Wednesday, September 29, 2010

the Wild Wild Cyberspace...

It is common logic that laws are only enforceable where individuals can be tracked down when crimes are committed. The ability to identify and track down the criminal is perhaps the most factor preventing more people from harming others for personal benefit. Seriously, if one knows that one is guaranteed that one cannot be found by the law-enforcement agencies, where is the risk for doing something illegal?

In the modern world, this sort of "disappearing criminal" logic still works in two circumstances: international relations and the cyberspace. As for international relations, I don't need to elaborate. A country can easily make up some bullshit reasons to invade another in the name of "justice." And domestic laws can easily be overridden when foreign fishermen are concerned.

The logic is clear, the criminal with more power, as defined by greater technology, greater economic strength, and even greater size becomes good enough reason to replace the boundaries of law. Law indeed have to shut up in front of power.

In any country, this sort of situation would be considered immoral and controversial. But when a country's jurisdiction becomes a mere laughable threat without any teeth, then even the most righteous citizens can only look on with dismay. While in the case of international relations, one can still hope for a superpower acting as an impartial judge in fronts not necessarily tied to her national interest, in the cyberspace, all such hopes are simply unrealistic to the extreme.

I came to such grim realization after discovering that my Yahoo mailbox have been hacked through multiple times, with spam emails constantly generated to all my friends and acquiescences. Of course, as all the spam are directly sent from my email, I have no way of knowing who is the culprit and not way of punishing him/her/it.

In a way, it is another example of technology as a tool for victory. While Internet companies can battle it out offline with their business strategies, individuals on the Internet can easily hide their identities among hundreds of millions of daily users from every corner of the globe.

Even for countries determined to control the flow of information on its domain, as long as it is connected to the Worldwide Web, even in a highly limited fashion, it is vulnerable to unwelcoming intruders. Sure, some countries work on cyber technologies that can identify the origins of these intruders, but what about the commoners like me?

As I see the damages done from my own mailbox and facing accusations from people who've received multiple spam mails from me, the only thing I can do is to passively accept my unluckiness. After all, I am not the only one getting such treatment from cyber criminals; I too had received spam mails from people I know. It is too common a phenomenon that regular netizens like me not longer display any anger toward such petty annoyance.

But is it really OK for us to simply laugh off such sheer intrusion of cyber security without concrete actions? Should we demand the creation of some overarching regulatory commission that watches our every move on the Internet? Careful thinking tells me the answer has to be a no. Just as people go to lawless lands and black markets for adventure and acquire what is impossible in a regulated society, people go to the cyberspace to experience that same thrill.

The Internet, unregulated and lawless, has become the last frontier untouched by the political control of human beings. Any way to reduce freedom and access on the Internet should be condemned as immoral and tyrannical. Heck, who knows, may be one day I will be hacking other people's emails and spamming their friends, haha.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Border Disputes as an Issue of Nationalism

After looking at the ongoing boat row as a financial damage to Japan and as a personal experience of getting negative treatments in Japan, it is perhaps necessary to look at the whole reason why border disputes between nations are so hard to resolve.

Some tend to argue that the issue is largely economic. The whole reason there are disputes over Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands is over the seabed oil fields nearby, and the whole reason why Japan still argues over islets with Russia and Korea is also over fishing fields and trade routes. According to these arguments, somehow Japan's economy/economic security can be greatly boosted through control over a few islands.

But aside from a few decades of cheap fish and oil, the short term benefits are just as hard to establish as long term strategic interests. An essentially Euro-centric Russia sees no reason for war in sparely populated Far East for further expansion, and Japan should not see itself powerful enough to go at it with nuclear Russia (the Americans sure would not like to see that).

South Korea and Japan are both American allies. The only ones benefiting from their conflict can only be China and North Korea. Similarly, overly aggressive Japanese actions over Diaoyu can also trigger negative popular opinions in American-backed Taiwan (although I see such a tendency to decline over time as young Taiwanese are overwhelmingly pro-Japanese).

With the Americans keeping the other disputes under control, the only unstable factor is China. While Chinese government feels itself to be largely unprepared for any sort of open confrontation against the US, the people seem to see the other way. While the government attempt to stop any popular flairs against Japan, the people's anger have not been extinguished (and only made worse as Japan demands reparations).

And that really is the differing factor between a resolvable and non-resolvable border dispute. Nationalists at home makes a conciliatory gesture by the national government impossible. Looking at Sino-Russian border, the resolution was largely done behind closed doors. As the Chinese populace seemed to care a lot more about the borderline than the Russian general public, sensitive areas fought over during Sino-Soviet split are granted to China.

In exchange, Russia received large tracts of land in places where the Chinese public does not seem to know about the disputes. The method of giving up land to calm nationalism has been so highly successful simply because both the Russians and Chinese knew that public opinion, rather than land itself, is the primary obstacle preventing resolution.

If both sides can see land areas as completely exchangeable items given no nationalist sentiment, the issue can be easily resolved. If, as in the case of Diaoyu Island, or to a larger extent, Taiwan and surrounding islands, the whole disputed area is deeply tied to the so-called national psyche, the only sensible way is to maintain status quo through silence.

Border disputes, after all, cannot be resolved unilaterally. That would give the side losing territory the moral high ground of battling "invaders." Any sudden move by one side to change the status quo should be communicated to the other side beforehand to prevent popular mass anger to overtake logical and calm governments, thereby sending even a tiny issue into the international arena.

Entering "Enemy" Territory

So it seems these days when Chinese walks around in the streets of Tokyo. Of course, unless we open our mouths, no one would know, but public opinion is public opinion after all...just seeing the guy next to you on the commuter train reading a newspaper article titled "China's Ambitions to Take Over the East Sea" can't possibly be very pleasing for myself and millions of other Chinese who are in this country.

And then comes the news that Japan rejects Chinese demands for apology and in exchange issues a demand for financial reparations. I really wonder if the government is heeding the call of the people on this particular issue, on both sides. There are few bilateral economic relationships as close and interrelated as the one between Japan and China, with goods and personnel constantly crossing the borders.

As much as citizens on both sides have certain negative images about each other, no one, even on the extreme right, can deny the existing benefits of economic cooperation. Furthermore, the appearance of the Japanese society does not seem like one ready for any open conflict. While the newspapers released its adrenaline-pumped "analyses" of the situation, the people seem to remain wary and nonchalant at most.

China as the bad guy is not new here in Japan or many other parts of the world. Chinese people don't get good treatments around here (Japanese are of course polite to everyone on the surface, but it is evident some foreigners gets better impressions than others). Similarly, Japanese people get occasional verbal abuse when they walk through China.

But dragging public opinion along as an evidence for effectiveness of some government foreign policy made behind some closed door is simply scarring. The public won't notice certain confronting issues if the government keep a lid on it. If the government remains silent, the people on both sides may gradually reduce negative outlooks generated, above everything else, histories from decades ago.

As the ignorant rally to the government cause, its the business elite that suffers. According to my uncle who works in a Japanese company on a collaboration project with a Chinese factory, for China to simply annul an established two-weeks visa free travel policy for Japanese citizens can dramatically slows down business traffic. Negotiations can be bogged down when personnel transits are delayed.

Time is money in business. And business is only possible when the risk of capital loss can be minimized with enough political and legal frameworks. If China and Japan resorts to brinkmanship over an issue that has been kept silent until now, what does the future hold for business? Obviously it cannot possibly be bright. The anxiety cannot be good for future economic expansions.

And come to think of it, business may be the only thing that keeps ethnic and political tensions from boiling over. Business is what brought China and Japan to normalize relations, and maintaining its benefits have been the driving force behind China's unwritten rule of silence on most foreign affairs. For someone who will now enter a profession based on good economic relations between the two, I would not like to see a change in the status quo.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Learning to "Age Gracefully"...

Finally, today, I sent my grandmother back to Nanjing, ending my
pretty much self-imposed three-week house arrest. Watching my
grandmother behave in public for one last time (in a long long while,
at least) as we head our way by train, it still makes me think how
older people behave in China. Maybe a lot of what I say here is
peculiar to my grandmother, but basically, all the social vices we
perceive that Chinese people have are incredibly prevalent among
elders. For instance, cutting in line is normal (quite humiliating
for me to watch when my grandmother does it because I can't follow
her in that particular act).

Also, for her, words like "Excuse me," "Thank you," and "Please" are
never to be used in public toward strangers (even customer service
people)...and, smiling toward others is just not something to be done
logically. Ironically, when foreigners first think of Chinese elders,
bearded wise smiling old men (like Confucius) are probably the first
thing that pops into the mind. Instead, they are hit with insults,
sneers, and hostile looks when they meet Chinese elders in reality.
OK, so this is probably not just in China. Asian elders (especially
in Korea), as far as I've encountered, seems to be always like that.
It really makes me wonder why.

Well, the first thing that comes to the mind is the family-oriented
social structure in traditional Chinese society. But as far as
Confucian values go, the general society is simply an enlarged version
of an individual's core family. Especially considering the importance
of clans and extended families (as well as concepts of special
relationship between those from same occupation, hometown, and social
class that allows for extra reason to bond socially, I don't see why
adherence to Confucianism would prompt individuals to have a default
sense of disrespect for each other that comes out of nowhere.

Furthermore, Confucianism, just like Western values, believe in the
concept of "treating others as you would like to be treated." A basic
understanding of human emotions would tell anyone that a cold shoulder
from one person would like to cold shoulder (and perhaps even anger)
from the other, leading to complete breakdown of interaction. But
what is perhaps more puzzling is the huge discrepancy in the attitudes
Chinese elders have toward familiar people (friends, coworkers, and
family) as compared to complete strangers. It is as if everyone is
bipolar: two completely different personalities for two sets of
people.

But then again, lack of social grace is not a consequence of distant
social relations. Japanese people, like all other Asians) tend not to
interact with strangers either, preferring smaller, more familiar
circles (this explains why solo travel is in vogue in America and
Europe because it is so easy to meet people on the way, while the
concept is often looked upon as strange on this side of the Pacific).
Yet, when the Japanese are asked by strangers (as I occasionally do),
they do like to hold a polite conversion with a bright (even if
forced) smile.

In fact a further observation will find that the so-called "social
grace" among elders (and the entire population) has a correlation with
wealth. People in wealthier countries tend to be more polite when
spoken to. Yet at the same time, contrary to popular belief, "social
grace" seems to have little correlation with education, at least here
in China. My grandmother is a retired chief librarian at one of the
most prestigious universities in Nanjing, but she, like many in
China's elite handling higher education, seemed to show no sign of
grace acquired in a college campus (same can be said of my father, a
medical researcher, in many circumstances).

