Across the chasm of Incommensurability

The Washington Post has a piece typical of its genre, A Chinese student praised the ‘fresh air of free speech’ at a U.S. college. Then came the backlash. It’s the standard story; a student from China with somewhat heterodox thoughts and sympathies with some Western ideologies and mores expresses those views freely in the West, and social media backlash makes them walk it back. We all know that the walk back is insincere and coerced, but that’s the point: to maintain the norm of not criticizing the motherland abroad. The truth of the matter of how you really feel is secondary.

Tacit in these stories is that of course freedom of speech and democracy are good. And, there is a bit of confusion that even government manipulation aside, some of the backlash from mainland Chinese seems to be sincere. After all, how could “the people” not defend freedom of speech and democracy?

Reading this story now I remember what an academic and friend (well, ex-friend, we’re out of touch) explained years ago in relation to what you say and public speech: one can’t judge speech by what you intend and what you say in a descriptive sense, but you also have to consider how others take what you say and how it impacts them. In other words, intersubjectivity is paramount, and the object or phenomenon “out there” is often besides the point.

At the time I dismissed this viewpoint and moved on.

Though in general I do not talk to people from China about politics (let’s keep in real, it’s all about the food, and possible business opportunities), it was almost amusing to hear them offer their opinions about Tibet and democracy, because so often very educated and competent people would trot out obvious government talking points. In this domain there was little critical rationalism. One could have a legitimate debate about the value of economic liberalization vs. political liberalization. But it was ridiculous to engage with the thesis that China was always unitary between the Former Han and today. That is just a falsehood. Though the specific detail was often lacking in their arguments, it was clearly implied that they knew the final answer. I would laugh at this attitude, because I thought ultimately facts were the true weapon. The world as it is is where we start and where we end.

Or is it? From the article:

Another popular comment expressed disappointment in U.S. universities, suggesting without any apparent irony that Yang should not have been allowed to make the remarks.

“Are speeches made there not examined for evaluation of their potential impact before being given to the public?” the commentator wrote.

“Our motherland has done so much to make us stand up among Western countries, but what have you done? We have been working so hard to eliminate the stereotypes the West has put on us, but what are you doing? Don’t let me meet you in the United States; I am afraid I could not stop myself from going up and smacking you in the face.”

Others were critical not of Yang’s comments but of the venue in which she chose to make them.

“This kid is too naive. How can you forget the Chinese rule about how to talk once you get to the United States? Just lie or make empty talk instead of telling the truth. Only this will be beneficial for you in China. Now you cannot come back to China,” @Labixiaoxin said.

There is a lot of texture even within this passage. I do wonder if the writers and editors at The Washington Post knew the exegetical treasures they were offering up.

To me, there is irony in the irony. Among the vanguard of the intelligensia in these United States there is plenty of agreement with the thesis that some remarks should not be made, some remarks should not be thought. Especially in public. The issue is not on the principle, but specifically what remarks should not be made, and what remarks should not be public. That is, the important and substantive debates are not about a positive description of the world, but the values through which you view the world. The disagreements with the Chinese here are not about matters of fact, but matters of values. Facts are piddling things next to values.

So let’s take this at face value. Discussions about Tibetan autonomy and Chinese human rights violations cause emotional distress for many Chinese. I’ve seen this a little bit personally, when confronting Chinese graduate students with historical facts. It’s not that they were ignorant, but their views of history were massaged and framed in a particular manner, and it was shocking to be presented with alternative viewpoints when much of one’s national self-identity hinged on a particular narrative. Responses weren’t cogent and passionate, they were stuttering and reflexive.

Now imagine the psychic impact on hundreds of millions of educated Chinese. They’ve been sold a particular view of the world, and these students get exposed to new ideas and viewpoints and relay it back, and it causes emotional distress. Similarly, for hundreds of millions of Muslims expressing atheism is an ipso facto assault on their being, their self-identity. This is why I say that the existence of someone like me, an atheist from a Muslim background, is by definition an affront to many. My existence is blasphemy and hurtful.

