Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

1MDB Ketuanan



USD18 bn at his feet, why wouldn’t Najib take it?

Pakatan Harapan’s seven-point political platform is broad-based, focused on institutions and ethics. Strange, therefore, that Mahathir Mohamad was willing, by removing Najib Razak, to cast aside his primary objective of restoring the bangsa, agama dan negara in the top place of Malay polity and Malaysian society.

Umno, through Najib in particular, is saying the Malay is already at the top, Felda being an example, so that his task ahead was ‘protecting’ that position. Indeed, Mahathir’s son Mukhriz agrees with Najib. Malay is top dog in Malaysia’s social, political and economic order. But so what? Says Mukhriz: “If we look at Felda, Mara, Tabung Haji, and all agencies linked to the Malays and Islam, all these are facing problems because of Umno leaders.”

Because of Umno leaders? That would count he himself, count Mahathir and Muhyiddin Yassin and so on.

Mukhriz and Mahathir just don’t seem to get it: nobody, the Chinese least of all, is in competition with the Malays as if Malaysia were a pie and unless Malays get to it first, there would be little or nothing left for them.

Since the beginning of time, Umno and Mahathir have sung the same song and then to the economic threat also added an existential (identity) threat. And, because of such threats, Malay needed protection. The like of Felda and Mara were launched on that underlying insecurity. On that, too, Mahathir molded his entire political career. The gains made by Islamic and Arab culture on Malay society is seen today in their entrenched position in government (Jakim, JAIS, etc), in schools and religious education, in Najib’s pro-Arab foreign policies. Those elements have today completely overtaken the Malay existential being.

In all that, 1MDB is hardly an aberration: Umno becomes chief purser. For funding, everybody in BN became dependent on Najib, Umno by extension. Its businesses had all the Arab, economic, and world conquest design elements and the Chinese (Jho Low, Yeo Jiawei), doing the dog-shit work, will even take the rap for Malays.

Indeed 1MDB is sine qua non, the finest expression in the development of the Malay ego: all of Malaysia’s banks and the rest of the world will throw USD18 bn at it and nobody blinks an eye. Why wouldn’t Najib take the money therefore?

So, adding Tabung Haji (religion) and the Saudis (foreign relations) to Felda (economics) and Mara (education), Umno’s march to top dog position, and in protecting, in molding and remolding Malay society is actually near complete.

Mahathir once despaired that he didn’t change Malay minds after a generation in power. He was wrong, of course. Instead he should sit easy because why else would he pine to return to the old days when the Malays were less materialistic and weren’t so preoccupied with watching FGV/Felda share prices? In the old days, Malays don’t ride submarines; in the old days few Malays gave a shit for the tudung or for Arabs.

So, you see, Malays have changed, Malays are top dog; and so what the fuck is Mukhriz bellyaching about? That’s what your father wanted after all. On the contrary, he should celebrate! All of Bersatu should sing the praises of Mahathir’s handiwork.

Here, however, is the straight answer to the question above: It is because Mahathir doesn’t like what he sees. And if that isn’t what he wants, then what the fuck does he want to see? That there’s no misappropriation in Felda, no thieving in 1MDB, no abuse of power by the police and so on?

But those are the demands for qualities of being, of the human character, the Malay mind and heart. Those have nothing to do with being top dog, with ketuanan, with economics and political power and with Malay special position. Those are qualities underlying the social, political and economic issues in the Pakatan seven-point plan.

The plan says, in effect, Mahathir got it wrong from the start. And, the biggest tragedy in Malaysia isn’t that Umno deviated (it accomplished what it set out) or that power was monopolized by Malays (under the mask of protection) but because Umno permitted no space for the Malay mind and heart to expand naturally, in different directions and to see life from the prism of light. It completely dismissed, in particular, how Chinese thought and ideas can contribute to different ways of seeing things, of governance. It gave in, far too much, to the Mahathir mentality that Malays were under siege from all directions instead.

It’s that mentality which hasn’t changed. Fittingly, therefore, while Malays have changed, Mahathir hasn’t.



These postscript lines take the above arguments a little further. That is, once Umno has served its purpose, what else is there for it? This is Najib’s predicament, a fact that points to why Malays should never govern Malays under an Umno or an Umno-like umbrella such as Berjaya. This Mahathirism is a contradictory and self-annihilating political model.

For the moment though, Najib’s only available answer to remain relevant — and also to stay the looming threat of Umno’s expiry and its self-destruction — is simply to bribe as many Malay votes as he can afford, the party rank and file, Felda, Tabung Haji, Jakim, and others. Political bribery is such a norm that Perkasa and Ibrahim Ali have no qualms demanding MYR1.4 trillion for Malays: ‘You owe us,’ is what the Alis are saying. It’s the inevitable consequence of Umno’s Mahathirism.

More pertinent to the future though is, What should be Pakatan’s answer?

It won’t be a bad idea to simply let Umno gorge itself to death. To let the Malays bring down each other would certainly rid the country, once and for all time, this Mahathir legacy.


Samuel Huntington (Clash of Civilizations), from 50 years ago, remains instructive. On countries such as Malaysia, his ideas are being revisited:

Across the developing world, Huntington saw “the dominance of unstable personalistic leaders,” their governments rife with “blatant corruption . . . arbitrary infringement of the rights and liberties of citizens, declining standards of bureaucratic efficiency and performance, the pervasive alienation of urban political groups, the loss of authority by legislatures and courts, and the fragmentation and at times complete disintegration of broadly based political parties.”

These self-styled revolutionaries thrive on divisiveness. “The aim of the revolutionary is to polarize politics,” Huntington explains, “and hence he attempts to simplify, to dramatize, and to amalgamate political issues into a single, clear-cut dichotomy.” Such leaders attract new rural voters via “ethnic and religious appeals” as well as economic arguments, only to quickly betray their aspirations.

Every line above holds true in Malaysia, and equally applicable in Egypt, Turkey and Syria to Acheh, Sumatra. On Islam, that “failed civilization”:

The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism,” he writes. “It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power. The problem for Islam is not the CIA or the U.S. Department of Defense. It is the West, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the universality of their culture and believe that their superior, if declining, power imposes on them the obligation to extend that culture throughout the world. …

While economic dynamism drives Asia’s rise, population growth in Muslim nations “provides recruits for fundamentalism, terrorism, insurgency, and migration.” Much as Trump mocks politicians who refuse to decry “radical Islamic terrorism,” Huntington criticizes American leaders such as Bill Clinton who argued that the West had no quarrel with Islam, only with violent extremists. “Fourteen hundred years of history demonstrate otherwise,” he remarks.

He does not regard Western values as universal. They are ours alone. …


Ketuanan Karma

Waiting for the Ketuanan self-destruction, we sing the blues…


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Shafiqah Othman


The term Malay Muslim is an oxymoron because if there is a Malay who is Muslim then, by extension of argument, there is a Malay who is Christian. This, though, isn’t pivotal in deflating the notion of the Malay Muslim.