Of course, as stated in a previous post, distorted distribution of
wealth allows many "low-quality" rich people to emerge, a phenomenon
that can't possibly be good for "social grace." But looking a bit
further down history lane, we can find that memories of intense
struggles for limited resources, whether it be food or jobs, for
survival, have shaped the characters of the elders in developing and
newly developed (like Korea) countries. Since everyone fought for the
same limited resources, politeness, as defined by yielding to others
and placing trust in others, was proved to way to failure.

To put in a social Darwinist view, to survive at the expense of
others, everyone had to see everyone else outside of that small social
cycle as potential enemies to be distrusted. The battles they had to
fight to survive were so scarring that even as limitation of most
resources have become things of the past, they continue to hold on to
such mentality. And for places that continue to see poverty and
scarcity, "social grace" cannot advance. Only with generations after
generations of living under comforting wealth (as Japan has) can the
older population that cannot "age gracefully" die out and be replaced
with the new elders who can.

The fact that I can actually pay attention to whether people have
"social grace" or not means that I am rich. I have already escaped
the bugging thoughts about my next meal and my safety that is
constantly in the minds of the millions of poor that lives in the
world. We are so lucky to be fed and clothed so well that we even
think about how we can behave more "nicely." Yeah, I suppose it is a
sign of advanced civilization, but that animal instinct which we
despise as "lack of social grace," as exhibited by people like my
grandmother, is a constant reminder to the rest of us that poverty is
still out there and it is never too far away for even the wealthiest
person to experience.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

China vs Japan Boat Row: the Financial Side

There has a lot of attention on Japan holding Chinese fishermen and
Japan selling Yen to devalue it against USD, but everyone thought the
two news are completely unrelated to each other...until now. There
has been new reports (more like rumors) saying that the Chinese are
beginning to throw its massive 2.5 trillion USD foreign reserves into
buying Japanese government bonds, in such a scale that the CCP is
actually selling off many of its USD assets to make the purchases. If
the rumors can be proved correct, its potentially a huge financial
assault on Japan amid political confrontation.

The economics is this: when the Chinese sell off USD-denoted assets,
the demand of USD decreases, causing its value to decrease. At the
same time, buying Japanese government bonds requires the Chinese to
first buy huge amounts of cash in yen (using USD or RMB), causing the
demand and value of yen to increase (USD and RMB to devalue as they
are put in the market in place of Yen). Together, the two moves
causes USD to be able to buy less and less in yen, causing Japanese
exports to the USA to become more and more expensive.

When other countries launch such a financial offensive, the damage
would be limited. But considering the size of China's foreign
reserve, the effect on the exchange rate is huge. As Yen increase in
value and RMB decrease with respect to USD, Chinese exports become
more competitive compared to Japanese ones, reducing the economic
strength of export-dependent Japan. Also, when the Japanese are
printing Yen to buy in USD, it is hoping that the extra money supply
can flow into the market, dragging Japan out of its constant cycle of
deflation.

Logically, people would delay their purchases into the future when
they know prices are cheaper in the future, so deflation, obviously,
reduces domestic consumption. By putting more money in people's hands
(simply by printing them), Japan hopes that prices can grow again and
force people to make their long-awaited purchases. Unfortunately,
now, the extra printed cash is being recycled into the cash vaults of
the Japanese government in the form of money borrowed from China. (or
better yet, if possible, the CCP can just buy in Yen using RMB,
further devaluing RMB with respect to Yen to reduce Japan's export
competitiveness)

So, the extra yen either ends up in China's or Japan's government cash
vault. Government spending by the Japanese government is becoming
highly unpopular as debt is already twice the GDP and government
spending has not produced much positive effects in the past.
Basically, China is systematically killing Japanese exports while
Japan can only print more cash with no effect and sees its national
debt continue to rise. This, combined with China's threats to cancel
Chinese spending on Japanese goods and reduce tourists to Japan, are
sure to increase the already grim economic prospects in Japan.

And it is precisely the strong "domestic popular sentiment" against
Japan stemming from the fisherman row that gives Chinese government
the perfect excuse to set such an assault into motion. Without the
political tensions in the background, such a drastic financial move
may trigger opposition from a large domestic business community
working with Japan while getting further backlash from the USA for
financial manipulation. Now any opposition as such can be effectively
silenced as excessively "pro-Japanese" and "anti-nationalistic."

Brilliant may be the only word that can be used to describe CCP's
move. It is no wonder that China, despite having an increasingly
discontent constituency that hopes for increased pressure on Japan, is
standing firm on a verbal threats-only position. It is CCP's hope
that the continued financial assault used here, which not only weakens
Japan but also reduces the vulnerability of Chinese assets to
fluctuation of USD, can force both the Japanese and the Americans to
back down. Perhaps it is unsurprising that the US has repeatedly
issued statements stating that it would not like to see involvement in
the conflict over "some tiny island."

American neutrality puts further pressure on Japan. Japanese
population is generally wary of conflicts with China even if most
support Japanese government's position. If a political stalemate that
boosts national morale suddenly reveals itself to be a huge economic
loss over time, most people in Japan may not stick with the
government's heavy-handedness. In Japan's already vulnerable
political stability, if the incumbent Democratic Party of Japan were
to be seen as having miscalculated on such a grand scale, political
upheaval is sure to follow.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Danger of Being Wealthy

Recently, a rich girl in Korea showing off her wealth and luxury goods
on a local TV station got the whole country pissed off. When it
turned out that the TV station told the (averaged middle class) girl
to make up the whole thing to get higher rating for the show,
criticism and financial punishment for the TV station was logically
and swiftly called for. The fact that the TV station is capable of
thinking up something like this and the success in attracting (mostly
negative) attention to the said TV show goes to show the sensitivity
normal people have regarding an outright display of social inequality.

Of course, this kind of wealth display is not new or rare. Internet
forums in China practically gets new pics of some rich boy or girls'
personal "accessories" every single day, attracting fiery comments
from netizens. The fact that these young boys and girls are from
wealthy families and did not work for any of their wealth only
increases the negative sentiments toward the rich among middle and
working class populations. The flaunting of wealth by the rich have
brought realistic fear to the rich themselves. Because of the
(exaggerated) sense of social inequality displayed by the flaunting,
many a (noble-sounding) netizens have argued for increased taxation on
high income earners, or even worse, violent confiscation of extra
wealth for distribution to the poor.

That kind of talk has historical roots. As I have wrote about before,
most popular rebellions that overthrew dynasties begins with killing
local landlords to distribute land and wealth. And just as today,
people tend to doubt the origin of high income concentrated in one
family when most of the country is so poor. Corruption and illegal
business practices immediately comes to mind. Governments throughout
history have been keen to frequently jail the richest people and
confiscate their wealth based on their dubious source of income, both
to appease the poor and to increase the wealth of the government.

And the PRC government have continued to use this model. Some in the
circle have joked that the list of wealthiest persons published in
China is like a government blacklist. Many on the list in the past
years have been sentenced for everything from tax fraud to corruption
to even disturbing national order. Their wealth, of course, have been
recycled into the national treasury. Fearing persecution, the wealthy
in China have not been hesitant to emigrate, using their investments
to buy citizenship abroad. In fact, most of those flaunting wealth
are living abroad at least part of the time and do have foreign
residency.

To say that every single one of the hundreds of billionaires and
hundreds of thousands of millionaires in this country got rich through
illicit means is of course a bit ridiculous on the part of the
netizens, but there is no doubt that likes of government officials and
coal mine bosses got rich really quickly without much of an effort.
They just happened to sit on the right government seat or right piece
of land. Better regulation of these positions may be necessary.
Similarly, the few remaining state-owned enterprises in the country
are now all huge, have monopoly or definite market control, and high
profitability. The bosses of these SOEs should also be periodically
examined to see if they are pocketing extra cash.

But probably the most difficult problem in dealing with all the grey
income is the fact that rich people and their money can easily leave
the country. Back in the day of the dynastic era, the rich didn't
leave the country (they just didn't think better lives would be
awaiting them anywhere else), so getting money back is as simple as
tracking down the rich guy's treasury chest. But now, even with
limitations on how much money people in China (Chinese and foreigners
alike) can wire abroad and how much foreign currency they can get, it
is still easy for illicit incomes to disappear from China.

With the money gone, there is no evidence of wealth. And even if the
wealth is confirmed, the government can't track the money back to
China. Better yet, the wealthy, with their wives, mistresses, and
"accessory"-loaded sons and daughters already abroad, all they need to
avoid arrest is just hope on an airplane. As China has extradition
agreements with practically no countries, the wealthy can just apply
for political asylum when the arrest warrant comes. Perhaps, rather
than hating the rich being rich, the netizens are more pissed about
how all the money the bosses make from the commoners' sweat and blood
so easily end up enriching already wealthy countries....

Recent visit to China by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet may change the
situation for the better. Their effort to sell the concept of charity
to the Chinese wealthy has been met with at least some enthusiastic
responses. Some businessmen have promised to donate large sums of
cash to improve lives and education of rural China. With more
charity, the money and wealthy, skilled Chinese citizens can be used
to develop China. With charity, the angry netizens may lose some of
their steam, and the "brain drain" and "money drain" due to fear of
persecution may finally stop in the future.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Isn't a Coal Miner just a Coal Miner Anywhere?!

So it seems I have believed for a long time. The manual labor job
that probably has one of the highest date rates, the coal miner is the
ultimate blue-collar job. In China, thousands of them die every year,
only to be replaced by thousands more who come from the countryside
for a quick buck (and a quick death). The lack of regulation in the
mining industry (not just coal) means that laws cannot protect the
workers and can't be used to improve their conditions. Popular belief
(not just here but also everywhere) think that no matter how "safe"
laws make the mines, mining is a dangerous, boring job without any
prospects for brighter future.

But the ongoing media coverage on rescuing 30-some Chilean coal
workers trapped underneath a collapsed mine tunnel for a few months
shows that maybe to simply consider coal miners are hapless and
unfortunate pawns of gigantic mining companies is becoming a thing of
the past, at least in certain parts of the world. There seem to be
daily updates of their lives underneath, telling tales of food/drinks
sent down a pipe and phone calls with families, along with
descriptions of government attention and slow but steady rescue
efforts. Ironically, more than any other country besides Chile,
China, where most of death related to mining in the world occurs, have
heeded the situation in this particular Chilean mine.

