According to Mr. Mann there are two popular scenarios about the development of the world’s largest state and the world’s second largest economy. EitheAccording to Mr. Mann there are two popular scenarios about the development of the world’s largest state and the world’s second largest economy. Either will China collapse under the contradictions of Chinese society, or China will evolve towards democracy, free elections, an independent judiciary, and human rights. This is what Mr. Mann calls the “soothing scenario”.
Proponents of the soothing scenario point at the long term, and simply consider any proof of China’s repression as a temporary setback. Visitors to China often restrict themselves to the big coastal cities, where they mistake skyscrapers, conversations with taxi drivers, and Starbucks as signs that “they” are already just like “us” (i.e. Americans), allowing Mr. Mann to repeat a quote from Senator Kenneth Wherry of Nebraska that “with God’s help, we will lift Shanghai up and up until it is just like Kansas city”. Those expecting an upheaval often point at the many protests and riots, ethnic strife, unequal distribution of the newly created wealth, ecological disasters, and corruption.
However, Mr. Mann advocates a third scenario: the continuation of the current regime. He gives various reasons for this. The riots and strikes are often isolated given China’s size, and the country has a long history of holding itself together. I think he could very well be right. Although the global trend seems definitely towards more democracy and transparency due to the rise of the middle class and the opportunities for information exchange offered by the internet (transparency being one of the most fashionable words of the decade among political and business talking heads), there seem to be few cracks visible in the system that could not be repaired. And most of all, the state is bringing home the cha siu: it is delivering an improvement in the standard of living of as many as the world has ever seen (albeit not uniformly among all Chinese, and certainly not in an efficient manner). Mr. Mann points to the fact that the Leninist structure is still in place completely. He does not believe China will evolve like South Korea or Taiwan. Its scale is vastly different, and China can resist pressure from the outside much easier, as it does not need America to support its national defence. He also points at China’s increasing sophistication to combine economic openness with political repression. In that way, you could somewhat compare China to Singapore in the days of Harry Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore has opened up since then, and the People’s Action Party is still in power. Unfortunately, Mr. Mann does not make this comparison.
Mr. Mann gives three arguments why we should care about political development. These are the right of the Chinese people to choose their own government, the instability of communist regimes in the long run, and the support China gives to all kinds of rogue regimes in the world.
The analysis only takes the first 29 pages of the book. The rest is devoted to how the “soothing scenario” was adopted by America’s governing and business elite. I doubt this surprises many people, as it offers profit-opportunities for the business elite and allows for inaction by the political leadership that also profits from any increase in national wealth brought by trade. Mr. Mann discusses and dismisses the various arguments brought forward against trouble makers, and the continuity of China policy among the administrations since Nixon’s. He also gives some examples of how the Chinese government sometimes just tell Western delegations what they want to hear, while no follow up is given to such “initiatives”.
All in all, the subject would have merited more analysis than given in this book....more
In 1934 some 200,000 communists were driven out of their bases in Jiangxi in the south of China by Chiang Kai-shek. Mao steered them like a ChinExodus
In 1934 some 200,000 communists were driven out of their bases in Jiangxi in the south of China by Chiang Kai-shek. Mao steered them like a Chinese Moses on a course from victory to victory. After two years of incredible endurance, courage, and hope against impossible odds – and a march of 8,000 miles – the Red Armies reached the barren Yellow Plateau of northwestern China. From there on they would need another decade to launch the new China. Enshrined for the nation in musical extravaganzas like The East Is Red and feature films of battles, the Long March and its idealism, optimism, and heroism remain the enduring emblem of China and the regime today.
In her book Sun Shuyun shows that this emblem does not really match reality. In 2004 she followed the traces of the Long March from the former Soviet of Ruijun all the way to Shaanxi and Gansu where the Fourth Army found its Waterloo against the superior Ma. In all areas she managed to find one or more of the remaining 500 survivors of the march, as well as local historians of the Long March. Both the survivors and the historians candidly deny the spin. E.g. the conquest of the Luding Bridge over the Dadu River was a much simpler affair than the famous propaganda movie suggested. It was not defended by a regiment, but only by a few men with guns that could only shoot a few yards. The local warlord was on bad terms with Chiang’s nationalists and did not mind the Red Army to move northward.
