving peasants, and similar un-harmonious annoyances.

[1] Not specifically in the sense of "money" per se, but of people having the resources to consistently generate enough items of sufficient value, and the opportunity to trade portions of their production for other needed items, to keep families not only alive, but prosperous.
[2] Currently a/k/a the Central Committee of the CP of the PRC, and associated bodies.
[3] For them, anyway.

#51 ::: Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 06:41 PM:

"Apparently, and rather astonishingly, there was no such thing in the Chinese legal system before Sunday."

The exclusionary rule does not exist in many civilized countries, at least not in its relatively robust U.S. variety. I don't think it's got nearly the same force in civil-law jurisdictions for instance.

(Evidence via torture is actually prohibited by the Sixth Amendment, not the Fourth, IIRC.)

#52 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 12:01 PM:

Anderson@51: I can't find any prohibition against torture in either the 4th or the 6th Amendment.

Fourth: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Sixth: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

The sixth may complicate the use of testimony coerced by torture -- the witness clearly has to appear in court and give his testimony. That doesn't rule out his having been tortured earlier, threatened with being tortured later, or even tortured while testifying in court. (Since the torture is not a punishment for a crime, the 8th Amendment prohibition on "cruel and unusual" punishments does not seem to apply.)

(I'm opposed to any torture or abuse of detainees and prisoners. I just don't think the 4th or 6th amendments prohibit it.)

#53 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 12:08 PM:

Torture is prohibited by the Fifth Amendment. Today we think of "compelled to give evidence against himself" in terms of legal directives by a court and so on, but in the 18th Century it was pretty clear what 'compelled' meant and what the methods of compulsion were.

#54 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 01:47 PM:

Xopher@53: Yes, the 5th certainly does appear to apply.

It's nice they didn't get too specific -- compulsion is wrong in general for this purpose.

#55 ::: edward oleander ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 10:32 PM:

heresiarch (49) "The only light under which the Chinese government looks entirely benevolent is in comparison to a caricature such as the one you've been putting forward."

Perhaps because when compared to other, real, governments, there isn't much altruism or benevolence? Remember, the cattle rancher cares for his cows, but it is the needs of his own family that ultimately influence his decisions. The cows don't die from old age.

"Your understanding of China seems to be composed of one part panicky Western media narratives and one part vaguely racist historical essentializations, with no sense of change or complexity."

Well, amid the informal logical fallacies, you got one part right. In the histories of any regional culture that goes back 5000 years, you will find a few common threads. There are elements that come through eons of time with few changes. If there weren't, there would be no cultural history. Not all of those threads are kind and/or benevolent. And, no, I don't give a good goddamn about whose culture you're referring to.

Don't ever call me racist again, unless you can back it up with more than hasty generalizations and a few scattergunned ad hominems...

"In your story there is no patriotism, there is no national pride, there is no solidarity, there is no humanity. There is no change, no movement."

Well, duh... My "story" is actually quite narrow, dealing with the Chinese government, and not the Chinese people, where those qualities you mention are found in abundance. My "story" deals with a historical pattern of cynicism and manipulation by a succession of governmental forms that can be loosely, but legitimately, labeled "Chinese" through cultural, geographic and temporal overlap. Sometimes you do have to simplify and generalize, in order to highlight the items you believe are relevant at the moment.

You took my attempt to present a narrow point as cartoonish caricature, ignorance and even racism. Beyond this paragraph, and the mention that nearly all of my non-nursing, upper division courses were based on Far East (especially Hmong) studies, I don't care enough about your perceptions of my current or historical knowledge of Chinese governments to get into a pissing match about our relative educations, formal and informal.

I do care that your own knowledge, from whatever source and of whatever validity, has lead you to conclusions about China (as a culturally-influenced political entity, NOT as a culture or as a people) that I believe are wrong, and perhaps even dangerously so. I believe it is you who has both blinders and rose-coloured glasses on... mind the stairs...

Shorter me: If we swapped out the US (with ALL of it's many flaws) with China in the role of sole world superpower, with it's current government and policies, would we gain or lose as a planet?


Note: This has gone as far as it can in this forum. We're both too stubborn to change our views based on the limited arguments we can present here. Nobody wants to read, nor do I want to invest the time into, the thesis paper on Chinese geopolitics that I'd feel obligated to write to advance this any more. I'll be glad to read any response you want to post, but this is my final...


#56 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 11:08 PM:

Xopher @53: I believe that the previous administration asserted that Constitutional rights did not apply to foreigners. And 'American' terrorists, by their sins, gave up the rights afforded citizens. I'm not certain this view has been repudiated by the current administration.

#57 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 11:41 PM:

I'm not talking about what the Bush Administration said or what the Obama Administration has been willing to assert. The latter can kiss my ass, and the former can burn in Hell as far as I'm concerned.

I'm talking about the truth. The founders' intent was to ban torture in and by the United States. Period.

#58 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 02:21 AM:

edward @55:

Without getting into the meat of the matter, I'd note that heresiarch said (and you quoted):

Your understanding of China seems to be composed of one part panicky Western media narratives and one part vaguely racist historical essentializations, with no sense of change or complexity.

In other words, it was the historical essentializations that were being classed as racist, not you. The thing you said, not the thing you are. The carpenter is not the hammer he uses, nor the chair he makes.

#59 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 01:59 PM:

Leroy F. Berven @ 50: "The central narrative of what has been going on in China for the last three decades or so is, quite simply, the largest transfer of wealth [1] in the history of the world: the development of rural China."

