OnPoint by Keith Ng

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OnPoint: Relationship Status: It's complicated

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  • Ethan Tucker,

    I'm wondering what would happen if a concerned Pakeha tried to debate the New Zealand Chinese protests with some of the participants.

    'Your invasion and annexation of Tibet is reprehensible, and your ongoing colonisation of the territory with your own people, swamping its original inhabitants and suppressing their culture, is simply intolerable in the 21st century', Concerned Pakeha might say.

    What's to stop the Chinese student replying, 'Well, it seemed to work pretty well for your ancestors coming to New Zealand in the 19th century, didn't it?'

    (The counter-argument would be that they brought parliamentary democracy with them. The counter-counter argument is that they also brought Peter Brown)

    Wellington • Since Apr 2008 • 119 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    Stephen, there you are. Did your mum get that book I left in her mailbox? Email me on goodeye at xtra dot co dot nz if you like.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • Seamus Harris,

    Some of you may be interested in checking out my blog post on Sunday's rally. My view is that of a non-Chinese non-protesting attendee who has lived in China and speaks Chinese. It is also the view of someone who was assaulted by Chinese demonstrators for no apparent reason.

    http://bunnyhugs.org/2008/05/01/ugly-nationalistic-chinese-demonstration-in-auckland/

    Auckland • Since May 2008 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    That's horrendous, Seamus, and it must have been very scary.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • Charles Mabbett,

    Terrific post, Stephen! Beautiful potted history lesson!

    Seamus, Tim Kong already posted a link to your post about the demos on Public Address. It is in the thread in the Hard News post about the Homegrown music festival. It's really interesting!

    Since Nov 2006 • 236 posts Report Reply

  • Charles Mabbett,

    Not exactly, Ethan. Peter Brown came later - after the Chinese.

    Since Nov 2006 • 236 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Withers,

    Whew! I'm abit relieved to read your post. Watching the demos last week, I thought much the same things and wrote about it in my own blog : [url]http://truthseekernz.blogspot.com/2008/04/beijing-olympic-drama.html[/url]

    I differed in that I didn't have any serious expectation that Chinese would think too deeply about democracy and freedom right now. I'm concerned aout the risk of China being (somewhat pointlessly) humiliated through the Olympics by a hypocritical West. I can readily understand how that might pecipitate a backlash both inside China and against some outside.

    The nationalist narrative you describe is real in the minds of enough Chinese that it is reality. The West is silly to not understand that context and treat it as real.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    i vote for Seamus's blog post to be made into a PA Speaker post.

    what do others think?

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 645 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    i vote for Seamus's blog post to be made into a PA Speaker post.

    what do others think?

    I think it has a home already, but I'll link to it too. I'm also paying for a Chinese translation of Keith's post.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22839 posts Report Reply

  • izogi,

    Great article, Keith. Thanks for putting it together, and thanks to others for links to some other very insightful commentaries. Just to respond to Ethan:

    What's to stop the Chinese student replying, 'Well, it seemed to work pretty well for your ancestors coming to New Zealand in the 19th century, didn't it?'

    In a few words -- perhaps the fact that we're still arguing about those events and 150 years later we're devoting billions of dollars of resources towards trying to resolve past injustices on behalf of the Crown and its former subjects?

    In more words --

    You could also ask many of the Maori descendants what they think about the colonisation of the 19th century, and most would probably say that the outcome was grossly unfair to them for all sorts of reasons. Being of European descent I'm glad that I live in New Zealand. It's where I was born and grew up and I like it, and I consider myself a native New Zealander. That said, I have no doubt that there were fundamentally different ways of thinking from both sides, people on both sides who knowingly took advantage of fundamental misunderstandings, and that a lot of questionable things went on.

    It's far too late to resolve things with simple compensation. 100+ years after the events, many of the problems caused by initial injustices have grown a lot more complex and harder to deal with. But if so many people today didn't care about exactly the things to which you've referred, then we certainly wouldn't be experiencing so much debate and publicity today. If Maori people had been absolutely culturally suppressed and extinguished in the same way that I expect the CCP wants to do to Tibetans, then I think a typical Chinese student wouldn't have even heard of historical NZ colonisation issues.