Of course, I am not saying similar rescues doesn't happen in China.
Successful rescues are often reported in media as symbols of heroism
and technological prowess, not to mention to engender a sense of
national unity in front of local difficulties. But the number of
success is tiny compared to the number of fatal accidents that lead to
deaths of many innocent workers. Notably, to prevent embarrassment
for the government, Chinese media typically only report mining
accidents AFTER either all trapped workers are rescued (to show
strength of government) or death of all workers are confirmed (to show
that the accident was too unsurmountable for any rescue attempts).

Ok, so at the end, it is about politics, not coal miners' welfare.
Obviously, as I have stated before, China, as a populous country, has
a tradition of sacrificing individuals for the interest of the leaders
and the country. But in a modern society in which a country's way of
treating its citizens is highly correlated with the country's soft
power, perhaps the Chilean model here is a good thing to emulate for
the Chinese? Sure, we can say that the Chilean miners are going to be
rescued at the end unless some unlikely big accident happens, so the
government has nothing to lose by broadcasting their (pretty good)
conditions now, but I don't see the Chinese government doing anything
similar...

As for soft power, I have wrote about it in terms of pop culture
before, but the basic underlying principle of developing better pop
music and dramas is the same as reporting on unfortunate coal miners
trapped underground. The effect of both is to portray a country as a
group of real people with real individual thoughts, rather than a
faceless constituency of the government, who, despite certain
difficulties, are capable of expressing their individual identities
and lead good, fulfilling lives.

The whole point of soft power is to make the foreigners realize that
if they are to become citizens of this country, they can happily be
themselves and improve themselves with others who are equally and
perhaps more expressive and opinionated. The Chileans reporting their
miners celebrating Independence Day and calling their families serve
to remind the Chinese miners watching TV here that they, even though
with the same job and maybe even the same pay as those Chileans,
rather be coal miners there than here.

Those Chilean miners, full of optimism even in complete darkness, have
become national heroes. While on the other hand, under the exact same
situation, the stoic, blank-faced Chinese miners are but canon fodder
(if they die) and a political hassle to death with (even if they live)
for the mining company's continuous profiteering. It really isn't
about them whether they live or die, it is always about the big
players: the government and the mining companies.

Even more than those here who watch Korean dramas wanting to be
Korean, coal miners here would want to be Chilean after this. Thanks
to the stupidity of the state-controlled media who can't see through
this, they have realized that coal miners everywhere are not the same.
Yes, the job is equally hard and dangerous, but at least, somewhere
else, there is more human dignity attached to the job description.
That is the irony of Chinese enthusiasm for a bunch of Chilean trapped
miners.

The Outcome and the Consequences of Microsoft vs. Google

Living under the shadows of Internet censorship, here in China we are
used to the fact that foreign websites are inaccessible and foreign
Internet companies are treated as if they are all secretly working as
cyber-spies for the American government. But when it comes to
Microsoft and Google, two of the world's probably best known companies
involved with the Internet, the attitude of the Chinese government
have been quite different. While Google has been in a constant fight
to get itself greater market share over Baidu, Microsoft's MSN has
seen strong growth in instant messaging despite strong domestic
competition.

At the same time, while Bill Gates is quite an honored personality
here in China, the higher ends of Google has not seen strong following
in either the Chinese government or the public. As the Chinese
Internet market heads to its destiny as the world's largest, Microsoft
versus, one of the most peculiar yet influential rivalry in the human
civilization increasingly dependent upon cyber technology, is
increasingly important to the future of cyberspace. Microsoft, the
long-established symbol of computer software technology, and Google, a
dominant power in the field of cyber navigation, are encroaching the
each others' specialties.

Microsoft's improvement of its MSN search engine coupled with Google's
attempt to create its own counterpart to Microsoft Office have
generated court cases and mutual hatred, all to the worry of the
stockholders and the excitement of the media. It is my belief that
the ultimately, the principle of equilibrium will apply to
Microsoft-Google rivalry just as it has for many other corporate
competitions, allowing both to retain a certain percentage of market
share in their own specialties without decimating each other or
destroying any other large computer and cyber technology companies in
the world.

In biology, there is a theory that states that in any environment,
competition of resources between two species may result in either the
extinction of one species as it is out-competed, or the accommodation
by both species resulting in two separate, yet co-existing niches,
allowing both species to continue existence through noninterference in
acquisition of resources by each. In real life, examples of such
separate niches include two species of fishes that live in the same
river and hunt for the same food, but can avoid competition because
one species live in the cold water under the shade of the trees while
the other lives in the warm, open waters.

The principle of separate niches can also be applied to business
competitions. Companies, although competitive in many different
fields, must ultimately generate a specialized niche with a certain
product or service that a company can guarantee a percentage of the
consumer market big enough for the financial survival of the company.
Although a company, just like a species, can constantly invade the
niche of others throughout its existence, most invasions are destined
to be failures because of the invaded niche is specialized niches of
other companies, with unchangeable allegiance from many consumers due
to the long-established reputation and perceived higher quality.
Therefore, the conflict between Google and Microsoft will end with
both returning to their well-entrenched specialized niches, search
engine technology and computer software development. By the same
logic, no other companies can unseat Google and Microsoft from the
position as the dominators of their own specialized niches.

On the other hand, if two species are to follow the exact same niches,
then the fitter of the two will survive while the other must
inevitably face extinction. The only reason why Microsoft
out-competed Netscape in Internet browsers is due to the greater
"fitness" of Microsoft. With more income due to the larger consumer
base, Microsoft drastically decreased the demand of Netscape browsers
by lowering the prices of its own program, many of which are allegedly
imitation of Netscape patented technology. The inexpensiveness and
the greater reputation of Microsoft allow the vast majority of
consumers to choose it over Netscape, preventing Netscape from
financial success and thus survival in the corporate world.

Google, on the other hand, does not resemble Netscape in any
particular way. Not only does it not depend on the products that also
produced by Microsoft as its specialized niche, it also has the
capability to extend its services far and beyond its original niche,
the search engine, and its original location, USA. As it expands to
different countries, it is superficially following its mission
statement, "organize the world's information and make it universally
accessible and useful." Yet, when looked carefully, Google's
universal rise is as beneficial to the world as it is detrimental.

There should be no question of the dominance of the Western world in
cyberspace. Whether the site is English, German, or French, the West
has systematically placed its culture and values on the Internet,
enlarging their influence. In the process of dominating the Internet,
Westernization has taken place around every corner of the world thanks
to millions of foreign citizens who uses Google's search engine as a
starting point of their everyday Internet journey. The search results
not only does not equally represent the "world's information," their
inherently Western-oriented beliefs and thoughts will only accelerate
the destruction of many native cultures that are unique and
irreplaceable if destroyed. With the introduction of Western
cultures, the people of many of these once-isolated social systems are
marginalized at the benefit of the Westerners economic and political
interests.

In today's cybernetic era, Google and Microsoft became the
representation of a new kind of giants in the corporate world. While
there is no question that both Google and Microsoft will continue to
dominate their own niche in the ultra-competitive cybernetic
environment, it should be known that unilateral attempts to change the
status quo of the market share is difficult and rarely successful; but
at the same time, whether the existing dominance of certain companies
is positive for human society as a whole would always be a
controversial and widely debatable topic.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Reflecting on My Naturalization...in a Time of Another "National Crisis" in China

To this day, the idea that I am in a foreign country while in China
has not really sank into my mind. While I understand that (as I will
rant on about in the following paragraphs) citizenship, more often
than not, is a display of pure opportunism rather than some
deep-hearted and sincerely nationalistic loyalty, a mental change,
after all, does need to accompany a sudden change in national status.
Recently in China, a fishing boat colliding with a Japanese patrol
vessel in disputed territory has been subject of nationalistic
outbursts.

Especially considering the elections in Japan that marks another shit
back toward pro-American stance and September 18th being the
anniversary of start of Sino-Japanese War, tensions run high here. As
much as I stay neutral on these issues, I wonder that, if similar
situation were to occur in the States on July 4th, would there be as
big of a reaction? Some priest threatening to burn Korans on September
11th and the popular support for such an act shows that, in terms of
managing popular nationalism and its violent consequences, the Chinese
government may even be more careful and cautious, therefore more
likely to prevent international crises due to popular acts of
ignorance.

The question is perhaps more of perceived "national duty" rather than
emotional sentiments. The priest in the States obviously knew that
his proposition is a deeply confrontational one that directly assaults
the basic principles of all Muslims, and attacks the very existence of
Islamic fate. He believes that Islam vs. America (or Christianity) is
a zero-sum game, one with death of Islam just as communism. On the
Chinese side, the protest is an ethnic one rather than a historical
one, one in which neither Japan or China can win because neither
fundamentally be changed as a nation.

Now, the question is, where do we, the newly accepted Americans, stand
(or better yet, should stand) on these issues? As a recently
naturalized US citizen, my first July 4th as a true American has
significant symbolic values. But as I celebrate American and all its
ideals on this particular day, I cannot help but worry about the
meaning of the "American Dream" as understood by my fellow naturalized
Americans, especially those of Chinese descent, after witnessing the
obvious insincerities both the immigrants and the naturalization
officers displayed during the supposedly sacred naturalization
process.

I fear the continuation of the frivolous attitudes can greatly
undermine the very values we are celebrating on this day. This lack
of seriousness was best displayed during a rather minor segment of the
Oath Ceremony I undertook in San Diego, CA. To kill some time before
the judges were ready to officially announce us as US citizens, the
naturalization officer presiding over the ceremony decided to call up
some of the immigrants being naturalized for a short "interview." To
my greatest shock, no less than half of the dozen people called up had
trouble simply introducing themselves in English, not to mention
answer the officer's questions.

The officer simply laughed off the incomprehensible mumblings, without
a slight sense of worry. Sure, the officer's nonchalant attitude can
easily justified by the elementary school-level difficulty of the
reading and writing "tests" we were required to pass during
naturalization interviews, and perhaps more by the fact that the
descendents of the people gathered at the Ceremony will not be any
different from anyone else born and bred in America. However, behind
the laughs of the officers amidst patriotic music blaring in the
background illustrates the hypocrisy with which we are treating the
naturalization process.

It is always important to note that America was built on ethnic and
cultural diversity, an aspect fully on display at the Oath Ceremony.
Yet, America is also built on certain ideological principles shared by
most of her constituents, and even today, I fail to see how those
principles can ever be instilled among most of these new citizens.
After all, democratic processes can only be successful when ideas are
freely and fully exchanged and be available to the entire populace.
Such "unity within diversity" is simply impossible when that diverse
group of people cannot even transmit the most basic information to
each other verbally.