And the Chinese view of themselves and their hurt at insults to their nationhood do not come purely from government fiction. There’s a factual reality that needs to be acknowledged. China was for thousands of years was one of the most significant political and cultural units in the world. But the period from 1850 to 1980 were dark decades. The long century of eclipse. China was humiliated, dismembered, and rendered prostrate before the world. It collapsed into factious civil war and warlordism. Tens of millions died in famines due to political instability.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s between 20 to 50 million citizens of the Peoples’ Republic of China starved due to Mao’s crazy ambitions. This is out of a population of ~650 million or so. Clearly many Chinese remember this period, and have relatives who survived through this period. A nation brought low, unable to feed its own children, is not an abstraction for the Chinese.

On many aspects of fact there are details where I shrug and laugh at the average citizen of China’s inability to look beyond the propaganda being fed to it. And I am not sure that the future of the Chinese state and society is particularly as rosy as we might hope for, as its labor force already hit a peak a few years ago. But the achievement of the Chinese state and society over the past generation in lifting hundreds of millions out of grinding poverty have been a wonder to behold. A human achievement greater than the construction of the Great Wall, not just a Chinese achievement.

But it is descriptively just a fact that nations which have been on the margins and find themselves at center stage want their “time in the sun.” The outcomes of these instances in history are often not ones which redound to the glory of our species, but it is likely that group self-glorification and hubris come out of a specific evolutionary context.

There are on the order of ~300 million citizens of the United States. There are 1.3 billion Chinese. If offense and hurt are the ultimate measures of the acceptance of speech than an objective rendering might suggest that we lose and they win. There are more of them to get hurt than us.

But perhaps the point is that there is no objectivity. There is no standard “out there.” Once the measuring stick of reality falls always, and all arguments are reduced to rhetoric, it is sophistry against sophistry. Power against power. Your teams and views are picked for you, or, through self-interest, or, your preferences derived from some aesthetic bias. Sometimes the team with the small numbers wins, though usually not.

Discourse is like a season of baseball. At the end there is a winner. But there is no final season. Just another round of argument.

Ten years ago I read Alister McGrath’s The Twilight of Atheism. I literally laughed at the time when I closed that book, because the numbers did not seem to support him in his grand confidence about atheism’s decline. And since the publication of that book the proportion of people in the United States who are irreligious has increased. Contrary to perceptions there has been no great swell of religion across the world.

But on a deep level McGrath was correct about something. Much of the book was aimed at the “New Atheism” specifically. A bold and offensive movement which prioritized the idea of facts first (in the ideal if not always the achievement), McGrath argued that this was a last gasp of an old modernist and realist view of the world, which would be swallowed by the post-modern age. He, a traditional Christian, had a response to the death of reason and empiricism uber alleles, his God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Primordial identities of religion, race, and nationality would emerge from the chaos and dark as reason receded from the world.

With the rise of social constructionism McGrath saw that the New Atheists would lose the cultural commanding heights, their best and only weapons, the glittering steel of singular facts over social feelings. On the other hand, if facts derive from social cognition, than theistic views have much more purchase, because on the whole the numbers are with God, and not his detractors.

And going back to numbers. The Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos. And China is a massive economic shadow over us all. Anyone who works in the private sector dreams of business in China. Currently Amazon is nothing in China. What if the Chinese oligarchs made an offer Bezos couldn’t refuse? Do you think The Washington Post wouldn’t change its tune?

When objectivity and being right is no defense, then all that remains is self-interest. Ironically, cold hard realism may foster more universal empathy by allowing us to be grounded in something beyond our social unit. In the near future if the size of social units determines who is, and isn’t, right, than those who built a great bonfire on top of positivism’s death may die first at the hands of the hungry cannibal hordes. Many of us will shed no tears. We were not the ones in need of empathy, because we were among the broad bourgeois masses.

In the end the truth only wins out despite our human natures, not because of it.

22 thoughts on “Across the chasm of Incommensurability

  1. “it was almost amusing to hear them offer their opinions about Tibet and democracy”

    I taught many Chinese grad students at Purdue. My interactions with them were almost uniformly positive, but there were some things that really stood out.

