Dis Course and Dat Course

Discourse

Our friend Mark Anthony Jones has invited us to peruse his new site, “China Discourse”, and to share our first impressions. Here are mine, while Catherine will chime in later:

So far I’ve only read the introductory page, and my first question is, Mark, why do you constantly use the postmodern jargon term “discourse” instead of its simpler, old fashioned synonym, “essay”? And what is the necessity, if any, to call your essays “texts”?

I mean, your overemployment (without paying extra wages for overtime!) of the word “discourse” reminds me of the theme song from the delightfully lowbrow 1960s American tv sitcom, “Mister Ed.” Here is a video of the opening song, and here are the lyrics:

A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
And no one can talk to a horse of course
That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed.

Go right to the source and ask the horse
He’ll give you the answer that you’ll endorse.
He’s always on a steady course.
Talk to Mr. Ed.

People yakkity yak a streak and waste your time of day
But Mister Ed will never speak unless he has something to say.

A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
And this one’ll talk ’til his voice is hoarse.
You never heard of a talking horse?

Well listen to this:
I am Mister Ed!

So let’s spin those lyrics around, from me to you, MAJ:

Discourse is discourse, of course, of course,
But no one can talk through discourse, of course,
That is, of course, unless discourse
Becomes dissed by MAJ.
Stop saying “discourse”, because DIS course
Of yours is a habit I don’t endorse;
Postmodern jargon is a farce,
PLEASE JUST TALK, MAJ!

So now to your introductory essay. You wrote:

Colin Mackerras, in his book, Western Images of China, believes that the dominant images the West has had of China, both past and present, ‘accord with, rather than oppose, the interests of the main Western authorities or governments of the day.’

Mark, could you please clarify what part of the West’s “past” you (and Mackerras) are talking about? Do you mean as far back as Ancient Rome, when old fashioned Roman patricians were complaining about Roman women’s excessive love of imported Chinese silk? Or the so-called “Dark Ages” (which weren’t so dark) when Chinese artifacts were common part and parcel of the plunder of the Vikings, via the Vikings’ invasions of, and trade with, Byzantium and its environs? If so, then just what constituted “the West” (or “Christendom”) back then, and how much did they know or think about China at all? Or if you mean more specifically the Modern Age West (post circa 1500), then that would raise another series of problematic questions, especially in light of the collapse of unified religious authority post 1500 and the consequent intellectual and political turmoil of “the West” which has remained essentially DISunited to this day.

And you wrote:

Mackerras’s study shows quite convincingly that there has been a ‘regime of truth’ concerning China, which has raised ‘the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true’ about this increasingly important and emerging new player in the global economy.

Again, I call into question just WHOSE “regime of truth” this would be. Simply calling it “Western” just won’t do.

And you wrote:

It is not my purpose here to dismiss or to trivialise any of China’s ongoing human rights problems, though as I will attempt to demonstrate here on the pages of this site, China’s human rights situation is not only improving, but is already in many ways quite impressive given the country’s current level of economic development, especially when collective, or macro-level human rights, are factored into the equation.

Please explain the reasons, either deductive and/or inductive, for your premise that China’s – or any country’s – “level of economic development” (whatever that means!) must or should be assumed to condition any “human rights situation” (which, as you and I agree, is yet another essentially contestable concept.) I know that’s what Marx would say – and I agree with Marx about a lot of things – but you’ll have to do better than tacitly positing Marxian historical materialism as your premise, unless you specify that that is your premise.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Ned Kelly's Pub and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Dis Course and Dat Course

  1. MAJ says:

    Ned, it is 10:13am here in Sydney right now as I type. I just woke up, after having a late night out on the town with a a few friends, and so I have a slight hangover still. Gao Ying has just gone to work, and I need to shower, and then I need to visit a local cafe for a latte, and for my usual Saturday morning stoll along King Street, browsing all the bookshops.

    This afternoon, however, I will make time to sit down and to respond to all of your above comments. For now though, let me just say this: the reason why I use postmodern jargon is simply because I know that you don’t like it – and so I know it will stir you up! Truly, that’s why I use such words as ‘discourse’. And it seems as though it has brought the creative song-writing talents within you. I mean, you seem to have sublimated your strong distaste for the word ‘discourse’ by channelling all of your pent up energies into the writing of a damn fine song. ‘Discourse is discourse, of course, of course…’ I’m going to be singing this all morning, even between latte sips!

