News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Chapter 08 Meeting of the Minds (rough, incomplete)

4400 wds

(I’ve rehashed a couple of my old blog articles…so this may be familiar to you)

Taking a keen interest in Frank, I decided to look into his blog. I looked at his latest article:

>> A Rushed Review of Escaping the Muddy Trap of China by Lin Zhi-Sheng.

Lin trots out the usual suspects while explaining why Taiwan should be independent from China. But there is a simple logic which he does not go into and which I've not seen raised in magazines and books so far. And that is that Qing dynasty China, which ruled Taiwan, is not at all politically speaking the China of today.

China was ruled by the Manchus from 1661 until 1911. Ergo, China was not China but was an extension of Manchuria. In other words, part of the Manchu empire. Ergo, Sun Yat-sen was not born in China, he was born in the Manchu Empire's Canton Province. Just as Benjamin Franklin was not born in the United States: he was born in the British Empire's Massachusetts Colony.

So, the Manchus ruled Taiwan during the Qing dynasty; not China and not the Chinese. After all, when the Manchus came into power in 1661 they legislated a caste system for their new empire. There were four castes: the Manchus being top-dog, the Mongolians coming second, the Chinese third, and the aborigines fourth. Marriage between Manchus and Chinese was a capital offense. (The death penalty for those who aren't sure). Chinese were forbidden from moving to the Manchu homeland until late in the 19th century. So to say that the Manchus and their empire were rapidly Sinified seems like a bit of a stretch and more like wishful thinking.

One of the first national edicts that the Manchus laid out was the banning of a mainstay of the Chinese diet and traditional Chinese pharmacology: human meat (consistently the cheapest meat for 2000 years) and human organs (Chinese traditional medicine was never just about politically correct herbs).

Even the notion of China as a nation-state is a modern invention, because the notion of nation-state is a modern one. This helps explain why Mao Zedong was first an advocate of an independent nation of Henan before becoming the Great Helmsman. Zhongguo is a term that only became popular at the beginning of the 20th century. Prior to this, terms such as Zhonghua and Hua were used and they more properly connote Chinese civilization and not the notion of fixed national boundaries.

An enduring reflection of this is the fact that about 46% of today's Chinese population does not speak Mandarin Chinese and that the Party has recently begun to ban the use of dialects in radio and television again. China traditionally was not a nation of Chinese people, but a collection of disparate provinces populated by illiterate, untraveled, and geographically ignorant peasants who spoke different often mutually unintelligible languages and who had no conception of membership within or loyalty to a nation at all. They were proud to be affiliated with Chinese culture, but their loyalties were local, to their village or hamlet, and not national. Even today there are millions and millions of school-graduated folk living in the interior and who speak and read Mandarin and who yet can't find the capital city, Beijing, on a map of China and who have yet to even discover that Taiwan is an island.

China (the nation-state of the Chinese people) never ruled Taiwan because the Japanese took over control of Taiwan in 1895 and the Manchu Empire did not fall until 1911. China did not come into existence until the civil war ended, the country was unified, and the last elements of warlordism eradicated in 1949~1950.

Chiang Kai-shek took control of Taiwan in 1945 but he himself was never in control of China the nation-state as it remained a congeries of warlords while he headed it. One of the problems that US General Joseph Stillwell had with training Chang Kai-shek's troops to fight the Japanese was that he did not dare deploy any of his troops from China proper. His leadership position was so weak that he was afraid he would be overthrown in a coup d'état by his fellow generals (a polite term for fellow warlords) were he to remove any of his troops from central China to the border with Burma.

'China' prior to the unification of the country under Mao Zedong was a loose, rubbery term akin to 'America' prior to the unification of the United States in 1776 (or 1782, depending on how you wish to define things). America, prior to the declaration of independence by thirteen of the colonies of the British Empire, referred to the land mass existing between the North Pole and the Panamá isthmus. In other words, America then is not America today, which refers to the 50 United States including Hawaii and territories such as Puerto Rico and American Samoa. Similarly, China is a term of convenience which, under the magnifying glass, turns out not to be a term referring to a fixed territory. Worse, China, if used as a term to describe the nation of the Chinese people, disappeared under the Moguls and the Manchus. What was not a nation-state was even less so while conquered and reorganized by empires administrated by alien peoples. Saying that China has existed continuously is comparable to a scenario whereby the present-day Indian nations were to throw out all of America's immigrants of the last 400 years and then claim that America has always and uninterruptedly been the nation of the Indian peoples. This could only be superficially persuasive if, as victors, they were rewriting history. Communist China, the victor, has done just this.

