“The House of Lim” and the Myth of the Harmonious Chinese Family

In 1959 the renowned American anthropologist and sinologist Arthur P. Wolf went on a study trip to Taiwan with his wife Margery. They spent two years in the house of the Lims, a “joint” family who lived in a small village in the countryside. Living side by side for a long period of time with a traditional Taiwanese family allowed the American couple to gain deep insight into the society and culture of the island.

This experience prompted Margery Wolf to write an account of those years, a book that is today almost forgotten, like many other great books, but which, more than fifty years after its publication, is still worth reading.

The House of Lim describes the life of rural Taiwan at a time when the modernization of its economy and society was still in its infancy. She depicts a world in which the old Confucian family system dominated life in an almost totalitarian way. Individuals were embedded in a network of relationships based on formality, hierarchy, social roles, and obligations. Continue reading

Western Values – Asian Values: A Chinese Revolutionary’s View on Western and Chinese Family

One of the major differences between China and the West is the importance which the family – with its hierarchical structure and its complex web of social roles, regulations, duties, and moral values – has in Chinese society (see: Filial Piety in Chinese Culture). Despite major social and economic changes, the Chinese-speaking world has retained some of the core elements of the traditional Confucian family. This is also demonstrated by the fact that the legal system of countries in the Chinese-speaking world has been heavily influenced by Confucian values.

The Confucian worldview is based on the idea that human relationships are functional and hierarchical. The individual exists only as part of a network in which interaction is regulated by age, gender and social position. It is no coincidence that many Chinese who visited the West during the late-Qing and early Republican era were troubled by the lack of hierarchy, social roles, and rules of propriety in Western societies.

It is very interesting to read nowadays, with the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge accumulated in two centuries of contact between East and West, what Chinese travellers thought about the West at the turn of the 20th century. One of the most captivating books about the Chinese perception of the West is America Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat by Wu Tingfang.

Wu Tingfang (1842-1922, 伍廷芳; pinyin: Wŭ Tíngfāng), also known as Ng Choy (伍才; pinyin: Wŭ Cái) was born in the so-called Straits Settlements, in what was then a part of the British Empire. Wu Tingfang was a politician and diplomat who spent several years in the United States. He was a monarchical reformist, an advocate of the movements that tried to modernize Imperial China. However, before the Chinese Revolution of 1911, he became a supporter of Sun Yat-sen, championing the overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China.

Wu Tingfang played an important role in the 1911 revolution. He served as a foreign affairs representative for the Shanghai Military Government and subsequently for the revolutionary government. Afterwards he was appointed as the chief Republican delegate in the negotiations between the Republican revolutionaries and the Manchu government which lasted until the abdication of the imperial dynasty on 12 February 1912 (see Linda Pomerantz-Zhang: Wu Tingfang (1842-1922): Reform and Modernization in Modern Chinese History, 1992, p. 193).

Indeed, his name was even mentioned in an edict issued on December 1911 by the Empress Dowager, in which she declared that

the representative of the People’s Army (i.e. the Revolutionaries) Wu Ting-fang, steadfastly maintains that the mind of the People is in favor of the establishment of a republican form of government as its ideal […]. This is a matter that should not be decided by one part of the nation alone […] Therefore it is advisable to call a provisional National Convention and leave the issue to the Convention to decide (see Harley Farnsworth MacNair: Modern Chinese History – Selected Writings. Vol. 2. 1927, p. 717).

Wu Tingfang was in many respects a product of the British colonial experience in Asia. Born to a merchant family in Singapore and raised in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, Wu was educated in missionary schools before going to Great Britain for professional legal training. A pioneer in modern journalism, Wu was the first Chinese to receive British training as a barrister, the first Chinese to practice as a barrister in Hong Kong, and the first Chinese to serve as a member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (Pomerantz-Zhang 1992, p. 1).

In 1896 Wu was appointed China’s Minister to the United States, Spain and Peru (ibid. p. 3). After several years in the United States, Wu Tingfang wrote down his impressions of American life, customs, and society. These impressions became the book America Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat (1914). One of the chapters of the book deals with ‘American women’. Coming from a Chinese background, Wu was astonished by the independence of American women and by the fact that they chose their husbands by themselves, an inconceivable thought in China at that time:

One very conspicuous feature in the character of American women is their self-control and independence. As soon as a girl grows up she is allowed to do what she pleases, without the control of her parents […] This notion of independence and freedom has modified the relation of children to their parents. Instead of children being required to show respect and filial obedience, the obligation of mutual love and esteem is cultivated. Parents would not think of ordering a girl or a boy to do anything, however reasonable; in all matters they treat them as their equals and friends; nor would a girl submit to an arbitrary order from her mother, for she does not regard her as a superior, but as her friend and companion.