    Best regards,
    MAJ

  2. MAJ says:

    Dear Ned, I have now satisfied my morning caffine requirement, by conusming not one, but two lattes, and I have also satisfied my need for retail therapy by purchasing yet another book – this time a copy of Jean Baudrillard’s “Screened Out”. Though eager to read it, I shall first respond to your questions.

    1. You wrote: ‘Mark, why do you constantly use the postmodern jargon term “discourse” instead of its simpler, old fashioned synonym, “essay”? And what is the necessity, if any, to call your essays “texts”?’

    – Well, aside from the fact that I know that my usage of such terms annoys you (and I do in fact gain some mild pleasure in knowing that I have succeeded in annoying you!), my use of such terminology stems from habit. You see, I was born and bred here in New South Wales, and am very much therefore a product of the New South Wales state education system. Not only did I complete all twelve years of my schooling in New South Wales, as well as six years at university, but since January 1992, I have also been a part of the New South Wales state high school education system in the capacity of English/History teacher. Whoever developed the Higher School Certificate English syllabus was clearly influenced by the works of Roland Barthes, and his idea of the ‘death of the author’. Whenever students are asked to compose an essay comparing two texts for example, they will always be required to explore how one has been ‘appropriated’ by the other. For example, students sitting for their HSC Advanced English exam might be required to ‘compose’ an essay exploring the various ways in which Amy Heckerling, in her 1995 film, ‘Clueless’, appropriated Jane Austen’s 1816 novel, ‘Emma’.

    As a HSC English teacher, it is my responsibility to familiarise my students with the terminology that they are expected to use when composing texts of their own. For example, students are expected to refer to authors and artists and film-makers, etc., as ‘composers’, and readers and viewers as ‘responders’. Novels, essays, articles, reports, films, paintings, etc., are ‘texts’, and students are expected to explore multiple ‘readings’ – so obviously the composers of the New South Wales HSC English syllabus were also influenced by the works of Derrida.

    I use such terminology very much out of habit, since it is the terminology I am expected to use at school five days a week when teaching. During my last year in China, I worked for the New South Wales Department of Education and Training, teaching English for Academic Purposes for the Northern Sydney Institute of TAFE, at a polytechnic in Shunde for the first half of the year, and at a university in Hangzhou for the second half of the year – again, I was expected to use such terminology when teaching the syllabus.

    The above terminology has consequently become very much a part of who I am; they are the linguistic tools that I use to help me make sense of the world, that I use to help shape meaning with. As I experience the world, I read it, usually in multiple ways. As the Buddha said, ‘with our thoughts, we make the world.’ Sartre of course, said the same thing – this simple idea provides the very basis of his theory of existentialism. Whenever we ‘make the world’, we must so through our use of language. It doesn’t really matter what language one uses, so long as that language enables one to satisfactorily articulate for oneself, the world as one experiences it. Being able to share one’s ‘reading’ of the world is also important, I agree, but language is not a static device, but something that is always being contested and (re)invented.

    What does it really matter then, whether or not I choose to use the word ‘discourse’ or the word ‘essay’ or for that matter, the word ‘reading’? These three words can be used as synonyms. So what? Should synonyms not exist? Should there only be, for example, one word in the Englush language to describe the emotion of happiness? Should all synonyms for the word ‘happiness’ be frowned upon? Surely, in the interests of being creative, one should be encouraged to use whatever jargon one feels comfortable with, to be an individual, if you like.

    2. Ned, you write: ‘Mark, could you please clarify what part of the West’s “past” you (and Mackerras) are talking about?’

    – Mackerras is simply noting that Western images of China have always reflected the interests of the main authority of the day. He does indeed begin with Roman times, when China first began trading with Europeans during the first century BC. During this period, European images were generally very favourable towards China – feelings that reflected their keen willingness to conduct trade.