While I agree that there's a massive wealth transfer going on, it's a little more complicated than the development of rural China. A surge in rural development was definitely a side-effect (and a cause of) the reforms under Deng Xiaping in the early eighties, and the traditionally impoverished countryside did see real growth in wealth--both absolute and relative to urban areas. Unfortunately, that growth stalled out in the nineties as coastal export manufacturing took off. Since then rural incomes haven't been able to keep pace. Right now, China has the largest rural-urban income gap ever recorded. Overall income inequality is also tremendous--worse than the US, even.

In the past two decades, most of the growth in rural incomes hasn't come from the development of rural areas, but from remittance wages sent by migrant laborers working in the coastal cities. Needless to say, this hasn't led to a great deal of economic development. The countryside remains very underdeveloped, especially in the interior. This is right on the cusp of changing, however, for two reasons: first, China seems to have come to the end of its previously inexhaustible labor supply. Wages have shot up dramatically across the country, both because of desperate factory owners trying to fill their floors and also because of labor strikes. A high-profile strike at a Honda plant seems likely to yield substantial wage increases, if not the 50% originally demanded by workers. Second, a recent law change allows rural landowners* (which because of land reforms, nearly all rural people are) to use their land as collateral for loans. The combination of high wages along the coast and access to capital in rural areas could very well drive a rural manufacturing boom. (It will probably also create a new landless underclass of rural people whose loans went bad.)

China is changing fast these days. When he began that change, Deng said "Let some get rich first, then help others to get rich after them, and in the end we will all achieve common wealth."** China has accomplished the first part; now we see how successful they are with the second and the third.

--

* Technically in China the state owns all land. What rural farmers have are leases in perpetuity.

** It's interesting how often people forget that last bit.

#60 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 03:00 PM:

heresiarch @ 59:

I've been looking at China in part with the idea that they're going through their industrial revolution. The way you state it makes it look as if it hasn't happened yet, but all the conditions are aligning for it to take off.

If you'll excuse me, I'm having one of those "wow, I've never thought about it that way before, that's fascinating" moments.

#61 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 04:16 PM:

KeithS @ 60: "I've been looking at China in part with the idea that they're going through their industrial revolution. The way you state it makes it look as if it hasn't happened yet, but all the conditions are aligning for it to take off."

I think that "China is going through its industrial revolution" is correct; what's happening right now is just a shift of direction within that revolution. Revolutions aren't geographically uniform; for a number of reasons, manufacturing clumps. You get centers of rapid technological change surrounded by seas of relative stasis. This is true for any industrial revolution you care to look at--and doubly so for China due to the incredible speed of its progress. That means that modern China consists of a hyperdeveloped coastline with a tremendously underdeveloped interior. To paraphrase Gibson, the revolution is already there: it's just unevenly distributed. What I think we're seeing now is a shift from increasingly uneven distribution of wealth, technology and education to a somewhat more even one. To draw a very rough* analogy to US history, they've been living in the roaring twenties, and now they're trying to get to the post-war period. Hopefully without a Great Depression along the way.

"If you'll excuse me, I'm having one of those "wow, I've never thought about it that way before, that's fascinating" moments."

Glad to be of service! =)

--

* Like, REALLY rough.

#62 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 10:01 PM:

abi #58/heresiarch #49:

As a thought experiment, can I propose reading heresiarch's quoted paragraph, but in place of "vaguely racist" use "hard left." How does it read?

I have no idea who is closer to being right about China. But labeling an argument you don't like as vaguely racist seems to me more likely to stop discussion and clear thinking than to encourage it. If Glenn Greenwald wrote something along vaguely similar lines about US foreign policy, I'd expect the equivalent response to use "anti-American" as the label for the argument. I don't see how it informs anyone about what's wrong with the argument--it just sticks an undesirable moral/political label on it.

#63 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 11:17 AM:

heresiarch @ 61:

Certainly an industrial revolution, and most things that get neat little labels pinned on them in history classes, is not a discrete event or geographically uniform. One of the important things that happened in England as a prelude to the industrial revolution was enclosure, which had the effect of taking land away from rural farmers. They then migrated to the big cities to look for work. When you commented that loans going bad would probably create a landless underclass of rural people, this reminded me very much of the conditions in England in the mid-18th century. The cause will be different, but the effect may very well be the same.

#64 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 12:17 PM:

albatross: I'd say it's different because of the use of, "historical essentialisations" If I were to make a similar set of comments about Native Americans, and base it on things which were said about them, even 50 years ago, the charge that those references were racist (irrespective of my personal attitudes: and we shan't go into passive/active racism, etc.) would be valid.

Edward Oleander:Perhaps because when compared to other, real, governments, there isn't much altruism or benevolence? Remember, the cattle rancher cares for his cows, but it is the needs of his own family that ultimately influence his decisions. The cows don't die from old age.

I don't get this. What is a "real government". And how does the rancher and the cattle come into play. Are you trying to argue the Chinese gov't is acting as if the people are cattle?

I don't think so. They may have a different idea of what is best, and treat, "the people" as an abstraction, but I don't really think one can't (and correctly) level that charge against any gov't. They shape the policies to the ends the gov't likes (which is the best structural analogy I can build from the statement you made).

Look at Katrina, and the way, "The People" were treated (and not just New Orleans, the entire gulf coast), or the BP mess now. Or the ways in which cap/trade is being hashed out against moratoria.

None of the ways in which the environment is being addressed is altruistic. Various constituencies are fighting to get the pieces of the pie cut their way. They all say they are looking to "do it right", but it's not about benevolence, it's about personal interest.

