In Which I Read Some Books

Every once in a while, while I’m reading, I’ll run across a sentence or paragraph that I find particularly intriguing. I’ll take a photo of it (hooray for smart phones), or jot it down in some random notebook, never to be seen again. Of course, this habit has continued at NTU, but I just realized, I can share these quotes with others!

Sometimes I find that an author is able to put into words an idea which I know to be true, but which I’ve never tried to express before. Sometimes I’m struck by the insightfulness of an author’s observations. Sometimes an author’s article is terribly insipid, but they are humble enough to admit this, and therefore throw in witty or sarcastic comments, just to keep things interesting. I personally believe there should be some sort of prize for the social science author who manages to place the most quips into his or her writing without having their literature rejected by the peer review board. Who knows, maybe the peer review board enjoys laughing too?

At any rate, here are some gems that make me laugh, cringe, or smirk. Some I wholeheartedly agree with, while others I vehemently oppose. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which is which. Keep in mind some of these are out of date, and I don’t necessarily agree with that is being said. I just think they are interesting.

~~ This explanation of China’s slowness to modernize is sociological and institutional. It differs from the alternative explanation that traditional Chinese society was ever distinctively different from the West, and that the Chinese slowness of modernization was primarily due to the baneful, depressing influence of Western “imperialism”. In an extreme form this view regards all Western contact as having been injurious and a form of “imperialism”. But this does not explain why so overwhelming an influence as “imperialism” produced such different results in China and Japan. We suggest that in both countries Western influence was at first slight, a stimulant more than a depressant, and that it stimulated Japan to respond rapidly and successfully. China’s response was impeded by its size and inertia and by certain distinctive features of the Confucian state and society already described. By the time the depressive and exploitative influences of “imperialism” had grown and accumulated later in the century, it was too late for China to respond successfully. Even so, some of China’s early efforts to modernize were vigorous and impressive. The contrast with Japan appeared only later. In the 1860s an outsider might well have bet the other way…

~~By the 1860s Manchuria was no longer tightly closed to Chinese migration, the Manchu banners were no longer a potent military force, the Manchu language was hardly used, and the ban on Manchu-Chinese intermarriage was no longer effective. The Manchu leadership had almost merged into the Chinese upper class. Until the new Chinese nationalism in the 1890s brought the dynasty under attack racially alien, it functioned as a traditional Chinese institution. Modern critics who say that Chinese leaders, by remaining loyal to the Ch’ing in this era, “sold out” to alien rulers are applying a nationalist standard of loyalty anachronistically…

~~Since we only have Mao’s version of his clashes with his father, it is impossible to judge whether the father was unusually unjust. Parents were customarily harsh and demanding of their sons. From Mao’s account, his father’s demands for physical labor do not seem excessive or out of line with cultural patterns. The pain Mao felt was no doubt excruciating, of the same order as that of a young American boy who is made to mow the lawn…

~~It is a process of psychological coercion based on Pavlov’s theory that environmental conditioning can alter human will and remold the character of the individual. Thus, brainwashing is used not only to convert enemies and extract confessions, but also to indoctrinate party cadres and transform intellectuals so that they can serve the state rather than be liquidated as in post-revolutionary Russia. The indoctrination process usually lasts from several months to a year, depending on the intensity of the objective, but in all cases it takes place in a remote controlled camp where the individual, completely isolated from the outside world, is deprived of all sense of security. Upon arrived at the camp, the trainees are grimly impressed with the impossibility of escape. They are divided into small groups, each under the guidance of an activist. They are assigned heavy physical labor to weaken their will to resist. In this condition they criticize each other’s background and life history. During this period of about two months, food and living quarters are very poor.

In the next stage or three or four months, food and living conditions improve, while physical labor is somewhat reduced by remains sufficient to guarantee fatigue at the end of the day. There are more study sessions and group meetings, where the insignificance of the individual and the omnipotence of the party are stressed. The works of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao become the new Bible. The past is depicted as dark, corrupt, and decadent, while the new life under the Communist regime presents liberation and progress and provides chances for a new and meaningful existence. Class struggle and the inevitability of ultimate proletariat victory are continuously impressed upon the trainees.