    3. Whose ‘regime of truth’ is Mackerras referring to? you ask.

    – Mackerras explicity answers your question on page 180 of his book, when he asks, ‘Is it sensible to speak of a “regime of truth”?’ To some extent, he goes on to say, such a regime today does exist, ‘but it is quite different in nature from that found at other times. Its source is only partly within the government and rests mainly with vocal groups within society that are preoccupied with particular issues and have the ways and means to project their views and exert an influence on society out of proportion to their size.’ (p.180) Here, I assume, he is referring to human rights organisations like Amnesty International, as well as the support groups of the Tibetans in Exile and of the Falan Gong, etc. – all of which have huge budgets, some enjoying funding from government sources, especially in the United States.

    However, Mackerras also makes the point that ‘the rapid rise of China’s economy in the 1980s and 1990s gave many influential people in the United States grounds for fearing that China may eventually surpass them in terms of world influence. In other words, while the United States and other Western countries may wish for good general relations with China, in particular in economic terms, they may not be too keen to assist in China’s rise. In this sense, it is hardly in the interests of the West to present a very favourable set of images about China.’ (pp.180-181)

    So while public opinion (which is shaped partly by the media activities of human rights groups, etc.) no doubt affect American and European foreign policy to some extent, the impact of public opinion, as Mackerras argues, ‘is not decisive.’ The American government, says Mackerras, ‘has only to feed information into a giant international mass media machine to put its own views over to the Western world.’ (p.183) Here, we can see that the long-term national economic interests of America and the European states compliment the discourse pushed by human rights organisations. By branding China in very negative terms, using human rights issues as their weapon, countries like the United States ‘make it more difficult for China to pursuade others to join it in pursuing policies that serve China’s interests,’ as Randall Peerenboom observes in his book, ‘China Modernizes’. (p.178)

    There are, of course, some industries in the West that try to combat this ‘regime of truth’ by pushing a more positive image of China – those industries that benefit from trade with China, or that are keen to break into the China market. Their discourse, however, tends to be drowned out by the more negative one, which happens to be backed by more players.

    4. Ned, you write: ‘Please explain the reasons, either deductive and/or inductive, for your premise that China’s – or any country’s – “level of economic development” must or should be assumed to condition any “human rights situation”.’

    – Empirical studies have repeatedly demonstrated a very clear link between economic development and human rights – both collective and individual. See for example, the conclusion drawn by William Meyer, in his 1996 study, titled ‘Human Rights and MNCs: Theory Verses Quantitative Analysis’, published in Human Rights Quarterly, Volume 18, p.368. His study found that GNP is the biggest contributor to civil, political, social and economic rights.

    Likewise, Geert Hofstede, in his 2001 study titled ‘Cluture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviours, Institutions and Organisations Across Nations’, found that wealth was the main factor affecting rights compliance.

    Neil Mitchell and James McCormick, in their 1988 study titled ‘Economic and Political Explanations of Human Rights Violations’, published in World Politics, Volume 40, also identified higher levels of economic well-being with better human rights, including better physical integrity rights records.

    Clair Apodaca’s 1998 study, titled ‘Measuring Women’s Economic and Social Rights Achievement’, published in Human Rights Quarterly, Volume 20, again, found that higher GDP was associated with better performance on women’s rights.

    The United Nations Human Development Index, which measures the performance of 177 countries across a wide range of indicators, also shows a very strong correlation between wealth and indicators of well-being, including life-expectancy, infant mortality and literacy – all collective, macro-level human rights.

    There are many more such studies that show a clear link between a country’s level of economic development and its performance on human rights indicators.

    Ned, I hope that I have adequately addressed all of your questions. The text that I invited you to comment on, however, was not the introduction to my website, but rather, the incomplete text titled ‘Chinese governance and society’. I appreciate your questions though, and will later add the research I just listed in answer to the question directly above to my text on ‘Chinese governance and society’, as I think this point about the link between a country’s level of economic development and human rights does require some clarification, as you point out, with its empirical grounding made clear.

    Best regards,
    Mark Anthony Jones

  3. Ned Kelly says:

    LATTE? Why the hell are you drinking coffee on a weekend morning? What kind of Australian are you?

    “Beer: It’s not just for breakfast anymore.”

    I’ll read your responses in detail in the next few days, thanks.