Unless one believe in some Kantian imperative, against all which is good must be measured, or a Platonic Ideal, against which all else is, at best, pale imitation of, "The Right", I don't think one can say the gov't isn't real.

Not ideal, perhaps; not one to which the people are more than passively consenting, perhaps, but it is real.

It has laws, and regulation. It provides for roads, infrastructure, defense, a certain protection for its citizens abroad; other gov'ts treat with it.

That's real. You may think it illegitimate, but it's no less real for all that.

#65 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 04:17 PM:

albatross @ 62: "But labeling an argument you don't like as vaguely racist seems to me more likely to stop discussion and clear thinking than to encourage it."

The hidden assumption you're operating on is that I'm labeling oleander's* argument as racist because I don't like it, rather than because it's, you know, actually racist. Naturally I dispute that claim. The more pressing issue therefore isn't what sort of behavior is more likely to produce comity but what behavior is more likely to stop racist arguments from being made and accepted. It seems to me that labeling racist arguments as racist is an unavoidable part of that. If doing it damages the good feeling of a conversation, then so be it.

This is all contingent on establishing that oleander's arguments are in fact racist. I shall endeavor to do so.

Here are the claims oleander made that strike me as especially racist:

1. The Chinese government is essentially the same as all Chinese governments over the past 5000 years.
2. The Chinese government views its people the way a farmer views its cattle.
3. The Chinese government is totally devoid of patriotic spirit and humanity.

Let's take a look at that first claim. To begin with, what country would you be comfortable making that claim about, that its government is essentially unchanged over the past five thousand years? Egypt? Japan? France? England? Iran? It beggars the imagination to suggest that any country, any group of people are essentially the same as they were five millenia past. It implies a level of stasis and stability which is humanly impossible. It's also obviously untrue in China, which has gone from Imperial bureaucracy to socialist personality cult to technocratic state-sponsored capitalism in the past century alone.

That's a general critique; the second critique, more specific and more damning, is of the argument's orientalism. Orientalism is basically the observation that Westerners writing about Asia aren't actually writing about Asia, but using it as an all-purpose Other against which to compare themselves. Europe is rational, progressive, honest, scientific, masculine and rigorous; Asia is mystical, stagnant, manipulative, religious, effeminate and yielding. One of the political theories that grew out of this worldview was that of oriental despotism, that the Asian style of government was fundamentally different than the European model; in particular, that the central government was strong enough to suppress all challenges to its rule, and thereby suppress all progress. Only by the intervention of Westerners could Asia's progress be restarted--a view that was self-evidently popular among imperialist powers.

I think the similarities between 19th century theories of Asian politics and oleander's arguments are fairly clear; no need to go through line by line. Oleander's assumption of the oriental despotism model is evident in the second and third claims as well. The exploitation of the peasantry by a corrupt, selfish elite is part and parcel of oriental despotism. Still, a defense could be mounted on the grounds that however racist it sounds, if it accurately reflects reality then how can it be said to contain racist bias? I must also demonstrate that it is an inaccurate model.

Confucianism, by far the most influential of political thought in Chinese history, emphasizes the importance of hierarchical relationships in maintaining social order. What is often missed, however, is that these relationships, while unequal, are profoundly reciprocal--for every honor the lesser person owes the higher, there is an obligation the higher must fulfill. It is not a relation of equals, but certainly a relation of humans, not cattle. One can argue that it is a principle observed more in the breach, but it is the centerpiece of Chinese political thought: its disingenuous nature must be proved, not alleged.

And on the last claim, this line is worth quoting in its entirety: "My "story" is actually quite narrow, dealing with the Chinese government, and not the Chinese people, where those qualities you mention are found in abundance." Of whom is the Chinese government composed, if not the Chinese people? Does he think it consists of clones grown for the purpose? Foreign mercenaries and accountants? It is, again, a claim that's mind-boggling to read.

Thanks for reading down to the end of this. I know it's a bit tl;dr. That's why I've been avoiding getting into it. I hope this clarifies why I believe that oleander's argument truly deserves to be called racist.

--

* I'm typing just "oleander" because I just sliced open the tip of my finger on a kitchen knife and it's painful to type.

#66 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 06:45 PM:

So, when I say that I think that China, as a nation, is not a friend of America, does that make me a bad person?

#67 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2010, 02:08 AM:

Earl, are you looking to pick a fight, or are you going to be surprised when one happens?

#68 ::: Jenna Moran ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2010, 12:04 PM:

I know, like, OMG, right? Denmark totally told me that FINLAND said that Japan told Micronesia that China was totally just saying in the restroom that America puts out.

#69 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2010, 02:36 PM:

abi #67: Earl, are you looking to pick a fight, or are you going to be surprised when one happens?

Let me put it a different, less combative, way: will criticizing China here blemish my portfolio as a progressive?

#70 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2010, 02:56 PM:

Earl @69:

Absolutely not.

Like every government, the Chinese government is made up of people, some of whom make good choices and some bad, some for good reasons and some for not so good reasons. The power structure in which these people operate has some strengths and some weaknesses.

The problem, as I see it, came from edward oleander's denial of that complexity in favor of a simplistic portrait of a tyranny going back for millennia, essentially unchanged in its cruelty. Heresiarch called that view racist, in the sense that we know that People Like Us never manage that kind of historical continuity (particularly of cruelty), so the assumption that the Chinese do is an assumption that They're Different Than Us. Perhaps this is not what edward meant, but that's what he seems to have said.

