Narcissus' Echo

Thoughts, tears, rants, ruminations, hopes, fears, love(s), and prayers of just another being passing through this wracked sphere...

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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

A culture with the longest history, and one not too far from the world's oldest profession

A month ago, I forwarded to a friend, news of China's complicity in the fur trade, where dogs and cats are slaughtered for their fur, which are then mislabeled for US markets. Being an animal lover, she was outraged. Outraged enough to passionately denounce the mainland Chinese, and how China's technological advancement and growing economic might mean little, if any, to her--the measure of progress being moot if a society or culture cannot deign to treat another life form with decency.

I totally agree with her sentiments. In my opinion, when a society or culture treats animals with such unflinching cruelty, it will only be a matter of time before people are treated in the same manner. All too often, people forget that they too, are animals.

My prejudices against Chinese culture notwithstanding (a relic of having been forced to learn Mandarin for a decade on a certain sunny tropical island city state), I am appalled by the indefensible stance of the Chinese Culture Chauvinists (CCC). First, they force Mandarin down the throats of students on the pretext that Chinese culture is morally superior to "Western" culture. Later, when the degree of repression and magnitude of atrocities committed by the government of China comes to light, and with that, their claim to "a higher morality" argument gets tossed out the window, they quickly replace it by being the shameless whores of Mammon. I.e. "It doesn't matter what China did or does. As long as there is money to be made by doing business with/in China, it's all good." Arbeit macht frei, indeed.

Of course, it is not only Asian companies that are guilty of aiding and abetting China, but at least there is no sickeningly sanctimonious pretense to cultural superiority in the act.

On Oct 12 2005, the Metro: Silicon Valley published an article, "Gag Orders," on how Cisco Systems is helping China repress her citizens with their routers and technology.

Some excerpts:

A Swipe at Freedom

According to China expert Ethan Gutmann, a Beijing beat cop need only swipe a citizen's government-issued identification card and up pops the last 30–60 days of the suspect's emails on his PDA. This is the kind of technology Western companies are developing for Chinese internal security forces.

Cisco is not alone in this:

Project Golden Shield

But membership in a banned organization isn't required to become a target of the police state. Typing "Tibet" and "freedom" in the same email can produce a visit from the Man. How? Unlike the chaotic morphing of the government-university Arpanet into the spam- and porn-choked Internet of 2005, the Chinese web was designed from the get-go with strong social controls in mind. If America's web is a few million tributaries and a couple dozen major rivers dumping into a totally accessible ocean of data, China's is four Amazon-wide man-made rivers with 30,000 Coast Guard boats patrolling every turn.
[-ben: I guess, with its 3 proxies, it is 3 rivers for Singapore?]

Cisco does not deny building more than 75 percent of the pipes and dams routing the massive rivers of data entering China from the rest of the world. With thousands of Cisco routers installed at $20,000 a pop, this deal has been a platinum profit center during a period of negative or tepid growth in the U.S. market for networking gear. IBM even got into the action by providing "high end" financing to the brutal and now swimming-in-cash government. Dubbed with Orwellian flourish "Project Golden Shield," the five-year multibillion-dollar project will be completed this year.

Nor is the company the first to be complicit in such practices:

Axis of Technology

This isn't the first time a company in San Jose played the pivotal role in providing a totalitarian country the cutting edge technology it required to create and maintain a brutally effective police state.

As excruciatingly detailed in Edwin Black's IBM and the Holocaust, nothing—from the success of Hitler's blitzkriegs, to the identification of Germans with 1/32nd or greater Jewish blood, to the efficient murder of 6 million of those identified—would have been accomplished without the cutting edge technology of 1940, the IBM punch card.