  4. Brenda says:

    ….”Here, we can see that the long-term national economic interests of America and the European states compliment the discourse pushed by human rights organisations. By branding China in very negative terms, using human rights issues as their weapon, countries like the United States make it more difficult for China to pursuade others to join it in pursuing policies that serve China’s interests”….

    This is SOOOOOO true! Certainly that’s my strong impression of the media here in Vancouver.

  5. justrecently says:

    The world is now waiting for youtube version of “Discourse is discourse”. Is it coming?

    I’d like to comment on some of your lines, MAJ. Going to be a bit choosy while doing it, because it’s such a long and unfamiliar — discourse.

    1. quote
    “Whenever we ‘make the world’, we must so through our use of language.”
    /
    “Here, I assume, (Mackerras) is referring to human rights organisations like Amnesty International, as well as the support groups of the Tibetans in Exile and of the Falan Gong, etc. – all of which have huge budgets, some enjoying funding from government sources, especially in the United States.”

    1. my take
    Neither human rights organisations nor the CCP are only making the world through use of their language alone, although the CCP is certainly busier in coining worldview terms than most, if not all other existing governments. But once words fail, both have some action tools as well.

    2. quote
    “The American government, says Mackerras, ‘has only to feed information into a giant international mass media machine to put its own views over to the Western world.’ (p.183) Here, we can see that the long-term national economic interests of America and the European states compliment the discourse pushed by human rights organisations.”

    2. my take
    News needs to sell. There are definitely limits on what the American government can “feed” into the mass media. They can’t make all taxi drivers discuss Lei Feng’s good-heartedness and losing money during this.

    3. quote
    “There are, of course, some industries in the West that try to combat this ‘regime of truth’ by pushing a more positive image of China – those industries that benefit from trade with China, or that are keen to break into the China market. Their discourse, however, tends to be drowned out by the more negative one, which happens to be backed by more players.”

    3. my take
    Yes – because they sell better. I get the impression that you underestimate how decisive “the impact of public opinion, although not decisive” is, after all.

    4. quote
    “- Empirical studies have repeatedly demonstrated a very clear link between economic development and human rights – both collective and individual. See for example, the conclusion drawn by William Meyer, in his 1996 study, titled ‘Human Rights and MNCs: Theory Verses Quantitative Analysis’, published in Human Rights Quarterly, Volume 18, p.368. His study found that GNP is the biggest contributor to civil, political, social and economic rights.”

    4. my take
    I have no objections against this link, as long as it is used to explain something, not to justify every individual or state behavior. Once it is used as a justification, people stop striving for improvement. I’m sure that not every offense against human rights in China can be explained with a generally low living standard – and many can be explained with the fact that some Chinese individual incomes and powers are in fact very developed, compared to those of their victims. Within the Chinese-Western discourse, whenever China points out how civilised it is, and how barbarian and lawlessly the West is acting, the human rights debate arises from something else than mere “long-term national economic interests”. That is a pretty natural consequence, and if there is a interest-based logic in it, it is much older and more elementary than anything from Western China cognition.

  6. MAJ says:

    Justrecently – thanks for your input. The reason why those countries with low levels of economic development also perform the most poorly on human rights indicators, is because they lack the institutions necessary to enhance and to protect human rights. On the macro-level, they simply are unable to satisfy adequatley the basic needs of the majority of citizens in the areas of housing, literacy, education in general, healthcare, etc., – all of which are important human rights. Such countries also lack well developed legal systems which protect individual citizens against human rights violations, with law enforcement agencies that are usually poorly trained and ignorant of human rights issues, ad infinitum. Hence there is as strong link between economic development and human rights performance.

    China currently falls in the middle-income range, and outperforms most other countries in its range on most indicators of human rights, yet China is very often made out to be a far worse violator of human rights than it actually is. Little recognition is ever given to its human rights achievements, which in many areas have been quite impressive.

    All the best,
    MAJ

  7. Ned Kelly says:

    Mark, in coming days Catherine and I will do a series of posts addressing each of your essays (yes I said essays, take THAT!)