My own views on the current government of China are deeply mixed. I think that there are a number of people in control of the country who want to enrich themselves. I also think there are a number of them who are public servants in the true sense of the term—trying to serve the interests of the people of China as a whole.

I think that the overall thrust of the current government is to try to ensure that everybody eats this year, and whatever's left is used to make it easier to feed everybody next year. Many of the choices that are made in pursuit of that goal strike me as reprehensible, and there are plenty of people who are not with that program. So is it ever with the focus on ends over means, in my perception.

I'm willing to be disagreed with here, but I would need a good deal more evidence than edward oleander offered to be convinced of the alternative theory that:

Rule #1) The Chinese government doesn't really care about the health, safety, or longevity of it's population.
Rule #2) If any action by, proposal of, or legislation passed by, the Chinese government seems to put the needs, wants and desires of the Chinese populace ahead of the needs, wants and desires of the Chinese government, see Rule #1.

Note, of course, that nothing I have said assumes or requires that the Chinese government be well-disposed toward the United States. Why ever should it be? Are we proposing to ensure that everybody in China eats this year? Or are we defending the interests of our own citizens first?

#71 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2010, 05:08 PM:

I have a collection of reasons to dislike the policies of the Chinese government, varying along the spectrum of politics from left to right. I'm not particularly in favor of them.

And I recognize Edward Oleander's arguments as a way of saying "You either agree with my arguments [which are incoherent, and possibly full of code words I don't understand] or you WANT THE CHINESE TO RULE US."

When Edward Oleander says
Shorter me: If we swapped out the US (with ALL of it's many flaws) with China in the role of sole world superpower, with it's current government and policies, would we gain or lose as a planet?

... that doesn't sound anything like "longer [him]" to me. I read post #55 three times and I just can't get there from here.

E.O., you can say if you like that you've found a truly marvelous proof of your argument, which this margin is too narrow to contain. I call bullshit.

#72 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2010, 09:30 PM:

As a way of distancing ourselves from the emotions raised in comparing current political regimes, try replacing "Chinese government" and "Chinese people" with "European feudal lords" and "feudal commoners". Feudalism is at least as hierarchical a system as a Confucian bureaucracy; note though that, at least in principal, the Confucian bureaucracy was a meritocracy based on passing an entrance exam, whereas European (and Japanese) feudalism passed power on by birth, often resulting in violent coups and civil wars to ensure succession. The narrative we tell ourselves in Western society is that the feudal civilization of the Middle Ages was less free than our current civilization, but was a necessary stage through which we had to evolve to reach our current position which is not a continuation of the feudal period but something that grew out of it. Now put "Chinese" back and ask why we should see things differently.

My own opinion is that the average level of reciprocity of obligation in feudal Europe was lower than that in some periods of the Chinese Empire (the T'ang dynasty, for example).

I'm deliberately ignoring the effect of wealth and station on the ability to prepare oneself for examinations; the issues at hand are not mobility across class boundaries, but the acceptance of the mutuality of obligation across those boundaries, and the robustness of a system against changes in the succession of power.
Note the word "narrative". I am not claiming that statement as my own opinion, or as a truth in any sense; I'm well aware of the problems created by taking an evolutionary view of societies.

#73 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2010, 11:41 PM:

Jenna Moran @ 68: "I know, like, OMG, right? Denmark totally told me that FINLAND said that Japan told Micronesia that China was totally just saying in the restroom that America puts out."

Omigawd, like, whatEVAR! Everyone knows that China's just bitter because America took Russia to the prom last year when China's best friend Iran was like, TOATS crushing on Russia. Besides, I hear China's like, addicted to DRUGS or something. That's just what people are saying, I'm not gonna say who.

#74 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2010, 12:52 AM:

heresiarch #65:

I can see two ways to use this kind of label in responding to someone else's arguments, discussions, etc.

a. As a magic word to attack the argument without having to actually reason about it. (See any number of critiques of Obama's "socialist" economic policy for details.)

b. As a description of what about the argument is wrong, or what kind of wrong it is.

From your post above, I think you were thinking in terms of (b). But without seeing the reasons, this was awfully hard to distinguish from (a). And having seen the reasons, I'll admit I found them quite a stretch. I mean, "wrong" or "massive overgeneralization," I can see those as descriptions for what you find wrong in the argument.

The reason I am bringing this up is because it seems like a very common way that arguments or discussions stop being about what the truth is, and start being about whose side you're on.

I mean, suppose I am talking with an acquaintance tomorrow, and I comment that I'm horrified at the stuff the US government has done in the war on terror, the torture and kidnappings and assassinations and unprovoked wars of choice and heavy civilian casualties and all. And suppose he responds by saying I've got the whole picture wrong, and that my argument is fundamentally anti-American.

Now, maybe he's right. Maybe I have a wrong model of the world in my head, of a particular form that is best described as "anti-American." Perhaps I always take every ambiguous situation as evidence against the US, judge US actions very differently than every other country's actions, etc. But if he wants to make that argument, he ought to make it. Otherwise, it looks like an attempt to shut my argument up without engaging it. And it can be used just as effectively to attack arguments or facts that aren't so flawed.