    1. They were really, really not woke, and as I was teaching them in preparation for their own teaching at the university, I had to make very clear that certain kinds of jokes should not be made in a classroom or other professional setting in America.

    2. The dynamic you describe here is very real, where people who were perceptive and informed and critically engaged would suddenly spout what seemed like completely unaltered government propaganda about Taiwan or Tibet or similar.

  2. 2. The dynamic you describe here is very real, where people who were perceptive and informed and critically engaged would suddenly spout what seemed like completely unaltered government propaganda about Taiwan or Tibet or similar.

    which country are you talking about?

    and let’s be honest: some of the gov propaganda about tibet being an oppressive feudal regime is actually correct. it’s just sometimes people LIKE their feudal regimes….

  3. “some of the gov propaganda about tibet being an oppressive feudal regime ”

    A bit surprised by this (may be throwaway) response. I have visted Tibet three times. Tibet as a region or subcontinent is barely together. Tibetans in Tibet or Ladakh or Dharmashala are barely unified, and beyond some common religious Dalai lama love, are not a very unified people. “Oppressive” “feudal” or words that do not mean a whole lot in the Tibetan context, except as a 18th or 19th century people living in 20th or 21th century.

    I hear this comment constantly in India. Tribals are either glorified as living in a state that is the same as several centuries ago, or called out as living in oppressive tribal lifestyles. Both, are a bit vague. The tribal response is slow in evolving to the changes of the last two centuries, owing, both, to their remoteness, or a lack of clarity on what is the outcome of their lives to “progress”. It is unclear to me how adding an uranium mine or a steel plant actually improves Tibetans. Tibetans did view the Lamas as Gods, but unclear that their day-to-day lives were serfs to that god, or, at the present day, they are not serfs to another feudalism.

    I say this not as an Indian, but it is unclear if Tibetans (replace with Indian tribals, in say, Arunahcal or Sikkim) have not or do not wish to be serfs to another feudalism. It is not even clear that they were serfs earlier. I am not arguing the fact that Tibetans are much better off than the people across from the border.

  4. if the end goal is to produce individualistic consumers at the end of history the chinese conquest is a step fwd. of course it might entail the dissolution of tibetans as people understood them….

  5. Razib,

    I have been trying for some time now to integrate 2 competing beliefs/axioms:

    1. Diversity fosters intellectualism (primarily through discourse), promotes universal morals/ethics, and offers a new mode of social cognition that emphasizes individual judgement over group labeling.

    2. Diversity increases social tensions, magnifies economic inequalities, and provides an incubator for demagogues to seize power. See the amplification of White Nationalism, Black Lives Matter, and the Reconquista Movement in the last few years as examples.

    I believe that IQ is the primary factor that differentiates the utility of diversity for an individual or group.

    For argumentation purposes I will divide the population into the cognitive elite (~115 IQ, sufficient to do well in a broad range of topics at University) vs the non-elites.

    For the cognitive elites, diversity has clear benefits. High net worth (and thus presumably high IQ) integrated neighborhoods in the suburbs and exurbs of our major cities seem to be doing quite well. In my experience as a student, I found diversity at UC Davis, primarily in the from of introduction to South Asian and East Asian culture, to be instrumental in filling in the historical holes in my worldview and providing inoculation against radical ideologies.

    But, for the non-elites, and even marginal-elites, there are clear ramifications and negatives to diversity.

    For example:

    1. An underrepresented minority student who under-performs his peers, damaging his self-efficacy and career chances, due to being admitted despite inferior qualification.

    2. The White peoples whose mediocrity 2-3 generations ago might have netted them a white collar lifestyle, are now under-performing their parents, leading to racial resentment as evidenced by surging white identity politics.

    3. The East Asian students who face BRUTAL competition due to a huge surplus of qualified talent. How many East Asians who pass the threshold of intellectual elitism are relegated to lesser programs, or are discouraged by the poor odds?

    And of course, the rending of the social fabric we see every day, that seems in part driven by rising racial/ethnic consciousness.