At this stage, anyway, the claim that Taiwan belongs to China today because Taiwan belonged to China in the past, fails to persuade me. Just as the cry of numerous Chinese patriots in Shanghai that Alaska in fact belongs to China fails to persuade me. Just as the predictable future bleating of Chinese patriots that Zhengho's discovery of America (if Gavin Menzies theory turns out to be correct) signifies that the entirety of the North American continent belongs to the sacred territory of the Chinese people will inevitably fail to persuade me.

Frank N. Frankenferter <<

While reading this, I’d felt a rush, blushed and begun to sweat. Hope against hope, was he really a doppelganger? A potential soul mate? (The non-conjugal kind.) The bastard could really think for himself? Or was he just the usual run of the mill academic, filching ideas from somebody else and repackaging them? But he didn’t strike me as the type of donkey who was inured to drudgery and competent only at the spade and shovel work of clearing through the dust bunnies and fly carcasses of library archives. I was psyched, really excited. I had to know. Creativity is so rare. Creative writers and thinkers are about as common as leprechauns and as fabulous as unicorns.

In return, I threw the following at him via email. It was one of my harsher rants, hitting below the belt, but fair as fair goes in the world of frauds. Either way, I figured that being such a harsh bastard he’d settle for nothing less.

>> Ode to Comedienne Iris Chang

The eulogies of Iris Chang have been unintentionally amusing, much like book blurbs are in general. This is no accident given that both are often written in haste by the same sort of glib, mutual back-slapping, dollar-chaser. This seedy subsection of the literatti seldom knows what it's on about and can't be bothered to check the facts as the membership ain't interested in knowing them anyway.

Exhibit A: The San Francisco Chronicle informs us that, "Born in Princeton, N.J., Chang grew up in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., where her parents are professors at the University of Illinois. Her grandparents' escape from Nanjing fed her early interest in what happened there. "

Grandparents? In the introduction to The Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang writes "I first learned about the rape of Nanking when I was little girl. The stories came from my parents, who had survived years of foreign revolution before finding a serene home as professors in a Midwestern American college town. They had grown up in China in the midst of World War II and, after the war, fled with their families, first to Taiwan and finally to the United States to study at Harvard and pursue academic careers in science.... but they never forgot the horrors of the Sino-Japanese war, nor did they want me to forget. They particularly did not want me to forget the rape of Nanking. Neither of my parents witnessed [the rape of Nanking], but as young children they had heard the stories, and these were passed onto me.

The New York Times edifies us with: "Fluent in Mandarin, Ms. Chang traveled to China, where she scoured archives and interviewed elderly survivors. What she learned would force her to describe the indescribable." In other words, she was forced by her fluency to describe the indescribable.

The same comedian alleges Chang's book contains the following, "So sickening was the spectacle that even Nazis in the city were horrified."

Hmm... But wasn't it a Nazi who took the initiative to establish and manage a safety zone in which the entirety of the Chinese population remaining in Nanking moved to when Japanese forces arrived (most of the urban population had already evacuated the city, with the rural population summarily driven off their land by frontline KMT forces which destroyed their property (and often their complaining person) as part of its scorched earth policy)? The 'even horrified Nazi' was John Rabe whose diaries have been translated and printed in English under the title, The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe. His book is cited approvingly by Iris Chang. So, if she indeed did write this, it makes little sense in the context of the eulogy. If the quote has been fabricated by a lazy or indifferent reporter (is there any other kind?), then it shows that the reporter/eulogist/reviewer has not read much of the book at hand (do they ever?).

But this sort of name-dropping, bogus generalizing, and shibboleth slang-whanging is typical of panting, overworked and underpaid, free press hacks. Their main priority is that of any other professional: career advancement. This they achieve via getting on the front page of their newspaper section. Their venerable employer's main priority is stirring up the animals (by hook or by crook) to whip up circulation which in turns enables the paper to charge local businesses higher advertising rates. Dollar-chasers chasing dollars from beginning to end.

