James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
  • Two articles from Counterpunch (updated)

    Two of my friends of longest standing (note how I avoid saying two of my "oldest friends") have articles online at counterpunch.org  that deserve notice.

    Eamonn Fingleton, who has been based in Japan for years and has been both contrarian and right in emphasizing the residual strength of Japanese manufacturing (even as the Japanese financial system collapsed), now has an article about the American media's coverage of Detroit. It is mainly a corrective to the automatic sneer at U.S. automakers that characterizes much political and press commentary about them. The article says:

    As press commentators have generally spun it, the Detroit story has been a simplistic  morality tale of "incompetent executives," "lazy workers," and "intransigent unions." Detroit in other words has richly deserved its fate and, in the opinion of many of the more callous observers, the sooner it is put out of its misery the better.
              

    The real story is a complex one in which the American auto industry has often been more sinned against than sinning.         

    The article is very heavy on US-Japanese auto competition; for the record, I disagree with Eamonn on a few of the harpoons that he hurls. But the simple rarity of arguments on the automakers' behalf makes the article worth considering. Update: Another illustration of its approach, from the beginning:
    To see how well -- or rather how badly -- you understand the background, try this quiz:           

    1. What was the Detroit companies' share of the Japanese market in 1930? (a) About 90 per cent. (b) About 20 per cent. (c) Less than 4 per cent.
               
    2. How many models do the Detroit corporations currently make with the steering wheel on the right (the standard configuration for Japan)? (a) More than 40. (b) 12. (c) 3.           

    3. What was the combined share of all foreign makers - American, European, and Japanese - in the Korean car market in the last decade? (a) Less than 2 per cent. (b) Around 15 per cent. (c) More than 70 per cent.           

    The correct answer in each case is (a).           

    If you flunked, don't feel bad. Just cancel your newspaper subscription.           

    I don't buy Eamonn's "cancel your subscription" advice, since newspapers are just behind carmakers in their overall distress. But his overall pitch is significant.

    Also we have Franklin "Chuck" Spinney, whose name is familiar to anyone who has read or thought about American defense policy over the last generation. Based purely on his study of conflict through the ages, last year Spinney made a call about Obama-McCain campaign tactics that proved far shrewder than that of many political "experts" at the time.

    In his new article, he makes a call about President Obama's expanding commitment to Afghanistan that is convincing to me and should be alarming to anyone who reflects on what the U.S. is getting itself into. Both articles very much worth a look.
  • Guest-post wisdom on frogs

    While I have been out of action, a technology-world friend named Michael Jones has generously added to the world's store of knowledge on the Frog Question. He has the floor:

    SLOWLY-BOILED FROGS (guest blog post by Michael Jones)
     
    180px-Goltz.jpgGerman physiologist Friedrich Leopold Goltz [left, Wikipedia image] published his studies of decerebrated frogs in Beitrage zur Lehre von den Functionen der Nervencentren des Frosches. (Berlin: August Hirschwald, 1869.) There, 140 years ago, he begat the familiar story of the slowly-boiled frog. The key element of this scientific discovery, lost across the years in the story's retelling, is that the frogs must first have their brains removed.

    Goltz work inspired George Henry Lewes--actor, philosopher, friend of Dickens, bigamous partner of Marian Evans (George Eliot) and of note, literary critic--to extend the slowly-boiled brainless frog oeuvre by slowly-boiling frogs with partial brains or with their spinal cords severed at various locations. Lewes published his findings four years and many frogs later as Sensation in the Spinal Cord in Nature, Dec. 4, 1873. He summarized the story this way:


    "Goltz observed that a frog, when placed in water the temperature of which is slowly raised towards boiling, manifests uneasiness as soon as the temperature reaches 25° C., and becomes more and more agitated as the heat increases, vainly struggling to get out, and finally at 42° C., dies in a state of rigid tetanus. The evidence of feeling being thus manifested when the frog has its brain, what is the case with a brainless frog? It is absolutely the reverse. Quietly the animal sits through all successions of temperature, never once manifesting uneasiness or pain, never once attempting to escape the impending death."
    Countless slow-boilings of partially dismembered frogs by Goltz, Lewes, and numerous others conclusively show the following truths: first, that even a brainless and spineless frog will recoil from hot water; and second, while healthy frogs will jump out of water when the temperature slowly gets too hot, brainless or spineless ones will not. The general sense of the slowly-boiled frog metaphor thus echoes scientific fact, even with its factual basis--elision of the frog's brain--itself elided through time and retelling.