    Amplifying this problems:

    1. Slowing and reversal of the Flynn effect.
    2. Dysgenic policies.
    3. Low birthrates among the educated, which appears cross-culturally?

    So the crux of my argument is that diversity will continue to pose serious challenges to re-integrating our culture with the Western values of egalitarianism and individualism until we can raise the average IQ significantly. [1/2]

  6. [2/2]
    It is hard to image a society, even a multi-racial multicultural society, facing diversity-induced problems if we could dramatically reduced the incidence of <90 IQ.

    However, even if a genetic intervention was released today, there would be a latency of at least 30-50 years before the changing of generations evidenced this intervention.

    In the meanwhile, we have no intervention, and are faced with critical challenges, including the existential threats of climate instability and nuclear war.

    So my question is, do you see a solution to the friction in today's society that doesn't require a massive shift in the average intelligence of the man on the street?

    Thanks and kind regards,
    Nikolas

  7. An open meritocratic society like the US rewards capable individuals, mostly those on the right side of the curve and there are few if any religious or racial barriers; and I want to emphasize individuals. It is arguable that this freeing up of the individual has provided enormous benefits to society as a whole that may have been foregone in rigid and stratified societies based on something other than merit.
    We cooperate in order to compete. Adding 5, 10, or 15 points to everyone’s IQ would change very little. Joe 6-pack might come up with more and better hints on the operation of the production line but someone will still be needed on the production line.
    The question is whether we want this meritocracy. It works really well for the right side of the curve. Lately the left side has been kicked to the curb and we need to get back to the point where the proles that are doing their job get a decent share and have a respected place in the scheme.
    Letting the right side of the curve do their thing is great and is arguable the best deal for the whole, but if the lower part of the whole is not surviving, where is the argument for their continued acquiescence?

  8. “Your teams and views are picked for you, or, through self-interest, or, your preferences derived from some aesthetic bias.””

    Razib, surely as a student of David Hume you understand the power of that argument.

    “because on the whole the numbers are with God, and not his detractors.”

    As an atheist from the age of eight years I was always adamant about the total lack of evidence for the existence of God. At fourteen I was as obnoxious a village atheist as Sam Harris. This was stupid. Notre Dame, Chartres, and Bach’s Mass in B Minor are as positive and uplifting to behold as any subsequent achievements of Western civilization including tetracycline. Despite the sincere but epistemologically unjustified religious motivations behind those achievements I absolutely refuse to throw those out the window in the name of diversity and importing into the realm formally known as Christendom hordes of African natives and Salafist fanatics.

    Given our depraved state of culture and morality my tolerance, neigh admiration, for the Ten Commandments and monarchy knows no bounds.

  9. Fifteen years ago I spent five weeks sneaking by bicycle across the wild Kham region of eastern Tibet. It’s closed to foreigneers but a few used get through every summer till the crackdown in 2008. Anti-Chinese sentiment is said to be strongest in Kham, or at least the guerilla war was fiercest there after 1959. A college student on break, back from Beijing invited me to stay in his village a few days. One day his uncle came to visit and told us all about his hatred of the Chinese. He’d spent years in a prison camp during what sounded like the Great Leap Forward period. He measured out in his hand the pitiful amount of barley meal the inmates received per day and I didn’t think he was exaggerating when he said only “100 of 10,000” survived. His brothers starved to death. Monasteries destroyed, village elders taken away never to return. On and on. He cursed the government and said it would fall. Afterwards the student, who was translating, explained in English he felt differently. The Chinese had changed and were doing many things for Tibet. The towns seemed mostly Chinese and people talked about plans to bring in Chinese farmers to dilute the natives. Wealthy Chinese tourists were common in the accessible areas. Otherwise it was Sichuanese migrants who did not seem to like Tibetans.