I question the wisdom of our political leaders even to mention any
"common values shared by all Americans." As the Ceremony concludes
and the participants revert back to using their native languages, the
thoughts going through their minds are of possible increased incomes,
greater freedom to travel, and sudden appearance of new economic
opportunities. Notably absent are "freedom," "democracy," and many
other ideological buzzwords that are now such an integral part of our
political language. I wonder, when these new citizens cast their
first votes and perform their first jury duties, will they really be
utilizing their "American principles" to preserve our ideological
American-ness?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Witnessing a Change in Chinese Commercial Culture

Even just going to a supermarket with your grandmother can be a
learning experience in China. As a relatively new phenomenon that did
not really take off in China until the early 90s, supermarkets are
still a sort of middle class luxury rarely experienced by elders and
people in the rural areas. In fact, for everyday shopping (especially
for food), supermarkets of any kind are considered rather high end
(and prices reflected this), with most Chinese preferring to buy their
raw vegetables and sorts in open air markets with small stalls rather
than get them all packaged from local supermarkets.

Even the middle class thinks that those open air markets (sort of like
"farmers' markets" in the States) have fresher local produce directly
from the fields, whereas the goods in the supermarkets are
commercially produced, meaning that they are made with high quantities
of chemicals and are shipped from areas far far away. Of course, once
you go to the open air markets, you know that can't be true. Each
vendor sells in the upward of 20 to 30 kinds of different vegetables
in their stalls (whereas the average vendor at farmer's markets
probably have a few), meaning that even if they do indeed produce
vegetables at home (as the customers believe), they are still buying
at least some of them from wholesalers.

In other words, the only difference between an open-air market and a
supermarket is that the vendor is your local moms and pops instead of
some gigantic corporate establishment. The actual quality and even
price of the goods on sale are not that different at all. Its just
that the supermarket are charging a higher price for branding reasons
rather than as reflection of quality. Of course, for people like my
grandmother, the open-air markets are no doubt more comfortable
environment, with familiar ways of doing business that has been in
place for thousands of years.

But if I am any reflection of the mental state of the younger
generations in China, the death of open-air markets are probably
already destined. Loudness and smell aside, an open-air market just
does not seem to appeal to the fashion and style-conscious youth. The
open-air markets, run and used primarily by old people (and migrants
from the countryside) obviously does not reflect a sense of modernity
China tries to convey. In this way, the open-air markets are quite
like those counterfeit fashion markets the government is closing down
despite lament of foreign tourists.

As I personally stated to many people on multiple occasions, haggling,
despite being an extremely efficient way to balance out supply and
demand if correctly used, is, if subjected to confusion and utter
violation of commercial regulation, can easily be source of deception
and a tool for organized crime. Haggling, in fact, also goes on in
open-air markets. Vegetables and other food items like raw meat,
while not valuable and particularly appealing as things that can be
used for profiteering through deceit, is, in fact, very dangerous if
not properly checked.

For large open-air markets where hundreds of vendors come and go at
will, consumers have nowhere to go if they buy foods that are sprayed
with chemicals to disguise bad quality. Individual vendors, without
proper licenses to operate and easily mobile, have the ability and
incentive to pull off such an act, unlike a supermarket, where each
problem with an item sold leads to sufficient damage to reputation
that can reduce profit over time.

But as I look to my grandmother getting confused by the lines in front
of cash registers, I, at the same time, wonder when and if there
actually will be a day all the open-air markets are replaced with
supermarkets. Of course, the small vendors have much to lose.
Supplying to supermarkets would greatly reduce their profits and even
if they hold on to stalls at ever-decreasing number of open-air
markets, they no longer have ability to price inconsistently with the
ubiquitous supermarkets.

But on a positive note for consumers, when supermarkets selling food
items become more common, the prices are bound to decrease. Its the
same effect McDonalds and KFC expansions had on Chinese fast food
market. Even the most luxurious-sounding foreign supermarket chain
need to battle on prices to survive in the ultra-competitive and
highly unregulated Chinese retail market. And finally, as the old
guards of traditions dies out, maybe open-air markets, like so many
other historical institutions, will enter the history books in China.
It once again proves that in China power of modernity can ruthlessly
brush aside age-old tradition.

The Physical Appearance of Class Differences

As someone (nominally) adhering to a leftist political ideology, the
continued existence (and strengthening) of social class differences is
quite a major issue for me. Obviously, as all leftists, I believe
that the lack of equality in opportunity (or rather, the existence of
double standards in which people at higher social classes get better
access to education, job training, and business relationships that
enable them to have greater chance of obtaining higher
incomes...elitism, in short) is the fundamental reason for class gap
to emerge. With elitism, social mobility that allows for descendants
of lower class to move upward in social hierarchy exists just as an
idealized principle.

But at this point in time, I would like to question a basic premise of
this argument. In modern society, we define social class as simply as
a matter of income, as we assume that better educated people with jobs
that require more sophistication is bound to make more money.
Furthermore, we assume that the higher classes, because of higher
income, will have better standard of living, greater access of higher
culture, and appreciation for sophisticated arts, literature, etc.
All in all, more than income itself, the white collar is assumed to be
better than the manual laborers in what we can call "human
disposition," consisting of often quantitatively unmeasurable things
as manners, sense of refinement, and general quality of character
displayed in social interactions.

Is this measure of social class an accurate one? It is indisputable
that higher income leads to higher social class, but is there really a
more sophisticated, clearly definable higher culture and higher human
disposition that comes with being in a higher social class? To answer
this question precisely, there needs to be an analysis of how this
higher level of income is obtained. When Marxists first came up with
the concept of class conflict, what profession belonged to which class
was very clear. The aristocracy, business owners, and high-level
government officials are upper class, white-collars are middle, and
blue-collars and farmers at the bottom.

This arrangement follows "higher education=higher income=higher social
class" model that underpins leftist thought. It completely ignores
the ever-so-common circumstances today where level of education does
not at all correlate to wealth. Strokes of luck (gambling, lotto,
people offering insane amount of money to buy your family plot) and
organized crime (corruption, taking bribes, blackmailing, kidnapping
for ransom, the list goes on and on) can all lead to enormous wealth
unimaginable for the aristocracy of not that long ago.

In fact, in the case of organized crime, lacking sense of shame, an
exact opposite of high "human disposition," is becoming a sure sign of
high social class. A story a taxi driver told me yesterday serves as
a good example. One day, as his passenger opened the car door to get
out, a guy on a bicycle slammed into the door. the guy collapsed on
the ground, saying that his leg is broken and asks for a 1000 RMB
reparation.

The taxi driver calls the police, who asks whether the guy on the
bicycle needs an ambulance for check-up in the local hospital. The
guy immediately opposes, saying that he has no time and need to leave
now. Yet, he refuse to go without getting some cash. So the taxi
driver gives him 200 RMB in front of the police, the guy jumps on the
bicycles and get away at full-speed, without any sign of injury. No
need to mention, the taxi driver was pissed.

Now say the guy on the bicycle pulls off this stunt once a day every
month (I wouldn't be surprised if he does it 2~3 times a day given
that it only took him 40 minutes or so to squeeze out the cash), he
would have an monthly income of 6000 RMB in a city where even the
average white collar makes 4000~5000 RMB a month. Just by deceiving
taxi drivers, the guy has put himself in solid middle class. All it
takes is not feeling any sort of shame in repeatedly feigning injury
in front of honest people trying to make a living.

From appearance, this guy has no quality of traditional middle class.
Looking like any other peasant who came to Shanghai to work for low
wages in a factory, he probably has little education, not mention
access to (or desire for) "higher culture." He is not the only
example. Coal mine bosses in Shanxi, my home province, got rich
simply because there is that black stuff below their family plots,
making them millionaires even though many of them can't even read or
write above an elementary school level.

Surely, loaded with cash, these guys are trying to appear more "high
class." On their bodies and in their homes are full of the same
luxury goods enjoyed by European aristocracy, but once they open their
mouth, their mental lower class immediately comes out. As much as I
believe that the lower class deserves opportunities to become higher
class, but this sort of opportunity, based simply on the lack of
sufficient law enforcement and not on education and hard work, should
not exist. The existence of these rich people without any "rich
people" mentality is a shame for a country like China.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Rather Interesting Business Idea for an Online Commerce Company...

Approaching a 10-day count until I finally depart for my job in Japan,
I am thinking about what kind of hell that I will be expected to raise
once I actually start working. No, really, otherwise why would I be
hired in the first place? A Japanese company's business side compels
the newbies to do some sales in the beginning. And obviously, a
foreigner, whose spoken (not to mention written) Japanese has some
serious problems, has no way to out-compete Japanese employees in
talking Japanese customers in Japanese into buying random stuff
(unless its a white/black guy doing door-to-door, then the Japanese
people might actually be amused enough to listen...while, at least
initially).

And that explains why I get rejected from practically all Japanese
companies with which I applied for a job. There is no need for many
multilingual dudes claiming to know foreign markets considering these
big conglomerates hire local talents in different localities around
the globe. The local talents don't need to show up at Tokyo HQ
stealing jobs from the Japanese guys focusing on the Japanese local
market. So much for being international...well, evidently, Rakuten
claims to be different from these companies, and by saying that it
will make English the official language of the company, it is making a
point not normally seen in Japan, Inc.

Japan, Inc. always had its own way of doing business. Employees work
for a company their whole lives, and their devotion and love for the
company has made the company sort of a big family. There is no
clear-cut distinction between business and leisure as company
employees both work and play together (with clubs, teams, and other
extra-work activities that can remind people of life in college).
Rakuten, on the other hand, is trying to introduce a system with focus
on adaptability and flexibility in a constantly changing environment.
Speed within efficiency is perhaps the biggest flaw of Japan, Inc.,
where HR and new technology cannot easily enter (or exit) without some
serious backlash within a conservative work environment.

So Rakuten decides to hire a bunch of foreigners not that exposed to
the culture of Japan, Inc. Japanese who studied abroad are not enough
because those guys still act Japanese: too much "yes-sir" politeness
and not enough constructive criticism of shaky decisions made at the
top. They do not pose serious obstacles to the inherent top-down
nature of Japan, Inc., so they seem to think....as if they don't
understand that American companies are also top-down in the same way,
so hiring a bunch of Americans can't possibly change the situation no
matter how ruthlessly straight-talking these foreign newbies are.

On the other hand, what really will change in the corporate structure
is how much independence the foreign employees will demand from their
bosses. Without the same concepts of mingling their private lives
with work and the same loving attitude toward the company itself, the
foreign employees may easily quit if not given what is wanted, or
worse, unilaterally take an idea from an initiative of the company and
start their own companies. The result would be a disaster for likes
of Rakuten from both a HR and a continued expansion sort of
standpoint.