But as airtight as Black's indictment of Big Blue was in providing custom gears for the Nazi death machine, publication of his book a half century after the fact created barely a ripple in the media and had even less impact on the public consciousness. With all the culpable IBM employees long since retired or dead, America shrugged its collective shoulders. Long removed from the company's display case of notable achievements, the photo of IBM chief James Watson Jr. accepting a Nazi trophy from the hands of Adolf Hitler was once equally uncontroversial.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a potentially lucrative business plan to draft up for a test market in China: setting puppies on fire for amusement. My command of Chinese (Mandarin) will certainly come in handy.

Sieg heil!

Or, shall I say, Ni Hao!


Blogger Anthony said...

At the risk of sounding like a Chinese Chauvanist, I'd like to ask you a question.

Is there a way of learning lessons about the good parts of Chinese culture without necessarily condoning the bad parts?

2:46 PM  
Blogger -ben said...

Hi Anthony,

Yes, I believe so. In this age of heightened political correctness, if, in the process of learning about fabled explorers and conquerors of the past, we can be reminded--even instructed--to temper our admiration of the enterprise (and explorers) with the awareness of the cultural devastation wrought upon indigenous populations, then I am sure that the same can applied to the teaching of Chinese culture and language. For example, the claims of Chinese culture having a monopoly to filial piety tempered by historical accounts of parents being denounced by their offspring during the cultural revolution, or, to employ a more recent example, the growing suspicion among sociologists that there exists a pandemic of unreported and underreported cases of elder abuse in many Asian countries, including a certain sunny tropical island city state.

How many families with both spouses working possess the time to take care of their aged parents?

How many domestic workers (e.g. largely foreign maids) possess certification in geriatric care?

How many of the aged are prevented from seeking help, or voicing their complaints to, the authorities due to language barriers or physical mobility issues?

And how many of them hold their tongue due to the concept of "saving face" for the family?

It is sordid realities like these that get my blood boiling when some Chinese Cultural Chauvinist (CCC) opens his trap and starts rattling off about how the East (as if Singaporean Chinese represents all of the East. Such audacity!) is morally superior to the West because the Chinese do not send their aging parents to old folks homes.

Thanks for dropping by :)

4:04 PM  
Anonymous agnostic said...

You have put down the Middle East and Asia. Wondering if you'll harp on the deficiencies of Europe and the US as much, if at all.

6:49 PM  
Blogger -ben said...

Perhaps you missed my posts on the Catholic church in US? And I am not just talking about the two most recent posts (i.e. in Los Angeles on Nov 16, and Alaska on Nov 19), I have written about the Sacred Heart Chapel in Los Gatos, California in the past as well. Check the archives.

My answer to the implicit suggestion that I am partial towards the US and Europe is this:

I enjoy both the works of the radio shock jock, Howard Stern, and the nobel laureate, V. S. Naipaul. Both of them hold no loyalties, scrutinize and bash everything with impunity. Call it "equal opportunity bashing," if you will. I try to operate in very much the same way.

By the way, I'm Catholic and Chinese.

7:10 PM  
Anonymous agnostic said...

What do Catholics think of Howard Stern's? Does the Catholic church teach that you should go around and bash whatever you feel is rubbish, or that you should even proudly align yourself with such a spirit?

8:30 PM  
Anonymous agnostic said...


8:31 PM  
Blogger -ben said...

I bash whatever I think is wrong; or, failing at that, what I disagree with. Just because one belongs to a certain race, segment of society, gender, etc, should not preclude one from criticizing it. (Is this largely the reason why so many Muslims are silent towards the extremism that is plaguing the world?)

I believe in the spirit of free inquiry (and bashing). I do not believe in blind obedience. I stated for the record that I am a Catholic to prove that I do not excuse my religion from bashing as well. If I think it is wrong, or "rubbish," as you put it, I will bash it. I haven't met someone who can convince me on the merits of pedophilia yet. And so, as long as such abuse continue within the clergy, I will bash it.

I believe some of Catholics do not like Howard Stern as he has bashed them on more than a few occasions.

The Catholic church also teaches that I should not use contraception, which I (and a substantial portion of American Catholics) think is hogwash and irresponsible, and I will come right out and say it. I'm a thinking individual, not a lemming.