    I later became good friends with a Chinese woman I met cycling the same route. She loved Tibet passionately and ended up in the US for school and work so had exposure to the American view of things. I told her the story about the old man’s sufferings. She shrugged and said it was a “bad political time” for everyone in China, not just Tibet. The idea that Tibetans maybe should not have to share in another country’s bad political times was a nonstarter. Tibet is part of China full stop. But what about the Chinese forcing their culture on the Tibetans? “It’s not Chinese culture, it’s modern life. Han people are losing their culture too.” This from a woman who who had once traveled over the Himalayas in the winter with a group of Tibetan monks on a pilgrimage. Incommensurable, yes.

  10. When I enrolled at university in Australia, which is one of the more highly ranked universities in the country, all applicants were put through psychometric testing (as was my daughter when she enrolled at the same university). I don’t know what happens in American universities, but at my university you could be permitted to enrol in Psychology with an IQ of 98, which is pretty worrying (but then Australia has a mean adult IQ of 98, so this is an average punter). Deeply regrettably, if you were too dumb to be admitted to Psychology, you opted for Anthropology. That was it – if you were too dumb for Anthropology, you were too dumb for everything. Think about what Anthropologists do in Australia – yes, they get involved with Indigenous people; having the dumbest graduates doing that is really not desirable.

    When I first saw this story, I had two thoughts about this girl: (1) for a Chinese student with the privilege of studying in America to be taking Psychology and Theater, she must be as dumb as a brick relative to the spectrum of Mainland Chinese students studying abroad; and (2) her parents (who were in the audience when she delivered her fawning, gushing and irrational speech, although they were unable to understand what she was saying) must be relatively very wealthy. So my interpretation of her speech was as something from a spoiled rich kid who is too dumb to tie her own shoelaces – hardly earth-shattering stuff, and not worth paying attention to.

    In terms of newsworthiness, it was trivial in relative terms, but someone saw fit to play it up. No surprise, there was a big backlash from the legions of anonymous Chinese nationalists on Chinese social media. Someone saying something naive and stupid (likely her ‘voice’ would be ignored ‘at home’ because she’s so dumb) and lots of anonymous trolls piling on in response would be unlikely to be any kind of news story anywhere else.

    Veteran Hong Kong journalist Alex Lo, who sometimes hits the mark and is sometimes well wide of it, had this to say: http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2095579/stop-feeding-egos-chinas-rabid-cyber-nationalists

    The People’s Daily had this to say: http://en.people.cn/n3/2017/0522/c90000-9218701.html Pretty moderate and low key by their standards.

    The Chinese Foreign Office, in a brief, non-committal piece by Liu Zhen (Mainland name) who clearly would have preferred not to have to address such a storm-in-teacup issue at all, had this to say: http://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2095570/beijing-urges-all-chinese-be-responsible-public-statements-after

    Back in the days when I was regularly appearing in the front pages of the local newspapers (if you want to be famous, you are welcome to it – it sucks in my experience), I could always judge what the journalists really thought of me by looking at the photos of me that they printed in the news. If you give a 5 or 10 minute address at a news conference, any half-decent news photographer will get shots of you looking good, and looking bad, no matter how disciplined you try to be with your body language. Fortunately in my case they always made me look good, so I could reliably tell that the journos liked me on a personal level, and that was always reflected in what they wrote – pretty factual, objective and accurate, as far as they could grasp the technical subject I was talking about, and no snide nasty stuff. But then I was at least smart enough to treat journalists and news cameramen as humans (secret – buy them sandwiches and drinks before you give a news conference – the cameramen, who have been on their feet all day with no time to stop for lunch, let alone a free one, will love you for it), always told them the truth, stayed available to them one-to-one to answer their questions and explain technical stuff in terms they could understand until they ran out of things to ask, and they reciprocated by liking me. Lucky me. It could have been a lot worse.

    So take a look at the photo that Alex Lo has chosen (girl looking quite attractive and serious), Liu Zhen (film clip that is meant to be favourable, but it is a stupid speech) and The People’s Daily (makes the girl look like an asymmetrical moon-faced moron). That reflects the spectrum of opinion.

    But make no mistake – the air in most Chinese cities is literally unbreathable. That’s a fact. Yes, dragging 700 million people out of crushing poverty has been a commendable achievement, but a lot of people have enriched themselves to an obscene level corruptly in the process, and the cost in terms of the environment in China has been devastating. Any Chinese patriot who doesn’t acknowledge that as a massive problem is a self-delusional idiot.