From my narrow truth-chasing perspective, however, it serves me no useful purpose to pretend that members of the Nazi Party were ipso facto devoted to massacring Jews and crushing liberty everywhere. The Nazi party, i.e. Germany's left-wing National Socialist Party (only slightly to the right of the Communist Party), was a political organization encompassing millions of people bearing, as with any other democratic political party, a grab-bag of different goals, opinions, tastes, morals, religious feeling, etc. In addition to rounding up and eventually slaughtering minorities, the Nazis, as a party, also enacted Europe's first maternity-leave legislation (i.e. women couldn't be fired just for being pregnant), enacted the first restrictions on carcinogenic food dyes, and the first legislation to regulate air safety levels in mines. It would take 30 years for the US to catch up to this sort of public policy making. The Nazis also established low-cost automobiles for the low-wage earning public, i.e. the Volkswagen - the folks' wagon, and constructed cruise ships that provided affordable cruises for the same proletariat. It goes on and on. As World War II historian John Toland wrote, if Hitler had been assassinated in 1938 he would've gone down in German history as a national hero. In the end, of course, Hitler launched a war and had to be stopped. But as the American reporter/author William Shirer reported while in Berlin, unlike WWI there was no celebrating in the streets at the invocation of WWII. It was not a war popular with the public.

So the phrase, "Even Nazis" is meaningless. It's like saying "even Republicans" or "even Democrats" or "even the French." Why not Freedom Fries for everyone?

There are other well-remunerated examples of half-witted nonsense that I could quote, but it gets depressing after a bit. One gets a sour taste in the back of one's mouth and wonders: These are the opinion makers? These donkeys?

You don't want to think about it. I know I don't. But a library card and cross-checking the 'plain facts' unluckily indicates to me that most of history, especially that known and fondly recalled by newspaper-devourers and TV-fanatics to bulwark their beery arguments, is just plain bunk. And this bunk has next to nothing to do with what happened and is thus useless as a guide to preventing mischief from recurring in future. And it was for emitting precisely such heresies, and pointing my accusations at the source - the very hacks of academe, my proud professors: the proud creators, nay fabricators, umm... embalmers and curators of history, that got me flunked out of grad school in Canada. Such is life.

But this loose playing with facts and fancy, stiffened up with a brace of fine-sounding or primitively emotive gobbledygook, is par for the course and operates at about the same level in Iris Chang's fine work. And with this realization, the heavens parted for me: truth, forever coquettish, finally revealed her naughty bits.

Ah! But of course! Reporters writing eulogies for an esteemed colleague much wanted in heaven for higher, finer work! Hacks lavishing a fellow comedian with hagiography. Scoundrels praising a fellow scoundrel, and in so doing, never busier a-back-slapping than today. The din of self-congratulation is deafening; the papers awash in a gush of bosh as punters leap-frog to get a piece of the publicity pie. Lies flash around the world light-speed via the WWW, before doddering truth has time to drop its cock and reach for its socks...

But why should I expect any better than botched facts, poll-parroting, and sophomoric rhetoric to constitute all the news fit to print now that Iris Chang has apparently topped herself?

From the second paragraph of the introduction written by Chang to her The Rape of Nanking: "Americans think of WWII as beginning on December 7, 1941..."

Really? No, of course they don't. Like any big lie, it seemed almost crazy enough to be true. I asked a couple of Yank colleagues in the translation office just be sure though. Not satisfied with just this, Chang kick-starts the Second World War with the occupation of Manchuria in 1931. This enables her to claim that the rape of Nanking is the biggest, baddest, and most worstest Holocaust of WWII. But this is only one of numerous sneaky maneuvers on her part.

Check this out: “No doubt, those 14 years of domination by the Japanese military were marked by countless incidents of almost indescribable ruthlessness. We will never know everything that happened in the many cities and small villages that found themselves prostrate beneath the boot of this conquering force. Ironically, we do know the story of Nanking because some foreigners witnessed the horror and sent word to the outside world at the time, and some Chinese survived as eyewitnesses. If one event can be held up as an example of the unmitigated evil lying just below the surface of unbridled military adventurism, that moment is the Rape of Nanking.”

Look at the awkward phrasing, the excessive trying-too-hard piling on of nastiness, the weird perspective whereby the reader becomes a member of a community called “some foreigners”.

Is this English? No. Not really. This is Mandarin. I’ve translated poor Mandarin into bad English for too many years not to smell a rat. This is a piece of filched CCP propaganda that she’s translated into English. Or maybe they were in on the game. Maybe part of it. It wouldn’t be the first time.

