Category Archive 'China'
15 May 2017

The Chinese Have a Pejorative Term for Holier-Than-Thou Western Liberals: “Baizuo” [白左]

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Chenchen Zhang informs us that the educated Chinese despise “baizuo,” soft-headed and soft-hearted Western liberals. And who can blame them?

If you look at any thread about Trump, Islam or immigration on a Chinese social media platform these days, it’s impossible to avoid encountering the term baizuo, or literally, the ‘white left’. It first emerged about two years ago, and yet has quickly become one of the most popular derogatory descriptions for Chinese netizens to discredit their opponents in online debates.

So what does ‘white left’ mean in the Chinese context, and what’s behind the rise of its (negative) popularity? It might not be an easy task to define the term, for as a social media buzzword and very often an instrument for ad hominem attack, it could mean different things for different people. A thread on “why well-educated elites in the west are seen as naïve “white left” in China” on Zhihu, a question-and-answer website said to have a high percentage of active users who are professionals and intellectuals, might serve as a starting point.

The question has received more than 400 answers from Zhihu users, which include some of the most representative perceptions of the ‘white left’. Although the emphasis varies, baizuo is used generally to describe those who “only care about topics such as immigration, minorities, LGBT and the environment” and “have no sense of real problems in the real world”; they are hypocritical humanitarians who advocate for peace and equality only to “satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority”; they are “obsessed with political correctness” to the extent that they “tolerate backwards Islamic values for the sake of multiculturalism”; they believe in the welfare state that “benefits only the idle and the free riders”; they are the “ignorant and arrogant westerners” who “pity the rest of the world and think they are saviours”. …

In fact, heated discussions about baizuo on Chinese social media websites rarely make reference to domestic issues, except for occasionally and unsurprisingly insulting Chinese Muslims for being “unintegrated” or “complicit in the spread of Islam extremism”. The stigmatization of the ‘white left’ is driven first and foremost by Chinese netizens’ understanding of ‘western’ problems. It is a symptom and weakness of the Other.

The term first became influential amidst the European refugee crisis, and Angela Merkel was the first western politician to be labelled as a baizuo for her open-door refugee policy. Hungary, on the other hand, was praised by Chinese netizens for its hard line on refugees, if not for its authoritarian leader. Around the same time another derogatory name that was often used alongside baizuo was shengmu – literally the ‘holy mother’ – which according to its users refers to those who are ‘overemotional’, ‘hypocritical’ and ‘have too much empathy’. The criticisms of baizuo and shengmu soon became an online smear campaign targeted at not only public figures such as J. K. Rowling and Emma Watson, but also volunteers, social workers and all other ordinary citizens, whether in Europe or China, who express any sympathy with international refugees. …

The anti-baizuo discourse in Chinese social media gained stronger momentum during the US presidential election campaign. If criticisms of the ‘white left’ in the context of the refugee crisis were mainly about disapproval of ‘moralist humanitarianism’ mixed with Islamophobia, they became politically more elaborate as Chinese critics of the ‘white left’ discovered Donald J. Trump, whom they both identify with and take inspirations from. Following the debates in the US, a number of other issues such as welfare reforms, affirmative action and minority rights were introduced into online discussions on the ‘white left’. Baizuo critics now began to identify Obama and Clinton as the new epitome of the ‘white left’, despite the fact that they were neither particularly humanitarian nor particularly kind to migrants. Trump was taken as the champion of everything the ‘white left’ were against, and baizuo critics naturally became his enthusiastic supporters. …

From a domestic perspective, the proliferation of anti-baizuo sentiment is clearly in line with the dominance of a kind of brutal, demoralized pragmatism in post-socialist China. Many of the attacks on the welfare state and the idea that states have obligations towards international refugees appeal to the same social Darwinist logic of ‘survival of the fittest’. It is assumed that individuals should take responsibility for their own misery, whether it is war or poverty, and should not be helped by others. The rationale goes hand in hand with the view that inequality is inevitable in a market-economy-cum-Hobbesian-society. Although economic disparity in China has been worsening in recent years, sociologist Yu Xie found that most Chinese people regard it as an inevitable consequence of economic growth, and that inequality is unlikely to give rise to political or social unrest.

Pragmatism with an emphasis on self-responsibility seems to be the ideology of our post-ideological times. It is, in UK prime minister Theresa May’s words, ‘living within our means’. This is combined with a general indifference towards race issues, or even worth, with certain social Darwinist beliefs that some races are superior to others, leading many mainland Chinese netizens to dismiss struggles against structural discriminations as naïve, pretentious or demanding undeserved privileges.