#75 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2010, 08:24 PM:

albatross @ 74: While we're on the subject of magic words used to attack arguments without having to reason about them, let's talk about why it is that every time anyone describes something as racist the conversation immediately has to become a discussion about whether it's ever acceptable/useful to call things racist instead of a discussion about whether the thing was actually racist or not.*

It’s not that the problem you’re discussing isn’t interesting, but why here, why now? You yourself conceded that I’m not, actually, randomly tossing out “racist” in order to shut down debate, so what do you want from me? Do you want me to admit that misusing labels is wrong? That’s easy enough: it’s wrong. Do you want me to explain my reasoning? I already did @ 65. Do you want me to stop calling things racist because it’s hard for you to tell the difference between bs and genuine accusations? Sorry, but no. Do you want me to drop five hundred words of explanation in order to back up every accusation of racism? Sorry, but no. People come up with snappy one-word terms for complex things because it’s a giant pain to break everything down to 101-level every time you make an argument. If you are worried about your ability to tell when accusations of racism are legitimate, go out and study racism.

(While we're on the subject, Beck calling Obama's policies "socialist" isn't a problem because he's labeling something in order to attack it, it's because he's a) wrong and b) exploiting a misperception Americans have of what socialism is. But I don't think the stigma racism has is a result of a misperception--I think it's pretty well earned. So the only question is: is the label being used accurately? If it is, then there's nothing to get upset about.)

It seems to me like you’re neglecting to do the very thing you’re advocating for. If you want to make the argument, then you ought to make it: tell me I’m misapplying the word racist. Explain why, using specifics. Let’s talk about that.

---

* Since when is a "massive overgeneralization" about an ethnic group not the dictionary definition of racism? Example: black people are lazy. White people love cheese.

#76 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2010, 09:11 PM:

Albatross, while I don't always agree with heresiarch, I really think s/he's one of the last people around here that I would suggest might be using "magic word[s] to attack the argument without having to actually reason about it." Quite the contrary, heresiarch is someone who pretty consistently reasons, and pretty consistently shows his-or-her work.

And by the way, so are you. So I was surprised to see you saying that heresiarch's (b) was "hard to distinguish" from (a). I didn't find it hard to distinguish at all, nor do I think one has to agree with heresiarch on the specifics (China, history, "orientalism", etc) to see that a lot of careful reasoning is being brought to bear.

Just as a reminder, suggesting that someone's particular statement or view is racist is not the same as declaring that person to be the moral equivalent of Bull Connor or Nathan Bedford Forrest. Racism is a system of signals and cultural assumptions, and we're all tangled up in it. I do in fact agree with heresiarch that Edward Oleander's view of China as an eternal static despotism is, well, a common view that has evolved out of a set of habits-of-thought that Westerners have cultivated in themselves about various Asian and Near Eastern people, habits of thought that act to allow ourselves to feel good and moral when we do some not-so-good and not-so-moral things. (Things which, I hasten to add, I'm pretty sure Edward Oleander is as opposed to as heresiarch is.) These habits of thought are what we mean when we say "racism." It doesn't mean Edward Oleander is a nasty person who's mean to Chinese people; in fact, although I don't know Oleander, he's a close friend of a close friend of mine, and everything I've heard tells me that he's not just a good guy but a really good guy, a mensch of the first order. We're talking about habits of thought that wind up shading the way we think about culture and history, our own and others'. We ought to be able to have these conversations without people jumping out of their seats as if someone had brought an AK-47 into the room.

Believe me, I'm aware that the concept of "racism" can be deployed into a conversation in bad faith. I don't think heresiarch was doing that here.

#77 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2010, 09:34 PM:

The Chinese don't see their history as static: they see it as periods of unification and of separation, any of which may extend over multiple dynasties.

(Just saying. I'd give you a list of the names, but it's in one of the boxes.)

#78 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2010, 01:47 AM:

So Maoism is just another dynasty, whose time shall pass, from a historical perspective?

#79 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2010, 03:13 AM:

I have heard people use that mental model, yes. Not so much to predict the future as to look at aspects of the present: how the people react to the government, what the government does, what it fears.

I hasten to add, before we go Back There, that I mean that all of these matters are colored by the participants' awareness of history.

#80 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2010, 07:28 AM:

Earl Cooley III @ 78...

"Moaism is just another dynasty, whose time shall pass"?
Weren't they already made extinct by the Maori?
Probably to make feather boas?
("Serge, it's Mao, not 'moa'.")
Oh.
Nevermind.

#81 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2010, 07:53 AM:

Earl @ 78: Yes. And one in which the first emperor of that line promulgated a lot of policies which were, in large degree, reversed by his dynastic successors.

As to the degree that either Mao or his successors are likely to be seen as a comparative aberration by the standards of the current dynasty, well, a more-or-less consensus answer to that question should be available within, oh, maybe another 500 years or so . . .

#82 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2010, 08:33 AM:

"So Maoism is just another dynasty, whose time shall pass, from a historical perspective?"

David Cameron is just another London-based ruler, whose time shall pass, from a historical perspective. Just like Alfred the Great, Oliver Cromwell, and George IV. Ah, the timeless sameness of English history.

None of the specific differences are worth noting or thinking about, because life on the Thames is an eternal cycle, reflecting the alien mindset of the exotic English.

The nice thing about this kind of "historical perspective" is the way it spares us from having to know any specific...what's the word...history.

#83 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2010, 10:54 AM:

I am having great difficulty with the punchline for David Cameron, Alfred the Great, Oliver Cromwell, and George IV walk into a bar...

#84 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2010, 11:54 AM:

Bruce, 83: A perfect time for the old standby, "What is this, some kind of a joke?"

#85 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2010, 12:17 PM:

Earl: And Obama is just another tribal chieftain, yes.