I find it is a common practice among American girls to engage themselves in marriage without consulting their parents. Once I had a serious talk on this subject with a young couple who were betrothed. I asked them if they had the consent of their parents. They both answered emphatically that it was not necessary, and that it was their business and not their parents’. I told them that although it was their business, they might have shown some respect to their parents by consulting them before committing themselves to this important transaction. They answered that they did not agree with me, and as it concerned their own happiness alone, they had a perfect right to decide the matter for themselves. This shows the extreme limit to which the Americans carry their theory of independence. Unless I am greatly mistaken, I fear this is a typical and not an isolated case. I believe that in many cases, after they had made up their minds to marry, the young people would inform their respective parents of their engagement, but I question if they would subordinate their own wishes to the will of their parents, or ask their consent to their engagement.

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Sources of the Taiping Rebellion: The Deposition of Li Xiucheng

On July 19, 1864, after a months-long siege, the city of Nanjing, the capital of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (太平天國; pinyin: Tàipíng Tiānguó), was stormed by forces of the Qing imperial army. This was the last act in the bloodiest civil war of all time. From its beginning in 1850 until 1864, when it ended, the civil strife caused the death of at least 20 million people.

It all started in the 1840s, when the “God Worshippers”, a group of insurgents led by Hong Xiuquan, a political and religious leader who claimed to be a Christian prophet and Jesus’ brother, began to conquer vast territories in the rich and fertile southern provinces of the empire. Their aim was to overthrow the Manchu government in Beijing and establish a new dynasty. But in the end, all the suffering and sacrifices came to naught. The armies of the rebels were defeated, and the Heavenly Kingdom collapsed. The Qing dynasty remained in power, but it was as weak as ever. The prestige of the Manchu rulers was gone. Besieged by economic and social decay, foreign aggression, corruption and inefficiency, the Qing state managed to survive for nearly four decades, until they were overthrown by Sun Yat-sen‘s revolutionaries in 1911 (Sun regarded the Taiping as predecessors of his own anti-Manchu insurgence).

In the summer of 1864 Nanjing was at the mercy of the victors. The imperial troops looted, murdered, raped, and enslaved the civilians who had survived the siege, regardless of age and gender. Even the commander of the imperial army, Zeng Guoquan (曾国荃 / 曾國荃; pinyin: Zēng Guóquán), was disgusted by the brutality of his soldiers. “Children and toddlers,” he wrote, “some not even two years old, had been hacked up or run through just for sport.” He had prohibited acts of violence, but there was nothing he could do to rein in the fury and greed of his army (see Stephen R. Platt: Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War, 2012, Chapter 16).

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The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Racial Discrimination in the United States

Introduction

“Money monopoly,” said Denis Kearney in a 1878 address,  “has reached its grandest proportions. Here, in San Francisco, the palace of the millionaire looms up above the hovel of the starving poor with as wide a contrast as anywhere on earth. To add to our misery and despair, a bloated aristocracy has sent to China—the greatest and oldest despotism in the world—for a cheap working slave. It rakes the slums of Asia to find the meanest slave on earth—the Chinese coolie—and imports him here to meet the free American in the Labor market, and still further widen the breach between the rich and the poor, still further to degrade white Labor.”

Denis Kearney (1847–1907) was a leader of the American labour movement, a demagogue who blamed Chinese immigrants for the economic woes of the Californian working class.

What is a demagogue? According to Reinhard H. Luthin, it is “a politician skilled in oratory, flattery, and invective; evasive in discussing vital issues; promising everything to everybody; appealing to the passions rather than the reason of the public; and arousing racial, religious, and class prejudices” (Reinhard H. Luthin: American Demagogues: Twentieth Century, 1954, p. 3).

Kearney did not create anti-Chinese sentiment. The fear and prejudices against this particular group of immigrants were strong among white people in the United States, so strong that one can find them in numerous speeches by politicians throughout the 19th and early 20th century, as well as in literature.