  11. if the end goal is to produce individualistic consumers at the end of history the chinese conquest is a step fwd. of course it might entail the dissolution of tibetans as people understood them….

    What the Chinese propaganda proclaims – a Chinese-dominated Tibet with modernity (“No more serfdom!” and “economic development!”) or an independent Tibet that is an oppressive feudal theocracy – is, of course a false choice. It’s perfectly possible to have a relatively modern Tibet without Chinese overlordship, let alone demographic invasion and cultural destruction.

    The whole subject of Tibet sends otherwise demure and quiescent Chinese foreign students into an absolute bat-dung crazy mode in a second… leading them to engage in petty violence (such as water bottle throwing at pro-Tibet speakers or shoving matches) even in an otherwise dignified public forum. They’d rather be the Ugly Chinese rather then tolerate pro-Tibet speeches… even in other countries!

    I suspect two tendencies are largely responsible. One, China is an emerging power and its foreign students – mostly the scions of the upper and upper middle class parents – are both (justly) proud of China’s emergence into the world stage and is almost terrified about all the problems of that society that is just beneath the surface. Any criticism that exposes the latter is bound to be met with a vehement denial (earnest or otherwise). What we have here, indeed, is a rising, but still insecure hegemon. And insecurity does not tolerate criticism well.

    Two, I suspect that most educated Chinese understand the occupation of Tibet as an act of outright colonialism – the very system of exploitation (by Europeans and Japanese) that the Chinese blame for their own developmental retardation in the recent past. In most human societies, confident power-flexing is not altogether frowned upon, if not always prized. But hypocrisy is welcomed nowhere. Hence the literally red-faced “There is no hypocrisy here! We rescued the Tibetan serfs with modernity! This is NOT colonialism, but modernity and reform!” shouting at every mention of Tibet with outsiders.

    Throw in the usual fears about “splittism” – that perennial bugbear of the Chinese central authorities since the Chin – and we have a perfect recipe for turning the usually untroublesome and mostly rational people into screeching and dung-throwing baboons.

  12. But perhaps the point is that there is no objectivity. There is no standard “out there.” Once the measuring stick of reality falls always, and all arguments are reduced to rhetoric, it is sophistry against sophistry. Power against power. Your teams and views are picked for you, or, through self-interest, or, your preferences derived from some aesthetic bias.

    Mr. Khan, I approach this from a perspective that is perhaps from the opposite – a sincerely theistic – end. What we are experiencing in the West today is de-Christianization. And I am of the view that valuing objective reality requires a belief in something greater than oneself (or one’s family, clan, what have you). Otherwise, it is, as you put it so well and succinctly, all “power against power.”

    You asked – perhaps rhetorically – in another thread what to teach your children about speaking truth. My answer to that is I have taught my children the ancient Persian warrior precepts: ” To ride well, to shoot straight, and to speak the truth.” I have taught my children that they should not fear the judgments of their fellow man, but that of God, and as such be (politely) truthful. I also taught them that those from whom they would receive denunciation in response to this truth-speaking would be the right kind of enemies to have while those who show approbation would be the right allies and friends.

    I have, over the years, discussed with my wife about whether this philosophical grounding would make the lives of my children difficult as adults and professionals. In every instance my wife, who is usually the more practical and less sentimental between the two of us, surprises me thusly: “Would you have that our sons and daughters be successful, but hollow?” So she fortifies me to resume course.

    But if this doesn’t work out? I believe you have read my comment or two about the catacombs!

    Remember St. Augustine: “Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was condemned.” We, most of us flawed human beings, walk on this knife’s edge ever so delicately.