    .

    This reconnection with our scientific past must reshape the Fallows crusade against the frog story and its abusers. The story as told remains untrue, so intolerance of it remains well founded. But, with its basis in science and human nature, and with so many tombstones in the boiled frog cemetery, it would be a shame to abandon it completely. I suggest that James Fallows follow the lead of his critical predecessor George Lewes by verbally removing the brain from the frog. That is, when those like Nobel winner Paul Krugman or United States President Barack Obama tell the slowly-boiled frog story inaccurately, Jim should write, "yes, if you mean a brainless frog!" With vigilance, that may become the equally well-known punch-line of the slowly-boiled frog story.

    [This is your regular host JF speaking again. The passage above has been slightly updated -- first time around I didn't include some edits Michael Jones had made. Even without knowing the part about decerebration -- a term that can be at least as useful in taking about politics as "boiled frog" is now -- I had been willing to declare peace and victory in this matter. But Jones' account offers a reality-based way of resolving the issue, while setting a high standard for guest posts in the future. Or owner-posts, for that matter.]

  • Raptor down (budgetarily)

    I emerge from the land of no internet or email to hear about today's crucial Senate vote to delete funding for additional F-22 "Raptor" fighter planes. For why this was an even-more-crucial-than-it-seems sign of whether the new Administration was serious about SecDef Robert Gates' impressive speeches about bringing rationality to defense spending, see here, here, here, and here, for starters. For much more about the F-22 from the Project on Government Oversight, here, and from the Center for Defense Information here. For a summary of why the vote matters, consider this statement from retired Army General Paul Eaton, of Iraq fame, from the National Security Network:

    "In stripping $1.75 billion in funds to build seven more F-22 Raptors from the Defense Authorization bill, the Senate has brought our military spending one step closer to matching America's military priorities for the 21st century. The Cold War relic was a symbol of the outdated, unnecessary, and expensive weapon systems that have burdened our defense budgets for far too long....Misplaced defense budget priorities such as additional funding for the F-22 both constrained America's military from adequately addressing the threats we face today and took money away from more essential strategic imperatives."

    This issue isn't over -- the House still has to act, and there is the conference etc. And we are nowhere close to having a defense budget that is "rational" in some larger sense. But on both merits and symbolism, this is a significant moment. And as matter of political anthropology, it seems as if President Obama's atypically hard-line promise to veto the entire spending bill if it included more money for the Raptor had its effect.

  • Offline again

    Whenever I think about the 'always-connected' or 'life in the internet cloud' era that awaits us all, I remember how many times in the last 12 months I have had to post a note like the following: I will be at a place with no internet connections until late Monday. Updates on many fronts then.

  • Time for a design / Gehry / public space update

    It has been a while (background here, begin from the bottom). Four correspondents weigh in, starting with a response to the previous post about Frank Gehry's Stata Center complex at MIT.

    An MIT grad student writes:

    A reader you quoted the other day on your blog reported that a certain seminar room in Gehry's Stata Center at MIT causes vertigo and is no longer used.  I happen to work in that building as a graduate student, and the story isn't quite as juicy as your correspondent told it.

    It's true that according to old-timers, when the room was first built, it caused some people to experience vertigo.  But according to the same story as I've heard it from many people, they swiftly put in some large conspicuously vertical objects like rolled-up rugs and the problem was solved.  In any case, the room is regularly full for seminars and I've never heard a complaint of vertigo in the present.