  8. MAJ says:

    I look forward to your critical comments. What essays are you referring to though? The supplementary essay on the http://www.flowingwatersneverstale.com site? Chapter three of my book, also on that site. Or chapter six of my book, on the ChinaDiscourse.synthasite.com site? The essay on Chinese governance and society, also on the China Discourse site, I assume will be one of the essays you are referring to, right? Keep in mind, that that particular essay is incomplete, but I will be for your criticisms before re-working it, and before attempting to complete it.

    Best regards,
    MAJ

  9. MAJ says:

    Incidentally, I had breakfast with some friends of mine at a cafe in Leichhardt this morning, and so afterwards I wandered into a nearby bookstore, where I came across a new book, just published, titled “China: the truth about its human rights record” written by a Senior Columinist on the South China Morning Post, Frank Ting. The book is endorsed by Minky Worden, of Human Rights Watch. I of course bought a copy, since I will no doubt be re-working what I have written of my essay so far – my essay on Chinese governance and society – and since one whole chapter will be looking at the issue of “media freedom”, which will be the title of section 5 of my essay. Ching’s book also contains a chapter on religious freedom in China.

    As you might expect from a book endoresed by Human Rights Watch, Ching is very critical of the human rights situation in today’s China, although on page 14, he acknowledges that “things are getting better” in respect to human right in China, and in his conclusion, on page 100, he says that “The Party deserves credit for the more relaxed political environment of today. The people now live and act with a dignity that they did not know only a decade or two ago. That is something to celebrate and a step forward in the move towards greater human rights.”

    Regards,
    MAJ

  10. MAJ says:

    Oh, and one more thing, as it relates to one of your earlier questions, which I have already address, and that is the one on the link between economic development and human rights. Frank Ching, after discussing literacy levels, etc., concludes: “The link between economic development – that is, economic rights – and political rights should be obvious.” (p.12)

    MAJ

  11. MAJ says:

    P.S. So sorry about all of my typing errors above. And the author of the new book I refer to is named Frank Ching, not Frank Ting, as I originally (mis)typed when first mentioning his name.

    MAJ

  12. Ned Kelly says:

    Yeah, for the time being we’ll be looking at the stuff on “China Discourse”.

    Don’t worry too much about typing errors. I due tgh smame thing aftet to much wisky.

  13. kabuki-san says:

    MAJ says “China currently falls in the middle-income range, and outperforms most other countries in its range on most indicators of human rights, yet China is very often made out to be a far worse violator of human rights than it actually is. Little recognition is ever given to its human rights achievements, which in many areas have been quite impressive.”

    So just because China is ONLY half rich, does that excuse the widespread systematic use of torture against Tibetan monks, Falan Gong practitioners, and other peace-loving citizens, like China’s brave and fearless human rights lawyers? Just because China has made some human rights achievements, does mean the human rights situation there is good.

    Here in Japan, the local media is also very critical of China’s human rights situation. Does Japan give China such negative publicity because it wants to slow down or limit China’s economic growth or influence in the world? I think not, since China is Japan’s biggest trading partner. If China falls, the impact on Japan will be enormous.

    It is instead the Chinese media, mouthpieces of the CCP, that specializes in producing negative publicity, which it directs against Japan, always exaggerating the seriousness of the so-called Nanking “massacre” and exaggerating the level of atrocities that took place during Japan’s civilizing mission to the mainland.

    You should focus your criticism of Chinese media, not Western media. Then you’ll understand China’s true aim and ambition.

  14. greg says:

    I have to agree with everything MAJ says here. I have yet to buy his book, but I intend to. I have read his China Disocurse though, and I’m very impressed. Kabuki-san, I just think you’re so wrong. You have misread MAJ, and your opinion about the Nanjing Massacre being exaggerated and about Japan being somehow justified in invading and occupying China is just outrageous. I guess you’re a Holocaust denier too, right?

    MAJ doesn’t deny that human rights problems in China exist, or that they’re serious. Go back and read what he says more carefully and you will see. He just puts it all into perspective, showing that China isn’t doing as badly as what it is often made out to be. \

    You, on the other hand, gloss over Japan’s imperialist invasion and occupation, with all the horrors it brought, describing it as a “civilizing mission”. Unbelievable!