"No doubt?" and "Countless?" So we're clearly not dealing with history here; this is rhetoric, the primary weapon of the mentally feeble and logically impaired. What one cannot convince through logical persuasion, is perhaps doable via rhetoric. A case in point is the King James Bible, a beautifully worded tome, which, when reduced to plain English becomes idiotic and undecipherable, with its contradictions in even plainer view. Reduce the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx to the journalese of the financial page, and its tissue of absurdities are a dead-letter. It's no accident that Marx, like Chang, like Charles Hanley (the co-fabricator of the No Gun Ri incident of South Korea) was a successful journalist.

The newspaper is an excellent training ground for the unethical literatus to learn the ins and outs, the do's and don'ts, the elasticity of 'the facts', and the legal culpabilities (and more importantly their loop-holes) of their slippery trade. The whys, wherefores, howzitts, and prick-tease whodunnits required for perennially pulling the customers' noses comes easily afterwards.

"Indescribable": we've covered this mockery of information, this evasion of the facts, this camouflage for precision: this unwillingness of Chang to admit to her customers, that she, as self-appointed messiah and blue-stocking in chief, is not omniscient and privy to all the facts of the case after-all.

Could Chang possibly not have known that the Japanese military did not dominate China; that, as with most any other democracy (or pseudo-democracy), it was the civilian wing of the occupation government that did the dominating? Which was why Manchuria enjoyed the highest rate of industrialization and the highest living standards in China, outside of the western occupied zones of Shanghai. You might as well try to persuade me that as a child living in Uganda, the locals were under the boot of the English and suffered "indescribable ruthlessness." Sorry sweethearts, I was there.

Once the fighting is over, the grunts move over and the civvies come in. I'm not going to be convinced that my memories are less persuasive than the rhetoric of garden-variety anti-colonialists. No more than locally-born grandparents in Taiwan have ever been persuaded that the arrival of the KMT and the ensuing massacre of the intelligentsia, the national land grab, the destruction of the local currency and impoverishment of everyone's savings, the installation of martial law, and so forth signaled a reprieve from the Jap's boots and their "indescribable ruthlessness" of modernizing the infrastructure, eradicating head-hunting and cannibalism, upping the living standard, bringing in genuine law and order and quashing the mafia and gangsterism, establishing a national education and welfare scheme, etc...

"We will never know everything that happened." You can chase your tail all night with that one. Everything? Since when, where, or how could anyone ever know everything about anything? It’s another complete non-entity as a sentence, yet another puff of rhetoric sharply elbowing meaning out of its appointed place.

Page five from the introduction: "One historian has estimated that if the dead from Nanking were to link hands, they would stretch from Nanking to the city of Hangchow, spanning a distance of some 200 miles… Their blood would weigh 1200 tons, and their bodies would fill 2500 railroad cars. Stacked on top of each other, these bodies would reach the height of a 74-story building.

Using numbers killed alone, the rape of Nanking surpasses much of the worst barbarism of the ages. The Japanese outdid the Romans of Carthage (only 150,000 died in that slaughter)... it is certainly true that in this century when the tools of mass murder were fully refined, Hitler killed about 6 million Jews, and Stalin more than 40 million Russians, but these deaths were brought about over some few years. In the rape of Nanking the killing was concentrated within a few weeks."

Note how she leaves out the numbers of Chinese killed by the Chinese KMT (at least double the number killed by the Japs) and the numbers killed by the Chinese Communists (who in the leisure afforded by peacetime, shot and starved to death somewhere around 60 million).

In essence the problem can be reduced to this: we Chinese can kill each other, no foreigners allowed!

I’m not trying to be funny. I’m perfectly serious. Just browse the daily dose of Chinese xenophobia that hosts in its letters to the editor page. The language employed may be English, but the retrograde tribal sentiments are unabashedly Mainland China Mandarin-derived and cultural in origin. These people are that unenlightened. Or, to use an impolite phrase, they’re that fucking stupid.

And I like Chang’s touch, "only 150,000 died in that slaughter." You can feel Chang's palpable fear that you might otherwise be impressed with the number. You might pause to consider such a large figure. Fortunately she cuts in quick to remind us that it was ONLY 150,000. I get the feeling her editor slept right through the galley drafts. He was only there to sign his pay slip.