More to the point, the term conflates the idea of Muslim and Malay so that anyone who is Muslim and Malaysian, resident in Malaysia, holds an identity card, subject to its laws, invariably become Malay (Zakir Naik, Ridhuan Tee), that is, speaking Malay and practices the Malay custom. But the Malay custom, like the terms Malay Muslim and Malay race, is yet another invention, that is, a fiction because if there is one, where is it? Where or what is the idea in the custom?

Malay custom by appearances has been long gone, of course. It has to happen because the more Muslim and the more Islamic is, say, Hadi Awang, the farther he is to being ‘Malay’ or to practice the Malay custom. In his entire life he conducts it like an Arab does. That, after all, is the whole idea of ‘Submission’ under Islam: it neither tolerates nor does it permit anybody to be anything else other than being Arab.

Islamic culture is the dominant Arabic culture. In the name of a God and under the power of one man’s predilection, even the Persians and the Africans have found themselves subject to not just speaking Arabic or eating dates during Ramadan or wearing towels on the head, but to the Hadith (written testaments based supposedly on utterances or acts by Mohammad) and the Quran. How could the Mohammad have possibly conducted his life in anything other than the desert culture of his time, that is, Arabic? Thinking of paddy fields and monsoon rain? Of course not.

How did descendants of Java, Sumatra and the Indonesian archipelago become subject to this Arab tyranny, but not the Indonesian? How does one become a conquered ‘race’?

It is easy to blame this state of affairs on the British but the Dutch did not hold sway on Indonesian thought. European, that is, western ideas were, of course, far more pervasive in Malaya than say Borneo. Ideas in themselves can’t do much though. If the British had taught Malays the world came into being by the zap of a magic wand from Allah, then that is just good for a laugh not serious study. Nobody is going to give a fuck.

What really change things fundamentally — and this is a hypothesis — is ways of thinking. By that, think of the creation story, that is, this God and the magic wand theory.

What underlay the mythology is the division of the world into two: the external and the internal, a creator and the created, the outside and the inside, heaven and hell, true and false, the good and the evil, and so on. Once the entire universe, indeed, once all reality is framed in this manner, anything to be discussed or talked through has to go down this pathway.

When Syed Akbar Ali at outsyedthebox doesn’t want to think along those terms, he calls it ‘thinking outside the box‘. But, that’s to presume there is even a box or a framework, so that, really, his way of thinking is still Anglophile (western).



Shafiqah: she has an uphill task not only to debunk the mythology that there is only one kind of Muslim, the Arab kind, but after that there is even a thing or a person called Malay Muslim, such as the photo below. Because, if Allah is only for Muslims, who are Muslims for if not Allah that is Arabian? Where then is the Malay in the Allah?

Shafiqah falls into her own trap once her arguments are framed along the lines of liberal versus illiberal Malay because there never has been a Malay that is liberal. Islam, by its internal mechanics and its definition, is illiberal, however liberalism is defined. The fight she needs to address is, Malay life versus an Arab life. Doing that, you cut off the Malay from orthodoxy at its Arab roots. (Weeding, you see, is most effective from the roots up.)

The Crown Prince of Johore TMJ alluded to the gem of this idea and got that part right: ‘A country that abandons our local traditions such as our traditional clothes and chooses to adopt foreign customs, wanting to be like the Arabs.’

Therein, you know, is your ally. But, Malay versus Arab life? Yes, and think about it, Shafiqah, why? In another place, in the Arabia that Najib Razak (and Hadi Awang) wants to emulate, can you even sit behind that wheel?


We, the Chinese, will let the Christians fight the Allah-cause. It is none of our business anyway: You guys can kill each other for all we care. But no Hudud, for the simply reason it is a bad name; it has too much Hadith in it and conquered minds are never worthy of our trust — or anyone’s else.


Now come to Shafiqah Othman. (Shafiqah who? If anyone has to ask, that’s only because you think too much of Anwar Ibrahim. Forget him, that guy is just an ideas-parrot: gawk, gawk.) Though nothing new, there is no doubt that her charge, Malays are hypocritical, is persuasive. Indeed, it has been said that no Malay during Mahathir’s days, or even earlier, say in 1969, would dare make such an indictment.

But each time this argument is presented, the counter argument (careful there; click goes to an IS-styled Malaiyoo fascist rag sheet called ‘My Nation’) emerges and everyone is back to where they had begun: who the fuck is right?

It is as if there is no truth in anything so that Anglophiles simply return to the most convenient starting point. It is called a point of view (POV). All Anglophile journalists, without exception, are famous at invoking it, so you see this caveat all the time — This is the personal opinion of the columnist — as if there are opinions that are never personal, that is, at one with the rest of the world or the fucking editor.

Philosophers call this POV subjectivism, sometimes relativism. But there’s this problem: if a POV is subject to the person holding it, then only that person has a hold on the viewpoint. That being the case, no viewpoint ever stands independent of, or outside, a person but lasts or persists so long as it is held by the holder. That is, no POV is ever universally true or has any lasting value; and, ‘I think therefore I am’ (from Descartes) collapses into its own self-contradictory defeat.

The consequence? All political fights in Malaysia are therefore reducible to either, for one side or for the other. Ideas are only fought out from and stemming from whoever you stand with. Ideas are never fought out, for or against, because such ideas are simply bad or good, workable or unworkable, useful or not useful, just or unjust, fair or not fair. Ideas are right only when they are dependent from which side they are issued.

In such a circumstance there is no neutrality, neutrality in the sense that you hold two conflicting arguments in abeyance until you figure out the side that is right. Yet, you can never figure out which side is right because there is no thing as a right idea; only whose idea.

This sort of conflicting dichotomy as a way of thinking is at the root of much western thought, ranging from the creation of the world stories, theology and ideologies (communism, socialism) to the structuring of analytical philosophy (logic), its language and its sciences.

Dichotomy is Greek in origin. In its modern Marxist form it is called dialectics wherein history advances in an endless progression of thesis and anti-thesis. In America, it becomes pro-Life or pro-Choice; in Christianity, good or evil. Among Malays, it has become either liberal Muslim or orthodox (i.e. Arab) Muslim. There is simply no way out because everything depended not on the argument in and of themselves, but where you first stand. Are you with Najib or with Mahathir? Are you with PAS or DAP? Are you Malay or Chinese?

The result? Dedak bloggers like Ahirudin Attan or Kadir Jasin, these motherfucker editors who one day will be this and another day will be that. Another result? Lots of frogs, sometimes they are dedak politicians, sometimes they are self-righteous ones. Contrary to popular assumptions, there are no principles at stake because if the fights were over principles then problems arise: what principles, when derived, how, and especially belonging to who?

In this way, arguments never produce consensus or agreements; arguments become the basis for war. More people are today killed from war waged on the basis of principles than from the want of material need (women, grain, territory).

A third result is from Zaid Ibrahim although he is not entirely convincing as to how Malaiyoos came to be so lazy and stupid. Maybe it is the other way around.

In any case, on and on and on, this state of affairs spiral downwards.

Chinese philosophical ideas and thoughts have answers and methods to get off this merry-go-round. (Which explains why, against a robust Chinese culture and civilization, Islam and Christianity stopped at the Turkish-speaking borders, the Himalayas and the South China Sea.) How? That is for another time… maybe.