  15. Ned Kelly says:

    Greg, welcome! And Catherine and I send you a “virtual” pint of Australian beer! (We “virtually” send you a pint of Tasmanian lager!)

    But please clarify, when you say, “You, on the other hand, gloss over Japan’s imperialist invasion and occupation” – well, WHOM are you addressing specifically? Because neither Catherine nor I speak or think that way – and Catherine’s Chinese grandparents lived through the Japanese invasion and occupation of China. So, please, be more clear about whom you’re addressing.

  16. Ned Kelly says:

    PS, “Greg” sounds, well, “familiar” to us. 😉 But he makes some good points, and so his contribution is welcome here.

  17. HKSojourner says:

    MAJ sent me an email directing me here. For months I have sheathed my sword, unbloodied, and refrained from plunging into either discourses or meta-narratives or, for that matter, deconstructive texts, on China.

    I have just imbibed a number of large cans of Skol lager and watched the first half of “My Private Idaho”, and will soon embark on a long journey to Bavaria where I shall reside for days in the shadow of the phantasial castle of mad King Ludwig. Thus, my mind is strange and unsettled.

    On my return. if debate still rages, and cudgels be bloodied, I shall plunge into the fray and demonstate, conclusively, why I feel my friend, MAJ, (nice chap though he be), is wrong, indubitably and vaingloriously wrong.

  18. Sojourner – “Vaingloriously” wrong? I am vain, I know.

    I, equally, look forward to demonstrating why my position a is valid one.

    Hope you enjoy your sojourn in Bavaria, and I look forward to a future debate.

    Greg – thanks for your solidarity. You need to update the email address that you have used on your website to link to my site. The address that you use was hijacked years ago and subverted into a paradoy site. Whoever ran that site has since linked it to a porn site. So when I visited your site just now, and I clicked on the link you provide to my site, that’s where it took me to.

    Kabuki-san – thanks fior your input, but I think your views are misguided.

    Regards,
    MAJ

  19. Adriana says:

    MAJ, your education was deplorable if you are not capable of writing in plain English.

    As it is, I have a basic distrust – inculcated by George Orwell – on those who cannot use simple language to discuss things like human rights. My antenna goes up at what I perceive an attempt to sell something unpalatable as good.

    But I am willing to give you a chance.

  20. Adriana – with all due respect, I think I do write in plain English. If you read my piece on Shenzhen – city of kitsch, or my essay on Chinese governance and society, you will see that I have articulated my ideas in clear simple English, with very little use of specialised jargon. Surely the words “discourse” and “text” are clear enough for most people to understand? This suggestion that I somehow over-use postmodern jargon is overstated, in my opinion.

  21. Ned Kelly says:

    Adriana, Mark is good people. In his case I attribute his Po-Mo habit to personal eccentricity rather than fashionable opportunism.

  22. justrecently says:

    Lots of announcements… but is there really a BIG DEBATE looming?
    HKSojourner: there is some internet access in Bavaria, too. Let the late feudal king and his silly building inspire you!

  23. Ned – thanks for your endorsement. I do think, however, that my postmodern “habit” is somewhat overstated.

    MAJ

  24. Ned Kelly says:

    In any case, it’s time to move on from the trivial question of MAJ’s writing style, and get into the content of what he’s published.

    Sojourner, don’t mention the war! http://youtube.com/watch?v=SO5WoLnOOlU

  25. Ned Kelly says:

    PS, Mark, we’ve approved your “test” comments from your site’s IP, so now you’re able to comment here from there.

  26. Thanks Ned. I just received an email from Sojourner, along with a few photos. He will be flying out from Hong Kong to Germany tomorrow, and then on to Britain, and will be away on holidays for a good month – so I doubt that he’ll be involving himself in any online debates with us until after he returns to Hong Kong.

  27. C.A. Yeung says:

    After careful deliberation, Ned and I have decided to delete a comment by someone called “seadocilla”, due to our concern about the use of abusive language against another commenter. In essence, “seadocilla” believes that Japan’s poor human rights record has nullified any legitimate criticism that it makes against human rights abuses in China. I believe that this is an interesting proposition and is one that deserves a debate. Unfortunately “seadocilla” is unable to provide some logical arguments to substantiate his/her claim. If “seadocilla” is interested in taking this discussion further, I would appreciate if he/she could post another comment to explain his/her position, without resorting to the use of abusive language. It’s OK if you post in Chinese. I’ll be able to translate or at least provide a summary. But it’s not OK if you use the F word. And that’s the bottom line.