Seen from the perspective of international relations, the anti-baizuo discourse can be understood as part of what William A. Callahan calls ‘negative soft power’, that is, constructing the Chinese self through ‘the deliberate creation and then exclusion’ of Others as ‘barbarians’ or otherwise inferior. Criticisms of the ‘white left’ against the background of the European refugee crisis fit especially well with the ‘rising China’ versus ‘Europe in decline’ narrative. According to Baidu Trends, one of the most related keywords to baizuo was huimie: “to destroy”. Articles with titles such as ‘the white left are destroying Europe’ were widely circulated.

In an academic-style essay that was retweeted more than 7000 times on Weibo, a user named ‘fantasy lover Mr. Liu’ ‘reviewed’ European philosophy from Voltaire and Marx to Adorno and Foucault, concluding that the ‘white left’ as a ‘spiritual epidemic’ is on its way to self-destruction. He then stated that Trump’s win was only “a small victory over this spiritual epidemic of humankind”, but “western civilization is still far from its self-redemption”. However ridiculous it may appear, the post is illustrative of how a demonized Other is projected onto seemingly objective or academic criticisms of the ‘white left’. Ultimately, the more the ‘white left’ – whatever it means – represent the fatal weakness of democracy, the more institutional and normative security the Chinese regime enjoys. The grassroots campaign against the ‘white left’ thus echoes the officially-sanctioned campaign against ‘universal values’, providing a negative evidence for the superiority of the Chinese self.

RTWT

07 May 2017

Two Chinese Skeletons Found in Roman Cemetery in London

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A reconstruction of Roman Londinium in AD 250.

Instapundit found a BBC report today, but the story actually originated last Fall.

The London Times reported last September 23rd:

It was an unremarkable Roman cemetery, containing the bodies of ordinary people. They lived and died on the banks of the Thames, making a living in the poorer and dirtier districts of Roman Londinium.

When an analysis of the skeletons came through, no one expected a result that could change our view of the history of Europe and Asia. But that is what they seem to have found, because two of the skeletons, dated to between the 2nd and 4th century AD, were Chinese.

Here at the most westerly point of the known world, in the cultural backwater of ancient Britain, lived people who came from its easternmost extremity. How did they get there?

To the Romans, the Chinese were a mysterious civilisation: technologically advanced, disquietingly powerful, and purveyors of, according to Seneca, obscene garments that corrupted the empire’s womanhood. To the Chinese, the Romans were a moderately intriguing civilisation with, according to one account, weak and pliant rulers.

It would be 1,000 years before the travels of Marco Polo would help properly to bring the culture of the east to the people of the west. Now, though, that history has to be revised.

After the excavation of a cemetery in Southwark, new skull analysis techniques identified a multicultural community containing four people who were ethnically African and two Asian, probably Chinese.

The find is spectacular but it is also mysterious, according to Rebecca Redfern from the Museum of London. She has no idea how they had ended up lying in this cemetery, so far from home.

———————

Kristina Killgrove (who is a Biological Anthropologist) expressed some reservations, in Forbes:

Several British news outlets today ran a story with headlines about Chinese people in Roman Britain. While there is no doubt that the Roman Empire was cosmopolitan, and it is entirely likely that people of East Asian ancestry will be found in all parts of the Empire, we need to take a step back from the hype and look at the data.

The new study in question is by Rebecca Redfern and colleagues, out in the October issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science. The researchers looked at 22 skeletons from the Lant Street cemetery in the London borough of Southwark, dating to the 2nd-4th century AD. In order to figure out where people might be from, they examined oxygen isotopes from the teeth, carbon and nitrogen isotopes from the bones, and the shape of the skull, correlating those data where possible with burial evidence.

The data that Redfern and colleagues produced are really quite interesting. The oxygen isotope values, which were isolated from 19 of these people, range widely — too much to be explained by local variation in water sources. This means that many of them came to London from elsewhere, some time after childhood. Far fewer of the individuals produced good data for carbon and nitrogen analysis of diet — just half of the sample was testable, and those data reveal a diet similar to what was eaten in selected other parts of the Empire. (They did not compare the data to Rome itself, for example, only to Portus Romae, south-coastal Velia, and Herculaneum in Italy and to Leptiminus in Tunisia.)

But the new method that Redfern and colleagues use to figure out ancestry is not ancient DNA analysis, but a statistical modeling of variations in the skulls and teeth that could be linked to ancestral differences. In short, they employ a method similar to what forensic anthropologists use to figure out if an unknown skeleton is of Asian, African or European ancestry.