For now, face it, the Malay is no civilization: he/she is already a conquered mind. And Anglophiles (think Lim Kit Siang or Hannah Yeoh)? They are a complete write-off. The only solution to DAP politics is, wait — for them to die!


时间都去哪儿了 A woman’s life in 33 frames.

彭丽媛 Peng Liyuan (in the days she sang professionally)


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 … and the Way to Writing his Own Destruction


In Dao physics Najib Razak not only triggered the catastrophic chain of events but he has now gotten in the way of the falling chips, the biggest of which is just behind him. And he doesn’t know it. What to do…?

Below, the word li 理 is not a noun or a thing. It means, curiously, the grain of the wood or the texture pattern of a thing, such as cloth. Water flow follows a pattern and so too the clouds assembled in the sky. Here is the other widely used meaning, logic or reason. In its Daoist context, it is a principle that says, ‘Never go against the grain of a thing‘. That is, nature’s pattern. (Religions, Islam and Christianity in particular, are anti-nature, hence anti-human.)

For Najib to go against the grain of society or popular opinion or to go against a given set of circumstances is simply to invite…? Trouble. To best saw off a piece of timber is, therefore, to discover where to start along the grain in the wood. That, analogously, is the same principle applied to politics. It produces the exact same result.



Najib stares at the precipice below, and begins fishing….


Way Out of the Conundrums


[Drawing from excerpts of the Daodejing 道德經, below, is the method by which Najib could extract himself from his own destruction. Translations are by D.C. Lau, Stephen Mitchell, et al]

From Chapter 2. Some fundamental principles: Things don’t exist alone to itself; everything in the world is interdependent of each other. Without One there is no Other. Beauty is seen only because ugliness is there. There is no big without small, no long without short and so on. Hence, things arise mutually, not separately.




When people see some things as beautiful,
other things (must exist) as ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things (must exist) as bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.


Below is the applicable passage for Najib (the Daodejing was part political because every part of the world is a part of another.)

From Chapter 57. Fundamental principle: wuwei 無爲. Once translated into English, the translated idea of wuwei becomes a distortion because there is no parallel framework within the limits of the English language. Wuwei’s principle rests on two notions:

  • (a) accomplish the most on the least effort, (recall li 理) and
  • (b) recognize the inevitability of polarities (mentioned in Ch. 2).

The first notion replaces the Newtonian mechanics of action and of equal opposite reaction. This is done by not setting up an action to produce that sort of equal-opposite. The second notion violates the popular western concepts of cause and effect. The interplay of polarities reflects a cyclical process.

Wuwei is a verb definition: Don’t force it. Not forcing something is to apply the lightest touch to a political problem to achieve the maximum result. (Of course, herein is the other part of the problem: finding out what it is.) This ‘lightest touch’ is drawn from yet another part of the Daodejing (Ch. 11) where sometimes a solution is not recognized for what it is. That is, for example, the most useful part of a vessel is not the concreteness of the material (clay) going into making it, but the hollowness inside.




Govern the state by being straightforward;
Wage war by being crafty;
But win the empire by not being meddlesome.

How do I know that it is like that?
By means of this:

The more taboos there are in the empire
The poorer the people;
The more sharpened tools the people have
The more benighted the state;
The more skills the people have
The further novelties multiply;
The better known the laws and edicts
The more thieves and robbers there are.

Hence the sage says,
I take no action and the people are transformed of themselves;
I prefer stillness and the people are rectified of themselves;
I am not meddlesome and the people prosper of themselves;
I am free from desire and the people of themselves become simple like the uncarved block.


(Below is an alternative translation though this is considered, by us, as a travesty of the original Chinese. But it is useful for this purpose.)

If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the (Dao).
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.

Therefore the Master says:
I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.


Najib and the Chinese


Najib’s problem isn’t fundamentally in the advise he has gotten or his advisers (above) but it is in himself: he is way too Anglophile, like are the Malaysiakini subscribers and editors and Mahathir Mohamad.

If he wanted advice, whether it is about China or about himself and his policies, he is better off using a Daoist temple-man. But Najib doesn’t understand the Chinese language that is the vehicle for the deep psyche in Chinese thinking and culture. Add this problem to his cursory comprehension of English which he uses as a Malay supplement, he becomes as stupid as the Malaiyoo motherfucker named Ibrahim Ali.


The Way of Self-Destruction


Rais Husin makes the point that ‘the people surrounding Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, including Ong Ka Ting, don’t know China’. Then he gives the example of the botched Bandar Malaysia project, initially won by the Chinese company China Railway Engineering Company (CREC).

Rais is right to say that numerous people in positions of influence don’t know China but why should that be the reason for Najib to go back on his words on CREC, especially since his words are contracted and exist in black on white? The argument of Rais doesn’t make sense:

  • (a) both companies involved are Chinese, and Najib is simply giving up one Chinese company for another;
  • (b) Najib betrayed CREC before he even courted Wanda; and so
  • (c) where is the need for understanding China by his betrayal?

What has happened is simply this: Najib is an untrustworthy person, so that Rais was attempting to intellectualize a fundamental human problem. After all, the betrayal of CREC isn’t the first thing Malaysia sees of Najib; countless things and events have attested to the man’s duplicitous, conniving and thieving character.

All this isn’t to say he is evil, as Anglophiles have typically characterized him. Rather his duplicity and connivance show his deep distrust of others: that is, he finds the world in constant opposition to him and so he must always get ahead of the game. In the words of the 1MDB bastard Seet Li Lin, he must act at ‘gaming’ the system, to outwit it. Thus he is much like Seet and Jho Low. 1MDB was inevitable because the company operated as an international franchise for Najib’s duplicity.

So serious and so frequent are Najib’s frauds he has left in his wake a trail of conundrums all in opposition to him — society’s way of demanding to return to its equilibrium. Or, put another way, he has simply created the conditions opposing his survival. The whole world is today against him: China, Singapore, the US and the Swiss, and all are simply waiting….

Najib demonstrates the Daoist dictum: the top is the most dangerous, the most uncertain point. Not true? Try climbing a ladder; the farther up is the top, the farther you are from the center of gravity.

The more power he accumulates to himself and the higher up he goes, the more precarious is his situation. A slight kick at the foot of the ladder, he comes down. It’s that easy, so that the question that’s raised is: What is the kick?

The Opposition instead goes around the jungle beating drums with sticks to go after the fugitive thief. Small wonder, Najib is still around with all the talk he is going to be around some more. (For Mahathir Mohamad, his opposition to Najib began for other reasons, actually very racist ones that the Opposition refuses to see. His was a political objective that’s neither ethical nor legal.)

Saying that Najib’s China advisers don’t know China, Rais shows he also doesn’t know the Chinese. Closer to the truth, those advisers don’t know themselves, that is, what is it to be Chinese. They don’t even know the basic Chinese (not Anglo) virtues of reason, justice, fairness, humanness, reticience, patience, diligence, all of which are drawn directly from Daoist/Confucian ideas one hears repeatedly in speeches delivered by the like of Xi Jinping. Like Malaysiakini subscribers, and like Mahathir and Rais himself, they are too conditioned as Anglophiles (or Bangsa Malaysia) to see things otherwise.

