Enlightening Jones’ “China Discourse”

The Pacifist William Penns Treaty With The Indians

The Pacifist William Penn's Treaty With The Indians

Now I’ve taken a look at one of Mark Anthony Jones’ essays on his new “China Discourse” site, titled, “Chinese Governance and Society”.

I won’t parse and fisk the entire article line by line. I do agree with many of Mark’s observations, even if not with his general approach to the topic. But my main criticism is, “Mark, I think you – along with some whom you criticize in this article –overstate the equation of “The West” (especially the Anglosphere, including America) with the Enlightenment. How much does the Enlightenment REALLY inform the civic, popular and political cultures of the West, or of the Anglosphere, or even more specifically of America?”

Very little, I think, and the American case is one of the most complex, and not quite what it seems on the surface. And as I (even as an Australian bandit) have considerable personal experience and expertise in American culture and history, I’d like to focus on that detail and “enlighten” Mark a bit:

Mark, you wrote:

Without (certain kinds of counterbalances), Reason itself simply becomes a question of power: the object of Enlightenment knowledge simply subjects the Other to itself. When, for example, English farmers occupied Native American lands upon arrival at Plymouth, they stripped away from Nature its aura of mystery, the sacredness with which Native Americans invested in it – values which we today could benefit greatly from, as many of today’s environmental scientists now argue.

My responses:

1. First you need to learn, or to acknowledge, that most of America’s first colonial settlers from England (and later from Scotland and Ulster in the 1700s) were not Puritans. The Puritans settled mostly in the far Northeast, collectively called “New England” – today those are all the states northeast of New York. (New York is not part of it.) The Puritans left a profound cultural stamp upon New England, but NOT upon the other two thirds of the original 13 English-American colonies. The first English settlement in America was in Virginia in 1607, and THEY were ANTI-Puritan! The nickname for Virginia (named after Queen Elizabeth, the so-called “Virgin” Queen) is “Old Dominion”, because Virginia was a haven for Royalists/Cavaliers during the English Civil War. The same is true of North and South Carolina (both founded in 1661), both Royalist, mostly Anglican and ANTI-Puritan settlers!

So, most of America’s “Old South” was settled by ANTI-Puritans. Thus, the American Civil War was, in many ways, a reprise of the English Civil War, fought between heirs of the Puritans (literally “the Yankees”) and the Cavaliers (the South).

But then we have the colonies in between. These were New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. They’re more complex. They weren’t settled so much by Cavaliers, but none of them were Puritan.

Let’s take them from North to South. New York was not settled by English, but by the Dutch. It used to be called “New Amsterdam” until England took it from Holland (and the local Dutch settlers preferred English rule!) Thus, the founding culture of New York was Dutch, VERY commercial, and yes Calvinist but NOT Puritan. And as New York was (and remains) America’s commercial centre, it is perhaps the most –perhaps the ONLY – truly “Enlightenment” culture in America. NOT New England –because (see below) the Puritans were ANTI-Enlightenment!

New Jersey was a marginal, sparsely settled colony/state until relatively recently. It was never Puritan. It made little impact upon American culture, except as a virtual “suburb” of other settlements of New York and Pennsylvania. So let’s look at Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania was founded by a QUAKER named William Penn. He barely escaped being arrested on the high seas by the Governor of Puritan Massachusetts – because the Puritans called the Quakers “heretics”. The Governor of Massachusetts wanted to sell Penn and his Quaker settlers into slavery in Barbados. And there was very little “Enlightenment” about Penn; he was the son of a Cavalier, and a romantic who revered nature, and he made the one and only HONEST, peaceful deal with the local Indians, in all American history. In sum, the Quaker influence upon Pennsylvania (and adjacent Delware) made it a profoundly anti-Puritan AND considerably anti-Enlightenment colony.

And then Maryland was founded as a haven for English Catholics; it was named after the Catholic Saint Mary. Not Puritan at all, to say the least.

So, Mark, the only American colonies which were founded on anything like “Enlightenment” principles were New York and, to a lesser extent, Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania because of the great intellectual and religious tolerance of Quakers. But even then, it’s a bit anachronistic to say they were founded by believers in “the Enlightenment”, because the Enlightenment began long after those colonies were founded. But those two colonies, New York and Pennsylvania, were the most hospitable to the Enlightenment – as New England and the South were not.

2. Your mention of America’s first Puritan settlers (Massachusetts, 1620) is in context of reference to the Enlightenment. But the Puritan settlers of New England had little or nothing to do with the Enlightenment. Remember the Salem Witch Trials of 1692? The people of New England were still hanging “witches” in 1692.The English-American Puritans, AND the Cavaliers of the Old South, were (and in the South, many still are) holdovers from the Middle Ages. Most people in the world (including most Americans) do not understand that America’s English settlement began at the very end (the end cusp) of the Middle Ages. The 1600s remained very medieval in many ways – remember the trial of Galileo. Most of America’s first settlers thought in very medieval ways – as most Americans still do today (even though they don’t realize it!)

