Dazed and Confucian
Russell Leigh Moses writes: Nearly two years into his tenure as China’s leader, President Xi Jinping has yet to expound on a clear notion of what the Communist Party should stand for as a whole or what direction the country should take. In the absence of a forward-thinking vision, Xi has instead often gazed backwards, into the periods of Chinese history the party once shunned.
That China’s president is often more comfortable talking about the country’s past than its future was evident this week when he delivered a speech at a meeting of the International Confucian Association commemorating the 2,565th anniversary of Confucius’s birth – the first time, according to Chinese Central Television that a Chinese president has addressed an international meeting on the philosopher.
The speech (in Chinese) was praised by people who were there as erudite and eloquent. Extolling Confucius and his importance, Xi said that “to understand today’s China, today’s Chinese people, we must understand Chinese culture and blood, and nourish the Chinese people’s grasp of its own cultural soil.”
“Xi seems caught between an abiding respect for the Chinese classics and the need to make sure that China modernizes. That’s created a conundrum that he seems far from fully resolving.”
Many have taken notice of the Communist party’s interest in Confucius – a scholar excoriated by previous generations of communists for advocating a social system that promoted inequality – in recent years. Although that revival seemed to be starting before Xi took over, it has accelerated under his watch, with official media repeatedly portraying the leader as being steeped in classical Chinese literature.
There’s no question the glorification of China’s past has helped the party win public support, adding emotional heft to the “China Dream” of national rejuvenation. The question is how much an obstacle it’s going to be for Xi’s efforts to lead the party.
Xi’s approach is different from his immediate predecessors, who provided ideological templates with slogans designed to summarize what the Communist Party stood for and where it planned to take China. Read the rest of this entry »
Shorter Obama administration: We’re not at war with ISIS, we’re at war with the English language
— David A. Graham (@GrahamDavidA) September 11, 2014
David A. Graham’s timely tweet (
is that an original epigram, David? Update: he confirms it is) reminded me of this item from a few years ago, a reference to an ancient figure, before Reagan, before Clinton and Bush, even way back before Lyndon Johnson.
[Also see – John Kerry: America Isn’t at War with ISIS]
From a column by Roger Kimball…
March 27th, 2011, Roger Kimball writes:
…what Obama’s minions are calling our “kinetic military activity” in Libya, I noted that the folks presiding over Orwell’s Newspeak would have liked the phrase “kinetic military activity.” As a mendacious and evasive euphemism for “war” it is hard to beat. But Orwell is not the only important thinker the Obama administration’s assault on the English language brings to mind. There is also Confucius.
…Asked by a disciple how to rule a state properly, Confucius replies that it begins with rectifying the names:
“If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be conducted successfully. When affairs cannot be conducted successfully, propriety will not flourish. When propriety does not flourish, punishments will not be properly meted out. When punishments are not properly meted out, the people will not know how to conduct themselves.”
That was written about 475 B.C. When will we catch up with its wisdom?
Ben Chu writes: Chinese Whispers was once a party game. A message would be relayed in hushed tones through a long line of people and emerge at the other end amusingly garbled. Most of us have found alternative amusements nowadays, but the name survives as a figure of speech; an idiom used to signify how facts or a story tend to get twisted over time and distance.
Why ‘Chinese’ though? There seem to be no concrete answers. One theory has it that messages relayed between the lonely watchtowers of the Great Wall suffered this kind of distortion. Another is that China was once a byword for misunderstanding and confusion in the West, something to do with the supposed ‘inscrutability’ of the Chinese. It doesn’t seem to be a very old usage, with the first references only appearing in the middle of the 20th century. But whatever the provenance of Chinese Whispers, there’s something rather appropriate about the name.
China has always loomed large in the Western imagination because it provides a handy screen on to which we can project our dreams and nightmares. First the dreams. The Jesuit missionaries of the 16th century projected China as a country in which men like them achieved, promoted as councillors to emperors, ignoring (or perhaps ignorant of) the fact that the ostensibly meritocratic, imperial exam system was riven with corruption and nepotism. That tradition of wishful projection continues today.
Many executives of Western multinationals talk of China as a new capitalist Jerusalem, a land of eternally high GDP growth, the biggest untapped consumer market on the planet, the place where the state sees its proper function as to help the private sector to make money. Of course, occasionally they will come up against an awkward fact that challenges this dream – reports of baby milk formula adulterated with a harmful chemical by a Chinese manufacturer, for instance, or a corruption scandal – but these are seen as tests of faith to be overcome. They cannot be permitted to interfere with the glorious vision.
Then there are the China nightmares. The French philosopher Montesquieu, in the 18th century, reviled China as a country where there reigned “a spirit of servitude”. In a similar vein, the Victorians projected China as a place where intellectual progress had come to a pathetic stop. What they were both doing was imagining China as the very antithesis of everything they wanted their own nations to be: free, vigorous and expansive. Read the rest of this entry »