His advisers need to wake up their parents from the graves to teach them all over again. That, or go back to Chinese school.

As for Najib, he has been busy writing cheques… and these are coming back to be cashed. This is the trouble with Anglophile types, so completely stupid, because if, as they say, Cash is King who the fuck needs you, Najib?




In pictures, pictures, pictures: China the Great


In Shanxi, the Yanhu, 132 sq km in size, 30 km long, is an inland lake that produces industrial and consumer salts, primarily sodium sulfate and magnesium sulfate. In summer, when the temperature rises, 37 C at present, the algae and brine shrimps grow rapidly. Different algae species at different densities reflect different lights, producing the beautiful multi-color image, above and below.



The Dicui Gorge, one of the ‘Three Small Gorges’ in Chongqing’s Wushan County.


Summer floods have arrived, as if everywhere, all at once: Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Guangxi, Chongqing, Sichuan, and Guizhou. We have put up our emergency and rescue squads in operation. This includes the local bulldozer.

964,600 residents relocated in C China's Hunan due to flood

Rescuers transfer trapped students in flood-hit Guilin

Rescuers transfer trapped students in flood-hit Guilin

Rescuers transfer trapped students in flood-hit Guilin

Sleep tight, my hero guardians

Busy everywhere, but some people still have time to do yoga, swimming, and shopping. This is the Dao, our Way .

In pics: Summer days across China






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That Malaysian First bitch, all over again….

Angel Ng (the woman in tattoo) should have a good look at the photograph taken at her place in so-called KL’s Chinatown which, really, is equal to the contradiction of saying, Chinatown in Shanghai or Taipei or Hong Kong. Kuala Lumpur started as a Chinese city, built by the Chinese, and remained so well into the eighties until Zainudin Maidin, Mahathir Mohamad and other Umno racist bigots decided it has too many Chinese, pendatangs, for a Malaysian capital. And the irony is this, it is still the pendatang capital; Indonesians, Burmese, Banglas, Nepali, Pakistanis, Arabs, even Africans. To these people, Zam, Mahathir and Sanusi Junid don’t seem to mind.

Decades and generations of Umno’s political work and national policies (especially since the days of Mahathir) had come to this, in Angel’s words:

I see myself as Malaysian, not Chinese.

This is absurd because it presumes that the Chinese is a Malaysian as a Malay is Malaysian, which in reality and in truth is patently false. All political rights of the Chinese have been stripped to the bare minimum. Even there, at that level, at the bare minimum — that is, the vote — it has been further eroded: the worth of a single Chinese vote has been so whittled down it now equals one tenth of the Malay, and still it’s going down. All this is happening in spite of their illegality and their unconstitutionality. Malaysia and the Malaysian, both as a polity and as a national political expression, is a fucking piece of fraud.

DAP’s Lim Kit Siang completely dismisses this core of the Malaysian apartheid system so that, in the political language of Anglophile DAP, Angel’s words become, Malaysian First, Chinese Second.

But Malaysia doesn’t deserve us, the Chinese, nor our money, our loyalty much less. If Kadir Jasin or Mahathir insists that Chinese loyalty has always been suspect then our reply is, ‘Yes we’re disloyal. So what? You want loyalty, Kadir, suck my dick‘.

What’s tragic is the failure of Chinese Anglophiles to see in Malaysia the world’s greatest political scam because there is nothing like it elsewhere. Instead, the like of Angel pays tribute to being Malaysian, begging as if to be treated like a dog. Then, as she dismisses her ethnicity, you see her returning to and unashamedly exploiting what is clearly and identifiable Chinese. Go back to the earlier photo and check this one below, ‘What do you see all around?’


Everywhere is representation of the Chinese. Those entrances and windows and signs and other signifiers are not Malay and not Indian. What cultural product or cultural life does Angel thinks she is selling to tourists? Malay? Islamic, ‘bottoms up’? Or Chinese? Or simultaneously Chinese and Malaysian? But the Chinese identity is so completely mangled in national life and before that suppressed through its politics that the result is a person such as Angel, confused, contradictory and lost.

Angel’s contradiction, as well as Kit Siang’s and the DAP is that being Chinese and Malaysian are mutually exclusive.

They couldn’t see the flip side, that there is no Malaysian without the Chinese. Or, put in another way, Being Chinese is the only way for the Chinese to be Malaysian. It’s only that Umno’s politics have never permitted it. And now the DAP and Kit Siang are repeating the same fucking Umno idea.

Stupidly, Nurul Izzah talks of never repeating the BN model of politics…, under which the Chinese were never allowed to be truly Chinese. Corrupted versions of it, yes. Being Anglophile, yes but never being bukit Cina, whatever the fuck that is.

It is time the Chinese reclaim their identity and their political rights. Angel returning to KL is, at a fundamental level, an expression of this reclamation. That is, being Chinese is not wrong nor sinful nor politically incorrect. It is the only thing left to rejuvenate the nation, like Angel’s contribution to relive and repopulate KL. It is the right thing to do because being Chinese cannot be antithetical to being Malay; Malay power could never negate us (neither as Malaysians nor, to begin with, as Chinese), tried as they did, first through Mahathir then PAS and now Islam.

On the contrary, being Chinese is absolutely necessary because to be one requires being ‘liberal’, human-ness, wholeheartedness, the ideas of 仁, 義, 信 and so on, all necessary for governing relations, and all of which are built into the Chinese consciousness, culture and hence identity. On the other hand, when whole populations are suppressed, their identities distorted and yanked out, nobody is going to give a shit for what is going to happen next.

Angel’s early, teenage life was symptomatic in the results of Umno’s handiwork which, and this must be said, is never found in other Chinese populations or societies outside Malaysia. The problems of being Chinese seem only peculiar to this fucked up country.

Today, at age 32, Angel is as contradictory as she was at 23; her individual problems stemming from the suppression of her identity are still there. (It is strange, humans, we the Chinese in particular, can take so much shit.)


One plausible cause is this: the ethnic suppression hasn’t stop. It continues 60 years later with all these motherfuckers: Mahathir, Zam (Zainudin Maidin), Kit Siang, even Anwar from the jailhouse, and then lower down, and much lower down, the like of Kadir Jasin, Hannah Yeoh, Sumisha Naidu, Lisa Ng, Sheridan Mahavera, Josh Hong, Steven Gan, and the Anglophile Thor Kah Hoong who wrote the Angel story, his mind and thoughts as fucked up as Angel is confused.

Go get a life Ah Hoong, as your Anglophile class would say. Or is it too late for you?



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Human purpose and, with it, his character changed forever when the Daodejing 道德經 composition was completed around 200BCE. It also guarded Chinese society (and Korean and Japanese and Vietnamese) from the terror and destructive consequences of Christianity and Islam; the Chinese being fortunate to have an antidote before the birth of the poison of dogma from Jesus and Mohammad and the barbarians they subsequently spawned.