Now, yes, the LEADERS of America’s “revolution” (as Americans call it, otherwise called the War of Independence) WERE informed by the Enlightenment, and so was America’s Constitution (1787). But that was over 150 years after the English settlement of America began at the end of the Middle Ages. Consequently, America is a hybrid of superficially Enlightenment Age FORMS of politics, superficially overlaying a culture which remains, in many ways, a fossil of the Middle Ages.

And to restate my point simply: America’s first English settlers were mostly antipathetic – and later their heirs were, and remain, hostile – to the Enlightenment, even though their Constitution is informed by the Enlightenment.

And one more detail, about your assumption that the Native Americans revered nature in ways the English settlers did not: That’s VERY contestable. (And before I go on, please remember that Catherine and I are both passionate environmentalists.) The stupid eco-fantasy movie, “Dances With Wolves” (1990) is bullshit. When the Indians of the Great Plains hunted buffalo, they were as ecologically destructive as Dick Cheney, insofar as their technology enabled them to be. They would drive a whole herd of buffalo over a cliff, then take one or two buffalo for food, and leave the rest to rot. And most of the “Native American” civilizations which perished BEFORE any Whites arrived, perished because they destroyed their own environments.

Yes, many American Indians (which they prefer to be called, by the way, as “Native American” literally includes native Whites and Blacks etc!) did revere nature. Many did, and many others didn’t. The same goes for the English settlers and their descendants – because Human Nature really is universal, don’t you agree? 😉

But that’s not my main point. My main point is that the Enlightenment is only one small aspect of America, a very superficial one which informs its Constitution considerably, but informs its culture very little.

And one more thing: As Marx was a representative PAR EXCELLENCE of the Enlightenment, isn’t the Enlightenment already part and parcel of China’s political and cultural condition, both for good and ill? And hasn’t the Enlightenment already done a lot of harm to China? I vastly prefer the Romantic Age over the Enlightenment, and I think China would be better off finding its own path through its own kind of “romantic counterrevolution” against the Enlightenment, instead of trying even harder to emulate Western Enlightenment ideas which have done so much harm to the West, and to China.

Let China find its own path, not just “out of” the mess of China’s troubled past, but also TOWARD a renewal of China’s ancient heritage, China’s romance, China’s heart. Because, you know (and I forget who said this – maybe it was Kierkegaard?), “the heart has reasons which Reason cannot tell.”

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41 Responses to Enlightening Jones’ “China Discourse”

  1. justrecently says:

    I might not make a lot of comments on this topic, because I never read and thought a lot about it. But I must say that I’m glad that I didn’t live in the age of romanticism myself. There are still more than enough remnants of it left around here in Central Europe, and I think the pure version of it would have killed my nerves. The good thing is that the romanticists back then threw themselves over cliffs like herds of buffalo. So there were never too many of them. (Not targeted at Catherine and you, Ned.)

  2. lirelou says:

    Small point on North Carolina. The majority of early settlers were Scots, both Presbyterian and Highland Catholics. Indeed, north Carolina raised two Highland Regiments to fight for the King during the Revolution, and when it was over, they had to emigrate to Nova Scotia. Among its early settlers was Flora MacDonald, who’d hid Bonnie Prince Charlie. She lived in Campbelltown, renamed Fayetteville after a post-revolutionary visit by the Marquis of that name. The one Confederate General the town produced was a Jamie MacPherson. Allegedly, the Scots and Scots-Irish gave the state a decidedly un-patrician character, unlike South Carolina, where Huguenot immigration was well represented. Thus North Carolina produced the likes of Daniel Boone, and South Carolina Francis Marion. By the way, North Carolina has the highest percentage of Native Americans east of the Mississippi river, with the majority being Cherokee, inhabiting a corner of western North Carolina around a town of the same name. North Carolina’s Cherokees have the distinction of NOT being a reservation. Also, there is a Native American/White/Black indigenous group known as the Lumbees, who some beliebe may be hybrid descendants of the Roanoak’s “lost colony”. In any event, many Lumbees carry good old English names like Oxendine and Faircloth.

  3. Ned – I don’t have a great deal of time today, unfortunately, and it most likely won’t be until next weekend that I will be able to sit down and to sink my teeth more deeply into what you have just written. For now though, allow me to make just a few comments in the way of a quick response.

    Firstly, you concluded your above text with the words: “Let China find its own path, not just “out of” the mess of China’s troubled past, but also TOWARD a renewal of China’s ancient heritage, China’s romance, China’s heart. Because, you know (and I forget who said this – maybe it was Kierkegaard?), “the heart has reasons which Reason cannot tell.”

    I like this paragraph, and I agree entirely with your sentiment here.

    Thanks for the history lesson Ned. I appreciate your knowledge, and I take your point about the Enlightenment having an uneven level of influence across America. My discourse still stands though, I think. Or should I say instead, that I stand by my discourse still? At any rate, my argument echoes that of John Gray – there is TODAY, a neo-Enlightenment movement, that clutches to at least some of the ideas and institutional developments of the Enlightenment, using them as tools with which to criticise China’s human rights performance. Other forces throughout the Western world have also, in recent times, invoked Enlightenment discourse (sometimes via Ayn Rand) to justify the invasion and occupation of foreign territories. No matter how superficially held and revered by Americans, and Europeans too for that matter, the “superiority” of Enlightenment ideas and institutions are nevertheless invoked when convenient to do so – often on behalf of entire nation states!