    The building certainly has its practical problems, though.  For one thing, it's said to cost twice as much to maintain per square foot as any other structure on campus.  For another, it's tremendously spendthrift of MIT's only resource even more costly than money -- space. For most of the building's height, the floor plan contains only two towers dwarfed by the sprawling footprint at ground level.  An aerial photo [by Philip Greenspun] illustrates this very well:

    stata-center-5.jpg

    Another reader writes, sort of in defense of Gehry:

    So far none of your correspondents has taken up the relationship between single buildings -- which is what architects, especially stars, mainly produce -- and public spaces.  Spaces need design, but it's a different skill than creating a building -- a complementary one, and not usually found in the same person.  (The Campidoglio is the exception that proves the rule: not only was Michelangelo, obviously, exceptional himself, but his design separates that space from the bustle of urban Rome.)

    I'm inclined to tolerate arrogance on this matter in a Gehry, even when genuinely offensive, because I think the responsibility for public spaces has to be shared more broadly -- just as the monuments, if any, are plums in the pudding of the urban design, the architects can be expected to be outliers in the design community.

    Reader #3, more fully in defense of Gehry -- and certainly more critical of his critics -- says:

    I wanted to chime in a tiny bit about the Gehry thing, with some context. I think it's fair to say that Fred Kent is a widely known but not particularly liked figure in the architecture world-- or perhaps I should say the "capital-A architecture" world. Project for Public Spaces, the organization Kent founded and runs, has a regressive streak that is at odds with a beliefin architecture as a potentially provocative, avant garde, response to the world. I don't have to tell you Gehry epitomizes that sensibility, nor that the hero architect shtick regularly backfires, with occasionally disastrous consequences for cites and "public space."

    But-- and here's where I cheer Gehry on, and tell Kent to take a seat-- that's not a reason to stop believing in the transformative potential of buildings, which is what the pabulum Kent spouts seems to argue. Especially not when there are architects like Gehry who come around every once in a while.
    Architects can be megalomaniacal. But Gehry has proved his value, and his sensitivities, and so no, the question does not apply to him. He is special. His buildings are special. On the other hand, it takes a special kind of arrogance on Kent's part to grandstand like it sounds like he did, knowing full well the richness of Gehry's contribution, and the mounds of crap that's out there otherwise. [Note: I am staying away from most ad-hominem that's come in, especially when I'm not using the writers' real names; but since a lot of people have let Frank Gehry have it in very personal terms, on equity grounds it seemed right to include one sample of personal criticism of his antagonist in the Aspen discussion.]

    Reader #4, with the ever-desirable Chinese angle:

    I also have an opinion about these so-called starchitechts and their iconic works. I'm all for innovation in architecture, and I love seeing this futuristic monstrosities rise up over the skyline. However, I feel that most big time architects these days are thinking only about breaking the aesthetic rules of architecture, and not spending much time thinking up architectural solutions to our current problems. They're putting even less time into the technological implementation of their dreams. For instance, Gehry's buildings are notorious for springing leaks and other problems upon opening. Though I like the pretty lines, I'd settle for a well-built building. Perhaps you could ask readers to recommend favorite architects who actually manage to pull it off.
    I'm much more familiar with Koolhaus's recent work, the CCTV Tower in Beijing. While I think the façade is beautiful, I give him two thumbs down for innovation. According to a friend in CCTV, the building causes more problems than it solves. First, when the building was being put together, there was still no existing technology for washing the windows on the inward sloping walls of the building. Every solution offered by contractors was too troublesome and expensive, and I don't think they've figured out a solution yet. Secondly, they were unable to install working plumbing anywhere in the segment that bridges the gap between the two "pant-legs". Thirdly, and possibly most absurdly, I hear that one cannot travel from the first floor to the top floor without changing elevators twice. I can't verify any of this, but it all makes sense if you know a bit about starchitects and CCTV's schizophrenic organizational culture. I would have a much higher opinion of the architect if he could construct an outrageous building that didn't have these problems. Oh, and for the record, Mr. Koolhaus is apparently furious over CCTV's choice of helipad, which destroys the clean lines of the building.

    More »

  • The boiled frog goes PoMo

    I mentioned two days ago my satisfaction that Paul Krugman had seen fit to declare the boiled-frog canard* false, before saying it was still useful to illustrate a point about political inaction. 