  13. Twinkie, I don’t know whether or not that is remembered by most Chinese or factors into their thinking about American “lecturing”. In Kham it certainly is. That old man was rabidly pro-American. Other than a pair of hastily bulldozed thousand mile roads the terrain there is so unbelievably difficult to move around in they’d have had a chance with enough weaponry. But it was one of the most isolated and backward places on Earth. In the 90s at least there were still hunters using antique matchlock (not even flintlock) firearms in the Yarlung Tsangpo area. It was hopeless. The guy told me about a failed attempt to take a bridge guarded by machine gun over the Salween River on the Sichuan-Lhasa road. He said two hundred were lost on his side but only four Chinese. I passed it a couple days later. The gun emplacement was still there and completely covered the only possible approach for hundreds of yards on one side. The other went straight into a tunnel through a sheer cliff. Must have been like going over the top in the Somme with a musket.

  14. swampr, thank you for sharing the firsthand experience.

    But it was one of the most isolated and backward places on Earth. In the 90s at least there were still hunters using antique matchlock (not even flintlock) firearms in the Yarlung Tsangpo area.

    I know that hunters using matchlocks were still to be found in remote parts of China, Japan, and Korea through the 1940’s, but I didn’t realize this persisted to the 90’s (!) in Tibet.

    It was hopeless. The guy told me about a failed attempt to take a bridge guarded by machine gun over the Salween River on the Sichuan-Lhasa road. He said two hundred were lost on his side but only four Chinese.

    Remember the Afghan-Soviet War? Prior to the introduction of large-scale CIA/ISI supplies, the Afghans were using Lee-Enfields from the days of the British Empire. Some even used old-fashioned Jezails. See: http://www.imfdb.org/images/thumb/9/99/TB-SMLE2A.jpg/600px-TB-SMLE2A.jpg

  15. The Lee-Enfield is a fine example of a modern, bolt action, magazine fed rifle. It has a silky smooth action, is reliable, and has a 10-round magazine of powerful .30 caliber cartridges. As a battle rifle it was/is easily the equal of the K98 Mauser and .30-06 Springfield. I daresay a Red Chinese machine gun emplacement would be in a world of hurt taking concentrated .303 Enfield fire from a squad of Tibetan partisans shooting at them from 400+ yards away from emplacements on a rocky Himalayan hillside. The weapon stayed in production through the 1950’s in Australia.

  16. The final word on ‘that speech’ from some jokers in Taiwan:
    http://shanghaiist.com/2017/05/26/tomonews-shuping-yang.php

    Funny enough, but I will add that I was in Taipei not very long ago, and the air there is also unbreathable. Plus Taiwanese democracy is roundly regarded as a joke in E/SE Asia, with politicians engaging in fist fights in parliament, taking off their shoes and attacking people with them, etc. Singaporeans are in no position to poke fun either, living as they do in a long standing autocracy, but at least they have clean air (except when the Indonesians are setting fire to the forests).

  17. I make it a point to include a slide show on the American firebombing of Tokyo in every class I teach over here. I manage to find ways to sneak it into to almost everything.

    The Chinese know that they have been told lies their entire life. It is partly why they are so cynical. What they have trouble discerning is exactly what those lies are. Chinese propaganda is really much more about omission than commission. It is not so much that the government line is forced down everyone’s throats, but that the existence of other lines is not known.

    The Tokyo firebombings is a case in point. Information about the firebombings–that America killed 120,000 Japanese civilians in one night, that Tokyo and every other major city except Kyoto was burned to the ground, that Japan lost as high a percentage of its population in the war as the Chinese did, that Japanese industry was totally destroyed, and that the country had a GDP per capita as low as China’s when the war was over–are not censored in China. You can find books here with all of this information in it. But it is not part of the narrative. That narrative goes: “the Japanese started a war with China. They were defeated, but the Japanese never suffered for their crimes, and thus will do it again if given the chance.”

    Their narrative is ludicrous, if you know the facts. They don’t.

    I have had students respond almost violently to this information. Most though just respond with a kind of intellectual shock–they realize that a story they have assumed is true their entire life is not true, and are not sure what to do about it.

    Were there a Chinese authority figure present to argue back and provide some stock lines in response, they would fall back on that. But if it is just you, them, and the facts then it is quite possible to create this sort of cognitive dissonance.