C'mon, Earl, I've seen you post way sharper than that. The revolution of 1911 really did mark a dramatic change, and the consolidation of Communist rule in 1949 another one, and there've been important events and evolutions since then. There has to be some space between "this is completely unrelated to everything that comes before...and just like us over here in the West" and "this is completely unconnected to anything happening anywhere else in the modern world and just the same old thing all over again".

#86 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2010, 12:18 PM:

Bruce: And the bartender says "Yeah, they're all Euroskeptics."

#87 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2010, 12:49 PM:

Has Patrick ever listened to Test Match Special?

#88 ::: hedgehog ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2010, 02:53 PM:

re Patrick #82:

because life on the Thames is an eternal cycle

Cycles sink. You want a boat and a couple of friends.

reflecting the alien mindset of the exotic English.

A shiny boat.

#89 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2010, 07:03 PM:

To say nothing of the hedgehog.

#90 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2010, 07:09 PM:

And the can-opener.

#91 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2010, 08:44 PM:

I should have said, just like Alfred the Great, Oliver Cromwell, George IV, and Ian Hislop.

Dave Bell, I have listened to Test Match Special. "Soul Limbo"!

#92 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2010, 02:11 PM:

Dave, Patrick,

I'm sure I speak for at least several of us when I say:

[*]

#93 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2010, 03:37 PM:

And the bartender says, "If we're going to talk about transfers of power we ought to wait until Tesla shows up."

#94 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2010, 05:48 PM:

abi @92

Not out!

#95 ::: edward oleander ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2010, 06:49 AM:

I said I wouldn't post on this one anymore, but I also said I wouldn't sit still and be labeled racist again, which, despite Patrick's very kind words, and Abi's offer of a soothing verbal balm and attempt at fence-mending, did happen again. More on that after the cut...

Terry @ 64 - I didn't make myself clear there... There had been a reference above about measuring the Chinese government against a caricature of itself (a non-real government). By "real" I meant an actual government, not a fictitious one. I wasn't saying the Chinese government wasn't a real or legitimate government, just not one I'd want to live under.

Abi @ 70 - "I think that the overall thrust of the current government is to try to ensure that everybody eats this year, and whatever's left is used to make it easier to feed everybody next year. Many of the choices that are made in pursuit of that goal strike me as reprehensible, and there are plenty of people who are not with that program. So is it ever with the focus on ends over means, in my perception."

As usual, you have said it better than I ever could. Add in Terry's comment that the Chinese government perhaps views the "the people" rather abstractly, and you get close to what I was trying to illustrate with the farmer/cattle analogy. I wasn't trying to be particularly graceful or diplomatic, as you and Terry usually are, but instead used a metaphor designed to sting while still being reasonably useful.

The point I was trying for was my belief that the Chinese government sees "the people" in the way a farmer sees his cattle, which is often that the treatment of the cows are a means to an end (thank you, Abi). They are necessary to maintaining the stability of the farm. They should be fed, and policies that continue to feed them should be encouraged. Underfed people are restless and under-productive. The Chinese governmental philosophy has always stressed stability. Happy, well-fed cows contribute greatly to a prosperous and stable farm, but they do not enjoy the same rights as the farmer. He does not see them as equals on the farm. He does not give them the same rights as his family. He might ask small sacrifices of his family to better care for the cows, but only to a point. The cows are not people, and never will be. I still see this as a useful (although admittedly broad) tool to illustrate how the Chinese government sees the general population.

Sandy @ 71: I think you did actually see the shorter me from the longer me, you just didn't get the longer me message quite right, so didn't see the connection. You stated my message as, "You either agree with my arguments ... or you WANT THE CHINESE TO RULE US.". I DON'T think anyone WANTS the Chinese to be controlling us, but, "... or you might not understand that the Chinese want to control us." works better. You see, while my arguements weren't the clearest I have ever made, you still got the conclusion almost right. I believe the Chinese NATION wants to be a dominant world superpower, with worldwide influence, and believes they would do well in that role (Yes, heresiarch, I do understand national pride and patriotism). I do not believe, however, that the Chinese GOVERNMENT would do well in that role.

====================

Lastly, to herasiarch on racism...
"Here are the claims oleander made that strike me as especially racist:

1. The Chinese government is essentially the same as all Chinese governments over the past 5000 years.
2. The Chinese government views its people the way a farmer views its cattle.
3. The Chinese government is totally devoid of patriotic spirit and humanity."

In order to support your ad hominem, you seem to need to take all my arguements and extend them into the absurd. You also imply that I don't feel this way about other regions of the world, and just have it out for the Chinese.

1) All historical Chinese governmental forms are NOT essentially the same, but they do have some common threads, much the same way that Egypt had commonalities for a few thousand years of it's earlier history. To call this recognition "Orientalism" is dismissive and a little silly, since we can find common threads running historically back through chunks of time in various large regions of the Earth. You turned me into a Straw Man of 19th century European thinking. Five point penalty for bad form.

2) Spend some time on a cattle ranch, and you'll see that this allegory works in far more countries, under many forms of government. This allegory works well to illustrate how much a government values the individual AS an individual, and their civil liberties. No farmer wants his herd to starve, or to be too sickly to reproduce and thrive, but some farmers are more in tune than others. Some farmers are willing to accept some level of distress in their herds to maximize profits. Very few farmers will sacrifice their family to save the herd. We were only talking about the Chinese government here, so perhaps you thought I meant that the farmer/cattle analogy applied only to China? Five point deduction for a bad assumption.