    Now I am happier still that my friend Michael Jones has put a fancy Postmodernist gloss on the whole topic. He writes:

    "Are you familiar with the late French writer and philosopher Jean Baudrillard? My favorite memory of his insight was his comment on the progression of societies' images from reality toward unreality in identifiable stages.
    1. It is the reflection of a basic reality, 
    2. It masks and perverts a basic reality, 
    3. It masks the absence of a basic reality, 
    4. It bears no relation to any reality whatsoever; it is its own pure simulacrum.

    "The stylized sport of wrestling as it advanced from Greek olympics to modern television might be an example of this progression, with Lou Thesz somewhere in the middle range. This last stage was his area of fascination; the progression itself is mine. The Onion is #4, but intentionally as humor."

    (Lou Thesz, as PoMo counterpart to boiled frog, from Plan59.com)

    lou_thesz.jpg

    Jones says that the frog story is in stage two; I think it has skipped ahead to stage four, where we don't care (a la Krugman) whether it's true or not because it's become a convenient way to convey a message ("raining cats and dogs"). Either way, it's nice to be literary about it.

    ___
    * Yes, I know what canard means. A little joke.

  • Let a thousand flowers bloom again, Atlantic style

    Here is a genuine strength of the community assembled at the Atlantic. We all take our work and the issues we're exploring seriously -- but we don't agree always or even a lot of the time about important issues. The closest thing to an across-the-board outlook was during last year's presidential election, when only a couple of people on the staff were rooting hard for the McCain-Palin ticket. But before the Iraq war, there was a really deep split, with our then-editor and many prominent writers strongly in favor of the war, and our then-managing editor and many others strongly against. Those differences were apparent -- I think in a useful way -- to anyone reading the magazine in those days and seeing the different perspectives argued out. Right now there are real differences on economic-policy matters, various aspects of foreign policy from Afghanistan to the Middle East to China, the futures of the Republican and Democratic parties, defense issues, and a lot of other specific points.

    I mention this as a strength of the organization internally and also, I think, a virtue from the reader's point of view. The real differences but also real sense of community and respect can encourage people to explain and argue-out their positions more carefully rather than just assuming agreement. It's like "not Red States or Blue States but the United States of the Atlantic Monthly"!

    In that spirit of respectful disagreement with a colleague and friend, let me say that Robert Kaplan's "we" does not speak for the whole magazine's staff when he says just now about China:

    For years we had perceived China as a state galloping ever forward, en route to peer competitor status with the United States and its military. We forgot that foreign and defense policy emanates from a country's domestic conditions, and that if its domestic conditions are less than harmonious, its policy toward the outside world, too, may be less than robust. In other words, China's rise cannot be taken for granted. To wit, China is also grinding away at its environmental base. Its water table is diminishing, along with the nutrients in its soil. But the regime cannot afford to slow down its economic growth for fear of a popular eruption far broader than what we just saw in Xinjiang....Remember, nothing is destiny.

    The limits on China's "galloping" rise and the "nothing is destiny" perspective on its future are points I've tried to convey so often that many readers may be going crazy from the repetition. (Eg here or here or here.) In a sense the heart of my disagreement with Niall Ferguson at the Aspen Ideas Festival was his seeming confidence that anything at all could be assumed as certain about China's future -- either the rise that seemed inevitable to some people until recently, or the breakup with the U.S. and the outside world that he says is now certain to come. That's my disagreement with Bob Kaplan's statement of previous views on China: "we" may have seen things that way, but "I" most certainly didn't.

    Arguing for uncertainty, or for many possible futures that will in fact be shaped by real choices by real human beings, may seem weak and unsatisfying. On the other hand: it conforms to the facts, and, at least as important, it focuses attention on the difference that "we" can make through our choices, wise or foolish, about China policy and other matters from economic interaction to environmental protection. And by "we" I mean political leaders and the politically-interested community in the United States, and China, and around the world.

  • Another full Aspen session on line

    Ten days ago, I said that when the full tape of the "Feeding the World's Billions" session of the Aspen Ideas Festival went on line, you should be sure to check it out. This is the one in which (a) Monsanto's CEO, Hugh Grant, answers questions arising from the Robert Kenner movie Food Inc, and (b) more new information, per minute, appears than in other sessions I have seen for a long time.