There, I guess I'm going to Hell.

9:08 PM  
Anonymous agnostic said...

Criticism is needed, but if the critics truly want to bring about change I think it requires a whole lot of earnestness and reaching out, not just dancing about gleefully, feeling amused and superior, heaping scorn on those who we see as confused, wrong, or inferior.

9:23 PM  
Blogger -ben said...

True, but the process of change can take place much like the successive crests of waves: scorn or criticism may serve as the impetus for such eventuality. Just because one isn't a heart surgeon doesn't mean that one should hold back from administering first aid to an individual stricken by a cardiac arrest.

Compare and contrast the two following systems, one that permits (however grudgingly and with a whole lot of protests, complaints and noise) attacks on it, and one that, issuing threats of death, doesn't: Christianity and Islam.

When Nikos Kazantzakis' The Last Temptation of Christ was made into a movie, a lot of Christians were very offended. Many angry Catholics even took to the streets in Italy to protest against having the film shown in the local theaters. The same thing happened for the film, "Dogma." But no death warrants were issued by the Pope. Neither were they issued by the leaders of the various denominations of Christianity (yes, not even the frauds and morons like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, etc). Not once did a church leader mandate something to the effect of "It is the duty of every Christian to kill the producer / author of the following blasphemous work."

When Ahmed Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses, he was forced into hiding for a decade because a fatwa was issued for his life. Rushdie's Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, was stabbed and killed in Tokyo, and his Italian translator was beaten and stabbed in Milan. Rushdie's Norwegian publisher William Nygaard was shot and severely injured in an attack outside his house in Oslo. Thirty-seven guests died when their hotel in Sivas, Turkey was burnt down by locals protesting against Aziz Nesin, Rushdie's Turkish translator. When the great-grand nephew of Vincent van Gogh, Theo van Gogh, made an 11 minute film criticizing the treatment of women under Islam, he was shot and stabbed to death on a street in Amsterdam.

Now which religion is clearly more evolved to handle this modern age? There is separation of state and church for Christianity. There is separation of commerce and church for Christianity.

In my humble opinion, a culture that mandates against criticism is dangerous as it suffers the very real possibility of emasculating its members into sycophants, and its leaders into tyrants.

By the way, if anyone thinks I'm a bible thumper, they clearly haven't been following my posts :)

11:29 PM  
Anonymous agnostic said...

Look around at how many distant and gleeful critics exist and compare that to the number who are hungry for change and take action in the most sincere ways.

The earnest few are the greats that are held up and celebrated long after they're gone. The rest are never mentioned or remembered because there were hundreds of millions of them, and the did not accomplish anything with all their gleeful criticism.

How does drawing parallels between Chinese culture and prostitution help the dogs, or help China change in any way?

7:26 PM  
Anonymous agnostic said...

8:03 PM  
Blogger -ben said...

I wasn't aware that one required a license to criticize. A license which mandates being not only the agent of change, but a participant till the very end. I am afraid I am in possession of neither the time nor resources to make it such that every issue that falls under my criticism benefits from my personal oversight in every stage of change--if and when it happens.

>The earnest few are the greats that are held up and celebrated long after they're gone.

That is only a concern for those afflicted with egoism and narcissism.

>The rest are never mentioned or remembered because there were hundreds of millions of them, and the did not accomplish anything with all their gleeful criticism.

The first point has been addressed. As to the second, I disagree, as criticism does bring about change by calling attention to the issue. One only needs to look at politics for countless examples. Criticism has forced a many politicians to resign.

>How does drawing parallels between Chinese culture and prostitution help the dogs, or help China change in any way?

By calling attention to the issues involved.

DOGS: If you click on the link about China and the fur trade, you would arrive at a page (and a video clip) describing China's complicity in the fur trade. That necessarily means that if you cared about dogs (or cats), you would be more careful in your purchases at the mall (if you are in US). If an article of clothing contains fur trim, and is from China, you may have reason to suspect it has been deliberately mislabeled. And if so, you are more likely not to purchase it.

