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On the Korea-China-Japan Relationship

31 Jul

“If China has a dream of a great renewal, Abe’s Japan also has a dream of becoming East Asia’s leader with a military that can wage war. Within the U.S.-China confrontation, China’s dream and Japan’s dream collide at the East and South China Seas. Preventing a collision on the Korean Peninsula is the difficult yet urgent task of Korea’s diplomacy. The proposal of Xi for an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank must not be accepted because it came from China, or rejected because the United States protests it. A decision that best serves Korea’s national interest must be made.

“Korea must not be part of the U.S. ambition to contain China nor be seduced by Xi’s sugarcoated China Dream. A strategic view that includes the larger picture of Northeast Asia is what we need.”

-Kim, Young-hie, “China’s Ties With South Korea: A Snake Wrapped Around a Rabbit?” The World Post. July 14, 2014.





Qualitative and quantitative methods of sampling informants

19 Apr

Social activists tend to take “research as necessarily a progressive political enterprise” and judge validity in terms of political ethics; consequently, if a research finding is judged to have undesirable political considerations it may be concluded to be false (Hammersley 2002:12; cited in Chan 2011: 11).

Phenomenological research is concerned with the investigation of behavior. For this reason having access to variability or diversity within a given population may yield more productive results than simply aiming for a numerically larger sample (Bernard 1995: 72). It may be unnecessary to sample informants according to a premeditated methodology or numerical imperative. As Chan writes in her study of zanryu-hojin,

“I did not choose sampled informants methodically or numerically, but rather they were      investigated and further investigated through repeated and continuing informal         discussions and conversations with those with whom an immediate rapport was        established during the first encounters. Fortunately, this simple random sampling          allowed for a much wider range of informants, who later became the purposefully chosen             primary and designated specific samples for this research. I socialized intensively with      the targeted informants and they provided generous, unpretentious, and diverse data.” (9)

Kipnis also notes some of the value gained in numerically smaller but qualitatively richer ethnographic work in Producing Guanxi, noting that, “The strength of ethnography, of doing long-term research with a limited number of people in a single place,is that it offers the researcher the opportunity to develop a sense of locally significant questions and the strategies for answering them within the context of the field experience. Conceivably a researcher could develop significant questions from the secondary literature on a given place and design a wide-ranging survey that would result in data from a larger range of informants. However,in most research situations the secondary literature is partial at best and insufficient for survey. This was certainly true for Fengjia” (1997, p. 19)

Chan,Yeeshan (2011) Abandoned Japanese in Postwar Manchuria: the lives of war orphans and wives in two countries. London and NY: Routledge.

Bernard, H Russell (1995) Research Methods in Anthropology: qualitative and quantitative approaches, 2nd ed. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Hammersley, Martyn (2002) “Ethnography and the Disputes over Validity”, in Debates and Developments in Ethnographic Methodology, edited by Geoffrey Walford. Amsterdam: JAI.

Kipnis, Andrew B. (1997) Producing Guanxi: Sentiment, Self,and Subculture in a North China Village. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Pheng Cheah on the relationship of NGOs and nation-states

23 Dec

“Ideally, a global civil society or public sphere would transcend nationalist interests because it would be the autonomous site of mediation between ‘humanity’ and a global political order. However, human rights NGOs do not possess the requisite autonomy. In the first place, transnational social movements occur in a decentralized political system where no supranational executive body independent of the compliance of nation-states for the enforcement of its decisions exists and where mass-based loyalty to the world of humanity is insignificant. Thus, civil-society institutions are constrained by and have to rely on the agency of nation-states and are largely defined in terms of national bases.” (Pheng Cheah, “Posit(ion)ing Human Rights in the Current Global Conjuncture,” in Transnational Asia Pacific: Gender, Culture, and the Public Sphere. eds. Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, Larry E.Smith and Wimal Dissanayake. Urbana and Chicago: Univ.of Illinois Press, 1999, p. 27; 11-42).

Can open economic borders break down national ones?

7 Nov

An interesting question posed by Aihwa Ong is that the close economic ties between mainland China and countries like Taiwan and Hong Kong is creating a scenario where, regardless of whether these countries are officially or politically united with China, their fates are so intertwined with the mainland that they may as well have become unified (as China seeks to do). It is undoubtedly a great example of pragmatic accomplishment: “you can say you are a separate country as much as you like, but our economic links will eventually lead to unification.” See the excerpt below.

