In several of my WeChat circles, an excerpt from the snarky classic, Fortress Besieged (围城) by Qian Zhongshu has been activated by those sympathetic to the Hong Kong students. It is however not unequivocal support, after all Fang Hongjian was not so much a hero, as a first generation off the farm urbanite caught between competing value systems, not quite at home in either China or the West. Conflicted and going about causing conflicts, intentionally and not, as he tries to live his life in Republican Shanghai. I have roughly translated the passage below: Continue reading
I have recently hooked into “we chat (微信)”, Tencent’s latest social networking app. Point du jour is simple: Tencent regularly bleeps me news updates, so I can follow world headlines at a glance. These past few days, the juxtaposition of the US election and the 18th National People’s Congress has offered lessons in misreading and irony.
For example: On the eve of the US election, I received the following three headlines:
- Today’s topic: does the election divide or unite Americans? to be followed by
- The 38 delegations arrived for the 18th NPC and first in line were the farmer-workers (meaning farmers who are migrant workers) delegation, and then, just so you don’t forget that the US and China are not two sides of the same coin
- Microsoft will use Skype instead of MSN everywhere but the Mainland.
Now, I’m not sure how direct the comparison between the US election and the 18th NPC were to be. Clearly, while both are domestic rituals, they will impact people through out the world. After all, international chains of production and consumption (of say computers and software) have made the US and PRC not only important trade partners, but also jointly influential over the global distribution of production and consumption in disturbing ways. However, that direction of thought was not picked up by the news editors at Tencent. Instead, the implicit comparison was between the “divisiveness” of the US election system and the “harmony” of the NPC.
Here’s the telling moment: this series of headlines could as easily fit into a Fox Network summary as an explicit (and self-congratulatory) comparison between the “democratic” structure of American politics in contrast to the “homogenized” politics of China.
As any structural anthropologist could tell you, when symbolic systems are this easily converted, there’s a good chance we’re talking about moieties, a form of unilineal descent that involves the occurrence of descent groups in linked pairs which assume complementary positions and functions. In more traditional moieties, marriage is exogamous and involves women and men marrying exclusively from the matching group. However, moieties also engage in trade and other activities, providing the larger social context of extra- and intra-moiety relations.
This is me thinking about the growing interdependence, not simply material, but also ideological between the US and PRC. Our co-dependence is deep and worrisome because we’ve yet to see any evidence that we do anything but reinforce our own and each other’s blind spots.