    The Crown and colonists had similar attitudes back at the turn of the century, and mis-applied Darwinism was also very popular. Maori culture and ethnicity would just die out when integrated with the overwhelming "superior" culture of tea drinking British. That would be sad but would happen regardless, just as it was sad that New Zealand native birds would probably die out to make way for the "superior" British birds, except for those that could adapt to their English farm and country garden environments into which they were going to turn most of New Zealand.

    Personally I'm glad we grew out of this attitude, though. Maori culture didn't die out, the world became more politically correct. I suspect that now the Crown is regretting how its descendants handled things, and everyone in New Zealand is paying the price if they hadn't already.

    I'd be interested to see whether Tibet will simply disappear in the long run, or if the native Tibetan people and their descendants will eventually come back to haunt the presiding Chinese overlords 50 or 100 years from now if and when the majority attitudes change. Time will tell, I guess. The major difference that I can see between the two is that the descendants of most Maori people had an agreement in writing, however ambiguous, and that might be what's helped them the most in the long run for getting recognition.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1141 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I'd be interested to see whether Tibet will simply disappear in the long run, or if the native Tibetan people and their descendants will eventually come back to haunt the presiding Chinese overlords 50 or 100 years from now if and when the majority attitudes change. Time will tell, I guess.

    It's hard to see how that could not be messy. Ethnic Tibetans are spread through several Chinese provinces. But who knows what will happen to the shape of China in that time period?

    The major difference that I can see between the two is that the descendants of most Maori people had an agreement in writing, however ambiguous, and that might be what's helped them the most in the long run for getting recognition.

    The Tibetans have a agreement too: the Dalai Lama formally accepted Chinese rule in 1951. Religious freedom was protected in the agreement, but unfortunately, Mao was a sociopath.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22839 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Mao was a sociopath

    and the agreement wasn't titled Agreement of the British Crown and the Local Tribes of NZ on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of New Zealand

    That was a bit of a giveaway.

    In the long run it could be more about how much of Tibet culture can be saved. Some sort of autonomy might emerge but will the language and other aspects of culture survive. China's is still trying to extinguish this in much the same we as what happend in NZ before we had a change of heart, or go forced, to depending on how you look at it.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    What's to stop the Chinese student replying, 'Well, it seemed to work pretty well for your ancestors coming to New Zealand in the 19th century, didn't it?

    There's an interesting exchange in Dissent between Michael Walzer and Daniel Bell about making these sorts of analogies.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Tristan Egarr,

    They are also a group that's not usually involved in public demonstrations – so the fact that so many turned out showed just how much this matters to them.”

    I think their chant “What do we love? Friendship! What do we hate? Protestors!” is illustrative of your point: they protested against protesting, apparently unaware of the irony.

    Mark Thomas: “i wonder if a generic kiwi whitey could've written this article without being accused of being xenophobic.”

    Russel Brown: “I think a kiwi whitey who could read the banners and place the whole thing in a nuanced historical context would still have been on fairly strong ground.”

    A kiwi whitey like myself, who doesn’t know enough about the historical context, is going to have to write from the point of view of saying “I’m attempting to understand what’s going on here”, and so while we can offer criticisms we do have to moderate them due to the simple fact that we don’t know enough to stand on a soapbox. There’s a responsibility to show that you understand something well before pointing out where it goes wrong, and the fact that western commentators don’t always do this inflames the nationalism displayed on this march. And since a generic kiwi whitey by definition won’t know enough about “nuanced historical context”, I suspect Mark is right.

    Wellington • Since May 2008 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Seamus Harris,

    I am not at all sure that 'whiteys' are genetically or culturally predisposed towards an inability to understand "nuanced historical contexts" in Asian affairs. In fact a western historical education can often be beneficial.

    I have never taken a huge interest in Tibet personally. However, I must have met more 'whiteys' than 'Chinese' who have actively done their own research using relatively non-biased sources (i.e. have read specialist scholarly works on Tibet, not general history textbooks designed for school kids in the PRC).

    When a 'whitey' voices an unpopular opinion on China the accusation from the Chinese side will always be 'you don't understand China'. A 'whitey' can know far more about specific China-related issue than the Chinese person they are debating with, and they will almost invariably still face this accusation.