CHINESE CULTURE and PROSTITUTION: My point in connecting the two was to highlight the moral bankruptcy in both. The Chinese Culture Chauvinists pretends to ride a moral high horse which is totally proven false by historical AND present day accounts. Their fraud exposed, they immediately resort to the claim of economic practicality. I do not need to go into the social phenomenon of how the Chinese (and other Asians) are more likely to go into majors for the money, than for passion.

HELPING CHINA CHANGE: I am no fan of China. And, no, I do not consider China my homeland. [News flash for Singaporean Chinese: mainland Chinese do not consider you their brothers or countrymen either. A substantial number of them view you as arrogant pricks who look down on them. Go research The Straits Times archives. It is in there.] That said, if more clothing articles made with fur trim from China is unsold, the result would be a lower demand for such products from China. Connect the remaining dots...


That is actually old news, but yes, it is a horrible practice. Still, it pales in comparison to the Chinese flaying animals alive. You may have seen the video. The animal's skin is ripped off, and then the animal is tossed on a truck bed, panting in pain, and writhing around in mute agony while the workers around it laughed at its plight.

Last but not least, you have mistaken bitterness for glee.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous agnostic said...

No license needed to criticize. You can criticize as much as you want, but the bitterness will remain, and nothing will change. Separate is earnest constructive criticism that is backed up with action for change.

Being remembered and celebrated is not a target. I mentioned it not to sugggest it is important, but that the people who brought about good change inevitably are remembered and celebrated because they were earnest and worked hard to bring about change for the better.

One more addition to the existing millions of distant, unstructured critics does not make a difference. What makes a difference is earnestness. Most in the first world know the issues, but next to none care.

You have the mind and youth to effect great change. I see it as a waste that it all gets spent on bitterness that will not change anything.

5:36 AM  
Blogger -ben said...

I am deeply honored by your high esteem, but perhaps you have been overly generous in your regard of me: I am no saint. I possess neither the reserves nor levels of magnanimity and charity for an endeavor of such magnitude. I cannot--will not--be a source of aid or comfort to those who had been the architects of so much grief and distress in my childhood and teenage years. Perhaps time will change that. Perhaps. But as of now, perhaps the most realistic request that can be made of me, with regard to this issue, is to refrain from popping the champagne and dancing when they burn and crumble in the fires of their own perdition. If I can be faulted for glee then, my reply would be that my glee has been well-earned.

I like to look at life and personal resources (time, money, etc.) in the Bodhisatta versus Bodhisattva paradigm. The former works towards enlightenment for himself and himself only. Of course, he does help lessen the suffering of those around him in his journey, but he is not their savior, and he does not lead them towards enlightenment. The reason being that when he achieves enlightenment, he is in an even better position to help those who are suffering or in distress. The Bodhisattva, on the other hand, seeks to bring everyone along with him to enlightenment. Of course, this takes a comparatively longer period of time, relative to the path of the Bodhisatta.

I prefer to follow the model of the Bodhisatta. We may like to think we possess infinite resources; that we live forever, and that there are infinite hours in a day, but there isn't: we prioritize. We sacrifice. And I make no apologies that Chinese culture, the CCC, and China will all have to take distant backseat in my list of causes to champion for.

4:52 PM  
Anonymous agnostic said...

I was not over generous. Many have a good mind and youth. Combine energy (youth), earnestness, and average intelligence, and you have a great agent for change.

Regardoing Bodhisatta, just make sure that the model is not used as a glossy cover for what millions of people are - selfish, with no intention of helping anyone outside of their own or themselves, now or at any point in the future, no matter how good a position they're in. Here I speak to all and not specifically you, though this post is made here.

If what you write about is not your concern, then may I ask what is or what are? What do you care about that you focus most of your mind, time, money on?

10:21 PM  

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