Especially with regard to branching off from the company with my own
idea, I have been doing some thinking. Here goes: now, considering
that an online shopping mall requires no logistics except access to a
reliable delivery and reception method for goods and money, it would
be most advantageous to use it in a place where setting up a physical
shop front involves too much cost or risk. Specially, that would mean
that the merchant is currently doing business in a war zone, in a
politically unstable region (government may collapse at any time), or
an economically unstable one (currency may become worthless at
anytime...remember that Rakuten has its own virtual currency, so doing
online business does not mean actually need to transact in any real
currency).

So, lets say I raise the point to company leadership and request an
investment in, eh, Nigeria. I would probably be the only or one of
the few employees from HQ working on the project (Japanese...actually,
anyone with the right mind, would not go to a place with serious
security risks...this is a uniquely Chinese characteristic). In the
process of registering local merchants for Rakuten's services, I might
as well hit upon some physical conflicts that leaves my partners or
enemies dead (if I am not killed, that is). As is the case for a
lawless land, I take over their respective (physical) businesses.
These could be retail, restaurant, or even real estate or mining.

Now, at this point, would I even bother to report these extra,
unexpected gains to HQ? Obviously not. If I do report, the HQ would
say that there is not enough manpower to send over for effective
control of these newly acquired establishments and expect me to sell
it. Instead, I would register an umbrella corporate entity to govern
these businesses, without having HQ know about it. At the point the
independent corporation has enough skilled employees, structure, and
revenue to exist without outside help, I, as would anyone else in my
position, would see no further logic in continue running Rakuten
Nigeria for a pittance of a both-level employee.

The negotiation would obviously be a blow to Rakuten. The HQ would
have no choice but to let me continue operate Nigeria division,
because as its creator and main communication channel with all local
customers, I can easily destroy it through negative "advertising."
Yet, the "partnership" between Rakuten and my Nigerian corporation
would generate little practical benefit for the leadership in
Tokyo...so great, thinking along this lines, HQ shouldn't be letting
its foreign employees out of Japan and constant monitoring...then,
whats the point of hiring global talents in the first place? teach
them to be Japanese?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rethinking Political Incorrectness in Chinese Literature....

One thing that is really noticeable these days in China is the degree
of non-propagandistic political underpinning that goes into literary
works. In a country where even the news still contains plenty of
brain-washing tactics on respecting and loving the Party, the
(limited) freedoms of thoughts shown by even highly censored
publishing business here in China has been quite amazing. From
democracy to human rights, the usual suspects of government censorship
abound, leading the usual reader to wonder whether the book s/he is
reading somehow managed to slip through the censors.

Obviously, the answer is no. Government censorship is as systematic
as it has always been, reviewing every book that can possibly pack a
slight tinge of political ideas for dissidence. There can only be two
explanations for how "open" (relatively speaking, of course) the
publishing industry in China has become. The first is growing skill
of Chinese literati to hide "progressive" political ideas within
principles that are perfectly justifiable under the government-backed
political ideas.

In an era where the government speaks of "scientific development,"
"harmonious society," and "respecting people's rights," it is not
difficult to sniff out the hypocrisies in view of the vast differences
between the realities on the ground and the ideals of the government.
In proposing the methods that can perhaps make those government ideals
more realistic-sounding over time, the writers have given themselves a
chance to covertly navigate the verbal minefields of
government-denoted political taboos without setting off any
explosions.

Or better yet, the writers can force the government to not react even
if explosions are set off rather conspicuously. The Chinese people of
2010 are fully aware of how foreigners think of the Chinese government
and deficiencies of China with respect to these foreign lands. One
notable example, in front of Falun Gong protests in major tourist
sites in Hong Kong and Taiwan, Chinese tour leaders casually remarked,
"people here have freedoms of speech."

Even such a simple incident instills among the Chinese people that
sense of moral high ground the real "freedom of speech" holds. So,
when it is mentioned in literary works, popular support (or at least,
desensitization) makes it difficult for the government to crack down
without taking a dent in its perceived campaign to prop up the
people's "ethical purity." The same goes for concepts like
"democracy," "human rights," and so on.

It is as a classmate of mine wrote on his chat status, "in this age of
open information, an outright lie can only lead to humiliation."
China is not North Korea, people here have the Internet, relatively
abroad, and thus plenty of measures to get around government efforts
to block information. The only thing government can do is to mold
information to its advantage. Under such a tough reality, perhaps the
best thing it can do to implicit deviations from political orthodoxy
is to simply ignore it.

The second explanation is that the literati are now so sophisticated
that the very implications of political deviations cannot be seen by
the censors but can be comprehended by certain intelligent readers.
The book I just finished speaks of "wolf-like" sense of independence
as the very reason for formation of democratic societies. Maybe it
escaped the censors who did not see how how the Chinese can be anymore
"wolf-like" in this turbulent era of social unrest.

Or better yet, perhaps the message was actually consistent with the
thoughts of the CCP leaders. In a nod to the social effects of
economic reform, may be they are secretly admiring the revived
"wolf-like" determination of the author and the common people to think
and write for themselves without the need to blindly confirm party
propaganda. A country with different political thinking, after all,
as the book states, a modern "sea wolf," ready to have its energy
channeled to hungrily compete with other "sea wolves" for global
dominance.

Friday, September 10, 2010

To Be Symbolized by the Wolves: A Modern Reinterpretation

Finishing the same book that I wrote about in the two previous posts,
I was surprised how there could be an optimistic conclusion to such a
depressing storyline. Amid a growing increase in the number of
farming migrants to the Inner Mongolian grasslands, concerted efforts
to eradicate wolves and introduce farmlands into the area are
undertaken. While wolves no longer harm livestock and herders become
settled residents with regular services and amenities enjoyed by other
citizens, the grasslands slowly turned into a vast desert spewing sand
toward Beijing to the south.

It seems that under modern pressures, the grassland and its masters
budged, abandoning the principles that kept the grasslands healthy and
sustainable for centuries. A shallow perspective would feel that this
is but another typical Chinese phenomenon of trading wealth for
environment, but the author has pointed out the final and ultimate
demise of the nomadic-herding tribes are the greatest loss. For
generations, through invasions and wars, the nomads have taught the
wealthy farmers to the south the meaning of life struggles, of
determination, of group unity, of everything that is represented by
wolves and their human disciples on the grassland.

Now, without these teachers to constantly remind them of the need for
strong personality and sense of competition, will the dominating
farmers return to a weakened mind through unopposed cultivation of the
land, this time unchecked by potential wars? Fortunately, the author
came up with a rather hard-to-satisfy twist in his wolf analogy to fit
the modern circumstances. He argues that the reason for the modern
strength of European and Japanese powers is the "sea wolf" quality
that these people possess. Their spirits, acquered through life of
dangerous fishing and maritime explorations, are even stronger than
that generated by the "land wolves" of Mongolian steppes.

In other words, with modern technologies that allow for almost instant
interaction between even those on opposite corners of the Earth, it is
argued that the Mongolian "land wolves," which for centuries have
helped Chinese maintain that "wild" sense of determination and
competitiveness, have now fulfilled their mission and can enter the
history books. The defeat of the nomadic Manchus in the hands of the
Russians and the Japanese signaled the beginning of the "land wolves'"
inevitable demise, a fate sealed by the destruction of their last
pristine grasslands in the pro-farming policies of the People's
Republic.

As sad that I am seeing even the last nomadic Mongolians favoring
permanent settlement over harshness of herding in constant transition,
I actually can see the similarities, if not the correlation, between
the "sea wolf" and "land wolf" qualities. As one growing up in
America, I hold the same values of freedom and independence valued by
nomadic-herders, preferring flexibility in solitude over constraining
hurdles of the family. Furthermore, I tend to hold a sense of
openness to new ideas and matters, a quality much more common for the
"sea wolves" that can travel to anywhere near an ocean, but deficit
among "land wolves" that have trouble adjusting to life outside
grasslands without losing core values over time (as seen for so many
nomadic tribes living in farming regions).

As long as there is ability to roam the oceans, the "sea wolf" can put
its value to use, while "land wolves" die outside of its grassland
home. That is perhaps why seafaring powers have not only survived
conquests by the Mongol Empire, but also became examples of quick
adaptations, improving the methods and weaponry of the "land wolves"
and becoming dominant powers of the globe later on. More strikingly,
capitalism, a bloodless yet extremely violent and heartless exercise
in competition for survival, was invented by the seafarers for
strengthening itself without the need to constantly reduce itself own
capital through violent wars with animals and other humans.

At the same time, the author put forward the idea of balancing
"wolf-like" and "sheep-like" qualities. The violent and expansionist
qualities of the wolf must only be released at a moderate pace without
overwhelming the obedient, diligent work ethic of the "sheep" in order
to prevent excess violence that disturbs progress. Chinese
civilization, as it was repeatedly invaded by "wolves," saw
destruction of countless economic assets, cultural relic, not to
mention peoples. The Chinese survived not just because the nomads
brought their genes and ideas to farming areas, but also because the
farmers learned to become more aggressive and "wolf-like" in
self-protection after losing the assets passed down and accumulated by
generations of family efforts.

Thus the books ends with optimism. The Chinese have learned
capitalism and utilized it to its brutal extreme. The rowdy people on
streets shouting to provide often deceptive services and selling fake
knick-knacks may be the true inheritor of China's own "sea wolf"
mentalities. But as the author said, the majority of Chinese are
still meek farmers, seeking peace in poverty over that life-on-death
struggle on the streets. With more and more farmers moving to the
cities, I see the determination of grassland nomads unthinkable in
imperial China. But at the same time, I fear that the "wolf-like"
qualities are once again becoming too dominant in China. Will violent
conflict once again cause population decrease? That is to say, will
we fall back into that historical cycle of shifting balances between
"wolves" and "sheep"?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Cliche, but a Good One: Mother Earth and All Her Protective Sons

In the last post, I talked about the inevitability of nomadic-herders
to be assimilated by agriculture-based civilizations despite greater
strength and understanding of military strategies. Surely enough, no
country in this modern world is completely based on animal husbandry,
and all of the major powers all have strong agricultural backgrounds
and production capabilities. A Han Chinese or any other members of
agriculture-based civilizations should be happily considering this
point as a matter of fact. The strength of human capability to
produce resources not naturally allotted by Mother Earth may be the
most basic quality that distinguish it from mere beasts.