Of Daodejing’s conventional translation into English, The Book of Tao, the title says nothing. Chinese don’t obey the rules of western syntax nor semantics (why should we) so that, taking its actual contents as guide, 道德經 should read as ‘Classical Principles in Ethics‘ wherein dao = way as in a highway or route; de = inner character or strength, today called virtue; so that 道+德= 道德daode=ethical principles; and 經jing=book/classic/canon which as a standalone definition is redundant; of course, this is a book. (Englishmen and Scottish, the Xaviers and La Salle preachers, so overdose with doctrine and god theology, can be stupid. So stupid, they called Daoism a religion, like Jesus Christ is a religion.)

Correct naming, such as in translation, is important. The Daodejing (Ch 1, Mitchell translation):

Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Recall Liu Tezuo 刘特佐 (Jho Low) telling the diamond sellers to keep everything secret, recall the PM’s office complaining about the DOJ’s ‘gratuitous naming‘, recall the secrecy wrapped around the investigations and the money laundering. All of which so clearly shows that, though the PM have few advisers (actually just macai) ethnically Chinese, a character like Jho knows nothing about what goes into Chinese thinking:

若要人不知除非己莫为 = if you don’t want anyone to know, don’t do it.

This, above, is a principle so down-to-earth that it beats all Christian abstract injunctions, for example, Do no evil. Because, the first problem, what’s evil? Whose evil? Daodejing:

The world recognizes beauty,
only because there’s ugly.
People see good,
only because there’s bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Evil was created by the good, and good by evil. That’s to also say, if evil ceases to exist altogether, nobody could do good because it won’t be recognizable. The West in the person of Saul Bellow had only just discovered this notion; so profound they thought he was awarded the Literature Nobel prize. Writing in the Dangling Man, 1994, Bellow argued through a character how a man locked up alone in a cell, with nothing except for the surrounding walls, could be neither good nor evil, and so unrecognizable as a human; like a day-old baby, useless and meaningless even to himself. He would need another human to be himself recognizable. (Which is why, with Albert Camus, suicide is the ultimate self-consciousness.)

Within this interdependent, inter-exchange motion of duality, God if he were any good at all would have to make Jho Low a thieving, fraudulent character, not the Chinese. (We can’t create nature.) The reason being, a thieving Low would make Jesus look like the ultimate good — and the inane Bible (or Quran) necessary to sell. A thieving Najib is already making Mahathir, a man equally base in character, beginning to look like a saint. Yet, just as Umno made Mahathir and Mahathir Najib, Najib made Umno. To save Malaysia, all have to be removed then start over.

Low again:

This — size matters — is so Anglophile, thrown around a million times that the English-educated like Low think nothing of repeating the trite which, as a principle, is badly flawed. Daodejing (Ch 11, Waley translation) in contrast:

  • We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel; But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
  • We turn clay to make a vessel; But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.
  • We pierce doors and windows to make a house; And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.
  • Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.

Daodejing principles once properly translated has a modern, even scientific sense in them and, therefore, immensely profound. There, in those lines, is the analogous marriage of the physical characteristics of space, void and matter with the human sense-feelings of being adrift, uselessness, emptiness and vacuousness. Size doesn’t matter; nothingness matters.



三寸天堂 Three Inches of Heaven

All, pure erhu

Someone, a German, called the erhu the most emotional musical instrument belonging to the Chinese. Perhaps he is right.

From 永安 Yung An: 三寸天堂 Three Inches of Heaven

The vocal version

步步驚心,刻骨銘心。 夢回大清,愛恨難清。 是是非非,隔世再敘。 兩世宿命,豈非天定?


From 宋飞 Song Fei with the 中国中央民族乐团, China Central Orchestra

Performance in Vienna: She is so natural…like she is one with the instrument. Watch and listen to the crescendo at 4:16 then in the closing bars 5:25



From 賈鵬芳 Jia Pengfang, a Sino-western combination.

情侣 To my Love, in China


Travel Worries 旅愁


Pure strings, pure energy!

战马奔腾 or simply 赛马. Either way, in English, this neo-classical piece is titled: Galloping Horses. In all versions, note the parts in which the strings are beaten (they didn’t break) to imitate the sound of horses at war, galloping and panting.

 Version #1: single erhu and string quartet combination. Performed in Canada by Gao Shaoqing 高韶青, one of China’s top erhu masters.

Version #2: With the Russia Symphony

Version #3: Pure erhu. This is the conventional version, performed by Hong Kong students, and is the best of three so far. They made music underscore the real, like a thousand horses charging!

Extra X-Version: Below is a solo experimental with an electronic erhu! Blasphemy!

Verdict: F for Flop! 放弃吧 好像马要死了

The guy on the street, below, does an even far better job.

This is dedicated to all erhu street performers. 祝你们顺利

Street music performance is as old as Chinese civilization.

The piece played below was composed by a blind street erhu performer 80, 90 years ago, someone who had the same, impoverished beginnings, a time of war and widespread hunger. He died, still poor, but his composition outlived him. Song Fei 宋飞 (near to top of section) played the same piece in Vienna: a single instrument, so ancient, contributed to give China hope and helped sustain our people and our spirits. 中国加油!


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Fabricating Humanity

The Natural Order


The Human Order



The Western Social Order


In the above diagram, top half, is a popular mythology, cultivated by the West and still widely in use (at Syed Akbar Ali for example). It shows the western proclivity for looking at life with linearity — everything goes along and are plotted on a straight line. There is a beginning and there is an end. The same sort of bias is found in the diagram below, showing the historical progress of human civilization.

But, what’s wrong with it?

The answer is found in three words, ‘progress’, ‘human’ and ‘civilization’. Simple, straightforward anthropological evidences are twisted then given a social order from the only viewpoint, a western, Judeo-Christian one, that rules intellectual thought today. And isn’t that order biblical? Therein is a homo sapien, with the so-called name Jesus — a nothing after all, but a hominoid monkey-related specie, if he even exist — is marked in red and takes center stage. Everything is therefore ordered either before or after him. To do that, all that was required was to spin some fairy tales around him, and those tales are collectively called the Bible.

Such a sort of perverse thinking has had profound implications: where Western knowledge — especially in religion — had spread deep and wide, local populations began thinking like white people. They become DAP and Malaiyoo Anglophiles (Mahathir Mohamad, Najib Razak, Shahudin Yahya, Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang, Hannah Yeoh, and countless more).




The West Discovers Humanity


…and still can’t find the human in it.

For much of history, strangers were routinely classified as barbarians and inferiors, seldom as fellow human beings. The notion of a common humanity was counterintuitive and thus had to be invented. Siep Stuurman traces evolving ideas of human equality and difference across continents and civilizations from ancient times to the present. — Book synopsis on the Invention of Humanity.


Counterintuitive? Perhaps to White people, Christians. But never to us.


Dutch historian Siep Stuurman presumes too much. The consequence to which — and these are to be found in his book (cover photo above) — is to further the mythology that there has always been a human quest for a ‘common humanity’ and that this is universal.

(But, of course, only in the West are found the answers. That is, White people today are cleverer than monkeys, more cultured. It used to be that their culture and their make-up are superior to other peoples instead of monkeys.)

Stuurman named two ancients, Herodotus and Sima Qian ((司马迁 135 or 145BC – 86BC), as his authority on the enduring notions of humanity, which he attempts to trace back by 2,000 years or more. But, he was wrong that Sima contributed to shape Chinese ideas of humanity.

