China catches up to 17th century Russia

From Radio Free Asia:

Authorities in China’s westernmost city of Kashgar are stepping up pressure on government employees to go clean-shaven, and the city’s large ethnic Uyghur population, whose adult males overwhelmingly sport moustaches, aren’t happy about it, residents say.

In an online posting, one teacher reported that, as part of the campaign against facial hair, officials at his school had even removed from the auditorium and classrooms portraits of mustachioed Communist icons Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Lenin.

2007 rule

Authorities appear to be enforcing a 2007 regulation from the Kashgar City Party Committee, which stipulates that employees must be secular in appearance or face penalties ranging from fines of 100-300 yuan (U.S. $15-45) to dismissal, an employee at Kashgar City No. 1 Upper School said.

This is not the first time China has borrowed a bad idea from Russia in the name of modernisation.   Nor is it the first time that the irony of looking to Russia as a model of modernity has been lost on the Chinese Communists.  But it is a milestone on China’s determined path to become ever more backward, because now China has jettisoned the 19th century model of Lenin for the 17th century model of Tsar Peter the Great.

In 1698, pursuant to his paradoxically Asiatic, despotic campaign to drag Russia kicking and screaming into the European Modern Age,  Tsar Peter ordered all freeborn Russian men to shave their beards in order to accord with the then current fashions of Western Europe.    Serfs were exempt because of their insignificance, and clergy were exempt in order to maintain their loyalty to the state whose authority was interdependent upon theirs, and of course bearded women were not mentioned.    The rule applied only to men of any political significance.

And the fact that beards had come and gone out of fashion in regular cycles in Western Europe, was not even considered.   As far as Peter was concerned, the fashions of 1698 were Modern, and it was inconceivable for them ever to change back to prior forms.    Such thinking was, and remains, typical of all historically ignorant persons in all cultures who regard present fashions and ideas as the most advanced of all time.    In today’s America and Europe, their name is Legion.   And in today’s China too.

But Peter was a pragmatist, even if he exercised his pragmatism in despotic ways.   Certainly he was more pragmatic than Chairman Mao, and considerably more fair and willing to compromise in small matters.    So, in 1705, consequent to the recalcitrance of many aggrieved Russian men who refused to shave their beards, Peter offered as a compromise the option of paying a beard tax.    Any man subject to the beard law was permitted to keep his beard if he paid the beard tax, and then as proof of his compliance he was given a token depicting an ugly beard on the obverse, and on the reverse were the words, “beards are stupid”.

Congratulations, China!   You’ve caught up to the cultural standards of 17th century Russia.   Or almost caught up.    The next thing you need to do, China, is to allow basic  religious liberty to Muslims – beginning with the liberty to teach their own religion to their own children, and to attend their mosques without state supervision of religious teaching – such as the religious minority of Muslims enjoyed in the Russia of Peter the Great.   

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3 Responses to China catches up to 17th century Russia

  1. Pingback: Intense Conversations » Blog Archive » 25 Things » Communications From Elsewhere » Blog Archive

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  3. Ned Kelly says:

    We have banned an abusive Chinese commenter who attempted to post the following comment:

    “why russia? coz westerners’ sight stay in the west. what a jerk.”

    …but we have posted his comment under my name, just for comic relief, as an example of the effects of Communism upon Chinese teachers.

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