    I would encourage people to consider each situation on its merits rather than starting from the assumption that 'whiteys' are handicapped in the matter of 'nuanced historical context' in Asia.

    Being a 'whitey' (or at least having come through a non-Chinese education system) can often be an advantage in understanding 'nuanced historical context'. Chinese in both the ROC and PRC tend to interpret their history in purely Chinese terms. The colonization of the indigenous population is ignored, as is the role of the Dutch in opening Taiwan to Chinese settlement. The Japanese colonization is included in the narrative because their presence was more recent, and because it fits the wider narrative of Chinese victimization by foreigners. In fact Taiwanese history is really about a wave of successive colonizations (Dutch, Qing, Japanese, and KMT), each very different. Because of our own educational system, and its emphasis on colonization and race relations issues, New Zealand 'whiteys' are naturally inclined to see many things that Chinese tend to miss.

    Auckland • Since May 2008 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • Keith Ng,

    With all due respect, Seamus, going into a Chinese nationalist rally with a Taiwanese flag on your t-shirt (yes, I know, technically a Republic of China flag in an anti-Japanese context) isn't really the best way to start a conversation.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 543 posts Report Reply

  • Keith Ng,

    applies to the Tibetan protesters around the world as well?

    The most interesting - and confusing - part of this is that the action takes place in the subtext. A group of Tibetans waving Tibetan flags sends a completely different message from a group of Chinese waving Chinese flags.

    Just by being there, waving a flag for a country that doesn't exist, they're sending a strong message about their status as a "lost people" and convey a sense of cultural subjugation. And of course, the "Tibetan brand" carries a lot of weight, thanks for the Dalai Lama (as opposed to this).

    So, no, the same criticism doesn't apply. Even if they nominally do exactly the same thing, the message is completely different.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 543 posts Report Reply

  • Seamus Harris,

    Keith, a few points in reply. . .

    First, the t-shirt was invisible since my jacket was buttoned up the whole time I was in Aotea Square. In the photo on my blog you can see me standing in the background, with only the white collar of the t-shirt visible. The cameraman was suspicious of what was under my jacket but could not see what it was and so asked me to unbutton the jacket and show him. There may be pictures of me circulating on the Internet with the jacket unbuttoned. Those were taken after the attack when I was showing demonstrators I was not wearing a Snow Lion design. The t-shirt was never visible prior to the point I was attacked. In the grappling it is possible that the upper part of the design briefly became visible as people pulled on my clothes, but the assault was already in progress at that stage.

    Second, I was there more to observe than to converse with people. I was not interested in discussing political issues with anyone. The attempt at conversation was my response to being physically assaulted.

    Third, the event was not billed as a nationalist rally. It was billed as a Chinese community Olympic celebration. I dressed accordingly.

    Fourth, while I might not wear that t-shirt in China (despite being purchased there it would invite too much comment) or Taiwan (the KMT associations are a bit strong), this is New Zealand. I often wear that t-shirt here. I must have worn it about once a week over summer. Possibly the attackers recognized me from elsewhere as the guy who sometimes wears a Taiwan t-shirt. I doubt this though.

    Fifth, it is hardly a political t-shirt. If I had wanted to make a point I would have gone for something more dramatic.

    Auckland • Since May 2008 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • Seamus Harris,

    Oh yes. . . And my photo is online on Sky Kiwi with comments saying that I was 'mistaken for a Tibet independence supporter and kicked'. So so far as as least some of those attacking me were concerned, the issue was Tibet, not Taiwan.

    Auckland • Since May 2008 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Economically, China seems to have achieved the impossible by rising so quickly from such a low base to where they are now. It's hard to think of any historical comparisons to this meteoric rise in fortunes.

    Post WWII Japan springs immediately to mind, but no others.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    And of course, the "Tibetan brand" carries a lot of weight, thanks for the Dalai Lama...

    It's interesting how some liberation movements have gotten a tremendous boost because a prominant figure is marketable - for want of a better term. The Dalai Lama, Mandela, Ghandi, even Castro when he didn't go in for 6 hour speeches.

    I've always had a (from a distance of 1/2 a planet) soft spot for Arafat for that reason. He really did market the Palestinian cause. The face (albeit a Woody Allenish one) of the Palestinian struggle.