    Well, it's now up, here, so check it out. 

    Update: The bounty never stops! Another session I wrote about as interesting and worthwhile, "Re-Greening the Emerald Planet," is now on-line, here. Check this out too.


  • Here's something I've learned!

    If you get a hotel room for $49 per night all-in -- free internet, free breakfast -- in Linyi, China, it's pretty nice! (Scenic central Linyi, where I was a few weeks ago on a story, below.)
    LInyi.jpg


    If you get a get a hotel room via a special internet deal for $49 all-in -- free internet, free breakfast -- in San Jose, California, all of your neighbors are hookers! (Scenic central San Jose, where I am on a story, below.)
    SanJose.jpg

    No one can resist that free internet. I guess I better start acclimating -- ie, getting used to paying more than $49 for a hotel -- faster.

  • Now if I were really ambitious in my flying plans

    I mentioned recently a small-plane caravan flight along the route (more or less) of Lewis & Clark's trip to the Pacific. The same company, AirJourney.com, is sponsoring a more ambitious trip later this year.

    EuropeTrip.jpg

    Now, I'm not actually going to do this. Reason 1: I don't have an airplane any more. Reason 2: the landing in Narsarsuaq, Greenland for refueling is one I've heard about many times without ever wanting to attempt myself. (Problem: it's a landing you have to make, given the huge expanses of ocean on either side; the runway has ocean on one side and mountains on the others; the weather is often snowy, foggy, gusty; etc.) Reason 3: you have to wear a survival suit on the long over-water stretches, which makes you uncomfortable in the airplane and probably wouldn't save you in the frozen water anyway. Reason 4: expensive. On the other hand... flying at low altitudes over Europe! Approaching Greenland, Iceland, Scotland from the sky! Landing in Paris! Dreaming about it -- especially on Bastille Day: priceless, as they say.

    Narsarsuaq on a nice day (from "Most Dangerous Landing Strips in the World" site).
    061709_0638_10MostDange8.jpg

    How it looks at ground level, from this site:
    Greenland2.jpg

    Pilot suiting up for the run to Narsarsuaq in his Cessna 172, from this site:

    SurvivalSuit3.jpg

    In response to some previous queries: the planes making these journeys are typically very small craft flown by enthusiasts, not corporate big-shots in their jets (who could go nonstop anyway), and the fuel use/emissions factor is not that different from people taking long vacation drives. Overall climate-strategy discussions for another day. In response to another line of inquiry: I have no relationship of any sort with the AirJourney company -- don't know 'em, have never done business with them. Just tantalized by these plans.

  • A Uighur speaks about pork

    After I posted this picture from Shannon Kirwin, three days ago, of a help-wanted notice at a restaurant in Kashgar that said "Han Chinese only," one response ran through the vast majority of messages from readers in China. It is the argument I quoted here. "Uighurs are Muslim," many correspondents said. "Chinese restaurants serve pork. It would be an insult to the Uighurs to suggest that they apply."

    I had my own guesses about the response, but I asked another correspondent who (to the best of my knowledge) is a Muslim Uighur who reads Chinese. I asked: would Uighurs in Kashgar view the sign as a favor to them? Here is the reply I just received, with some addenda from the same correspondent after the jump.

    "Han Chinese only" simply is a discrimination.  Uyghurs are desperate to have jobs and long have been complaining about "Han Chinese only" requirements.  Uyghurs don't eat pork, but "Handling pork" doesn't mean eating pork. That ad includes not only chef position but also waiter/waitress and supervisor positions, which don't require to taste the food.  In fact, I've seen many Uyghur students both in United States, Europe and Japan work as waiters/waitresses. They don't eat pork and bacon,  but happily perform the task. They have no problem with carrying the plates, and cleaning them. 
    "The job ads I've sent to you earlier [quoted after the jump here, and very much worth re-checking] was posted on Kashgar Teacher's College web site. One of them is about "Dean of College" position, which also has "Han Chinese Only" requirement . The other ad is about several positions, including computer instructor and lab assistant position.   Most of them have "Han Chinese Only" requirements, which explain that an Uyghur can not apply for the jobs even if she/he has the similar educational background and skill set to her/his Chinese counterpart, simply beacuse she/he is Uyghur.     