“The Chinese axis is also an imaginary line of cultural sovereignty that runs along an ideological plane of the graduated geopolitical field. As technological and commercial networks and economic zones increasingly articulate along a Chinese axis, we see an emerging political archipelago that suggests the wider possibilities of an ‘imagined community.’ This loose alliance suggests a regional patterning anchored in China that is very different from Western discourses of regionalism such as the ‘Pacific Rim.’ Instead, regional narrative increasingly invoke ‘East Asia,’ a rhetorical term that signals the growing connections between the Sinic parts of Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines) with Taiwan, the Hong Kong SAR, and mainland China. For instance, overseas Chinese scholars have invoked a confluence of histories, languages, cultural, and kinship practices among widely dispersed sites to define an emerging field of Sino-Southeast Asian studies. Despite ongoing political tensions and opposition to Beijing leaders, ethnic Chinese in the Asia-Pacific take great cultural pride in the emergence of China as a global actor. The imagined axis also creates an ideological sphere of exception within the Asia-Pacific, marking off a space of rising China-centric hegemony. The Sinocentric discourses, further enhanced by the mainland and Hong Kong popular media, are growing even as the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China remain in a standoff. Meanwhile, the economic integration between Taiwan and the mainland, especially in Fujian Province, Shanghai, and the Yangtze Valley, is so advanced that a de facto absorption has taken place even before a formal political integration has begun. Thus, the emergence of a Chinese axis is based on Beijing’s very distinctive deployment of zoning technologies, which lay the groundwork for transnational market integration, making intelligible the political and cultural goals of variegated sovereignty in formation. As technologies of ruling, zoning mechanisms become an economic detour leading to broader political integration. It is therefore not unthinkable that the logic of the exception and zoning technologies have shown a path toward the reunification of divided nations.”

Ong, Aihwa. Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty. Durham and London: Duke Univ. Press, 2006, 115-116.


15 Jul

“A different kind of classification, applied mostly to foreigners studying China rather than studying in China, is the second of the terms included in the title of this paper 中国通: literally one whose knowledge of China is 通 ‘thorough-going’, ‘complete’ or ‘comprehensive’. Many an (ex-)留学生 will have had the experience of this term being flatteringly or jokingly applied to them—often in situations where it functions as a polite nothing, largely equivalent to its linguistic counterpart 你中文说得不错 ‘Your Chinese is very good’— in both of which cases the compliment is often far from warranted on the basis of any actually demonstrated knowledge or skill! (In both cases the expected response is a modest 哪里哪里 ‘not at all’ or 还差得远 ‘far from it’.)

A quick search of the Chinese search engine Baidu reveals that the term中国通 is normally understood as having a number of connotations:

  • It refers to a foreigner familiar with Chinese conditions, a scholar or commentator who studies China and its government: also known as ‘specialist on Chinese issues’.
  • Of these the more proficient are also known as ‘Sinologists’ (汉学家), China watchers (知华派) or Panda huggers (拥抱熊猫派)

The representative example given here is a certain 陆克文, better known outside China under his original English label of Kevin Rudd. I discuss below Rudd’s positioning of himself in relation to China, in particular his strategic employment of the discourse of 诤友 or ‘true friend’ (literally a ‘critical friend’), and suggest this shows him to be a functioning sinophone rather than (merely) a 中国通. To conclude its explication of the latter term, Baidu provides a couple of further definitions which specifically contrast knowledge of China with proficiency in Chinese:

  • In the broad sense, it refers to an expert on China’s ethnic languages and customs, cultural background etc
  • In the narrow sense, it now commonly refers to a foreigner who can speak fluent Chinese

After this brief trawl through the most commonly-used expressions for foreigners involved with China, we might sum up the main assumptions of the current classifications as follows:

  • they tend to assume a clear and unambiguous distinction between ‘Chinese’ and ‘foreign’
  • for the most part they assume that the interaction is unidirectional, whether from Chinese to foreign or vice versa, without the essential identity of either being changed in the process
  • they are largely conceptualised in terms of an accumulation of knowledge about China and / or of a repertoire of Chinese language

I would like to suggest that not only do such cut-and-dried categories fail to reflect the dynamic exchange and self- and other-transformation that are now increasingly taking place, they also place restrictions on the conceptualization of China-foreign interactions that will prove counterproductive to any genuine and long-term engagement. I will do this in the first instance by contrasting these two terms: sinophone and中国通.

My initial context for bringing these two concepts together was an informal discussion with Professor Gao Yihong 高一虹, Director of the new Research Centre for Linguistics and Applied Linguistics in the School of Foreign Languages at Peking University, and some of her postgraduate students, to whom I had shown the Introduction to my forthcoming book. In discussing this new term ‘sinophone’ in the sense I am using it in my book, they raised the question of whether its Chinese equivalent should be 中国通. The following analysis draws on that discussion, as well as on some follow-up email exchanges between Professor Gao and her students that were sparked by it.