Sima had lay the ground for Chinese identity, true, but it was in the daodejing 道德经, from Laozi, perhaps not alone, 400-500 years before Christ, that marshal the prevailing ideas then and germinated a philosophy into what has become known today as Confucian humanity that’s embedded in Chinese culture.

(And for fuck sake, don’t bother asking LKS what is Chinese culture. You might as well ask a pig because then he will answer you to say it has to do with qing ming and Chinese new year. Tian-ah. Like Mahathir, he’s another stupid old man.)

Stuurman’s failure begins in the beginning: he assumes there is a naturally-ordered state known as humanity. Like the Christian voodoo ideas of geocentricity, everything in life will gravitate towards it.

Then, in contradiction to that premise, he argues that inequality, as a condition of humanity, is a pure social construction. If inequality was artificially constructed then it could be deconstructed. More to the point, if inequality is artificial so, too, must equality. If such human conditions are entirely social constructs, why does it matter which way either one goes?

His Judeo-Christian bias get more pronounced. When some societies look upon themselves as superior to ‘Others’, it infers, Stuurman argues, a common standard in humanity in which those ‘Others’ are measured. As evidence, he cites the Greek Herodotus and Sima, both of who in their writings wrote of foreign societies that ‘seem’ remarkably like their own. Sima never meant it in that way. Because either Stuurman doesn’t know Chinese or he is inserting his own prejudices into Chinese thought; he was making it up.

Here is where Stuurman’s Judeo-Christian liberal prejudices show, applying his default, political correct bias of making equality as if it was a god-given state when it is not. People eat, fuck, defecate and die. Those are common and equal, yes.

Chinese classical history mentioned the makings of the Five Barbarians 五wu-hu. In Sima’s shiji 史记, the court scribe noted the savagery of the xiongnu (that is, 匈奴, general term for nomadic tribes north of the Great Wall, one of which is predecessor of Genghis Khan and today’s Mongolians). Although the term hu (胡) is commonly translated as ‘barbarians’, the term used then and by Sima had no such western, moral pejorative. Those people, even by the standards then, were ‘wild, reckless and foolish‘ the three adjectival descriptions contained in the word hu. The xiongnu were barbarians in any objective, sense of human-ness but stripped of Stuurman’s liberal morality.

Clearly, Stuurman is pile-driving into the past, today’s liberal, Christian moral standards to make fit the central thesis in his book, which is, there is a thing called ‘common humanity’ that is also universal in character. That humanity, Stuurman insists, has an international appeal. For the fact it has persisted for millennia is self-evident, he argues, culminating in the Rights of Man declaration in a UN Charter and the US constitution.

From Stuurman’s racism and under his pen has flowed another form of imperialism: humanity is sequestered as another Western march in the linear progression of civilization.

A pivotal part in Stuurman’s failure is, to even begin from the beginning: What’s it to be human, from which the word humanity is derived. What is the minimal definition of human?

The answer, of course, depends: shall we give the biological definition or the anthropological? How about the cultural answer? (In case you are unaware, the Chinese has one.)

Regardless, here, we are on quick-sand territory because the western answer to it is as morally spurious as it is varied. The Chinese answer is straightforward: look around you, look at the world, at nature, then look at ourselves. It is there and it is not; it looks back at you so that, at the minimum, the human requires another human simply to exist, to be, and to know itself.

All that alone says a lot, and we should stop there, excepting to say this: An ape by itself is an ape; but humanity is the sum of one human being and one human being. That’s the principal idea, in which is contained the germ of humanity — that is, to be humane — which written in hanzi is, humans (radical ⺅) + two  (二) to make this 仁. No god in between, you see.

When two persons living together — not God — provide the basis for humanity then Eden and biblical fairy tales lose their shine. They fall into disuse, and so the fictitious notion that all men are created equal by God becomes as stupid as stupid does. Stuurman’s book The Invention of Humanity (Harvard University Press) is an attempt to rewrite those fairy tales, one to fit his neo Judeo-Christian prejudices and next to fit the enlarged boundaries of Eden to include Chinese and the conquered, devastated souls of South and North America.

We, the Chinese, reject this sort of thought imperialism. Stuurman discovered nothing, because there was no human mold, no blueprint for the discovery.

Daoists and Confucians knew that all along (the evidence to which, below): humans are cultivated till death; humanity has to be taught, also till death. Those that aren’t cultivated and taught keep their state-of-nature — they remain barbarous.

Splendid’ book, did you say, Michael Walzer? Both of you would make great apologists for ISIS barbarians — barbarians even by the standards of the xiongnu Huns, who were, after all, only after silk, land and women. Try talking to barbarians about your ‘common humanity’. Ya, after that, tell the souls of the dead at their gravestones. Aiya



The daodejing 道德经, above, first published around 500 BC. In the absence of modern paper print, many ancient text had to be copied by hand. Of three earliest daodejing scripts unearthed in China, the one above, found in Mawangdui, was dated about 200 BC. At the time of the Mawangdui publication, the zhuangzi 莊子 was also released.

Those two provide the foundation ideas in Daoism that, in turn, lay the ground for the rise and popularization of Confucianism in East Asia. Still, both schools of thought remain, having changed little since, in contrast to Aristotlean ideas that were subsequently woven into Christian voodoo and in western philosophy. And now woven into this book, The Invention of Humanity.


My dear, dear Motherland…


Be human, get drunk.

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For the answer, look backwards.


Ninety-nine out 100 commentaries and reports about China in the Western media and their local apologists (including Malaysiakini), when not maligning they were either wrong or completely misjudged. China rarely offers a rebuttal: White people say what they want, we don’t care.

Take the Malaysia-North Korea spat, Najib Razak stupidly fighting over a rotting body that’s not even a PAS member. (So what if the name is Kim Jong-nam?) Among dozens of instant, amateurish commentaries, numerous of them asked that Malaysia turn to China as an intermediary. Dennis Ignatius, the virulent anti-Chinese Anglophile and Catholic insider for the Vatican, suggested outright Malaysia ally itself with China. Then, in his characteristic, contradictory piece of illogic, he asked that Malaysia stay out of big power play in East Asia.

As events turned out, none of that happened. It was instead pure barter: nine Malaysian lives exchanged for a dead body and two live Koreans. To what end? Yet, all the while, China reduced its comments to just one line: let peace prevail.

Below, lifted from Lit Hub, is a long view of China from a historical perspective. That is, China’s perspective, not liberals’, not gweilo‘s, not the Wall Street Journal, and certainly not The New York Times. To know what China is likely to be in the future, and what its relationship will be like with the East Asian neighbors, look at China’s past, as far back as 2,000 years. Howard French doesn’t answer those questions just posed. Rather, he just talked history so that, in the main, he is correct. His essay is worth reproducing in full.

Going through it, you might wonder: did Parameswara and his so-called ‘Malacca/Malay empire’ emerged only because of Ming assistance?


All Under Heaven

What Will China Become?

There was once a country at the very center of the world, whose position was recognized as such by peoples both far and wide. Today, we call that country China.