    In the case of China-critics, Will Hutton in particular, discusses the Enlightenment project all the way through his book, drawing in particular on the works of Habermas. John Lee also hails Western Enlightenment institutions as superior and necessay for the rest of the world to emulate, and John Pomfret, likewise, does the same. There are numerous others too. It’s a common theme over on the Peking Duck, and although very few of them actually speak explicitly of the Enlightenment, they identify China’s problems as the result of not having well developed Enlightenment institutions.

    Ned, I will be discussing this in far more detail when I write up the next three parts to my essay: on the rule of law, media freedom and the democracy question, so perhaps what I have written so far will become more clear once I’ve completed the task.

    Is human nature universal? At certain levels, no doubt yes.

    Is the Enlightenment already part and parcel of the Chinese political, social and cultural condition? Yes, most definitely – something I intend to discuss in more detail in my next three sections. I disagree with Gray when he says that China’s rapid modernisation and economic development has managed to occur in the absence of Enlightenment institutions – I say that in my Introduction. What came before the reform era was also influenced, in ways both positive and negative, by the European Enlightenment: Maosim drew heavily from Marxism (an embodiment of Enlightenment discourse) and during the Republican and Qing periods before that, European Enlightenment discourse again, had some significant influence on the Chinese, especially in terms of modernisation theory, and ideas on law and democracy, etc.

    All the best for now, and thanks again for engaging me in a discussion on my own discourse.


  4. greg says:

    Hey guys, a lot of what Mao did was pretty good too. Free education, health care, good welfare for all. China was in Mao’s time the most egalitarian place in the world. Enlightnment ideas are worth pusuing still. Go read Mobo Gao’s book The Battle for China’s Past. It takes a really nice look at Mao’s rule and gives a more positive view of his policies. The problems in CHina now are the result of a capitalist counter revolution.

  5. Ned Kelly says:

    “Greg”, I was inclined to disapprove your comment (and no it’s not “censorship” if it’s on a private blog) on the grounds that China’s
    propaganda whores already have more than enough venues of their own to publish their lies and to brainwash and otherwise keep their own people ignorant, without our little blog becoming yet another platform for lies and rubbish.

    But then Catherine persuaded me to approve your comment, on the grounds that “its ignorance will speak for itself.”

    Just a few responses:

    1. Actually I give the Chinese Communists a lot of credit for improving many conditions in China post 1949, but Mao and the Communist Party are not identical, despite what the Party officially says for propagandistic purposes.

    2. “Free education”: I’ll give many good Chinese Communists some credit for that, especially during the 1950s, but Mao destroyed China’s education system after he took full reins of power.

    3. “Health care”: also ruined by Mao after 1966.

    4. “Good welfare for all” – a total lie, as Mao’s great famine demonstrated.

    5. “Most egalitarian place in the world” – another total lie. Under Mao the Party Princelings remained as privileged, if not more so, as China’s upper class were in the darkest of feudal times.

    6. “Mobo Gao’s book”: I’ve read the first chapter and it’s poorly written, sophomoric twaddle. And I’m not impressed by the ghastly spelling error on its first page. (Go find it yourself.)

    7. “Capitalist counter-revolution”: Capitalism no longer exists anywhere in the world, if in fact it ever did. But I do agree that China’s peculiarly Chinese simulation of a “free market” – or more specifically, its cult of consumerism – has done immense damage to the country and has created lamentable social injustice.
    But Maoism was never a remedy for social injustice; only a habit of truth can do that, and the Communist habit of lying (and of willful self-delusion and unreality) remains China’s main problem, one which is continuous with the era of Mao.

  6. Ned Kelly says:

    And Mark,

    First of all, I know you’re continuing to use the word “discourse” just to annoy me. 😉

    But otherwise your comment number 3 was eloquent.

    So now I want to point out something else: although it might be true that appeals to the Englightenment are being exploited as tools with which to criticise China, I think those are not the most effective tools in the Western toolbox. The Catholic Church is, for the most part, hostile to the Enlightenment, and vice versa. And wasn’t Pope John Paul’s 1979 visit to Poland, when his first words to the massive Polish audience were “be not afraid”, immensely more effective in bringing down the Soviet Empire than any “Enlightenment” theories or the words and deeds of their proponents?

  7. Ned – the Pope’s discourse may very well have the catalystic potential at times to bring down empires, as you say, and yes, Catholicism does oppose certain, if not many, aspects of the Enlightenment tradition. But does this in itself, detract from any of the arguments that I have presented in my incomplete essay?

    As for Mobo Gao’s book, I came across it only last week in one of my local bookshops here in Newtown, “Better Read Than Dead”. It retails here for $55. I guess I’m going to have to buy a copy now, so that I can enter your discussion with Greg.