    But some liberation movements like the Tamil Tigers and the FARC just come across as thugs - maybe because that's all they are or turned out to be.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Victor Chou,

    On a lighter note:

    I know someone who showed up to that rally simply for the sing-along to classic patriotic songs experience.

    Slightly more serious:

    Borrowing a page from Obama's "bitter small town" analysis - these international students might as well be just channeling their dissatisfaction from the mismatch between the level of service/treatment befitting customers on a tens of thousands of dollars education tourism experience and reality of sometimes being treated as unwelcome aliens.

    No less troubling than the increasing global displays of Chinese nationalism is the rise nationalism everywhere, New Zealand included, and the way this has meshed effortlessly with the idealised/propaganda-ised "Western values" meme as if everybody wants to be like Stallone in Rocky IV defeating the evil communists single-handedly. Playing the part of a forward-looking, multicultural liberal society urging other countries to do better as opposed to be merely engaging in some sort of "we're better than you" grandstanding would be credible were it not for the existance at the same time of an entire cultural industry of retro that romanticise the past.

    Someone mentioned that being an "whitey" means he/she can interpret Chinese history not from just a purely Chinese perspective, but leaving aside the question of what exactly is a "purely Chinese perspective" there is the question of is perspective X any more nuanced/balanced/objective than any other? My understanding of such an enlightened "Citizen of the World" is an almost completely apolitical person whose circle of empathy falls off rather sharply beyond one's family and friends, the kind of person who would attend such a rally only to sell some t-shirts. Incidentally I've been told by many people, whitey included that that's a rather stereotypical Chinese attitude, so the rally-going Chinese are in fact not real Chinese at all. Who then, can a "real Chinese" like me blame for such recent displays of non-Chineseness by Chinese people over the world? Who else but the communists, now if only Rocky is still around to help out...

    Since Feb 2007 • 12 posts Report Reply

  • Seamus Harris,

    Victor, the issue is not being a 'whitey', but rather having a different educational background. No doubt you could do it too.

    You ask if perspective X is any more nuanced/balanced/objective than perspective Y. If perspective X gives appropriate consideration to information that perspective Y ignores, then surely the answer is yes.

    Auckland • Since May 2008 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • Victor Chou,

    Seamus, I definitely wasn't suggesting the different perspectives can be reduced to some sort of racial divide, but by the same token "different educational background" can be equally problematic. I recall back in secondary school in social studies learning about the NZ Land Wars, the underlying message for me was basically "whoever wins the war calls the shots" (this was years before I first heard that famous Mao saying). As others have pointed out, 100 years on the issue has got a lot more complicated. I would imagine that's probably going to be the kind of long-term strategic outcome regarding the Tibet issue desired by those in power (and cares to plan that far ahead).

    But back to replying your reponse, a different educational background is not a guarantee of being able to give appropriate consideration - this is politics we're dealing with, not engineering, as a Bush administration staff was quoted saying, they are in the "reality-making business". That here in NZ the matter of minority interests and dissent is treated more favourably in general is only considered good policy because those policies have so far yielded pretty good results (those policies certainly do dictate how the outcomes are to be evaluated), however at the end of the day there is no hard "you fail because you tried to change the laws of physics" 100% guaranteed slap-in-the-face reality check (sure, the Iraq debacle can make for a good counterexample) that gives us a benchmark for "appropriate consideration". International public opinion? Academics serving as "conscience of society"? Personally I might as well just switch my TV to Fox News, that Bill O'Reilly fellow sure sounds like he knows what he's talking about, plus I really like the sound of a no-spin zone...

    My long-winded diatribe aside, I'm actually not a relativist who sees the world as nothing but murky shades of grey, just that I'm really cynical of anyone talking about freedom, democracy, rule of law and such high-falutin' ideals given how much such ideals have been monopolised by certain groups.

    Since Feb 2007 • 12 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    What's to stop the Chinese student replying, 'Well, it seemed to work pretty well for your ancestors coming to New Zealand in the 19th century, didn't it?'

    (The counter-argument would be that they brought parliamentary democracy with them. The counter-counter argument is that they also brought Peter Brown)

    Well no. The counter argument would be, "WTF, I thought you guys have been railing against Western imperialism for over 100 years. Was that point all a big mistake?"

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

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