3) Again with the absurd extremity. Somewhere above you ridiculed my separation of the Chinese government and it's people, since the government is made up of Chinese people after all. Are you really proposing that the government, especially at it's highest echelons, is actually representative of a true cross section of the Chinese population? LOLZ. I doubt that's true of all but the fewest of nations. Government service, bureaucracy and politics call to a particular type of person, and the culture of that government narrows the type of person who will feel attracted to those jobs. This is true of any major industry in any major part of the world. There are commonalities among clergy, health professionals, soldiers. In NO cases do ALL individuals within an industry (and government IS an industry) march in lock step, but a good analysis will reveal some widely common personality and philosophical traits.

A strong, centralized, authoritarian government will attract people, IN GENERAL, who value those traits, so that the interpretation of such ideals as patriotism, national pride, and the nation's rightful place in the world can very definitely be viewed differently from within the government as opposed to from within the general population.

I think the Chinese government has a trickle-down approach to the citizen's happiness and prosperity. It does not hesitate to use the population as a means to an end, with prosperity and happiness being what will trickle down as the governments goals of stability and increased world influence are achieved.

The Chinese are NOT the only government doing this, and there are far worse examples out there, but this discussion was about China, and the flaws within it's system, and the philosophy driving both their flaws and their improvements. I'm pretty cynical about MOST governments, but that doesn't make me racist.

And yes, when you used the word "racist," you were NOT separating the person from the words. If you had been, you would accepted the offered balm, or you would have used other words/phrases, like "over-simplification," or "hasty generalization," or even some form of "stereotype." Or you would have made your intention to separate me from my words very clear.

That you did not, and then repeated yourself, despite multiple offers to clarify your position, proves to me that the insult was personal. You think I am a racist.

Perhaps the fault is mine for being too brief. My initial claims were a two line sound bite, meant to be a little humorous as well as generally indicative of my feelings.

Heresiarch, if you're in town for 4th Street next week, I'll buy you lunch and we'll let the Lioness referee a cage match between us. Or perhaps a beer summit. Pax?

#96 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2010, 02:24 PM:

edward @95:

I'm afraid that, though you may agree with me, I do not agree with you. Terry may feel the same; note that he responded to your earlier "treat them like cattle" commeng with I don't think so. They may have a different idea of what is best, and treat, "the people" as an abstraction, but I don't really think one can't (and correctly) level that charge against any gov't.

I think the difference is that you think I meant the Chinese government wants that all of "them" eat this year. What I meant was that they are trying for all of us eat this year. I don't think the Chinese government necessarily thinks of the Chinese people as subhuman, or thinks of itself as not part of the Chinese people. (Cattle farmers feel both of these things about their stock.)

I look forward, in general, to your political commentaries on other countries also using the "cattle" model, since it's not just China. I'll be deeply disappointed if our analysis of the upcoming election doesn't include some allusions to it and how it explains the American political system. (Or, if it doesn't, please do tell me what countries it does apply to.)

#97 ::: edward oleander ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2010, 11:47 PM:

Abi, my apologies... In my haste to finish that post before the sun rose, I didn't go back and finish your section. I haven't been posting much for a long time, and my rustiness shows through painfully clear (or unclear, as it actually appears). I thought your words politely and diplomatically encapsulated part of what I was trying to say. The points you made overlapped into my view, or at the very least didn't preclude it. Didn't mean to suggest we were in lock-step...

I thought the feeding comment could be read to mean taking care of the population in general, with famine prevention being also a literal top priority. A sick, hungry, and angry population (herd) does not lead to a healthy nation (farm), so even in my darker view, feeding and caring for the population is a top concern, but only as a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. That cynicism places distance between our views.

We agree the Chinese government makes some reprehensible choices in the name of their goals. I have no idea if we agree on the frequency or areas in which they occur.

It was your last sentence that struck me the most... "So is it ever with the focus on ends over means, in my perception." If I had been trying to be gentle and diplomatic, I would have wished for those words to come from my mouth... Almost all of my dislike of the Chinese government comes from the means they employ, so when you spoke of means and ends, it struck a chord with me.

As the elections gets closer, I'll be happy to point out the good farmers and the bad, as I see them, as the situations arise. I confess to knowing nothing of Dutch politics, so I have no idea if the analogy can even be applied there. Historical applications are a whole different panel, but maybe it will come around on the guitar someday. I realize that comparing populations to animals, and governments to their owners carries a lot of negative baggage right from the start, and it's difficult to make that palatable as a legitimate comparative, but it serves as a launching point to emphasize the elitism, corruption, and powermongering that I wish to see exposed. All allegories can be nit-picked, and none ever form perfect matches, but this one has served me well in years past, so I look forward to the debate I hope it spawns.
:-)

#98 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2010, 12:15 AM:

Edward, the problem I have with your analogy is that growing up when and where I did, and the belated realization of how blinkered I was, has made me twitchy about seeing people equated to animals. I wish you'd stop; whatever merit your arguments may or may not have is invisible to me because of the terms in which they are couched.

#99 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2010, 03:14 AM:

TexAnne @98:
twitchy about seeing people equated to animals

Thank you. This is it.

Edward, you talk about the an institution of human beings that treats other human beings as animals. I find that profoundly insulting of that institution and the human beings within it.

There are two options, then:

1. Maybe you're right; maybe the Chinese government does consider its population to be animals. In that case, evidence, please, of that attitude. Maybe other governments do too, in which case, please list 'em.

2. Maybe this is some figure of speech that you are prone to. In which case, well, I kinda see, but it's actually quite an insulting one. And, as TexAnne points out, it's not one that's really likely to convince people of whatever you're trying to convince them of, because it is kind of icky when you stick to it like that.