But having such a self-righteous attitude belies one of the greatest
faults of agriculture-based civilizations. In their quests to
continue expansion, in population, societal organization, technology,
industry, etc., it does not and refuses to believe that there could be
a limit to such forward progress. Technology, so far at least, has
broken through pretty much all barriers to continued sophistication
and enlargement of these civilizations (if they are not completely
destroyed by others) and their constituents continue to have the
optimism that with better and better technology, the inexhaustible
resources of Mother Earth will continue to serve human expansionism.

The book thinks otherwise. On the Mongolian steppes, the wolves and
the herders have long acted as two protectors of natural balances, two
soldiers sent by Mother Earth, decimating grass-harming wild goats
while keeping each other's numbers in check so that no side can
dominate the landscape. For the well-armed migrant from agricultural
China, such an arrangement is obviously not optimal. Why not kill or
domesticate all wild goats that compete for limited grass with
livestock and eliminate all wolves that can potentially harm the
livestock. Weaponry technology has already developed to such a point
today that even if humans are outsmarted by the wolves in strategy,
the wolves still cannot escape concerted human effort to eliminate it.

Of course, the Mongolians will not do that. They say they fear
negative consequences from Mother Earth if they are to harm the wolves
more than ordered from the Above. But, from a much more scientific
point of view, their willingness to continue acting as the grassland's
guardians ALONGSIDE the wolves make logical sense. Think in this way,
when the grassland is completely rid of wild goats and wolves, who
will be there to check the continued expansion of humans? An increase
in herding population means that the number of livestocks supporting
it must also increase, eventually causing overgrazing that destroys
the grassland.

It would be great if humans can suppress their desire for expansion
for the good of the grassland, but unfortunately, human civilization
does not work that way. Humans have too long been influenced by
agriculture-based civilization's ideology of continued expansion as
progress, as bright future, and as optimism. Lack of such progress
means stagnancy, economic malaise, and ultimately, demise at the hands
of other civilizations. One of the book's main underlying theme is
the dismay of the herders in being ruled by agriculturalists strongly
holding onto such a way of thinking.

In the book, under the background of Cultural Revolution, the herders
are stripped of their rights to honor the wolves and the grassland
(labelled "feudalistic animism" by the Red Guards), and their efforts
to protect the wolves from getting killed for valuable pelts are
thwarted. The political analogy is clear. The fate of the herders
are pretty much the same as that of the wolves: assimilate (wolves
into dogs, herders into farmers) or perish. Holding onto powers of
political, economic, and military control, the only thing that can
stop the agriculturalists from executing such a plan is themselves.

So we imagine a grassland without wolves, without strong
independent-minded nomadic-herders hanging onto traditional values of
protecting the grassland, only a bunch of farmer-turned-herders to
raise livestock for the consumption of the increasing masses. Yes,
the bloody century-long conflict between wolves and humans will come
to an end, but the bloody one-sided massacre of Mother Earth by the
agriculturalists would just have began. Farmers are not natives of
the grassland; they do not understand when Mother Earth has weakened,
and they surely will not stop adding more livestock until the land
turns into semi-desert.

It's simple economics. A guest in a house would not care for the
house if he does not have to pay for any damages. He will maximize
the utility in the short-term, completely ignoring long-term problems.
The master of the house, in this case, the nomadic-herders, have long
gone away and will not come back. I hate to sound like an
environmentalist at the end, but maybe, just maybe, the
agriculture-based, highly sophisticated civilizations can learn
something about protecting Mother Nature from their nomadic-herder
brother subjugated through quiet cultural wars?

A Smart Wolf Living with Well-Armed Enemies

Out of absolute boredom of staying at home and doing virtually nothing
productive, I have been reading a Chinese book on the lives of
Mongolian herders on the vast steppes of the Inner Mongolian
Grasslands. Written as a personal narrative of a Han Chinese
youngster escaping the violence of Cultural Revolution, it explores,
from the perspective of the Han Chinese, the lifestyles, values, and
beliefs of the "untamed" (i.e. not converted into permanent settled
communities) Mongolians in an effort to understand the ethnic
differences and the spectacular military history of Mongols and their
ancestors.

From the very beginning, the author establishes the bipolarity of
"nomadic-herding civilization" (such as that of the Mongolians) vs.
"agriculture-based civilization" (such as that of the Han Chinese).
As a visitor from the agriculture-based civilization, the author
immediately notices the respect the herders hold for the the wolf, a
creature so hated and widely killed by farmers. In fact, the book's
title roughly translates to "Symbolized by the Wolves" (狼圖騰),
signifying that the Mongolians and other herding peoples of the
steppes respect the creature to such a degree that they are willing to
choose the creature as their ethnic symbols.

At first, the author is highly puzzled. The Chinese civilization is
one symbolized by the Dragon (or, with the same format as before,
"龍圖騰"), a mythical creature that represents both a sense of stability
and unpredictability in the seemingly endless continuation of human
society in China. The Dragon brings fortune and misfortune to China
with powers that for centuries defied human explanations, yet
protected the Chinese race through natural disasters and wars,
allowing it to outlast countless others who came into existence around
the same time or even after it.

To the Han author, the wolf, on the other hand, cannot bring fortune.
It kills innocent herbivores (many of which are valuable assets for
the herders themselves) and even humans. Yet, through multiple
observations of wolves hunting, the author began to change his views.
The genius wolf-packs display in hunting down prey both faster and
larger than themselves and their sense of individual sacrifice from
the good of the group is something that herders, for centuries,
strives to emulate. Of all creatures on the steppes, only the wolves
can compete on an equal level with the humans, surviving harsh natural
conditions to battle humans, often for the exact same prey.

For the herders, competing with the wolves have also developed their,
physical strength, sense of military thinking, and group mentality
perfect for warfare. Without having to learn in military schools, all
Mongolians become natural fighters unrivaled by any elite troops
produced by agriculture-based civilizations. Such explains the
successful exploits of the Khitans, Jurchens, Mongols, and Manchus.
In fact, as the author comes to the conclusion, such masterpieces of
military art as "the Art of War" are just reflections of the
strategies invented by the wolves and adopted by nomadic herders. It
can be said that without wolves, the entire military history of the
world may be different.

However, the author does seem to forget the elements of time and
cultural longevity in his newly found respect for wolves. The wolves,
just as the nomadic herders, are masters of military battles, but in
the ultimate battles of civilizations, the nomadic-herders have not
become major players in modern societies (in fact, many have
disappeared) despite having won most wars against agriculture-based
civilizations. Why? It is power of cultural and economic
assimilation. Even as the Mongols and Manchus conquer China and
become its masters, they have found themselves becoming more and more
Chinese, heading on to the path of eventual disappearance as
independent ethnic entity.

It is the intense competition with wolves for limited resources of the
steppes that destines the herders for disappearance through cultural
assimilation. Because herders lose assets and suffer physical damages
in their ever-inconclusive fight with wolves that they are forced to
repeat basic production and asset accumulation. Without extra
population that can be extracted from this basic cycle for more
high-level activities, i.e. research into culture, literature,
technology, and industry, neither the sophistication nor the overall
population of the civilization can grow.

Thus, especially when the herders conquer large tracts of land from
their weak agricultural counterparts, they are still at the end,
forced to use the superior social institutions and cultures of their
conquered subjects to rule the new territories, eventually changing
the ruling class of herders from wolf-like strategists to sheepish
agriculturalists just like their defeated subjects. When this group
of herders are "tamed" (as happened to the Mongolians in China), the
next group of "untamed" herders will successfully invade and become
new rulers (such as the Manchus), allowing the process of "taming" to
repeat itself.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Why do Foreigners Need to Get Chinese Names before They Study Chinese?

With the increased global influence China holds, studying Chinese
really has become a trend among foreigners keen on tapping the
economic opportunities in China. Multinationals are seeking employees
with knowledge of Chinese culture, language, and society to further
expand in the Chinese market, making Chinese the desired foreign
language when competing for employment in the corporate sector. Of
course, for China, such a trend is also economically helpful by
itself. Rich foreigners, taking advantage of low costs in China, come
to study in Chinese universities and in the process, spend freely on
local services and products.

Yet, amid a generally positive environment for developing a profitable
Chinese education industry, the methods with which Chinese are taught
to foreigners here, at least from the perspective of a Chinese raised
abroad, seem quite discomforting. With universities completely
controlled by the government, the Chinese education curriculum here
continues to hold strong underlying political messages of
condescending professing Chinese superiority in traditional culture
and economic development.

the political intention here is twofold: (1) to systematically create
a class of pro-PRC foreigners that can potentially help speak for the
PRC in their respective countries, and (2) to show Chinese citizens
that despite being culturally backward (as I stated in the last post),
China can still maintain its national pride in the face of wealthy
foreign powers. To further execute such intentions, the government
even invested in "Confucian Institutes" in foreign countries "to
promote Chinese soft power" (in reality, organs of propaganda
dissemination little known to the general population).

Perhaps the biggest single act in the condescension shown in Chinese
education is the often inescapable requirement that foreign students
of Chinese obtain a Chinese name at registration or first day of class
(it actually occurs in Chinese classes at Yale too, btw). Seems
harmless at first glance, the ridiculousness of such act is pretty
clear when one considers that Chinese students of English were never
at any point required to have an English/Western name (although many
voluntarily take up one, an issue I already discussed in the past).

Yes, it does facilitate communication between the students and Chinese
people who have little understanding of foreign languages, and it may
even represent a half-hearted symbol of cultural integration, but the
reality is that enforcing something of this sort is precisely the
reason why Chinese can never elevate itself from an ethnic language to
a language of global communication like English. A business language,
as I stated in previous posts, requires a separation of the language
as a tool of communication from the cultural environment from which it
developed.

The government's effort to instill Chinese cultural superiority within
the context of language learning can help foreigners understand
Chinese mentality from a business sense, but will ultimately cause
them to hate the self-patronizing and "ideologically masturbating" (or
as the Chinese netizens say, "意婬") attitude of the Chinese. They
would force themselves to use Chinese for business but will never see
Chinese or China to be something that they can ever be truly
interested in becoming a part of (in contrast to all the Chinese
students who glue themselves to foreign TV programs, movies, and etc
just to "speak like an American/French/Japanese/Korean...).

Looking at such a grim situation, the Chinese government should
realize that both of their intentions in controlling the mental state
of foreign students have completely failed. At the end of all that
proselytizing, the foreign students have come to see the government as
more and more of a nuisance hindering the healthy development of
modern Chinese culture. Witnessing the government's effort in
suppressing individual thought through talking to locals (who often
also tend to badmouth their government), it is hardly believable that
any of them can ever become pro-PRC through language study in China.