  28. Dear Catherine,

    While I don’t know what seadocilla’s arguments are exactly, I do myself have a position on this issue.

    If a government, acting on behalf of a nation state, or, say a non-government organisation speaking on behalf of the people of a nation state, launches into criticisms of the human rights performance of another nation state, then they really ought to (a) be certain that their criticisms are fair and balanced, and are empirically verifiable, lest they lose credibility, and (b) that the nation state in whose name they are claiming to represent, itself, has a very impressive human rights record – otherwise their moral authority to speak out and to criticise on behalf of that nation state will be significantly lessened, and harder for the state being criticised to take seriously.

    When an individual (or group of individuals) speaks out against the human rights performance of another state though – so long as they do so not in the name of the nation state to which they have citizenship, but in their own name – then it matters not whether the nation state to which they have citizenship has a good or bad human rights record. For example, an individual can legitimately claim the moral authority to attack human rights abuses anywhere and everywhere they occur, so long as they are fair, balanced and consistent in their criticisms. The same applies to non-governmental organisations like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International. Amnesty International for example, in 1998, described torture as being “widespread and systematic” in China, but in the same year it also described torture as being “widespread and systematic” in the United States.(see Amnesty International’s 1998 report titled “United States of America: Rights for All”, pp.17, 26 and 43.) The credibility of such organisations though, will, in the long-term, only be maintained so long as they compare the human rights performances of different nation states fairly and objectively, using only data that is empirically verifiable. Once organisations like Amnesty start accepting huge amounts of funding by the governments of particular nation states, their comparisions are likely to become skewed and unfair, and their reports subverted into political tools. The Political Terror Scale, which Amnesty now produces jointly with the US State Department for example, is clearly designed to damage the international reputation of China, with their level 4 ranking elevating China to a position worse than both Sudan and North Korea, and putting it on a level with Pakistan, Russia, India, Indonesia and Nigeria. A fairer, more balanced, more realistic assessment, as Randall Peerenboom has demonstrated, would place China on a level 3, alongside Malaysia and South Korea. How is it, I wonder, that both North and South Korea are designated level 3 on the scale? Strange, since the former is supposed to be among the world’s “evil empires’.

    Individuals like you and I and Ned of course, have every right to criticise China’s human rights performance, despite what our governments are doing in places like Iraq. Our moral authority to do so stems from our consistent anger and expression of protest against all human rights violations, including those that are committed by our own governments. The minute we start criticising China on behalf of “our” nation though, our moral authority plummets, and that’s because, as the old saying goes, “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” In order to obtain the power of legitimacy, one must be careful to always avoid hypocrisy.

    Kind regards,
    MAJ

  29. Sorry – let me clarify a point I was trying to make above: North Korea is meant to be part of the “axis of evil” and so China is deliberately ranked as having more widespread and serious human rights problems than North Korea in order to make it look far worse than it actually is. The Political Terror Scale exists as a political tool to brand China as negatively as possible, with the intent of limiting its general influence on the world’s political and economic stage. Amnesty International’s credibility, in the eyes of many scholars at least, has consequently fallen.

    MAJ

  30. One more thing I should have mentioned: I was referring to the 2002 Political Terror Scale in my comments above. North Korea has since been given a level 4, where China remains – so they are now ranked roughly on a par. Burma, Thailand, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Algeria, Philippines, Brazil and Israel are all level 4 along with China, and many other countries, as of the 2006 PTS (the latest available). Most level 4 countries, especially if they are democracies, are never sanctioned in the UN for human rights violations, but China is very often singled out for harsh criticism. Almost always, those countries that raise such criticisms in the UN are among China’s main economic competitors from the developed world, in particular the United States.

    MAJ

  31. Pingback: In memory of Mark Anthony Jones « Under the Jacaranda Tree

  32. Pingback: In memory of Mark Anthony Jones | Bestel uit china

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s