At the end of the second period, the trainee in all likelihood experiences emotional crisis, whereupon he comes to the conclusion that there is no point in hiding or resisting. So he seeks liberation by releasing his feelings and accepting wholeheartedly the party and what it represents. With this, a heavy burden is lifted and he is “reborn”. He finds new meaning in the Communist jargon and propaganda, and is anxious to help others have the same experience, partly to make sense of his own conversion. Consolidation of this state of mind requires about four months. When the indoctrination is completed, a quarter of graduates are sent for further schooling, while the remainder goes to organize and lead the public. The whole society, in fact, is a factory of mass control.

~~Except for the ministries of foreign affairs and national development, the five-yuan government duplicates many of the functions of the lower level government, which has its own departments of civil affairs, finance, education, agriculture and forestry, communication, public health, public safety, etc. From the standpoint of administrative efficiency, the presence of two parallel governments on Taiwan is a luxury which the small state can ill afford. Yet, this juxtaposition is a political necessity, for the presence of the central government not only substantiates its claim to jurisdiction over all of China but also offers hope for an eventual return to the mainland…

~~ Actually, except for a small minority of aboriginals in the mountains, the Taiwanese and the mainlanders descended from the same ethnic stock and are “essentially Chinese in their social and political outlooks as in their ancestry”. Among today’s Taiwanese 75 percent are descendants of immigrants from Fukien province and 13 are Hakkas from southern China. The distinction between the mainlanders and Taiwanese was an artificial one, and the government and the people were making a conscious effort to submerge it.

~~ This rapid survey of major developments on Taiwan points to the fact that the Nationalist government, which failed miserably on the mainland, has succeeded in turning the island into a “model” province. Materially, the people enjoy a general well-being and high standard of living unequalled in Chinese history. Yet, or all its prosperity, Taiwan is a small island with limited possibilities. It is not the spiritual home of China. The
older mainlanders felt socially rootless, intellectually isolated, and spiritually empty. Young people were discouraged by the lack of outlets for their talents. The greatest desire of many was to emigrate elsewhere to seek a new life. Although the mainlanders longed to return to the continent, the practical-minded knew that it was a dream hardly feasible during their lifetime. The slogan “going back home to the mainland” has been muted while portrayal of Taiwan as the “treasure island” of enduring value is stressed. No longer a way station before eventual return to the continent, Taiwan offers an alternative to Communist rule. The coexistence of material prosperity and spiritual anxiety testifies to the biblical truth that man does no live on bread alone. He needs hope to live a meaningful life….

~~Even the Chinese Nationalists had passed laws directed toward free choice in marriage and the abolition of concubinage. What was revolutionary was the Communist campaign to spread the word about the law and their effort to implement it. During 1950 and 1951 cadres organized endless meetings calling for confrontation between wives and husbands. Wives were urged to denounce their spouses for their feudal attitudes. Divorce rates rose steeply. The number of suicides also rose as wives reacted to the humiliation of what they had done to their husbands in the emotionally charged atmosphere of the cadre-organized meetings.

~~Unlike many democratic countries, Taiwan has national identity problems which is defined as that a certain section of the people do not identify themselves with the existing nation-state in which they live (Taiwanese), rather they compose their own political identity through the reconstruction of their cultural ethnic identity (Chinese). One of the most effective means to resolve this problem is democratization.

And… two interesting signs, from the Taipei miniature museum…

~~ When in France, we are fascinated to find that those elegant houses are still there. It is important to notice that France is a country that honors its own tradition, while ours is diminishing year after year


~~ An oriental room built by a westerner. It is true that everything in this room is of oriental origin, or of oriental design. Nevertheless, when all of them have been put together, the whole thing becomes sort of odd, despite the fact that nothing looks especially wrong. The surely is not the house we are accustomed to here in Taiwan. After all, it is a room created by a Westerner. However, we still have to give John the credit he deserves, since he visited almost all the Chinese restaurants in downtown Vancouver for this project of his!

Food for thought. Some authors are major trolls.