    "Postal service is a government institution in China. "Postal Hotel" [the one with the "Han only" sign] is Postal service owned company. The Kashgar Teacher's College is, an institution which has has more than of half of the student population is Uyghur, also a government owned institution.  If the job ads by government institutions are so discriminative, the situation in private chinese companies is anybody's guess."

    To repeat the correspondent's important previous post: the two sites below, http://www.uyghuramerican.org/forum/showthread.php?t=13929
    http://www.uyghuramerican.org/forum/showthread.php?t=13942
    are ads for colleges in Xijiang, which specify "Han only" as a requirement for the job. The ads are in Chinese, but that part is clear.   The correspondent adds:

    "I want to stress couple things to the "angry" Chinese people.
    "1) On the first day of the demonstration,  Uyghur students brought Chinese flag. They've asked government to bring justice who killed Uyghurs in Guangdong [who were beaten to death after being accused of rape]. Nobody said they were against the Han people.   The demonstration was about complaining government's handling of the case, not expressing hatrid to Han people. It was not even splitting the nation. If Chinese government and media are fair, why they never mention it was a demonstration (at least at first), not a riot. I urge every "angry" Chinese think about it. 

    "2) Even Chinese media reported that the demonstartion started much earlier than the riot. If the original plan of Uyghur students was to attack Han people, why they waited until the late evening until they got shot. If they have started the attack earlier,  couldn't they attack more Han people? ( Don't get me wrong, I condemn physical attack they did).However, I wonder why those Chinese people don't think something happened in between.  I believe the "hatred" is the product of Chinese government action.

    "3) Again, here is some information about what happened. I urge every "angry" Chinese take a look and think by themselves.  Loving their country is shouldn't be blindly trusting their government.   Nationalism might be good thing, but it should come after being a good and thoughtful human.
    http://www.uyghuramerican.org/forum/showthread.php?t=15886 "

    There is more to come, from the "other side." Because of travel and, gasp, "work" I have let a lot of these back up.

    More »

  • Full Aspen session, Fallows v Ferguson, now posted

    In several posts from Aspen (here, here, and here) I mentioned my "full and frank" discussion, as the diplomats would say, with Niall Ferguson over the future of Chinese and American interactions. Main summary of our disagreements is, again, here.

    A streaming video of the whole session is available now, here. My memories of it are clear enough that I don't think I need another immersion. But if you missed it and/or are interested, it's now online.

  • On Uighurs, Han, and general racial attitudes in China

    Three more views on racial attitudes and tensions in China, following this and previous dispatches.

    From a foreigner with experience in China
    :

    Regarding the "no Uighurs" sign, that type of thing is pretty common in China.  Many advertisements for foreign English teachers will include something like "Whites only" or a "Looking for Caucasian teachers" sentence somewhere in the text.  Additionally, many a native speaker have flown from their country to China only to find upon arrival that  regardless of the applicant's qualifications, the job could only be performed by a white person.  At these times the Chinese are usually polite and a little embarrassed (most Chinese are very nice people and mean no harm), but they will remain very firm in their conviction that a person with darker skin than theirs could not possibly make a good teacher.

    I have experienced this on a number of occasions.  But after living in China for a while I realized that what we would consider racism in the West is simply a deeply ingrained cultural characteristic of mainland Chinese people.  White skin (the Chinese like to consider themselves white) and or being a Han (the dominant ethnic group) means a person is good.  Dark skin or not being Han means a person is inferior (and more likely to be a bad guy/a thief/incompetent etc.).  It does not equal KKK style hatred.  It does not even mean a Han Chinese wouldn't be friends with a person from India or Africa.  It simply means that if a person is non-white or a member of certain Chinese minorities, they simply are to be considered less smart, less competent and less trustworthy than the average white person or Han. [Ed note: This accords with my observation, with the caveat that I have observed this all as a middle aged white guy. Early discussion of Obama in China fit this pattern -- but changed after he took office.]
     