    Few Chinese mainlanders today, in the developed eastern provinces at least, would welcome a return to Mao’s time – living standards are far better now, and the level of general freedom greater. Gao seems to be arguing that capitalism has, or is, taking away all the social benefits put in place under Mao’s reign, though I think that any reading of Maoist China that celebrates it as some kind of utopia or peasant paradise is misguided. It s generally accepted among hiistorians that China was, under Mao, the world’s one egalitarian states – I can agree with that – but the quality of all of this free education and health care was rather poor, to say the least. For starters, a large percentage of the country’s teachers and doctors were persecuted, many to death, during the Cultural Revolution years, leaving a serious vacuum of skilled talent. Literacy and numeracy levels may have risen, about surely the people of that time deserved more than just the right to read and write the basics. At any rate, for all its faults, China’s education system is way better now than it ever has been at any time in the country’s very long past – state investment may have fallen as a percentage of GDP, but private investment has increased enormously, resulting in expensive, but usually well-equipped schools, universities, etc. There are still many basic facilities in operation, in remote rural aras – I know, I done volunteer teaching in a few such places while on my travels – but most schools and universities in eastern provinces are better equipped than most similar such institutions in countries like Australia, the United States and Britain. The teaching pedagogy in today’s China is also improving – something I touch on briefly in my book.

    Anyhow, I shall buy Gao’s book sometime soon. I came across another book that might excite you Greg – about the Cultural Revolution – it argues that the period, rather than being creatively stifled, was one that produced tremendous creativity. I can’t remember the name of the author or the title of the book, but Dymocks at Broadway have a copy. Or are you still in China?

    Best regards to you both,

    P.S. Catherine has been rather silent of late…

  8. lirelou says:

    I wonder how China’s educational system stacks up to Taiwan’s? Or more to the point, could China have gotten to where she is headed today under Chiang Kai-shek rather than Mao? And, could they have gotten there sooner if the East had not become Red? Useless musings, but the world still has two Chinese systems of government in existence.

  9. Firstly, I’m very sorry about all of the careless typing errors I made in my above comment – I was in a hurry, as I was about to rush off to work.

    Lirelou – your question is an interesting one. Could China have gotten to where it is today sooner had it not become Red? While this is certainly a debatable question, I personally doubt it. The Nationalists were too closely allied with warlords and the privileged landed classes to have been able to have made too many educational reforms of the kind that would have significantly benefited the peasantry on any real scale. For all of his faults, Mao was able to bring about sufficient levels of stability to enable his successors to build on – as Will Hutton has argued in his book, “The Writing on the Wall”. I doubt whether the Nationalists would have been as successful, since they were not only just as highly corrupt as the CCP, but also because they relied too heavily on the support of the privileged minority, as opposed to the underprivileged majority. Unifying the nation would have been a much greater challenge I think, for the Nationalists – who struggled to maintain unity even within their own party.

    Taiwan can’t be compared to the mainland, which is far bigger, not only in area, but also in terms of population size and the scope of its ethnic diversity. Holding it together has always been a tremendous challenge, and no doubt always will be.


  10. Ned Kelly says:

    @ Mark, “P.S. Catherine has been rather silent of late…”

    That’s because she found the key to my liquor cabinet and the secret drawer where I hide the cannabis. She’s been passed out on the floor for the past three days. But in a way it makes it easier for me to discourse with her.


  11. Ned – I figured you two were quite close, ideologically at least, but I didn’t realise that you were THAT close! – that your intercourse takes the form of “discourse”, carried out during those quiet, uninterrupted moments when she is lying “passed out on the floor”.

  12. greg says:

    MAJ, I’m holidaying in the UK at the moment, visiting relos. Be good if you could get the name of that book you mentioned. I kinda half agree with your views about Mao’s China, but many Chinese specially from rural areas, are now worse off under capitalism, and welfare payments like pensions are now being stolen by local officials so that they have money to invest in business ventures, and taxes have been too high as local governments try to raise enough money to pay for infrastructure developments to aid and to attract big industries. So inequality has increased, and so on. None of this sort of thing happened under the Chairman’s careful watch.

    Ned, what I’m saying aren’t “lies” and I’m not trying to brainwash you either, just expressing my views. No need to be so aggressive. If you can’t tolerate views that you disagree with, then why invite readers to comment here? Ban me if you want to. I don’t leave comments very often here anyway.

  13. C.A. Yeung says:

    I won’t hold any grudges against Ned for inventing a story about me turning into a pothead. This is just another way for him to express his affection for me – by putting me in the same category as his heroes William Shakespeare and George Washington, both of whom were known for their “recreational” use of weeds.

    Mark, you are right about me being very quiet. I just want to wait and see what you are up to before responding. I’m just not sure whether I should take you seriously. I know for a fact that you are a bit of a Chinaphile, very similar to good old Colin Mackerras. But Mackerras is never an apologist. He exercises extreme caution when it comes to criticising the Chinese Government. And he does that for a very good reason – he doesn’t want to be banned from visiting China. So I find it rather disturbing that you keep citing Mackerras as if he is a great defender of Communist rule in China. Have you checked with him to make sure that he agrees with you?