It should be noted that plenty of these foreigners also cite interest
in Chinese culture as the main reason for studying, but those are,
after all, the insignificant minority. With the CCP relentlessly
destroying traditional values and cultural relics for the past
decades, it is hard to see why anyone actually interested in Chinese
culture to come here instead to going to Taiwan. The universities in
China, far from their self-proclaimed greatness in cultural immersion,
have little offer their foreign students besides cheap alcohol, cheap
food, and cheap sex. Well, may be those things are what the foreigner
ultimately came to get in China....

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Actor's Individualism: Personality Displayed on Stage

Finished talking about tourists in the last post, I would like to take
the development of individualism in China to a more positive note.
With intense control of public opinion and what is considered "moral,
non-corrupting forms of entertainment" by the government, the concept
of entertainment programs did not even exist on Chinese TV until very
very recently. Just a decade ago, Chinese TV consisted of news,
propagandistic drama series (involving such favorite topics as
anti-Japanese war stories and communist greatness...topics that still
are popular to this day because of guaranteed popularity with the
older generations), and little else...

Then, with increased reforms and commercializations of the local TV
stations, entertainment programs, often involving pop musicians and
celebrities, came into being as means of attracting younger audience
groups. The programs, emulating similar ones in Japan, South Korea,
Taiwan, and Hong Kong, requires the hosts and guests to think on the
spot, creating endless funny situations and funny conversations to
gain continued attention from the audience. Yet, such a model is from
the history of CCP's ruling methods (and historically, the imperial
system), quite unthinkable, in particular because the people are not
expected to show individual opinions or personalities on stage in
front of large audiences; instead they are simply expected to carry
the political correct statement issued by the government.

And the CCP has been a good reason to worry about the increased
individual thinking some celebrities are carrying on the supposedly
state-controlled TV stations. Although the entertainment programs
never carry any political messages, the mere act of respect shown to
pop cultures originating from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong,
and the U.S. by itself is unnerving for the government. And worse,
what if one day, by accident, some popular celebrity unwittingly says
something wrong about the government on these hugely popular shows.
After all, many of the invited celebrities are not from the mainland
and do not have the necessary political sensitivities.

But at the same time, the government is finding it difficult to crack
down on these shows. The shows are allowing state-controlled TV to
truly compete with unregulated Internet as prime source of
entertainment, and at the same time, advertise (mainland) Chinese
musicians that will form the backbone of government effort to increase
domestic soft power and reduce dependence on more "culturally advance"
neighboring areas. To say the least, suddenly banning or reforming
certain shows would increase the already prevalent feeling that the
government is the reason that China is performing so poorly in pop
culture.

Thats is not to say that the government haven't tried. Watching these
shows, sometimes you can clearly hear the hosts bellowing some
scripted messages handed down from the government. The government has
subtly reformed the format of the shows to increase admiration of the
Party and reduce their democratic nature (such as "popular elections"
in talent search shows), thereby constraining the boundaries in which
the shows' participants can freely proclaim their opinions amid
laughters of their loyal supporters. But, it can be said that even
with the limits, the idea of speaking one's mind, an idea nonexistent
in the past, has deeply taken root, at least for those on the stage.

And I am seeing an even more optimistic trend within these
entertainment shows. The shows are increasingly using the
participation of the audience members themselves, asking the audience
members for their personal opinions, to allow the shows to proceed.
Encouraging the common people to have opinions about things is
something no Chinese government, including the current one, has ever
seriously thought of. After all, if the people can have opinions
about celebrities, why not also say something personal about the
government? The shows, thankfully, are allowing Chinese people to use
their natural right to speak out, even if it is in a very limited way.

The government is not willing to give up the controls, not only on
these TV shows but any form of popular entertainment not specifically
sanctioned by the government. Speaking about an independent artists'
community in Beijing's 798 Factory, a proud CCP cadre noted a need to
"guide" the community to develop in a moral (i.e. politically correct)
fashion. The same attitude can easily be seen regarding TV programs.
But Chinese celebrities should not be discouraged by the CCP's lack of
common sense. Only when they, and their enthusiastic followers,
continue to speak their minds can the Chinese truly be elevated in
status from mere subjects to a ruling government to citizens capable
of making up their own minds and make their own decisions about any
issue, political or otherwise.

the Tourist's Individualism: Recreation in Travel

A couple of days ago, I went to the Shanghai Expo for the second, and
hopefully, the last time. I wasn't keen to go to begin with and only
went there to help my aunt push my 86-year-old grandmother around in a
wheelchair. My aunt and the rest of my family calls such act
"filial," but seriously, if I was the old person, I would be happiest
if left alone in a quiet environment. The Expo, with all its loud
people, noise, plus the hot weather, would not only be no enjoyment to
an old person, but pose serious health risk from the heat and/or
contracting some contagious disease from the crowd.

Perhaps thats why I still don't get why Chinese people see "multiple
generations under the same roof" as a sign of a happy and fulfilling
family. Wouldn't it be much better for the old person to be with
other old people with similar interests and lifestyles in a retirement
community of some sort? By forcing the younger generations to take
care of the elders through some unwritten traditional code of ethics,
we Chinese have not only limited the happiness of our old people but
also limited that of the younger generations who must in turn keep
pace with the elders and subject themselves to the elders' every whim.

Maybe I am thinking from a very individualistic perspective that true
Chinese people can only consider as selfish. People here seems
convinced that once you decide to let yourself be part of a group
(such as a family), individual happiness must be suppressed to
maintain the coherence and structure of the group. If the group is to
fall apart because of one person, that person is to be labelled as
"selfish" and be the shame of the entire group.

This sort of group-think mentality can be seen outside of family or
workplace associations as well. For example, I am thinking about a
Chinese tour group. When Chinese people, especially from rural areas,
go sightseeing in other parts of China, joining a tour group is the
first choice for many. I believe that this is so because that Chinese
people have no concept of recreation in travel and that they are just
too willing to masochistically subject themselves to the humiliation
of sacrificing the individual for the group.

Whether or not recreation exists in traveling largely depends on the
mentality of the tourists. If travel is all about seeing the sights
and taking pictures for the sake of showing them to the people back
home, then it would not be recreational in any way. Travel would
simply be a regimented movement from sight to sight with little
fanfare in between. However, if recreation is the primary reason for
travel, it would be the feelings of joy, freedom, or
getting-away-from-it-all the tourists get from being on the road.

A wise person once said that "a journey is not about the destination,
but about the journey itself." That is the attitude of recreation in
travel. It is not important if all the major sights are seen or not
if you have the right attitude for travel, i.e. to achieve joy from
traveling rather than to satisfy a certain requirement, whether it be
for "filial" purposes or the goal of seeing everything. As long as
the journey leaves the traveler with no regret and no sorrow, then the
travel is a success no matter what happens in the end.

Now, obviously, people in China don't get that point. And their
goal-oriented mentality gave rise to forced shopping at expensive
souvenir shops and bizarre incidents in which the tourists are content
in being rushed through certain sightseeing spots like cattle being
rushed to the market while standing under the hot sun for more than 5
hours to see something truly insignificant (plenty of both of these in
the Expo). The members of the tour groups cannot resist, because they
cannot bear the humiliation of being labelled as "selfish" and
"nonconforming" in their acts to unwitting destroy the unity of the
tour group.

Humans are biologically selfish for reasons of survival. For
thousands of years, the Chinese civilization has worked hard, with
codes of ethics and family values, to systematically suppress such
natural instincts so that the rulers can more easily subjugate their
subjects. The process have not ended with the current rule of the
CCP. Yet, I must urge my countrymen to start thinking for themselves
in a more natural, logical fashion that maximizes their personal
gratification. Only with more flagrant display of such individualisms
can China truly step into modernity.

The Cause and the Effect of the Taiwan Strait Conflict

With the pro-status quo Kuomintang (Nationalists) in power again in
Taiwan after eight years under pro-independence Democratic Progressive
Party, it seems that, at least for now, the growing movement toward
formal independence of Taiwan from the Republic of China (ROC) has
been thwarted. But as I have repeatedly observed in Taiwan, the
common Taiwanese people, especially among the younger generations with
no memories of the ROC's presence on the Chinese mainland, the entire
concept of ROC means little if anything. The young in Taiwan often
sees the mainland and mainlanders (even if naturalized US citizens
like me) with great deal of suspicion, rejecting any form of deeper
friendship with mainlanders even though common logic calls for closer
association with people who speaks the same native language.
The suspicion, of course, stems from the six decade-long conflict
across the Taiwan Strait that divides the two political entities, a
conflict that generated an unending array of hostile propaganda and
rhetoric on both sides. An increasingly powerful mainland with major
global influence and military/economic power can only increase
hostility of the Taiwanese out of pure fear for continued survival.
Anyways, the history and current situations of the Taiwan Strait
Conflict needs to be analyzed and examined carefully if the mentality
of the people on both sides can be understood and a accurate outlook
for the future course of cross-Strait relations be predicted and
articulated.

Does Taiwan really have More Economic Freedom than the Mainland?

Without a doubt, going to Taiwan for me has been a real eye-opener.
But as I stated in previous posts, the real physical differences
between the two are too insignificant to their discrepancies in
mentalities, worldviews, and attitudes. Such a mental difference can
also be reflected in economic terms, even though the two has strong
and obvious gaps in wealth and overall sense of development. Yet,
even though we all know that Taiwan leads in terms of living
standards, productivity, or per capita income, there should still be a
sense of doubt whether the situation is so because of more successful
market model undertaken in Taiwan as the West claims.

The ruling Kuomintang has always stressed the importance of capitalist
(or rather, anti-communist) ideology in governance. Yet, its
political strength has always been sapped by the economic dominance of
few families, who held the exclusive rights to the key industries.
The economic oligarchy was not really broken until much later and the
influence of such an oligarchic system can still be seen on the
economy, with few major conglomerates dominating the landscape while
small shops often finds not much room to grow.

Of course, that is not to say that the small enterprises are not doing
well. Largely due to high income, healthy dependence on service
sector, as well as highly mechanized, productive manufacturing and
agricultural sectors, the Taiwanese economy allows for a generally
equitable distribution of wealth. And of course, the small companies
are the guarantees that wealth can be distributed in such equal ways
to the general population. But, the point is that a more
market-oriented, equitable economy does not necessarily mean that the
people that are part of this economy think in an "economically free"
way, and with that, there is no way to prove that new business
entrants in Taiwan will enjoy economic freedom.

Let's first define this concept of "economic freedom." According to
the Heritage Foundation, economic freedom is defined as the autonomy
of the individual from the state and other organizations. In other
words, the individual is completely in control of his or her labor and
properties without the pressure of higher authorities to use them in
their will. Even as the world map of the Heritage Foundation displays
the wealthiest countries in the world as those with the most economic
freedoms, the perceived correlation is highly deceptive in that the
three of the fastest growing countries, China, India, and Russia, are
placed in the "mostly unfree" category.