One fascinating example of anti-Chinese feelings in the US is the science fiction short story by American author Jack London entitled “The Unparalleled Invasion“. In this dystopian story he articulated the fear of the “white man” being overrun by hordes of Chinese, of Western civilization and power being undermined by Asia. He imagined a future in which China, after learning from Japan how to develop economically and technologically, would pose a threat to European Empires in the East and outnumber “white people”. London wrote:

China’s swift and remarkable rise was due, perhaps more than to anything else, to the superlative quality of her labour. The Chinese was the perfect type of industry. He had always been that. For sheer ability to work no worker in the world could compare with him. Work was the breath of his nostrils. It was to him what wandering and fighting in far lands and spiritual adventure had been to other peoples. Liberty, to him, epitomized itself in access to the means of toil. To till the soil and labour interminably was all he asked of life and the powers that be. And the awakening of China had given its vast population not merely free and unlimited access to the means of toil, but access to the highest and most scientific machine-means of toil. China rejuvenescent! It was but a step to China rampant. She discovered a new pride in herself and a will of her own…

This passage shows one core element of “sinophobia” (fear of the Chinese): the Chinese people’s capacity for hard work and self-sacrifice, which appeared to the “white man” almost inhuman. Let us now  examine another excerpt:  Continue reading

The China-Taiwan Issue and the American Civil War

On November 6, 1860, the 19th presidential election of the United States of America was held. Abraham Lincoln, a relatively unknown politician born into a poor family, received 1,866,452 of the votes; although his three opponents combined received more votes (2,815,617), Lincoln won and became the 16th President of the United States (J. G. Randall / David Donald: The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1961, p. 133).
For the slave states of the South, Lincoln’s election was an insult. The new President was opposed to slavery. A large part of the white citizens of the South considered slave ownership as one of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution. They not only considered the black population inferior to themselves and by nature servile, but their entire economic structure and way of life depended on slave labour.
On November 13 the legislature of South Carolina under Governor William Henry Gist called a convention that would decide on the future of the State. Popular sentiment was by that time in favour of secession. On December 20 the South Carolina Convention passed by a unanimous vote of 169 an ordinance declaring that “the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the ‘United States of America’, is hereby dissolved” (ibid., pp. 135-136). Within a few months, six more Southern States seceded from the Union: Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
On February 4, 1861, delegates from these states met at Montgomery, Alabama, where they promulgated their own Constitution. This was the founding act of the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and Alexander Stephens of Georgia were elected President and Vice-President respectively.

 

The evolution of the Confederacy (source: Wikipedia)

 

Davis believed – as most Southern Confederates did – that they were faithful to the principles of their forefathers who had fought against British rule and had established an independent state. In his Inaugural Address he stated:

The right solemnly proclaimed at the birth of the States, and which has been affirmed and reaffirmed in the bills of rights of the States subsequently admitted to the Union of 1789, undeniably recognizes in the people the power to resume the authority delegated for the purposes of government. Thus the sovereign States here represented, proceeded to form this confederacy … (quoted in: Hugh Tulloch: The Routledge Companion to the American Civil War Era, 2006, p. 91). 

Vice-President Stephens was clearer about the true motive behind secession: the issue of slavery. The Southern states were primarily slave rural economies, and they resisted attempts by the Northern industrial states to limit slavery. In his Address on the Confederate Constitution of March 21, 1861, Stephens said:

The new Constitution has put  at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions – African slavery as it exists among us – the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution … [Our new Government’s] foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth (ibid., p. 93; my emphasis).

Flag of the Confederate States of America

Lincoln, however, was an unswerving opponent of secession. He wanted to preserve the Union, by peaceful means, if possible, or by war, if the Southern states ‘rebelled’ against the central government. In his own Inaugural Address in March 1861, Lincoln declared:

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Taiwanese Reporter Barred From Attending ICAO Due To Pressure From China

According to media reports a Taiwanese journalist has been denied entry into the headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in the Canadian city of Montreal. The ICAO is a specialised agency of the United Nations and its 39th Assembly will take place between September 27 and October 7.

On September 25 a reporter of Taiwan-based United Daily News (UDN) went to register for media accreditation at the ICAO building. After security checks had been completed, a staff member asked for his passport. According to the UDN website, the journalist was informed that he “could not enter the ICAO building with this passport”.

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The 1992 Consensus and China-Taiwan Relations

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Meeting between Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping in November 2015 (source: Voice of America [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons)

From 2008 to 2016 Taiwan’s Guomindang administration and China’s Communist Party sought to deepen cross-strait dialogue and improve relations between the two sides. The meeting between Zhang Zhijun, the chief of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), and Wang Yuqi, the chief of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), as well as Zhang Zhijun’s visit to Taiwan in 2014, showed that the two parties were committed to taking cross-strait relations to a new level. Ma Ying-jeou, the chairman of the Guomindang, repeatedly defended the so-called “1992 Consensus” as the basis for dialogue between Taipei and Beijing. PRC’s state-run news outlet China Daily echoed this view in a 2012 article, arguing that “the 1992 Consensus will be the proven foundation for future peaceful cross-Straits relations“. But the rapprochement between the Guomindang and the Communist Party, which culminated in the historic handshake between Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping in 2015 (see picture above), alienated a large number of Taiwanese voters. They feared closer ties with the Communist giant, which still threatens to invade Taiwan and annex it if no other options for unification were left. In 2016 the Taiwanese electorate punished the Guomindang, gaving a broad popular mandate to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), thus putting an end to reconciliation as based on the 1992 consensus. 