    Colin Mackerras is not the only person whose view you have misrepresented. The way you quoted John Gray’s comment about a so-called “fundamentalist revival of European Enlightenment” demonstrates that you have very little understanding of this political satirist, his sceptical perspective and his unusual sense of humour.

    I also find it difficult to take your argument seriously when your targets of refutation are just a bunch of journalists, whom you called “main advocates of a movement”. Is this your way of undermining your opponents? Or are you struggling to justify your own position?

    As for your hero Randall Pereemboom, with due respect, did you care to check his background? If I were currently a counsel for one of China’s leading foreign investment firms and a CIETAC arbitrator – as Pereemboom is – I would have no problem of working out which side my bread is buttered. In short, I will not consider Pereemboom’s research as independent and unbiased.

    In our dealings with Chinese government officials, Ned and I learnt a valuable lesson: the CCP really doesn’t give one iota whether or not foreigners criticise China for its human rights records, as long as we don’t spill the bean and raise questions about the so-called economic miracle. Hack professionals and apologists (such as the likes of TPD and CLB) know the rule well and act accordingly. Mark, it looks as if you’ve gone out of your way to defend the undefendable. Are you serious? Or are you just taking the piss?

  14. Dear Catherine,

    I take issue with your claim that I have misread both the views of Mackerras and Gray, and your argument that Peerenboom must somehow be biased is also one that I dispute. He, along with the sociologist Doug Guthrie, have produced empirically-based studies that are indeed critical, but fair and sober.

    John Gray’s works I have been following closely for over fifteen years now. I know exactly how he feels about China – he’s normally very explicit on this issue of China.

    I have never claimed that Colin Mackerras endorses communist rule in China. He takes a fair and balanced position, one that is complex and nuanced. I only quote him once, and I certainly haven’t misused him. I have most of his books with me here, and so I am well aware of his attitudes towards Chines rule, and how his position has changed over time. His overall position is similar to my own, true, but that doesn’t make either of us apologists for the human rights abuses of the CCP.

    My main “targets” are not all journalists either: John Lee and Minxin Pei are both academics, one an international relations expert, the other a highly respected and widely read political scientist.

    I don’t think that I am apologising for the CCP. I am often accused of this, I know, but that is not how I read myself. I cannot really engage you in further debate without knowing what it is exactly that I have said, or argued, that makes you think that I am offering up a mere apology for the CCP and its human rights abuses – both past and present. Perhaps you might care to elaborate a little so that I can more easily address your concerns in this area. And perhaps you might like to enlighten me on the views of Jack Gray – how, exactly, have I misread him, you you think? I don’t think that I have misread him, mind you, but I’m open of course to correction, and so I’m all ears!

    Best regards,

  15. Sorry Catherine – I meant, of course, to say John Gray (not Jack Gray) in the second last line of my comment above. Jack Gray I am also familiar with – he’s an American historian who has written a very good book titled “Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1800s to the 1980s”, published in new York by Oxford University Press back in 1990.

    You described John Gray as a “political satirsit”, which I find peculiar. He’s a political scientist more than anything, and his view of the world increasingly grim!

    Regards again,

  16. And one more thing: Richard, of the Peking Duck blog, may very well have soften his views a little in recent times towards China’s present day governance and society, but I would hardly describe him as an “apologist” for the CCP. If anything, his overall assessment is a little more sober than it used to be. Some of his writers though, Raj in particular, is as hyperbolic and as critically one-sided as ever. The overall tone of the Duck continues to be very negative in its assessments of China.

    Incidentally, did you watch Foreign Correspondent last night on the ABC? It ran a very sobering story on current human rights abuses in China – it was depressing, though again, it told only part of the story that is today’s China, where human rights are concerned. It’s a story that certainly needs to be told, for sure, though it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. While large numbers are indeed suffering abuse, in many cases shocking abuse, they represent a relatively small fraction of the total population, and human rights gains have and are being made in numerous ways, especially on the macro level – something that journalists writing for the Christian Science Monitor for example, have recently pointed out.

    The Christian Science Monitor often publishes very insightful and balanced assessments on China, and I rank it as one of the better quality of the world’s mainstream English-language papers.


  17. Ned Kelly says:

    Actually, Mark, neither Catherine nor I view you as any kind of opportunistic “apologist”, but we do question how and why you’ve used those sources in the way you have done. But as we’ve said, and as I want to reemphasise, in our opinion the real Western apologists – or perhaps a better term would be “collaborators with the CCP propaganda machine” – are those who trumpet the myth of China’s “economic miracle”.