This does not mean that Ms. Sun is not very much impressed by the incredible suffering that the Red Army had to endure. The Long March she describes was a baffling Darwinian selection process of physical hardship, starvation, battles, and purges. Still, or consequently, many of the remaining soldiers were purged in the Cultural Revolution. Those alive in 2005 often received only a percentage of the promised pensions.
Between 1930 and 1934, Chiang's nationalists lost over 100,000 men fighting the communists in Jiangxi between Fujian and Guangdong. Force had to be used to convince the locals to join the fighting. Given the Chinese belief that a good man is not destined for the army, just like good iron is not for nails, most of the communist soldiers were young farmers. Able men were first recruited, but then they took the old, sick, opium addicts and the young. Disabled men became popular as husbands, because they would not be sent to the front. Personal happiness and physical desire did not count for the true believers: such feelings were submerged in the excitement for the revolution. This did not apply to everybody. Women would often not see their husbands for years and start sleeping around. The communists had freed women and allowed divorce. This often led to the unintended consequence of multiple marriages and divorces, just like unbound feet were often bound again later.
A lack of training accounted for 50% of the Red Army's casualties. Arms and ammunition were equally bad. Soldiers received five bullets for a battle. The Red Army had to supply itself with what it could conquer from the Nationalists. Up to nearly 50% of the soldiers deserted. Although the base in Ruijun was created by Mao, he was not really appreciated by the Party, and Stalin’s Comintern sent the German Otto Braun to lead the force. In Ruijin, Mao was already conducting purges that included the torture and the execution of thousands of men. Some 20,000 got killed even before this became a habit in Stalin's Soviet Union. Land hardly enough to feed a family of five could make you a landlord:
Purges seemed to have entered the Communists' bloodstream as an expression of their cardinal principle - class struggle.
The communists wanted to keep the people on their toes by constant campaigns:
”People lived in fear and that was what they wanted”
Braun’s strategy did not work, but warlords in the neighbouring provinces that were equally hostile to Chiang helped the Red Army escape. Mao had to leave his second child behind and would never see it again. The army moved at the pace of "an emperor's sedan chair". Its central column consisted of over 4,000 staff. Overall, 86,000 were on the move, usually at night to avoid enemy planes. Defections remained a constant problem during the Long March. The Xiang River Battle celebrated by Chinese propaganda as the March’s major battle has some 30,000 people unaccounted for; expectedly most of them deserted. Rich people were taken hostage for ransom, and killed in front of the troops if no ransom materialised. Wounded soldiers were left behind with a few silver dollars in the villages along the way. Medicine was lacking: enough cloth, simple injections like quinine or even salt to disinfect wounds could have saved many lives. Opium was the only thing always available. Theatre was used to impress poor peasants that rarely saw any entertainment besides the Lunar New Year fortnight.
In Zunyi in Guizhou, Mao managed to get to get into the Politburo again. The pleasure must have been greatly reduced by the need to leave his third new-born child behind in the care of an opium addicted woman when the army finally dashed into Sichuan. In Sichuan Braun was demoted. The Fourth Army based in the west of Sichuan travelled towards Mao's columns, but Mao split again soon. His troops travelled on through the Tibetan grasslands, the worst part of the march. The Tibetan "barbarians" had all fled and there was no food, the weather was terrible, and the swamps dangerous. Women stopped menstruating, in quite a few cases for good. When they tried to sack monasteries the monks would shoot back.
When they reached the Soviet in Shaanxi, they were only 4,000 people left. Here Ms. Sun meets a TV-crew shooting a documentary about the Long March, which knowingly omits many facts that go against the old propaganda. It was in Shaanxi that Mao rallied his troops with a speech where the Long March was named. The escape from the south was turned into a preparation to fight the Japanese. As a master of propaganda Mao invited Edgar Snow for a visit full of privileges that led to his famous Red Star over China, the book that altered the world's view of the communists.