    The key though is that you cannot be seen as hostile. The best introduction to many of these topics is a question like this: “Do you really want to know what the rest of the world [thinks about the South China Sea/has trouble trusting China/does not like policy or person x/etc.]?” If they say yes, you have permission to tell them the truth or perspective that will leave them disturbed for some time. You are filling them in on where the lie is. They know the lies exist. They just don’t know where.

    The corollary to this is that none of this works if you are in debate mode, or trying to criticize China as a whole. There is a whole host of reasons why Chinese are so sensitive about the reputation of their country (in Taiwan they say mainlanders have 玻璃心, “glass hearts”), but one of the least appreciated is that they are so familiar with government led propaganda in their own land that they assume most narratives with a geopolitical tilt must have a government origin. They’ll dismiss your claims about the historical unity of the Chinese realm as American propaganda because they know your claims have political implications today, and that these implications help the United States at China’s expense…. thus must be of government origin. It is what would happen over there.

    There are still ways around it of course. Even at the policy level it can be done, if we were wise enough to do it right. We’ll see.

    I’m writing up a document on the way Chinese propaganda and narrative making works here at the ground level. It will be distributed privately. Hit me up via e-mail or social media if you would like me to send you a copy when its done.

  18. Mr T. Greer, I have been a fan of your blog and your observation of China is usually spot on. Just one nitpicking.

    ” Information about the firebombings–that America killed 120,000 Japanese civilians in one night, that Tokyo and every other major city except Kyoto was burned to the ground, that Japan lost as high a percentage of its population in the war as the Chinese did, that Japanese industry was totally destroyed, and that the country had a GDP per capita as low as China’s when the war was over–are not censored in China.”

    This WAS part of the narrative. During 80s when there was honey-moon period between China and Japan. The victim hood of Japanese people during the War was emphasized. I knew this because I was educated in Chinese primary education during 80s. Of course this was left out of the narrative once Sino-Japanese relations soured later.

  19. I will note that most of the kids I teach are 九零后。They were not alive in the 80’s, and haven’t witnessed that about-face.

  20. To put that in context, Most American Millennials kids don’t know Soviet Union was part of the allies that defeated Nazi Germany. I am talking about UCLA students. In my experience, post 90s generation Chinese kids are way open minded than my generation and generations before. They know more about the world than their American counter-part. Then again that may not be saying a lot.

  21. The Lee-Enfield is a fine example of a modern, bolt action, magazine fed rifle. It has a silky smooth action, is reliable, and has a 10-round magazine of powerful .30 caliber cartridges. As a battle rifle it was/is easily the equal of the K98 Mauser and .30-06 Springfield.

    It is certainly one of the great battle rifles of the early 20th Century. I’ve read – ad nauseam – how the British infantry were able to put up such high rates of fire with their Lee-Enfields that the Germans were convinced they were facing machine guns in World War I. However, it had some issues, mostly related to the .303 British cartridge (indeed the British planned to replace them with Mauser-type rifles when World War I began and shelved the plan).

    I had and shot a Rifle No. 5, Mk. I “Jungle Carbine” variant for a while. The action was, indeed, quite slick and fast, but it had the classic wandering zero issue and the chamber was grossly oversized, with the attendant adverse ramification for accuracy. I gave it away years ago.

    I still have a rebuilt and sporterized Mauser K98. Its action is not nearly as fast or slick as the Lee-Enfield’s, but it is far more robust and the famed claw extractor on that rifle is rock solid reliable.

    I daresay a Red Chinese machine gun emplacement would be in a world of hurt taking concentrated .303 Enfield fire from a squad of Tibetan partisans shooting at them from 400+ yards away from emplacements on a rocky Himalayan hillside. The weapon stayed in production through the 1950’s in Australia.

    “400+ yards” is highly optimistic to say the least, especially without glass and with untrained peasants/monks.

    By the way, the Lee-Enfield has returned to new-found respect in Afghanistan. Just as we American forces have relied on designated marksman rifles to a greater extent in that theater due to the engagement distances involved, our opponents began to rely less on spray-and-pray with AKs and more on “sniping” attacks with their old Lee-Enfields.

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