The shortcomings of this method, however, are considerable and are outlined by Redfern and colleagues in their article. For example:

    The fact that many of the samples were fragmented means that 41% of the sample had only two traits to score. As the researchers write, “This degree of missing data can affect classification accuracies, particularly among the sample having two or less (sic) traits.”
    “We recognise that this is a subjective approach… and that many of the individuals used to generate these methods derive from modern populations outside of the territories that formed the Roman Empire. […] The population affiliation divisions used here may disguise or fail to find many affiliations because they are subjective, and morphology varies between individuals and over time,” they further note. This is problematic because bioarchaeologists cannot be sure how much the skull and tooth shapes have changed over 2,000 years. Comparing an ancient population with a modern one may not yield accurate results. (For example, when I put metric data from skeletons from Rome into FORDISC, a software program that compares metric data from skulls, the program happily classifies them into Asian samples.)
    “The method development was particularly lacking in north African and southern Mediterranean populations, whose DNA shows a greater degree of genetic diversity compared to sub-Saharan and more northern ones. Therefore, the results must be understood in their temporal and spatial context, and the biases introduced by the methods acknowledged.” With few comparative samples from contemporary Africa and the southern Mediterranean, which are much more likely to be the origin of Roman Britons than is Asia, this means there may be bias introduced into the interpretation of the skull and tooth shapes.

This article is a remarkable attempt to correlate three different isotopes and skeletal morphology to answer questions about the diversity of Roman Britain in the later Empire, and it succeeds in showcasing that diversity even in this small sample. But it does not show, as the tabloids have been crowing, that there were Chinese in Roman London. The statistical results are intriguing, but the oxygen data from the two so-called Asians seem to be within the range of others in the sample, and only one produced dietary isotope data. For a slam-dunk, they need DNA. If and when they produce this, though, establishing a solid correlation between DNA from the Roman era and the results of the statistical method on the Roman skulls and teeth has the potential to help other bioarchaeologists assess ancestry without doing expensive destructive analysis.

RTWT

02 Apr 2017

Book Tunnel

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Boing Boing: Chinese bookstore Yangzhou Zhongshuge in Zhen Yuan, China has arguably the most breathtaking bookstore entrance in the world.

My Modern Met:

The dizzying space contains a grand optical illusion that you only see once you’ve set foot inside. Its lobby is a cavernous tunnel that most notably features striking black mirrored flooring. Together, the reflective ground and curved shelving creates the feeling that you’ve stepped into a perfectly circular room, making you question which way is up. Luckily, there’s help in finding the path forward. The shelves are split by a lightning bolt-shaped gap in the ceiling that leads you into the rest of the store.

Shanghai-based studio XL-Muse were the ones to come up with this clever configuration. Inspired by Yangzhou’s proximity to water, they designed the ground to mimic liquid. “In the past, guided by water, many literati and poets visited and gathered here,” they told Dezeen. “[The bridges] used to be the guiding factor of culture and commerce, and they represent that the bookstore is the bond between humans and books at the same time.” The mirrored flooring acts as a water current that draws you further into Yangzhou.

21 Oct 2016

Coiling Dragon Cliff Skywalk

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chinamountainview
Telegraph: Coiling Dragon Cliff Skywalk, Tianmen Mountain, China

10 Sep 2016

Losing Face

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losing-face

CHINESE IDIOMS ABOUT “FACE”

Illustrating the obsession with face-management, there are literally dozens of Chinese sayings and proverbs that have to do with “face”, including:

“Men can’t live without face, trees can’t live without bark.”
ren hou lian, shu hou pi

“A family’s ugliness (misfortune) should never be publicly aired”
jai chou bu ke wai yang

“Face project”
mian zi gong chen
For example, “That new expensive airport is just another face project for local officials to suck up to their bosses.”

“Blacken one’s face”
Wang lian shang mo hei
For example, “He blackened your face to get you back for what you did.”

A traditional insult is to say that someone “has no face”.
mei you mianzi

Similarly, one of the worst things is to “lose face”.
diu lian

Via Belacqui.

17 Aug 2016

Goujian’s Bronze Sword, Made 510 B.C.

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ChineseSword3

Vintage News:

The Sword of Goujian is an archaeological artifact of theSpring and Autumn period (771 to 403BC) found in 1965 in Hubei, China. Forged of copper and tin, it is renowned for its unusual sharpness and resistance to tarnish rarely seen in artifacts so old. …

In 1965, an archaeological survey was being performed along the second main aqueduct of the Zhang River Reservoir in Jingzhou, Hubei, more than fifty ancient tombs of the Chu State were found in Jiangling County. The dig started in the middle of October 1965 and ended in January 1966.