    But now to move on a bit, I take issue with this jaw-dropper of yours: “While large numbers are indeed suffering abuse, in many cases shocking abuse, they represent a relatively small fraction of the total population, and human rights gains have and are being made in numerous ways, especially on the macro level…”

    But Mark, the whole point about Human Rights laws is that their purpose is to defend individuals, not “macro” interests. Only a VERY tiny number of Soviet citizens suffered any kinds of human rights violations after the death of Stalin (Stalin’s era was more problematic, to say the least), but the repression of that tiny handful corrupted the intellectual, moral AND economic life of the entire country. Placing Sakharov under house arrest made the entire country more corrupt, more ignorant, and consequently more economically poor, because a strong economy is inseparable from a habit of truthfulness and dedication to reality – precisely what the handful of victims like Sakharov stood for.

  18. Ned – I’m truly impressed with your response to my last series of comments – you raise a very important and worthwhile objection to my overall positioning. I have to rush of to work right now though, and I have a dinner appointment tonight, but I WILL respond in detail later in the week.

    All the best,

  19. Ned Kelly says:

    Well Catherine inspires me, especially when she brings me the weed.
    Here’s an audio recording of me and her talking to each other. Catherine has a very deep voice for a woman, and when she’s buying drugs she goes by the code name of “Dave”:

  20. Pingback: “The whole point about Human Rights laws is that their purpose is to defend individuals, not ‘macro’ interests” « Justrecently’s Weblog

  21. Ned – I will respond in detail to your last comment on Sunday. Thanks for your patience.

    Justrecently – thanks for endorsing the quality of our discussion here. Perhaps you might care to contribute more to our discussion yourself.

    Best regards,

  22. Ned Kelly says:

    re “Thanks for your patience”,

    Mark, thank you for trying my patience so that I can earn another few hundred years off from Purgatory.

  23. Ned Kelly says:

    PS, I’ve probably racked up another century in Purgatory just for posting that Cheech and Chong clip and pretending it was me and Catherine. Actually she’s a soprano. But her voice does change when she’s stoned.

  24. Ned Kelly says:

    PPS, no wait. What I mean is, Catherine’s voice changes when I’M stoned!

  25. justrecently says:

    Thanks for your invitation, Mark. Maybe I’ll join in sometime, but right now, I prefer to follow the discussion. Too many cooks spoil the broth. But if you and Ned start converging too much, consider asking your wife to join in. I get the impression from Mr. Lee’s review of your book that she usually challenges your conclusions concerning China.

  26. justrecently says:

    My html sucks – here is the link I meant to include above.

  27. Dear Justrecently,

    Yes, well while I disagree with Jason Lee’s comment that my writing is “academic and dry” in places, I do greatly appreciate him reviewing my book, and overall, what he wrote is very favourable. Dan Harris, of the China Law Blog, will be reviewing the book soon as well, as will a few Australian newspapers.

    Jason Lee is right though, my spouse is very feisty, and while she certainly does challenge me on my views towards China, it’s only when I’m being, in her view, too cynical, that she does so.

    All the best,

  28. Ned Kelly says:

    Mark, if I were in your shoes, I would hope for Dan Harris to condemn my book unreserveredly. Praise from Dan Harris is, in my view, condemnation.

  29. Ned, I shall now respond to your previous comment, as promised.

    You wrote: “…the whole point about Human Rights laws is that their purpose is to defend individuals, not ‘macro’ interests. Only a VERY tiny number of Soviet citizens suffered any kinds of human rights violations after the death of Stalin (Stalin’s era was more problematic, to say the least), but the repression of that tiny handful corrupted the intellectual, moral AND economic life of the entire country…”

    This is a very interesting perspective Ned, and I can certainly agree with you that the “intellectual, moral and economic life of an entire country” can be corrupted violating the human rights of only a minority. That’s a very powerful point, you have offered.

    My discourse on the nature of today’s Chinese governance and society, however, was written with the purpose of challenging what I see to be a one-dimension views – one that exaggerates the extent and therefore seriousness of China’s human rights problems, My purpose is to offer a more nuanced, more soberly balanced assessment, one that is empirically-based. As you point out, however, even if one was to accept the view that only a very small minority of Chinese citizens ever actually suffer any kind of real human rights abuse as being the empirically-verifiable “reality”, this is not to say that the entire nation hasn’t been morally corrupted – especially if one values the rights of the individual as strongly as do most Westerners. An injustice to one, is an injustice to everyone.

    Confucianists might see things rather differently though – take the idea explored in Zhang Yimou’s film “Hero” for example, where those who give up their own individual cause for justice in the interests of preserving the greater good are seen as the true heroes, their choice a highly moral one.

    I shall have to give all of this some more thought. For now though, let me just say that I think China is evolving a more individualist approach and understanding towards human rights, and faster than many realise – something I do intend to explore in detail when I write up the next section of my text on Chinese governance and society – the section that deals with developments in the rule of law.

    All the best,

  30. Ned Kelly says:

    Mark, good to hear from you.

    1. “Confucianists might see things rather differently though – take the idea explored in Zhang Yimou’s film “Hero” for example…”

    That’s an inappropriate example. That movie was, if anything, a nationalist pangyric conflating Chinese nationalism with Chinese “legalism” (not to be confused with the “rule of law”), not Confucianism. The First Emperor, who was depicted a-historically in that movie, was as anti-Confucianist as Mao. And Confucianism is far more subtle than the Star Trek Doctor Spock jive of “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

    2. “…where those who give up their own individual cause for justice in the interests of preserving the greater good are seen as the true heroes, their choice a highly moral one.”