This kind of gaff in English would not be considered a faux pas in Chinese though, which is a much cruder medium full of hard-hitting blood-and-guts propaganda: i.e. it's a language still recovering from the pummeling that martial law on both sides of the Taiwan straits has given to freedom of speech and thought; not to mention to taste.

A case in point is "One historian has estimated that... [the massacre victims'] blood would weigh 1200 tons"

One historian eh? From the prestigious University of Hawaii East Asian Studies program, or from Stanford or UC Berkeley, perhaps? Not likely. Straight from the mouths of those innocents at the China Communist Party.

This is part of a pattern. Again, she uses the phrase "some few years." She has a thing about the word "some", as if unfamiliar with the more appropriate "several" which would handily dispose of "some few." Again, she uses the word "foreigners", when "foreign nationals" or "expatriates" would be more in keeping with modern idiom. In other words, whether or not she in fact lifted this paragraph from a crude CCP rant, she writes like a Chinese person who learned English as a second language. When speaking ( hosts one clumsy back-pedaling interview and one angry messianic rant), she sounds American valley-girl, but I suspect, like many of the ABC candidates who've shown up looking for work at my place of employment, she's far from American - perhaps Western is what I mean here - in terms of her thinking.

This may have something to do with the following description of her in the San Francisco Chronicle. "She was doing research recently in Kentucky and ran into some problem," he said. "She got really upset, and she flew home." ... Ignatius Ding, an activist who worked with Chang for several years in seeking to have Japan acknowledge and apology for atrocities it committed during World War II...noted that she "took things to heart" and usually became emotionally involved in the tragic stories she wrote about.

I've met this sort of minority messiah in the flesh (and am a sort of reformed one myself...haha...) and they can be trying, seldom taking a vacation from their outrage and investiture of emotional capital in whatever the hell gives them a sense of meaning. Paul Theroux has mentioned the same thing and tendency to suicide in Eastern European academics in the US when they run "into some problem." The problem Theroux mentioned is usually ethical. With Chang, I do not know. But I am curious.

So many of these messiahs, hearts-of-gold to the contrary, come down with a thump.
Sun Yat-sen, after the cobwebs of hagiography are brushed away, turns out to be akin to Yasser Arafat: pocketing donations, lathering like a workhorse to establish a fascist dictatorship, complicit in assassinations, and just generally relying on his reputation as a nation-saver to make up for his serial bungling.

Pearl Buck, in an effort that ought to have christened her glowing literary and moony-Old-China-hand reputation, established a foundation to better the conditions of East Asian orphans. She got tired of the racket and turned over the management to her bisexual boyfriend who then, along with his bed-buddies, started raping orphans from coast to coast. When the story finally leaked out and became national news, she threatened the children who had ratted to the press with immediate deportation back to Korea. After she died, it took her family seven years of litigation to finagle back that part of the estate which was owed to them and which had been ripped off by her bereaving boyfriend. As with Mother Theresa, another of these dollar-hounds, where did all the money go? After Sun Yat-sen did a tour in the nineteen-teens and raked in huge donations from Japanese philanthropists (I gather they hadn't got their boots on yet and got with the national game-plan of "indescribable ruthlessness") he pocketed the funds and never again wuz they seen. I'm shocked!

I'm also tired. So, I'll end this rant here. I'm sad to see Iris go. I would have preferred the chance to destroy her reputation while she was still alive. Hopefully Professor Chomsky will remain fit and with the living, full of whimsy and vigor, the weepy old charlatan.

Charlie Chan <<

Sure Frank was a bit much sometimes, hard-headed, unforgiving, an attitude problem and low EQ. But it still felt like a meeting of the minds. And beggars can’t be choosers when there’s so few foreigners per square mile in China.

But as any author can tell you, the personality you see on the page is often far removed from the author in person. The author who keenly parses grammar and logic is often a ninny worried to death about fluoride in his water and CO2 ending the world. The writer who persuasively anatomizes personality is often a sadistic freak with delusions of persecution and ripe fantasies about the imminent police state and military-industrial complex. The writer who pens airy light comedy can be a relentless mocker of others who can’t let down his defenses for a minute and has never made a real friend in his life.

Authors, successful ones anyway, tend to be hyperbolic, pathological, dysfunctional. Who in their right mind prefers to spend more time with books than people? But this was something I had yet to learn. Frank would teach me.

Copyright Biff Cappuccino

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