But what is exactly the 1992 consensus and what does it mean for the development of China-Taiwan relations?

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Democracy Abolishes Itself – The Case of the Weimar Republic

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Mass demonstration in front of the German parliament (Reichstag) against the Treaty of Versailles (source: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

At the end of the First World War, Germany was in a state of chaos. The country had been defeated, the Kaiser (Emperor) had abdicated, poverty was widespread, riots and civil unrest created fear and instability. No one knew who would take over the reins of power after the collapse of the imperial government.

The political vacuum was filled in November 1918 when the leaders of the Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, abbr. SPD) and of the left-wing Democrats formed a Council of People’s Delegates. It was headed by Friedrich Ebert, a moderate politician who rejected the idea of a Soviet-style revolution and advocated the establishment of a parliamentary democracy (see Richard J. Evans: The Coming of the Third Reich, 2004, pp. 78-79). In early 1919 the Council announced a general election to choose the representatives for a Constituent Assembly.

The elections came at a time when the possibility of a Bolshevik-style revolution loomed on the horizon. The moderate leadership of democratic left-wing parties was a welcome alternative to violent upheaval and Communist dictatorship. The SPD, the Centre Party and the left-wing Democrats won the majority of the votes and their delegates met in 1919 in the city of Weimar. In July of the same year they promulgated a new Constitution, which was largely based on the previous imperial Constitution but contained several fundamental changes. Continue reading

Democracy, Mob Rule, Dictatorship: The Problem of Freedom in Ancient Athens

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The Acropolis of Athens by Leo von Klenze (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

After World War II democracy began to be viewed in the West as the best possible form of government. However, a history of democratic states shows that freedom is not something to be taken for granted. Democracy is not simply “freedom for all” or “the will of the people”. It is a complex, delicate machine, a system of rules, institutions and checks and balances that can work harmoniously but can also swiftly degenerate and collapse. It appears that pro-democracy public discourse often ignores the difficulties and the inherent fragility of democracy, while anti-democracy discourse all too readily denies its benefits.

History, far from being a discipline detached from reality, can teach us that democracy should never, not a single day, be taken for granted, and that one should not rely on a too simplistic concept of freedom. Many democratic or semi-democratic states, such as ancient Athens, the Roman Republic, the Italian city-states of the Middle Ages, Revolutionary France, the Weimar Republic, the Republic of China, the Russian Federation, only to name a few, failed to keep the promise of freedom for all and ended up in failure. Most of them not only collapsed, but were succeeded by despotic regimes.

The fragility of democracy had already been noted by the ancient Greeks, who by their own experience and observation knew that no form of government is eternal and inherently stable.

In the present article (which will be divided in three different chapters) we shall briefly analyse three cases in which democracy destroyed itself: the ancient Athenian democracy, the Weimar Republic, and the Republic of China. Afterwards we will show why parliamentary democracy, despite limiting citizens’ freedom, has achieved stability by creating a middle way between direct rule by the people and rule by leaders.

The Contradictions of the Athenian Democracy

In his History of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) the Greek historian Thucydides narrates that shortly after the beginning of the conflict the Athenian statesman Pericles held a speech to commemorate the fist citizens who had perished in the conflict. The definition of democracy formulated in his funeral eulogy is one of the most impressive testimonies to the unique form of government established by the ancient polis: Continue reading

Brexit Highlights Decline of Europe and Rise of China’s Neo-Communist Model

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Brexit (photo by Rlevente, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

In a historic referendum held on June 23rd the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the European Union (EU) by a thin margin of 51.9% against 48.1%. Whether this decision will harm the British economy or will lead the EU to its disintegration, as some have predicted, is a matter of speculation for the time being. However, the referendum and the Pandora’s box it has opened are clear signs of a long-term process: the decline of Europe and the shift of economic and political power to the East.

In an editorial the Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), argued that the UK referendum is likely to push the entire continent into chaos, which will only accelerate the shift of wealth and power from West to East. “East Asia has witnessed decades of high-speed growth and prosperity”, wrote the Global Times. “Europe stays where it was, becoming the world’s center of museums and tourist destinations … Europe is not able to resolve the problems it is facing”. Continue reading