a bully’s honor

As I watch the US president scream and shout and justify his socio-pathologies, as I  engage low-ranking officials who change their minds and force their subordinates to work unnecessary overtime everyday, and as I argue with parents who think that their children are not “strong enough (不够厉害)” to take what they want in life, I’ve been thinking a lot about bullies and institutional forms of bullying that are misrecognized as education or leadership or honor and virtue. Like many in the United States, a significant number of Chinese people accept social Darwinism as an accurate description of “the real world,” rather than recognizing social Darwinism for the self-serving misreading of evolutionary theory that it is.

Then, after a grumble about the normalization of bullying in everyday life, I continue reading E. J. Eitel’s Europe in China: the History of Hongkong from the beginning to the Year 1882, which compounds my frustration with righteous bullies and their inability to empathize with anyone’s pain, including their own. I manage three sentences before the arrogance, misogyny and general smugness of Eitel’s text force me to consider if I really want to read over 600 pages of what must have been considered “edifying” reading material. The text does make clear is the extent to which imperial bureaucracies, colonialism and some misplaced yearning for civilization continue to overdetermine the hierarchies and injustices that characterize contemporary societies. Continue reading

what’s so free about free trade?

Like many late 19th century Britons, E. J. Eitel saw the East India Company (EIC) as the economic equivalent of the Qing Dynasty, asserting, “However galling this stolid assertion of self-adequacy and supremacy, and this persistent exclusivism of the Chinese Government, must have been to the East India Company’s officers and to the Ambassadors specially commissioned to bolster up the position of the East India Company in China, it must not be forgotten that the East India Company was, within its own sphere, just as haughty, domineering and exclusive a potentate, as any Emperor of China (19).”

Continue reading

nationalism despite the state

Steampunk + kung fu + colonialism + the Qing Dynasty = Tai Chi 1: Start At Zero (太极1:从零开始).

The plot is simple and the pace full-throttled. There is a village, where kung fu is treasured and passed down from generation to generation, but only to village members — no sharing traditional culture. There are masters who fly through the air and defeat mechanical trojan horses, which bring railway tracks and seductive foreign women. There is a phoney foreignor, who betrays his village and first love to redeem his personal honor. There is a latent hero, who learns kung fu despite the village’s prohibition against teaching outsiders, shuts down the trojan horse despite ignorance about things mechanical, and marries the village kung fu beauty despite being unconscious. All in 90 minutes of whirling feet and spinning hands, punctuated by moments of sudden stillness and insight into what happens to human hearts when forced into a corner. Continue reading

Wandering Macau’s Historic Center

Macau’s historic center presents us a fundamental conundrum. On the one hand, it’s Qing / Republican China meets Portugal spaces charm and entice; I find these older spaces beautiful in ways that the city’s casinos and glass towers are not. On the other hand, these spaces manifest colonial legacies; the East India Company’s cemetery and crucified Jesuses that adorn the Portuguese churches give visceral form to the foundational violence of the contemporary world system. Impressions of world heritage, below:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.