My feeling was that the two were not equivalent: that 中国通, if not simply an empty compliment, as if in surprised acknowledgement that a foreigner should know anything about China at all, but rather applied in a substantive sense, still had very different connotations and indicated a quite different emphasis from sinophone. To sum up what I see as their main difference, 中国通 is above all a knowledge-based notion, it emphasises the accumulation and mastery of knowledge; sinophone, on the other hand, while including knowledge of language and culture as an essential component, is above all a pragmatically-oriented notion, it emphasises the ability to enter into Chinese-speaking societies—in short it is a contrast between 通 ‘cognitive understanding’ and 顺 ‘behavioural accomodation’. As summed up by one of the participants:

To become sinophone [foreigners] must certainly understand something about Chinese customs and interpersonal relationships, but that is only to help them understand the ways of using the language, not to be expert on Chinese culture as such.

The same participant suggested that sinophone had very much an instrumental emphasis, and that the question of what kind of identity such foreigners possessed was much more of an issue for their Chinese ‘hosts’ than for the foreigners themselves:

Sinophone is not necessarily an identity, although foreigners (老外) getting by (混) in China must face the issue of identity—this issue is perhaps more one raised by Chinese, and doesn’t really exist as an issue for the person who really wants to become sinophone. Sinophone has a stronger implication of ability.

Another participant suggested that the earlier classification中国通 was a product of a historical set of circumstances that no longer applied:

‘中国通’ arose in a situation where the cultures of the world were cut off from each other, at that time ‘通’ was an amazing thing. Now ‘通’ is gradually becoming a trend, what Lao Ma [my Chinese moniker] is talking about is actually just in certain areas 通而不同 ‘understand but not be the same’, to maintain your own viewpoint, standpoint, lifestyle, and refuse assimilation.

In an article published in the same collection as Orton’s quoted from above, Gao comments on the complexities of becoming part of another culture through learning the language, drawing on French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus, that system of dispositions, of lasting acquired schemes of perception, thought and action which provide the basic meaningful context for the individual to make sense of his or her experience, a system in which language of course plays a key role:

The learning of a foreign language involves acquiring a habitus that may be perceived to clash with the learner’s first language habitus, and . . . this has generated prolonged identity anxiety among Chinese involved in learning English. The solution to easing this anxiety has been to nominate Western learning as yong (utility) only and thus to focus on the economic value of the language as capital. Yet, because there is always cultural ti (essence) embedded in linguistichabitus, attempts to separate yong from ti in the learning of English and other languages have not solved the problem. Instead, there has been a recurring ti-yong tension, which has highlighted the fundamental identity dilemmas in China’s English language education. Furthermore, in contemporary China, where English language education itself has developed into a semi-autonomous field in the context of globalisation, the persistent ti-yong dilemma has acquired increased intensity and complexity.”[28]

[28] Gao Yihong ‘Sociocultural Contexts and English in China: Retaining and Reforming the Cultural Habitus’ in Joseph Lo Bianco, Jane Orton & Gao Yihong, eds, China and English: Globalisation and the Dilemmas of Identity, Bristol: Multilingual Matters, 2009, pp.56-78

From McDonald, Edward (2011), The ‘中国通’ or the ‘Sinophone’? Towards a political economy of Chinese language teachingChina Heritage Quarterly 25.

The “Sinophone” is a great neologism, one that deserves adaptation for many as yet unacknowledged language communities (Korean, Japanese, and doubtless several others). Edward McDonald has been prominent in introducing the term to the general – or at least academic – lexicon, as has Shu-mei Shih in books like Visuality and Identity: Sinophone Articulations across the Pacific (McDonald claims in the above article that the word “seems to have been coined separately and simultaneously on both sides of the Pacific” in 2005, by Geremie Barmé (Australia National University) and Shih (UCLA).

Speaking of/for the Subaltern, Again

12 Jun

I was reading an essay by John Lie about the situation of foreign workers in Japan that pointed out the problematic way in which such workers are often regarded, by progressives and conservatives alike, as “impoverished and lower class”, regardless of educational and status attainments in their home country, establishing a juxtaposition that lumps both “college-educated and illiterate” foreign workers into one category against the “affluent, middle-class Japanese” (74, ref. below):

“Ironically, politically progressive people most clearly articulated the contrast between Japanese and the new foreign workers. Claiming to be sympathetic to their plight, one self-appointed supporter of foreign workers’ struggle argued that they should be allowed to work in Japan because they are pitiful (kawaisou) and poor (mazushii). Progressive Japanese analyses therefore highlighted external, structural factors, such as poverty, rather than individual desires and initiatives (Tou 1992: 29-33). It is, of course, misleading to emphasize only the exploitation and the pathos of the new foreign workers. After all, most of them enter Japan voluntarily and consciously endure the demanding working conditions.” (John Lie, “The discourse of Japaneseness,” in Japan and Global Migration: Foreign Workers and the Advent of a Multicultural Society. Eds. Mike Douglass and Glenda S. Roberts, Hawaii: Univ. of Hawaii Press, 2003. 70-90, 74.)