Using the very word “country” is actually deceptive. The nation that we now instantly identify on the map as China hasn’t existed long. Throughout most of its history this dynastically ruled land would not even have recognized itself as a country, let alone seen its neighbors as such. It was an empire, and a largely borderless one, both in its geographical form and in what it considered to be the relevance or applicability—what the French would call the rayonnement—of its ideas. One could argue that there has never been a more universal conception of rule. Practically speaking, for the emperors of the Central Kingdom, this place we call China, the world could be roughly divided into two broad and simple categories, civilization and non-civilization, meaning the peoples who accepted the supremacy of its ruler, the Son of Heaven, and the principle of his celestial virtue, and those who didn’t—those who were beyond the pale.

For the better part of two millennia, the norm for China, from its own perspective, was a natural dominion over everything under heaven, a concept known in the Chinese language as tian xia. It is not a term to be taken too literally. From very early times, China had an awareness of faraway places, including other great empires, like Rome, but contact with such distant regions of the world was tenuous at best and hence both economically and politically marginal.

In the geopolitics of Chinese empire, what was most vital to the Central Kingdom under tian xia, sometimes interpreted as the “known world” in this context, was a vast and familiar swath of geography that consisted of nearby Central Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia. Among these regions, Central Asia constituted a near-constant challenge to Chinese power, and quite often an outright threat. The dimensions of the Central Kingdom ebbed and flowed, mostly as a function of the shifting balance of power between Han (Chinese) and the peoples to the west and northwest, be they Turkic, Mongol, Manchurian, Tibetan or others. (China itself would come to be ruled by invaders from two of these cultures, the Mongols, from 1271 to 1368, and the Manchus, from 1644 to 1912, at the very end of the dynastic era.)

In geographical terms, we usually think of oceans as barriers that effectively separate countries, regions and continents, and in the faraway past nearly sealed them off from one another. But the littoral of East Asia, which runs in a gently articulated crescent from the Korean Peninsula south to the Strait of Malacca, has more typically served as a transmission belt for Chinese culture and prestige, Chinese commerce, and ultimately for Chinese power, although only occasionally hard power. From at least the Tang dynasty (618-907) nearly to the chaotic end of dynastic rule in China in 1912, to one extent or another, the peoples of this sea-bound region often found ways to defer to China, acknowledging its centrality and loosely following its lead.

Functioning in this way, Chinese power came to underpin one of the most remarkable international systems that human civilization has ever seen—a unique form of what has sometimes been described as an extremely loose and distant brand of indirect rule by China over a very considerable slice of humanity. This description is inadequate in part because there were important variations in China’s relations with its eastern neighbors, including degrees of intensity of both contact and obeisance. But at the foundation of this remarkably resilient Pax Sinica lay a basic proposition that was reasonably consistent: Accept our superiority and we will confer upon you political legitimacy, develop a trade partnership and provide a range of what are known in the language of modern international affairs as public goods. These included policing the maritime commons, mediating disputes and granting access to China’s would-be universal system of learning, broadly based on Confucianism. In the core states of this region—Korea, Vietnam and, albeit with growing ambivalence, Japan—Chinese values, Chinese culture, the Chinese language, Chinese philosophy and Chinese religion were all regarded for long stretches of history as essential references, and even universal standards.

The “system” referred to here has long been known in the West (and yet never among Chinese themselves) as China’s tribute system. Throughout this period, beginning as far back as the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), peoples in China’s imperial orbit regularly dispatched “embassies” to perform ritual submission before the Chinese emperor. The granting of trade rights by the imperial court by way of reward represented a tremendous boon that served as a powerful lubricant in bilateral relations. When the Chinese spoke of this system, their language was often full of euphemism and self-regard, frequently referring to the task of what would today be called in foreign policy “barbarian management.”

“To control the barbarians the sage rulers punished and resisted them when they came [to invade China], and prepared and guarded against them when they left,” reads one 19th-century account. “If attracted by China’s civilization, they came to offer tribute, they would be treated with courtesy, and kept under loose rein without severing the relationship, so that the blame of being crooked would always be on them.”

Within this system, foreign leaders often owed their very titles to the grant of recognition via patents of appointment bestowed by the Chinese emperor. Even as they sat on their thrones, new rulers in compliant tributary states had to content themselves with the title of heir apparent until they could receive their letters of investiture from the Celestial Emperor, for fear of infringing protocol.

Just how seriously this business was taken is vividly conveyed by a story from second-century BCE Vietnam, when a local king got it into his head to proclaim himself emperor in his own land. The response of the Han dynasty emperor Wen-Di was swift and unequivocal. “When two emperors appear simultaneously, one must be destroyed . . . struggling and not yielding is not the way of a person endowed with humanity,” he wrote to scold the Vietnamese ruler, whose response can only be described as one of abject submission. “I hear that two heroes cannot appear together, that two sages cannot exist in the same generation,” he stated in a public proclamation. “The Han emperor is the sagacious Son of Heaven. Henceforth, I shall suppress my own imperial edicts.” This pushback from China operated at two levels. Most explicitly, it was a direct statement that in its home region, the Han emperor would not countenance any would-be peers. Beyond that, China was signaling its determination to intervene anywhere in the world where it felt its central role or its vital interests might be challenged. In 1979, more than two thousand years later, as we shall see, China would mount an invasion of Vietnam aimed at making these precise points.

In fact, China would invade Vietnam numerous times during the succeeding centuries, which still resonates powerfully in their relationship today. But using violence to get its way was far from the ideal. As the Japanese scholar Takeshi Hamashita has written, “Like any hegemonic order [the tribute system] was backed by military force, but when the system functioned well, principles of reciprocity involving politics and economics permitted long periods of peaceful interaction.”

It has often been argued that the tribute system cost China more in trade concessions and in the constant hosting of visiting foreign delegations than any economic benefit it might have derived from commerce with an assortment of much smaller neighboring societies. But this is to ignore the domestic political value of the system for China’s emperors. As important as it was for neighboring rulers to enjoy the recognition of the Central Kingdom, it was equally important for the authority of a succession of Chinese emperors to have symbolically obeisant foreigners bowing regularly to their moral prestige and power.

In other words, the willing subservience of others to prostrate themselves before the emperor provided domestic proof of his unassailable moral authority, of his possession of, in the well-worn phrase, the mandate of heaven. This was as true near the end of China’s imperial era as it was during early dynasties, such as the Han. When Britain, approaching the apogee of its global power in the late 18th century, sent a mission to China to try to establish relations on an equal footing with the Qing dynasty, Emperor Qianlong exceptionally granted permission for the envoy of King George III to visit Beijing, on the basis that it would “contribute to the Emperor’s glory.” Finally arriving in China after a nine-month sea voyage, the British were disconcerted to find that all along the route to the capital were hung banners written in large characters proclaiming that the European delegation was led by an “envoy paying tribute to the Great Emperor.” Indeed, Qianlong’s court had informed the public that the head of the foreign delegation, the Irishman George Macartney, was a member of the British royal family who had traversed the oceans in order to “contemplate Civilization.”

“Most dynasties collapsed under the twin blows of ‘inside disorder and outside calamity’ (nei-luan wai-huan), that is, domestic rebellion and foreign invasion,” wrote John King Fairbank, the eminent Harvard scholar of the tribute system. “Every regime was therefore under pressure to make the facts of its foreign relations fit the theory and so confirm its claim to rule China.”

