opiate of the mass-market

Today’s postcard is a bit of jump jump jump–from Hong Kong free traders to the rise of openly Nazi candidates in the 2018 midterm elections via a bodice-ripper or two. 

Here’s the question: Is E.J. Eitel’s Europe in Asia actually a Victorian-era pirate bromance before the fact? That’s the question that keeps bubbling up when I read his characterization of opium pushers free traders like William Jardine and James Matheson. Compare, for example, how smoothly the prologue from a popular historical romance links up with a passage from Eitel: Continue reading

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).”

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first look at the belt and road

Its difficult when looking at a map of the proposed Belt and Road and not associate the maritime road with British colonialism, albeit in reverse and more than a century after the fact. But that’s what’s so distressing. When the British parliament dissolved the East India Company (EIC), it did not dismantle the systems of unjust and unjustifiable extraction that EIC had put in place over roughly four centuries of occupation, exploitation, and forced participation in the system. Instead, independence movements saw the rise of local elites who were determined to benefit from the system, justifying their profits with respect to local values and structures of oppression. In other words, it was never just the Brits, but also the Brits and their local running dogs (to use Mao Zedong’s felicitous phrase) and even after Independence, the dogs kept yapping, securing military support from the US and elsewhere (for the distressing tale of the fate of the Third World as a revolutionary ideal, check out The Darker Nations by Vijay Prashad).

The problem, of course, was that the profitability of the British system depended on opium; where would surplus profits (to fund industrialization, for example) come from without monopoly, forced labor, and addiction? Certainly, once India regained control of the Bihar plantations and China retook its ports, both countries were faced with the problem of “surpassing England and catching up with the United States” in the absence of captive markets and a drug monopoly to finance their industrial revolutions. And this may be why Europeans and US Americans fear the Belt and Road: if you’re not a running dog with Chinese characteristics, just what are your options in the new world dis/order (and yes, I’m looking at you, midwestern farmer)?

china-silk-road

Map from an early analysis of Belt and Road, eurasia review.

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sex in the chasm

In a series of responses to E.J. Eitel’s Europe in China: The History of Hongkong from the Beginning to the Year 1882, I read within and against the emergence of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. I am not so much interested in providing a comprehensive history of the SEZ  as I am in tracking Shen Kong, a form post-Mao post-coloniality that is one of the roots of the Belt and Road initiative. As I read, I note associations that link contemporary Shenzhen and colonial Hong Kong. In those flashes of awareness, the norms and forms of contemporary global restructuring make uncanny and distressing sense. Page citations are noted in parentheses and refer to the 1895 edition of Europe in China.

Sex in the Chasm Continue reading

thinking through old maps…

I’ve been thinking about unexpected outcomes, specifically how mapping practices shape geopolitical imaginaries. So, I’m uploading four maps to make a highly speculative point: The Sino-British buffer zone has been a long time coming and like many contemporary boundaries it is an artifact of colonial institutions, including mapping practices. The way the British mapped Hong Kong included the area that today we think of as the Shenzhen inner districts (Luohu, Futian, and Nanshan) and was once known as “the Special Economic Zone.” For a more detailed development of this argument check out the article I wrote with Viola WAN Yan, “Shen Kong: Cui_Bono.Continue reading

join us in hong kong

Tomorrow evening I’ll be talking about Shen Kong at HKU’s Shun Hing College. Please join us. The talk is free, but we ask that folks register at  http://www.shunhingcollege.hku.hk/event/the-hong-kong-shenzhen-connection-lessons-challenges-and-outlook/.