Japan, of course, is not the only place where the noblesse oblige of the educated and liberal proves problematic. The contemporary Western academy has for some time attempted to counter this pouboir/savoir problem with all sorts of reflexive and self-distancing measures. Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak” has enjoyed a good deal of citation, no doubt partly because, like Said’s Orientalism, its provocative, polemical elements, aimed as a wake-up call, drew wide attention. The essential argument of Spivak’s essay is something of a logical fallacy – that if the subaltern even could speak, they would not be subaltern anymore – is overstated, and it is not surprising that Spivak has since allowed for a good deal of possibility that the subaltern can somehow be heard in the dominant or hegemonic register, writing:

“It is the disenfranchised who teaches us most often by saying: I do not recognize myself in the object of your benevolence. I do not recognize my share in your naming…she tells us if we care to hear…that she is not the literal referent for our frenzied naming of woman in the scramble for legitimacy in the house of theory” (“More on Power/Knowledge” and “Feminism and Deconstruction, Again”, Outside in the Teaching Machine, 48 and 137).

As Bart Moore-Gilbert remarks, “Like Said’s Orientalism, which is also ostensibly so concerned to undermine the equation of the West with ‘voice’ and the East with ‘silence’, an essay like ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ actually ends up by constructing the subaltern as the West’s ‘silent interlocutor’. (Moore-Gilbert also offers an excellent single-sentence summation of the ambiguity at the heart of Orientalism: “the question of whether Westerners are ontologically incapable of ‘disinterested’ or ‘true’ knowledge of the non-West”, Postcolonial Theory 110). Perhaps the greatest irony of ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ in this respect is that if Spivak’s account of subaltern silence were true, then there would be nothing but that non-subaltern (particularly the West and the native elite) left to speak to or write about” (Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics. London and NY: Verso, 1997, 104). Bruce Robbins has criticised Spivak for repeating the gesture of speaking for/in place of the subaltern in Foucault and Deleuze. Writing in defence of Said against similar charges, he note: “The critic who accuses another of speaking for the subaltern by denying that subalterns can speak for themselves, for example, is of course also claiming to speak for them” (Bruce Robbins, “The East is a Career: Edward Said and the Logics of Professionalism” in Sprinker, Edward Said 50; see Parry, “Problems in Current Theories of Colonial Discourse”, 39, for a critique of Spivak’s “deafness” to the voice of the Other).

Rey Chow and Comparative Literature

29 May

While the command of multiple languages should remain one of comparative literature’s disciplinary concerns, it should also be possible for students who do not necessarily have a deep knowledge of language other their native ones [sic] to be introduced to comparative literature through the study of poststructuralist theory, simply because one of the key pedagogical aims of poststructuralist theory is the scrutiny of language itself. In he case of North America, where many students have English as their first language, this is crucial because of the multiple languages and cultural enclaves that already exist within English – precisely owing to the ‘international’ history of British and American imperialism. Instead of asking our students to learn Arabic or Chinese in place of the more traditionally revered French or German, what about asking them to study black English, English as used by writers in British India, or English as used by present-day Latin American and Asian American authors?…

        In other words, just as multilingualism does not necessarily prevent one from becoming an intellectual bigot, so monolingualism does not have to mean that one’s mind is closed. Instead of having students add on languages without ever questioning the premise of language-as-power, we could also, within comparative literature, teach students how to be comparative within ‘single’ languages. (113-114;  Rey Chow, “In the Name of Comparative Literature”, in Comparative Literature in the Age of Multicultualism ed. Charles Bernheimer, Baltimore, Maryland: John Hopkins Univ. Press, 1995), 107-116

This reminds me of a typically excoriating passage in another Rey Chow book I’ve enjoyed for many years, Writing Diaspora:
“The widening of our curriculum to include such things as the ‘third world’ and minorities, and the extension of job opportunities to African American, Hispanic, and Asian scholars are part of an ongoing program of instrumentalizing language and culture. Indeed, we can say that the current ‘cultural studies’ programes in institutions of higher education are homological entities to the ‘literacy campaigns’ that are aimed at the lower strata of American society. While the poor need to learn how to read and write, the educated need to read and write other cultures. The universalist ambitions by way of terms such as ‘culture’ and ‘discourse’ belong therefore to a market economy in which ‘culture remains a force but largely of social control, a gratuitous image drawn over the face of instrumentality.’ ”
(Rey Chow, Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana Univ. Press, 1993, 129.