More than 2,000 artifacts were recovered from the sites, including a bronze sword. In December 1965, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) from the ruins of Jinan, an ancient capital of Chu, a casket was discovered at Wangshan site #1. Inside, an ornate bronze sword was found with a human skeleton.

The sword was found sheathed in a wooden scabbard finished in black lacquer. The scabbard had an almost air-tight fit with the sword body. Unsheathing the sword revealed an untarnished blade, despite the tomb being soaked in underground water for over 2,000 years.

ChineseSword4

On one side of the blade, two columns of text are visible. Eight characters are written in an ancient script which was found to be one known as Bird-worm seal script (literally “birds and worms characters” owing to the intricate decorations of the defining strokes), a variant of seal script. Initial analysis of the text deciphered six of the characters, “King of Yue” and “made this sword for [his] personal use”. The remaining two characters were probably the name of this King of Yue.

From the sword’s origin in 510 BC to its demise at the hands of Chu in 334 BC, nine kings ruled Yue, including Goujian,Lu Cheng, Bu Shou, Zhu Gou, and others. The identity of this king sparked debate among archeologists and Chinese language scholars. …

After more than two months, the experts started to form a consensus that the original owner of the sword was Goujian, the King of Yue made famous by his perseverance in time of hardship. So the entirety of the text reads “[Belonging to] King Goujian of Yue, made for [his] personal use”. …

The Sword of Goujian still has a sharp blade and shows no signs of tarnish. … It is likely that the chemical composition, along with the almost air-tight scabbard, led to the exceptional state of preservation. The body of the blade is mainly made of copper, making it more pliant and less likely to shatter; the edges have more tin content, making them harder and capable of retaining a sharper edge; the sulfur decreases the chance of tarnish in the patterns.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

03 Jul 2016

Sesame Credit

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16 Apr 2016

Ancient Revolutionary Philosophy

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BurningBooksChina
Emperor Ch’in Shih Huang Ti of the Ch’in dynasty ‘burning all the books and throwing scholars into a ravine’ in order to stamp out ideological nonconformity after the unification of China in 221 BC.

Ian Johnson reviews, in the New York Review of Books, Sarah Allan’s Buried Ideas: Legends of Abdication and Ideal Government in Early Chinese Bamboo-Slip Manuscripts, a study of ancient Chinese manuscripts written on bamboo slips containing the views of heretofore-unknown Ch’in-suppressed Chinese philosophic schools completely outside the familiar Confucian and Taoist traditions, views favoring meritocratic rather than hereditary dynastic government.

As Beijing prepared to host the 2008 Olympics, a small drama was unfolding in Hong Kong. Two years earlier, middlemen had come into possession of a batch of waterlogged manuscripts that had been unearthed by tomb robbers in south-central China. The documents had been smuggled to Hong Kong and were lying in a vault, waiting for a buyer.

Universities and museums around the Chinese world were interested but reluctant to buy. The documents were written on hundreds of strips of bamboo, about the size of chopsticks, that seemed to date from 2,500 years ago, a time of intense intellectual ferment that gave rise to China’s greatest schools of thought. But their authenticity was in doubt, as were the ethics of buying looted goods. Then, in July, an anonymous graduate of Tsinghua University stepped in, bought the soggy stack, and shipped it back to his alma mater in Beijing. …

The manuscripts’ importance stems from their particular antiquity. Carbon dating places their burial at about 300 BCE. This was the height of the Warring States Period, an era of turmoil that ran from the fifth to the third centuries BCE. During this time, the Hundred Schools of Thought arose, including Confucianism, which concerns hierarchical relationships and obligations in society; Daoism (or Taoism), and its search to unify with the primordial force called Dao (or Tao); Legalism, which advocated strict adherence to laws; and Mohism, and its egalitarian ideas of impartiality. These ideas underpinned Chinese society and politics for two thousand years, and even now are touted by the government of Xi Jinping as pillars of the one-party state.

The newly discovered texts challenge long-held certainties about this era. Chinese political thought as exemplified by Confucius allowed for meritocracy among officials, eventually leading to the famous examination system on which China’s imperial bureaucracy was founded. But the texts show that some philosophers believed that rulers should also be chosen on merit, not birth—radically different from the hereditary dynasties that came to dominate Chinese history. The texts also show a world in which magic and divination, even in the supposedly secular world of Confucius, played a much larger part than has been realized. And instead of an age in which sages neatly espoused discrete schools of philosophy, we now see a more fluid, dynamic world of vigorously competing views—the sort of robust exchange of ideas rarely prominent in subsequent eras.