    On a lighter note, the Chinese are not inflexible and when exposed to nice people of color they usually will change their minds quickly.  [Agree, as with Obama.] However, the tendency towards ethnic and racial chauvinism is a current running through Chinese culture that is unlikely to change in any meaningful way anytime soon.  "Truths" are rarely challenged here.

    From a person with a Chinese name:

    Your mentioning the sign ["Han Chinese only"] in Xinjiang provides half the question.  It's pretty obvious why the Uighurs are angry, but that doesn't explain why Han Chinese in Xinjiang are angry. I think that if you see this simply as a majority group trying to crush a minority group, then you miss the fact that the average Han Chinese in Xinjiang probably feels as oppressed and repressed as the Uighurs, and since they are competing for the same pool of jobs.  Just because you are Han Chinese doesn't mean that you are going to be in the Politburo.
    One very tricky problem for the government is that if they start encouraging preferential treatment for Uighurs, this may have the effect of increasing resentment among Han Chinese in Xinjiang.  Remember that this whole thing started in Guangdong, when you had a Han Chinese worker that spread a very nasty rumor against Uighurs working for a toy factory, because the Han Chinese worker was fired.

    This seems similar to the situation in the US south where you had class conflicts on top of racial ones.  There tended to be less racial tension in the upper classes, because people weren't fighting each other over jobs.  This also accounts for another curious thing which is that while there is a lot of sentiment among college educated Chinese against the foreign press, I've detected absolutely no sympathy for the Han Chinese demonstrators in Xinjiang amount college educated Chinese.  In fact, if you ask them privately I think that most Han Chinese outside of Xinjiang think of them as thugs and hooligans.  Also, the amount of anger directed at the foreign press seems to be a *lot* less than it was during the Tibetan protests a year ago.

    There is another irony here and that a lot of the condescending attitudes that Han Chinese have toward Uighurs, and which provoke a nasty reaction are pretty much the same condescending attitudes that the West has toward China.  in both cases, what causes the anger is this idea that "you aren't smart enough to solve your own problems so we smarter people have to solve them for you."  Something that I've noticed is that there are a lot of people that have been quoted offering advice for what China should do, and this misses the point that given the mess in Iraq and the long struggle for social equity in the United States, there is no particular reason to think that outside solutions would work better than the solutions that Chinese come up with.

    Self-explanatory:

    I am Chinese American  and I think that Uighurs are "Chinese too" and should be treated fairly and their rights and interests should be respected.

    Anyway, as long as they are not fairly treated, the they will continue to agitate and Han Chinese will suffer too.

    I think we should have a civil rights law in China (like we do in the USA) that protects Chinese minorities too and that bans discrimination.

    Besides, just because you don't want to eat a certain type foods, does not mean that you can not cook it. [This in response to Chinese arguments that since Uighur Muslims can't eat pork, the restaurant is doing them a favor by saying they can't apply for a job.] A lot of Han Chinese have food preferences, but they can cook whatever on the menu that the customer wants.

    I have traveled to many countries around the world, including Europe, Asia. and South America. and the USA is only one of the very few countries that have laws protecting minorities and baning discrimination. 

    I think that this is an American example that the rest of the world needs to adopt.

    Many more in the queue.

    More »

  • Peace on the boiled frog front

    I can have no complaints about Paul Krugman's use just now of the hoary (and phony) parable, which begins this way:

    "I'm referring, of course, to the proverbial frog that, placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated, never realizes the danger it's in and is boiled alive. Real frogs will, in fact, jump out of the pot -- but never mind. The hypothetical boiled frog is a useful metaphor for a very real problem: the difficulty of responding to disasters that creep up on you a bit at a time."

    If this becomes a "hypothetical" frog, a "proverbial" frog, a "useful metaphor" to get across a point, then it enters the company of "the streets were paved with gold" or "his eyes were bigger than his stomach" in being a useful way of conveying an idea, although no one thinks the image itself is literally true. At it can exit the realm of the "cautionary revelation from the world of science" that it typically occupies in political speeches or, sigh, the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. It's still a cliche, but you can't have everything. I had not previously thought of Paul Krugman as a peacemaker or placater, as opposed to a provocateur, but he may now have shown a new field of achievement.

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