Zhang Xueliang, a regional warlord keener on a united fight against the Japanese, supported the communists with Nationalist supplies. He also managed to capture Chiang Kai-shek against the wishes of Stalin, and negotiated an anti-Japanese coalition with the nationalist leader. The Long March was over for the core troops, but Ms. Sun dedicates another chapter to the plight of the Fourth Army. It was rechristened into the Western Army and sent to Gansu to fight the Muslim Ma, causing the death of another 20,000 men and women....more
Although Robert van Gulik/Gao Lo-pei/(高羅佩, was not a discoverer, I could not help thinking of the similarities withThe Cloud and Rain, before the Qing
Although Robert van Gulik/Gao Lo-pei/(高羅佩, was not a discoverer, I could not help thinking of the similarities with Richard Burton when I read this book. Both were highly literate polyglots and colourful products of the colonial age, who wanted to give back some of the history to the cultures they studied. Both also showed a great interest in sexuality. Where Richard Burton concentrated on India and the Arab world, Robert van Gulik’s main interest was China. Besides a set of detective novels that gave a vivid impression of ancient Chinese culture (and that were supposedly mandatory reading for American diplomats to China), Robert van Gulik also produced some academic works related to Chinese history.
This is Van Gulik’s best known academic work, which after 50 years is still often quoted. It covers a single theme across most of Chinese history, from the beginning until the fall of the Ming dynasty. From the earliest available sources, we see an interplay between Taoism and Confucianism, with Buddhism playing a secondary role. Although the Christian concept of sin was absent in Chinese culture, Confucianism tried to constrain sexuality (and women), as it considered it a threat to stability and order. Taoism on the other hand stressed the importance and power of human sexuality. With its mystical and alchemic nature, Taoism saw sexuality as the path to eternal life for men. Taoism’s philosophy is based upon the idea that the feminine (yin) and the masculine (yang) cannot do without the other. Although intercourse was often called a “battle”, various sexual positions could cure different diseases and vaginal fluids could greatly increase the strength of men, particularly if the woman enjoyed the congress also. The “cloud and rain” (云雨/ Yün Yü), as sex was called (cloud symbolising the womb and rain the semen), on auspicious moments and sex with lots of women was also considered greatly beneficial. Intercourse without ejaculation (“coïtus reservatus”) by using the left hand to pressure the area between the scrotum and the anus would nourish the ni-huan spot in the brain through the dorsal column of the spine, creating the Elixer of Life and consequently greatly increase the chance of a long life or even accomplish immortality. Strangely, this theory did not change much over time, although it seems easy enough to falsify. And although China became decidedly more prudish among the late Ming and the Qing, reminiscences of it exist in Chinese culture even today.
In between the Taoist fireworks, the author gives all sorts of details about (family) life among the scholarly classes throughout the various dynasties before the Qing. The book covers the hierarchy of wives and concubines (“a husband is heaven and cannot be shirked”, after all), the emphasis on a woman’s modesty, as well as expenses in upper class brothels and the quality of erotic paintings and novels, and the relationship with Tantrism.
Somewhat out of the blue, Van Gulik finishes his monograph with a paragraph on the resilience of Chinese people and their culture. Overseas policy makers may take note that its fundamental principles are static. The Chinese are utterly capable of renewal (or even temporary outside dominance), but it is always self renewal, "because of their supreme confidence in the strength of their blood and their number, and their conviction that in the end they will always conquer the conquerors, both in the material and spiritual field."
In general, the book is stronger on description than an interpretation, but in this case I did not find that a disadvantage (it also pays only limited attention to other sexual orientations than plain vanilla hetero sexuality, claiming that there was not much else). If your Latin is not as it probably should be, make sure you get a translated version, or the 2002 edition, where “all Latin has for the first time been translated into unambiguous English, thus making the full text widely available to an academic audience”. The era of polyglots like Van Gulik, who knew Dutch, Malay, Javanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Latin, Greek, French, German, English, Russian, Sanskrit, Blackfoot Indian, Tibetan, and Japanese, is clearly over....more