In either case, I really do want to make it absolutely clear that I disassociate myself from that point of view. I think the Chinese government does prioritize the ends over the means, but I don't think that's the same thing as treating their population like cattle, not at all.

#100 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2010, 04:27 AM:

abi...

Godwin looms.

But, since we're talking about China, it's worth noting what Mencius said about the wicked King Zhou of Shang. It seems to be established Chinese philosophy that a government which regards people as animals cannot be legitimate.

#101 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2010, 11:26 AM:

Dave Bell @94:

And still I have no clue whatever wtf you are talking about.

#102 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2010, 01:22 PM:

Cricket? (Not that I really understand it, but I have a reference point to start from.)

#103 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2010, 03:00 PM:

abi: I don't understand the first part, but I think Dave Bell is saying there is longstanding understanding, in Chinese political philosophy that a Gov't which sees the people only as means to its ends is illegitimate.

The famous quotation by Mencius is, "I know not of the murder of the Emperor Zhou, but only tales of the killing of the villian Zhou," because his reign was one which used the labor of the people merely to enrich himself, and live a life of careless ease.

#104 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2010, 03:30 PM:

Terry @103:

It wasn't his comment at 100 that I was wondering about...I get both parts of that (Godwin looms whenever we start talking about regimes that treated their citizens as subhumans).

It's a bit more clarity, and perhaps a link, on Test Match Special that I'd like. I know it's to do with cricket, but I'd like an in on the joke, pls.

#105 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2010, 11:43 PM:

heresiarch #75:

[I'm on vacation far from home, or I would have responded to this earlier....]

This comment hit me between the eyes when I read it:While we're on the subject of magic words used to attack arguments without having to reason about them, let's talk about why it is that every time anyone describes something as racist the conversation immediately has to become a discussion about whether it's ever acceptable/useful to call things racist instead of a discussion about whether the thing was actually racist or not.*

Thinking about it, you're right. Somewhere in disliking the way "racist" is often thrown around in discussions, I seem to have acquired an irritating knee-jerk reaction to it. I'll pay attention to that in the future, and try to stop kicking predictably when someone tosses the word out there.

Your broader point is also important. To put it in different terms, if someone complains that Obama's health care reform is a socialist monstrosity that will bankrupt the country, fruitful discussions lie in the direction of working out whether it really will bankrupt the country, rather than in the direction of picking apart their definition of "socialist" or their motives for using that word.

And personally, I owe you an apology. You were arguing in good faith, and I'm sorry I called that into question.

#106 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 02:09 AM:

abi @104

This might help:

The Game of Cricket You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that's in the side that's in goes out, and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out. When they are all out, the side that's out comes in and the side thats been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out. When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out. When both sides have been in and all the men have out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game!

Test Match Special manages to reference some of the classic lines of commentary.

Also, the Dutch play cricket.

#107 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 07:22 AM:

Dave Bell -- I would love to use that with some of my ESL groups. I just have to decide whether to use it with the ones I like the most or the least ;-)

#109 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2010, 08:55 PM:

edward oleander @ 95: It strikes me as a bit odd for you to accuse me of reading too much into what you've written and labeling you a racist when that very accusation relies on reading into my comments something I never wrote. As abi observed back @ 58, I have never once called you a racist. I think I made my intention not to call you a racist very clear via the time-honored method of not calling you a racist, by writing such sentences as "Your understanding of China seems to be ... one part vaguely racist" and "Here are the claims oleander made that strike me as especially racist." But it seems that the only thing that would satisfy you is if I didn't use the word at all, which I'm not willing to do.

(Oh, and FYI: violently denying accusations of racism does not, to me, make one seem convincingly anti-racist. One of the things I've noticed over the years is that the more seriously an individual has thought about racism [or sexism, etc.], the more open they are to considering the possibility that they might themselves have some unpleasant assumptions buried somewhere. Because they do! Everyone does.)

albatross @ 105: Apology happily accepted. I'm glad my comment wasn't too acidic to be useful--as might be obvious, my patience is worn a little thin. =)

These are hard topics and I am, as ever, appreciative of the honest consideration you give them.

#110 ::: edward oleander ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 08:36 AM:

Tex Anne @ 98 - "invisible to me because of the terms in which they are couched"

Which is the same way I felt about the use of the term racism above, so your point is well taken.

heresiarch @ 109 - "As abi observed back @ 58, I have never once called you a racist."

Thank you for making that clear. I gladly retract my accusation that you think me racist. That had upset me far more than our disagreement on Chinese governmental philosophy.

Abi @ 99 - The purpose of any analogy is to clarify. It is apparent that mine, in this forum, is having the opposite effect. Nothing I could say at this point would remove the stigma attached to the word choice. I have felt the same "twitchiness" you and Tex Anne speak of on other matters, and it's a thing of the heart, not logic.

Just as heresiarch retains the right to use the word that made me twitch (and I now agree with that right), so to will I. But out of respect for you, heresiarch, Tex Anne, and anyone else who felt the same, I won't continue that debate here...

#111 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2010, 01:37 PM:

As an aside, I'd just like to take overt notice of the ability among our regular commenters here to look squarely at the assumptions revealed by intensively unpacking an argument and, when those assumptions are uncomfortable, candidly re-evaluating the argument. There are other places on the net where that kind of insight and intellectual integrity are on display, but not many, and far fewer still where they predominate.

Shorter me: I love this place.

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