The essence of this thought survives even in contemporary Chinese political thought. As Wang Jisi, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, wrote in 2015, “Ever since the founding of ‘New China’ in 1949, China’s foreign and domestic policies have both served the same goal: to maintain internal political stability under the leadership of the Communist Party.”

It is scarcely appreciated in the West today that the “international system” we so readily take for granted is actually a recent creation. It took shape between the middle of the 19th and the middle of the 20th centuries, and started to be cobbled together at the precise moment that China was being subjugated by others and the world order it had sustained, and that had in turn sustained it for so long, was being replaced.

As our modern world was being born, China was plummeting toward a historical nadir in its relative regional power and influence. The norm for it had long been an unshakable conviction in the enduring universality of its values and ethics, its own culture, and its unquestioned centrality. The new, Western form of global universality was based not on a presumed natural hierarchy in the world, with China at the apex, but rather on the presumed equality (at least legally and theoretically) of clearly defined nations, on a raft of Judeo-Christian ideas and institutions, on spreading principles of electoral democracy, on open trade instead of managed tributary exchanges, and finally on a fast-emerging regime of international law. Underwriting all of these fine-sounding notions was, of course, Western and, in the 20th century above all, American power.

China’s experience of its own successful and long-lasting international system, and of its long and mostly unchallenged status as the standard-setter of civilization itself by right, would have necessarily made a shift to almost anything new a difficult downgrade. 

But to an extent that is underappreciated in the West, the brutal circumstances of the transition to what is our now familiar world, coming at a moment of unprecedented Chinese weakness, feeds an unusually deep-seated ambivalence toward contemporary norms, which is becoming more and more apparent with each passing year of increasing Chinese power.

Fairbank wrote with considerable understatement nearly 50 years ago, when China was ruled in largely autarkic fashion by Mao Zedong in near-permanent, revolutionary tension with the postwar system,“Modern China’s difficulty of adjustment to the international order of nation-states in the 19th and 20th centuries has come partly from the great tradition of the Chinese world order. This tradition is of more than historical interest and bears upon Chinese thinking today.”

In its most familiar form, the narrative of the demise of the Chinese world order is the story of rampaging Western imperialism’s triumphant march into East Asia. In its textbooks and in its nationalist propaganda, China itself has styled the one-hundred-year period during which the modern world was built as its Century of Humiliation, with Britain’s Opium Wars and the sack of Beijing by both Britain and France accorded pride of place. Although the aggressive expansion of Western powers into the China-centered world of East Asia was a critical fact of that period, it seems more likely that what the West achieved was in reality the early transformation of the old Chinese world that would soon lead to even more dramatic changes. Principally these would be wrought not by Westerners but rather by historically subsidiary nations in East Asia, as the yawning discrepancy between China’s self-image and geopolitical reality became unsustainable.

Although there were many actors in Asia seeking their own separate accommodations with the nascent international order, the main driver of the change that definitively closed the curtains on the two-millennia-old Sinocentric order in the region was without doubt imperial Japan. It defeated its much larger neighbor in 1895 in the Sino-Japanese War, and thereafter surged ahead of it according to almost every measure of national power over the next half century, only to be driven out of China and defeated in World War II, mostly as a result of reckless military overreach. But even in the decades following its ultimate defeat by the United States, Japan has remained well ahead of China in numerous ways, most obviously in per capita wealth and quality of life, but also, even if the lead here is shrinking, in things like technological advancement and global cultural influence. If nothing else, Japan’s grab for great power, coming very largely at China’s expense, proved the enduring relevance of the previously quoted maxim “When two emperors appear simultaneously, one must be destroyed.” Indeed, up until the present day, East Asia has never proven large enough for two great powers to coexist peacefully, and the question of whether this will be possible in the future looms darkly over the region.

Seen from this angle, the lingering place of the tribute system in the Chinese psyche takes on a new importance. It was one thing for China to be humiliated by the West; Chinese thinkers have taken comfort in the idea that barbarians from afar could never have been expected to accept the Central Kingdom’s virtue and cultural superiority. But the defeats administered beginning in the late 19th century by an upstart Japan, for the Chinese an intrinsically inferior nation whose very origins lay in immense cultural debt to China in everything from writing systems and literature to religion and governance, were a different matter, and the energies unleashed by this history are still profoundly at work in the world today. The towering early-20th-century Chinese intellectual and seminal figure in the birth of the country’s modern nationalism, Liang Qichao, wrote that China’s loss in the Sino-Japanese War “awakened my country from the long dream of four thousand years.”

During most of the second half of the 20th century, including most of the Maoist era, Beijing took a relatively relaxed attitude toward Japan, eagerly absorbing its technology and increasingly massive investments and studying its successes once China’s so-called reform and opening period got under way in the early 1980s. As it did so, Beijing mostly deemphasized the divisive past. China similarly took a largely accepting view of American military primacy in East Asia in the post-Mao era. In hindsight, with both of these positions recently having changed dramatically in the space of less than a decade marked by sharp national ascent, one is tempted to say that China simply made a pragmatic calculation that it was too weak to do anything about either of these situations and should therefore concentrate on quietly building its strength.

This it has certainly done, and today, as China’s self-regard has swollen, along with its newfound power, Japan has returned to the center of the Chinese gaze in the form of a bull’s-eye; the focus of Beijing’s approach to the country (and indeed to the entire sea-bound region that once defined the tribute system, and especially Vietnam and the Philippines) is to restore what from the perspective of the Central Kingdom is considered the natural order. This, it must be said, is not merely the preoccupation of the Chinese state, though. It has also increasingly become a consuming obsession of rising populist nationalism. Success or failure in this grand pursuit, therefore, will go far in determining the legitimacy of China’s leaders, from the assertive incumbent president, Xi Jinping, onward, and indeed could well decide the survival or failure of the Chinese Communist Party.

China’s ultimate goal, however, is not merely to restore a semblance of the region’s old order, an updated kind of tributary system in which the nations of Southeast Asia or even a wealthy and customarily diffident Japan will have no choice but to hitch their fortunes to it and bow to Beijing’s authority. A larger, more ambitious goal is already edging into view. This ambition, evident from behavior even if still not fully avowed, involves supplanting American power and influence in the region as an irreplaceable stepping-stone along the way to becoming a true global power in the 21st century. Shi Yinhong, one of China’s most prominent foreign policy realist thinkers, has written that Xi’s goal is “to give [China] a dominant role in Asia and the Western Pacific—at the cost of the US’s ascendancy.” In a conversation with me, he added, “The West shouldn’t think so much about integrating China into the Western liberal order, but rather try to accommodate China.” This, he said, would ultimately mean having the United States accept military parity with China in the Pacific, the ceding of what he called a “narrow but substantial span of strategic space” for China in the nearby seas, and a loosening of America’s alliance structure in the region.

Even though he is a respected insider, Shi’s vision is provisional and anything but official. It points us nonetheless toward perhaps the most important question there is in this era’s realm of international relations: What kind of power is China likely to become?


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