    But there’s a world of difference between voluntarily, altruistically sacrificing your own welfare for the benefit of others, versus involuntarily having your rights infringed or your welfare violated. When America’s Henry David Thoreau (author of “Civil Disobedience”, which influenced Gandhi) chose to accept some time in jail instead of paying a tax which he considered immoral, his legal and civil rights were not violated; he just happened to be paying the consequences for refusing to obey what he considered a bad law. He did not complain that his Human Rights were thereby being violated, as he received due process of law and a humane, fair jail sentence. That’s an entirely different situation from that of, say, Hu Jia, whose free speech and right to a fair trial are guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution, and whose human rights have therefore been violated.

  31. Ned, you point out that there is “difference between voluntarily, altruistically sacrificing your own welfare for the benefit of others, versus involuntarily having your rights infringed or your welfare violated.”

    I agree, but then I never claimed that China was governed by a mature system of rule of law. It’s still very much an evolving system, as is the very concept of individual rights. In China, many people, including law enforcers, regard criminals (including separatists) as having forfeited their individual rights.

  32. Ned Kelly says:

    Mark, my friend, let me offer you some “mental floss” (HA!) about the following:

    “In China, many people, including law enforcers, regard criminals (including separatists) as having forfeited their individual rights.”

    That’s not the least bit peculiar to China. That’s how the rule of law works, whenever and wherever it works. In our own fair land and all similar liberal democracies, a CONVICTED criminal forfeits many (although not all) of his individual rights, except for things like freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. But virtually all other rights are forfeited during the time of a custodial sentence.

    China’s problem is that it doesn’t acknowledge any rights of the ACCUSED, nor any difference at all between the accused and the convicted. And that is, simply, barbaric and inexcusable, and it has nothing to do with “macro” interests. And the same goes equally for the practices at America’s Guantanamo prison.

  33. Ned Kelly says:

    Furthermore, if in China a “criminal” is anyone who breaks the laws of China, then most of the Communist Party are criminals and have forfeited all of their individual rights. The logical conclusion is that the Communist Party has no power to pretend to make “laws” which they themselves disregard; therefore, the Communist Party has no mandate to govern, and the country is currently going through a de facto interregnum of anarchy. (This is only a partial exaggeration.)

  34. justrecently says:

    I’m no lawyer, but while an organization can be sued in civil action, only an individual can be convicted in a criminal case? And yes, an organization can forfeit its right to govern, too, when it is a governing party.
    I think the heart of the matter is that courts in China, although sometimes more self-confident than in the past, aren’t independent. In fact, they are controlled by the government, and the police have more to say than a judge. The saying goes that “the police prepare the meal, the prosecutor serves it, and the court eats it”.
    It’s true – you can’t change complex patterns at once, and I tend to agree with Mark that complicated stuff takes time. But I doubt that the CCP wants independent courts. Too many of their officials live of the state of lawlessness. And for that, I see no excuse.

    I’ll be out of town tomorrow, but will be back and reading here again before sunday.

  35. Justrecently, you are right, gradual reforms are far more likely to succeed than attempts to introduce fast sweeping changes. And yes, I agree too, that the courts are not totally independent from the state in China, which of course is a problem. China is yet to become a nation “ruled by law”.

  36. Ned Kelly says:

    Mark and “justrecently” (hereafter I will call you “JR”), good to hear from you both.

    Actually, as I’m a traditional conservative (which is not at all the same as the “conservatism” of John Howard or George Bush), I probably believe in “gradual reforms” even more than Mark does. Unless, Mark, you’re actually a conservative in your own way? Hm, now that’s food for thought!

    What I do NOT want to see in China are “vast sweeping changes” in any drastic revolutionary way. The French Revolution and Hitler’s revolution and the Bolsheviks and Mao have all demonstrated that “vast sweeping changes” aren’t such a good idea.

  37. Ned Kelly says:

    PS, @ Mark, “the courts are not totally independent from the state in China”:

    Actually, Mark, in “rule of law” countries like ours, the courts are part of the state. What you mean by “independent” is the independence of Judges in making their own decisions informed by the Constitution and legal tradition instead of being controlled by the arbitrary whims of any person or party. Judicial “independence” is never total, and should not be; but China’s problem is that its judges are almost entirely subordinate to arbitrary personal and political whims of more powerful entities whose powers are not predictably counter-balanced.

    The point about Judges in “rule of law” countries like ours is not that they have total independence – because total independence is arbitrary power. The point is that their powers are NOT abritrary, and that their powers counterbalance the powers of the legislature and of popular passions.

    The “rule of law” does not mean total independence of the courts; it means, rather, a balance of powers so that arbitrary exercises of power become more restrained.

  38. “Actually, Mark, in “rule of law” countries like ours, the courts are part of the state. What you mean by “independent” is the independence of Judges in making their own decisions informed by the Constitution and legal tradition instead of being controlled by the arbitrary whims of any person or party.” – Yes Ned, that’s EXACTLY what I meant, but was too lazy to write!