As the historical and modern-day economic situations of Taiwan and
mainland China are compared in the following essay, the commonly
perceived correlation between wealth and freedom, growth and
individualism will be destroyed. Instead, historical economic
situations, international political relations as well as the domestic
political policies made by the different countries to act and react to
international developments rather than economic freedom are the
fundamental reasons for rapid accumulation of wealth and raise in
standard of living in some parts of the world as opposed to the
others.

From a historical perspective, it is inaccurate to simply compare the
growth of the Taiwanese and the mainland Chinese economies relatively.
The two economies started from completely different point even a
hundred years ago, much due to political reasons. Even before the
fall of the Qing Dynasty in the early part of the 20th century, Taiwan
faced much more threat of invasions by the Japanese and interventions
by major powers such as the Dutch and the British comparatively to the
mainland. In response, the Qing government expended much more effort
and funds to fit the island with modern equipments to fend off
possibility of foreign occupation. As a result, Taiwan was installed
with a modern infrastructure system, consisting of a road, telegraph,
and railroad networks. The same luxury did not exist on the mainland
until much later with the establishment of foreign spheres of
influence.

The existence of the basic infrastructure enabled Taiwan to develop
rapidly under Japanese colonial rule, as the Japanese capital flowed
in to make Taiwan into a major supplier of raw materials and
agricultural products for the continued Japanese war efforts. The
same cannot be said of the Chinese mainland where continuous warfare
among warlords and foreign invaders destroyed the little
infrastructure already present and created an environment absolutely
impossible for investment and development.

Such a gap in the developmental environment for the two sides became
only bigger with the end of Chinese Civil War. The Kuomintang under
Chiang Kai-shek, facing defeat on the mainland, fled to Taiwan with
the entire gold and foreign currency reserve of China, leaving China
completely deprived of any capital to rebuild after the devastating
war. But even worse, the majority of intellectuals of China, such as
scientists, professors, and engineers, all left the mainland with
Chiang, leaving China with neither the human capital to develop its
economy independently nor the capability to replenish the loss of
human capital to Taiwan with education due to lack of qualified
teachers.

The gap became even bigger with the outbreak of the Korean War. As
China fought the United States to a stalemate, the Americans were
determined to punish the Chinese by economic means. The US launched
an economic isolation policy against that greatly hampered China's
potential to develop while at the same time, provided millions of
dollars of investment and economic and technological aid to Taiwan in
order to develop it into an anti-communist bulwark against mainland
China.

While the Taiwanese standard of living surged with the unwavering
American support, the mainland Chinese lost the little support it
obtained from the Soviet Union amid Khrushchev's de-Stalinization and
the Sino-Soviet split. As Soviet technological experts left China,
the Soviets even forced the Chinese to give part of its agricultural
and industrial output to the Soviet Union as compensation for previous
economic support. Commercial relationship between China and the
Soviet Union is completely severed until the Gorbachev era in the
Soviet Union and the leadership of Deng Xiaoping in China.

A survey of history shows the dominance of international political
relations in the development of national economies and the accompanied
rise in standard of living. Such is especially the case in the last
century, when major powers before World War II, such as Japan and
Britain, as well as superpowers during the Cold War, USA and USSR, had
dramatic economic influences on the other countries in the world,
including Taiwan and mainland China. However, during much of the Cold
War, both Taiwan and mainland China had equally little economic
freedom because both faced tight economic control from an
authoritarian regime (Chiang in Taiwan and Mao in China). Thus,
advantage in international relations, especially a favorable
relationship with the United States, rather than greater economic
freedom, allowed Taiwan to quickly surpass mainland China in the
standard of living.

The slow development of mainland China in the Mao era and the
subsequent "economic miracle" after the economic reforms under Deng
Xiaoping both displays the influence of domestic politics and economic
policy on the standard of living for the general populace. While
Taiwan rapidly industrialized with solid American economic aid, the
Chinese mainland suffered from the American isolation policy and the
disappearance of Soviet support in Sino-Soviet split. To bring the
country's industrialization process forward, Mao Zedong launched "the
Great Leap Forward," an economic policy that encouraged farmers to
abandon agricultural production in favor of small backyard industries,
such as small-scale blast furnaces to enhance the country's steel
production.

However, the policy failed miserably when it was proven that the
farmers had neither the technical skill nor the qualified raw
materials to produce industrial goods that have qualities high enough
to be used. At the same time, agricultural production languished as
more and more farmers switched to ineffective small-scale industries,
leading to massive starvation and malnutrition across the country.
The failure of "the Great Leap Forward" effectively nullified the
gains in the standard of living made in the first few years of the
communist rule in mainland China.

Even more damaging to the Chinese economy was the coming of "the
Cultural Revolution," the last desperate attempt of Mao to keep his
legacy alive by active destruction of traditional "backward" and
modern "capitalist" values as well as the mass murder of intellectuals
in every field possible. As time progressed, the attack on the
intellectuals by the youth became more and more violently
uncontrollable, and many different factions of youth groups began
in-fighting, often using real guns on the streets, leaving many dead
and buildings destroyed.

The effect of a decade of "the Cultural Revolution" was in many ways
similar to the fleeing of the mainland by Chiang and the intellectuals
at the end of Chinese Civil War. Violent instability led to
destruction of an environment suitable for economic production and
investment, and death of intellectuals led to the stagnation of
development due to the lack of human capital and the ability to
generate its loss in a short time. The contrast of the peace on
Taiwan with the turmoil on the Chinese mainland shows the
inevitability of the increasing difference in standard of living
between the two regions even though people in both countries still
equally lacked economic freedom under authoritarian regimes.

The winds of change began to blow with the reforms on the mainland
under Deng Xiaoping and the emergence of the pro-independence movement
on Taiwan under Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian. Deng actively
embraced free-market economy by encouraging foreign direct investments
in China and establishment of private enterprises. With free-trade
zones springing up all over China's coastal regions and inefficient
state-owned companies being privatized, within few decades, the income
of the average Chinese more than quadrupled and hundreds of millions
were brought out of poverty. Simultaneously, the relations across the
Taiwan Straits have chilled since Lee Teng-hui first addressed China
and Taiwan as "two countries" in 1995, a serious breach of the
"one-China policy" agreed on by USA and mainland China since
establishment of diplomatic relations under Nixon Administration.

Even as more and more Taiwanese businessmen headed to mainland China,
the Taiwanese government refused to launch direct communications by
air, ship, and mail. The restricted cross-Strait communication only
through Hong Kong, Macau, or a third country prevented Taiwan to
benefit from the increasing demand on the mainland due to rapid
growth. As the Taiwanese economy stagnates and the mainland overtakes
Taiwan on many economic factors, the island has become increasingly
marginalized. The wealth gap between the two is shrinking at such a
phenomenal pace that many Taiwanese are beginning to doubt the
island's future in the shadow of an economically dominant China.

The economic balance of Taiwan and mainland China in the last half of
the twentieth century was largely swayed by the governmental policies
used by both sides rather than the economic freedom. While the
Chinese economic freedom was held constant, the irrational and
fanatical economic and policies under the Mao era brought about
disastrous decrease in the people's standard of living while the
reforms of Deng led China to become one of the major industrial and
commercial powers of the world. The sudden increase of the economic
freedom in Taiwan with the end of Kuomintang authoritarianism in the
early 1990s did not bring proportionate rise in standard of living due
to chilling relations with the mainland on Taiwan independence issues.
Domestic policies have a much greater effect on the standard of
living in the country compared to economic freedom.

Ultimately, economic freedom is a measure of economic individualism at
the expense of collective will; how much the individual benefits from
the newly gained wealth compared to the state, which frequently
represents those with no ability to contribute to and are thus left
behind by economic development. There is absolutely no reason for the
individual to invest in economic projects that brings them more costs
than benefits. Such is the very reason why only the state would
finance costly infrastructure such as road network and monetary
institutions as well as security measures such as the military and the
police force. The reforms of Deng Xiaoping in mainland China started
with the massive building of infrastructure for modern industries, not
just expansion of railroads and increased productions of electricity
but also establishment of financial institution to stabilize the
currency and free-trade and high-tech zones in major cities to attract
the investments by large foreign corporations and private investments
of Chinese citizens.

For a country to be able to develop the economy rapidly, its
government must have the ability to mass large amount of wealth to
invest in infrastructure and security measures, thereby attracting
private business investments that will push the economy forward and
increase the people's standard of living. In a country with complete
economic freedom, it is utterly impossible for the government to
concentrate its wealth of great magnitude in a short period. In other
words, economic freedom must come at the expense of government-led
development and therefore is not a logical choice for any country just
beginning its transition into a modern economy. Such is definitely
the case for both Taiwan and mainland China in the period immediately
after the Chinese Civil War and also for mainland China after the
destructive "Cultural Revolution."

The individual domestic private investor had very little to invest by
themselves, and none could have choose to invest domestically with
what he or she had due to the high cost of production due to bad
infrastructure and the small market due to the low income level of the
average citizen. In such a case, the government had to concentrate
the wealth of the millions of individuals and take immediate financial
losses by investing in large projects to attract future investments.
Only the government can afford to take such costly risks without much
immediate benefits.

All in all, it can be said the widespread existence of economic
individualism in developing countries at the expense of government-led
collectivism can create a vicious cycle that causes stagnation or even
decrease in the standard of living. Without economic collectivism
that allows the government to concentrate private funds, there can be
no government investments in infrastructure and security. Without the
infrastructure in place, businesses would not come due to the high
cost of transportation and communication, and without the security,
there could not be investments due to the investors' fear of losing
them amid possible instabilities. Without business investments, there
can be no increase in the standard of living. Thus, individualism
characterized by widespread existence of economic freedom can only
hurt an economy in transition to modern industries and therefore would
not contribute to the rise in the people's standard of living.

Throughout the last century, Taiwan held its overall lead over
mainland China in the standard of living, much due to political
reasons. As economically unfree China faced international isolation
for more than three decades after creation of the People's Republic in
1949, an equally economically unfree Taiwan flourished with the
"anti-communist" economic aid from the USA and its Western allies.
With the democratization and the rise in economic freedom in Taiwan,
its growth has slowed down compared to still economically unfree
mainland China, where an "economic miracle" occurred with
government-led economic reforms. The economic history of
cross-Strait, Sino-American, and to lesser extent, Sino-Soviet
relations shows the dominant influence of international relations and
domestic policy on the standard of living compared to economic
freedom.