These competing ideas were lost after China was unified in 221 BCE under the Qin, China’s first dynasty. In one of the most traumatic episodes from China’s past, the first Qin emperor tried to stamp out ideological nonconformity by burning books. … Modern historians question how many books really were burned. (More works probably were lost to imperial editing projects that recopied the bamboo texts onto newer technologies like silk and, later, paper in a newly standardized form of Chinese writing.) But the fact is that for over two millennia all our knowledge of China’s great philosophical schools was limited to texts revised after the Qin unification. Earlier versions and competing ideas were lost—until now.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Belacqui.

08 Jan 2016

World-Travelling Couple Breaks Up After China

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AleshaJarryd

Buzzfeed:

China turned us into bad people. The pushing, the shoving, the pollution, the spitting, the lack of respect toward the environment and their fellow human beings, the oily food, the wasteful attitude that is now ingrained in their psyche, we could go on. This is not to say we didn’t have great experiences and meet wonderful people, because we definitely did. But those moments were far less common for us. We hate being negative, and it may sound arrogant or pathetic, but that is the truth.

We would snap at each other over small things, and these minor arguments would turn into all-day affairs. Alesha would get angry at me over trivial matters, and I would retaliate. In the end I stopped being the caring partner that I should be. I neglected Alesha’s feelings and she would attack me for neglecting her. I continued to neglect her because I couldn’t stand being attacked. It was a vicious cycle.

Alesha started to resent travel, and I grew numb to it. Nothing excited us anymore. Just like you can lose your passion for a hobby when it becomes a job, we’re starting to become jaded with travel.

We hadn’t done proper exercise for longer than we could remember,” Salem wrote, “ate a lot of dodgy foods that had little nutritional value and put on weight. This just made us feel even more down. Alesha has always said that if your stomach is happy, you are happy. Well after the diet we experienced across China, Mongolia and Central Asia, our stomachs definitely weren’t happy.”

“At some point we sat down and realized that the best thing for us was to go our separate ways for a while, to give ourselves a break from each other.”

Hat tip to Ann Althouse.

16 Oct 2015

More Billionaires in China Than in USA

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DeBeersHourglass
Lot 20, De Beers, a Brass and Diamond Hourglass Timer, containing 2000 diamonds weighing roughly 36 Carats, Christie’s “Elements of Style Auction,” Shanghai, “24 October 2015

Fortune reports that Communist China now has more billionaires than the United States does.

Even with concerns over its economy, China can now claim to have surpassed the U.S. in one wealth indicator: the number of billionaires within its borders.

A survey conducted by The Hurun Report says China now has 596 billionaires, surpassing the U.S. tally for the first time (the U.S. has 537 billionaires, according to the report). If 119 billionaires from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macao are added, Greater China owns 715 billionaires in the “Hurun Global Rich List.”

Christie’s, as you see (above) now holds auctions of preposterously expensive timepieces in Shanghai.

09 Oct 2015

Chinese Traffic Jam

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Much worse than LA.

Vacationers returning to Beijing on the 50-lane highway (!) suddenly encountered a newly-installed checkpoint forcing traffic to merge down to 20-lanes. Thousands of cars were trapped for hours. (Their government at work!)

23 Apr 2015

Hey, You, Put Down That Phone! (Chinese Video)

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Video

2:48 video

04 Feb 2015

Rice vs. Wheat Farming Explains North-South China Cultural Differences

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rice-regions-china

Phys Org:

A new cultural psychology study has found that psychological differences between the people of northern and southern China mirror the differences between community-oriented East Asia and the more individualistic Western world – and the differences seem to have come about because southern China has grown rice for thousands of years, whereas the north has grown wheat.

“It’s easy to think of China as a single culture, but we found that China has very distinct northern and southern psychological cultures and that southern China’s history of rice farming can explain why people in southern China are more interdependent than people in the wheat-growing north,” said Thomas Talhelm, a University of Virginia Ph.D. student in cultural psychology and the study’s lead author. He calls it the “rice theory.”

The findings appear in the May 9 issue of the journal Science.

Talhelm and his co-authors at universities in China and Michigan propose that the methods of cooperative rice farming – common to southern China for generations – make the culture in that region interdependent, while people in the wheat-growing north are more individualistic, a reflection of the independent form of farming practiced there over hundreds of years.

“The data suggests that legacies of farming are continuing to affect people in the modern world,” Talhelm said. “It has resulted in two distinct cultural psychologies that mirror the differences between East Asia and the West.”

Read the whole thing.

Via Fred Lapides.

03 Feb 2015

Not Easy Giving Their Shots to Pandas

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