    “The French Revolution and Hitler’s revolution and the Bolsheviks and Mao have all demonstrated that “vast sweeping changes” aren’t such a good idea.” – Yes, we are in total agreement on this one too!!!

    “…the Communist Party has no mandate to govern, and the country is currently going through a de facto interregnum of anarchy.” – I don’t agree with either of these two assessments of yours though. Why? I will explain in detail when I eventually get around to completing my essay on Chinese governance and society.

    Best regards,

  39. MatthewTan says:

    To Human Rights Fighters of Hu Jia’s Case.

    You all think Hu Jia is innocent of the “crime of inciting subversion of state power?” Why?

    I ask “why” because the facts of the case, if true, are sufficient to establish the judgement that he is guilty. And if you disagree, please explain why.


    Have you guys ever read Epoch Times?
    Have you guys ever listened to “Sound of Hope Network”?
    Have you guys ever read the website Boxun.com?

    These media are mentioned in the court judgement paper.

    Are you contesting the following facts of the case?

    If the facts are true, are you saying he is not guilty?


    In his writings and during his interviews, Hu Jia maliciously started rumors and engaged in slander, for example: “China’s human rights calamities erupt daily;” “the autocratic system’s path of survival is simply to continuously ‘exploit people,’ the only thing that grows in the soil of the autocratic system is greed, corruption, and abuse of power; the system fabricates a so-called ‘harmonious society,’ and then repeats boasts, empty words, clichés, useless words, and falsehoods tens of millions of times – this is completely a dose of poison, the ruling party uses it to seek quick relief regardless of the consequences, and then drags the whole population to be buried alive with the dead.”

    The following are instances of incitement: “We launch a challenge to this kind of autocratic system;” “I am truly ashamed that our country is ruled by this kind of organization, and estimate that it won’t live past a hundred years old; if it doesn’t disintegrate, then it will be quietly transformed, as the last dynastic reign, the Communist Party should die a natural death.”

    According to this procuratorate, Hu Jia disregarded our laws, started rumors and engaged in slander, and also used other methods to incite subversion of state power and to overthrow the socialist system; his criminal acts are major and his conduct violated paragraph 2 of Article 105 of the PRC Criminal Law. The facts of the crime are clear, the evidence is reliable and sufficient, and he should be prosecuted for criminal responsibility for the crime of inciting subversion of state power. According to Article 141 of the PRC Criminal Procedure Law, this procuratorate initiates public prosecution and requests punishment according to the law.


    Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court

  40. justrecently says:

    I think you are a bit lazy, Matthew. If you think that Hu Jia is guilty, you shouldn’t ask others why they think he’s innocent. It is the job of the accusant to explain why he’s not.
    None of the lines you quoted would be an offense in my country. Maybe the prosecutor and judges viewed his words as offenses – but even from the Chinese law you quoted, it doesn’t become clear to me as to how Hu Jia should be considered an offender.
    Maybe it is “slander” because some of it hits the nail on the head?

  41. Ned Kelly says:

    I have read the English translation of the court’s “judgment”, and as a matter of law it is void and unenforceable, because the crime of “subversion of state power” is

    1. contradictory to the Chinese Constitution, and
    2. void for vagueness

    Regarding the first, this case is an indictment of the legitimacy of China’s entire legal system, because it illustrates that there is no coherent rule of law in China. The PRC’s constitution unreservedly declares the right to freedom of speech. But a statutory crime of “subversion of state power” is ipso facto contradictory to the very purpose of the right of freedom of speech, because the main purpose of freedom of speech is to enable citizens to criticise the government in order to correct the government and therefore MAINTAIN state stability and domestic peace!

    The historical and practical reasons for the existence of “free speech” protections in all Modern constitutions – beginning with those of the USA and especially the French Republic whose declarations of rights were the models adopted by the founders of the PRC – have been because the historical experience of all civilisations has demonstrated that allowing peaceful criticism and correction of the government tends, in the long term, to keep the state MORE STABLE than it would be if the citizens’ only means of correcting the government were violent revolution. The very PURPOSE of free speech is to AVOID violent revolution!

    Of course some CCP apologists could (and do) retort that “China has its own interpretation of the purpose of free speech”. Okay, fine, but if China’s interpretation of free speech is totally contradictory to that of all other civilised, developed countries, including the very countries who first declared the right of free speech, then China has put itself outside the community of civilised nations who respect the Rule of Law instead of the Rule of Abitrary Power.

    Furthermore even the court’s indictment and judgement admits that Hu Jia called only for peaceful change, so that in the worst case the Party would “die a natural death”. In other words, whatever Hu Jia “incited”, it was NOT violent overthrow of the government!

    Regarding the second, the statute of “subversion of state power” would be called “void for vagueness”, at least in any civilised countries where the Rule of Law means something. A law which is not clearly defined, is unenforceable, except in countries ruled by criminals who laugh at the very idea of a rule of law or anything that challenges their personal, arbitrary powers.

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