December 5th, 2013, Vice President of the U.S. (VOTUS) Joseph R. Biden, speaking to a conference room-full of PRC diplomats and dignitaries after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, made an accidentally revealing comment:
The United States has a profound stake in what happens here, because we need—we are, and will remain—a Pacific power, diplomatically, economically, and military [sic].”
Judge for yourself, but this comment, calculated to reassure allies and make the top echelons of the Beijing regime think twice about aggressive moves in the region, kind of rang hollow or, at least rang… awkward.
To me, the “we need, we are, and will remain a Pacific power” had the ring of uneasiness, the sound of an aging boxer trying to talk tough and he can hardly convince himself.
Let me know if you think differently, but I thought it revealed something akin to the male peacock who is strutting to impress but no longer pulling it off (the female peacocks are rolling their eyes) or the schoolyard bully power-posing in front of the doors to get kids’ lunch money, but it’s more pathetic than intimidating, because the bully has repeatedly shown himself unable to back it up, even a little girl on crutches backed him down.
During Biden’s visit to East Asia, he repeated various versions of the “we really are a resident Pacific power” message, and it did more to confirm we really aren’t than anything.
Someone who is actually powerful doesn’t have to keep trying to convince people.
VP Biden went on an emergency tour of East Asia to address the recent controversy over the PRC imposing an “Air Defense Identification Zone” (ADIZ) over a huge swath of airspace of the East China Sea, including, most provocatively, the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands (referred to as the “Diaoyu Islands” in mainland China). To set up such an expansive ADIZ over disputed territory, nearly half of it overlapping the pre-existing Japanese ADIZ, particularly claiming the airspace of islands controlled by your primary rival country, has, as Biden said, “caused significant apprehension in the region.” ADIZs have been around since the post-WWII years, so they’re not new, but they never have overlapped like this before over others’ territory.
No one else wrote about how odd Biden sounded in Beijing, so I did… unearthing the unexpected and unnoticed, that’s a big part of what blogging is for, I think.
As we say goodbye to November, here is a summary of November news items that add to, echo, or relate to, past posts from my blog.
1. Tea Partier fears about being in China’s debt
On November 11th, I published an essay on the blog: Beijing’s Marshall Plan for the U.S., about the weird China-U.S. economic relationship and the domestic uneasiness, tension, even rage, it’s causing, and how it’s driving Tea Party activism on the debt and deficit.
That day, video came out from Sarah Palin’s Nov. 9 speech at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, and her “this isn’t racist, but…it’ll be like slavery when that note is due. We are going to beholden to the foreign master [China]” comment got lots of attention in the news cycle. Unfortunately, the “this isn’t racist, but” quip was like a flashing, neon sign “ATTACK RACISM HERE” and media took the bait: it was deliberate, jiujitsu messaging, suddenly the media is delivering a message about Palin and about the left to her specific audience without even knowing they’re doing it… diabolically clever. She is constantly doing backhanded ways of delivering red meat to her base via outrage-peddling news media, in this case Palin’s delivering the message “I hate the racism police too, I’m like you” with media doing the delivering for her. So, with the journalism guard dog pointlessly chasing a car, debating whether the word slavery is inappropriate (I’d say it is very inappropriate when being used for publicity-baiting but the concept of “debt slavery” merits legitimate discussion) and batting about different ahistorical viewpoints, the China part of the comment was lost in most media accounts.
This is the meat of the comment:
“Our free stuff today is being paid for by taking money from our children and borrowing from China… when that money comes due – and this isn’t racist, but it’ll be like slavery when that note is due. We are going to beholden to the foreign master.”
This underlines the points I made about the anxiety around potential “debt peonage” to the PRC. The structural long-term debt isn’t the only issue, which liberals need to understand. Right now the left talks past the right and visa versa, ships passing in the night, liberals and liberal-ish budget wonks are saying that the deficit is on track to be a historically low 2% of GDP, when, for the Tea Partier grassroots, the real crux of the matter is being “beholden to the foreign master,” and whether we are beholden by $200 billion or $200 million is immaterial or, at least, the numerical specifics of the debt are not as important to many on the right as WHO we’re in debt to. The dependence on (economic and military rival) China raises very legit problems for “American exceptionalism.” It makes a paradigm shift that topples the U.S.-led unipolar economic and military order a real possibility for this generation of U.S. leaders down the road a decade or two, not just anxieties for the great-great-grandchildren.
An effective liberalism would address the fears of debt-slavery under a foreign jackboot head-on. I hope actual dialogue can happen instead of the continuous talking past each other, engaging on completely separate issues.
The 11 cultural “nations” of the United States: diversity (and devolution?)
The new book describing the 11 nations or socio-political cultures that rub up against each other in North America (Mobile should be categorized with “New France”) being frequently blogged about in November, brought to mind an essay I blogged in May 2010, one of my more vitriolic posts after the Affordable Care Act passed several months previously and the Tea Partier groundswell was peaking, a post chock-full of ranty disillusionment: Nick’s Essay on America’s Decline, with Big Solutions.
Given our system’s seeming inability to seriously address national problems, with the tepid, insurer-friendly ACA nearly impossible to pass as “too socialist,” I offered three “big solutions,” 1. strictly banning bribing candidates with “contributions” 2. Proportional Representation via STV (“Instant Runoff Voting”) 3. if all else fails, let states group themselves into federated republics with near-complete autonomy on domestic policies like super provinces (still within the United States) for each regional political culture. My concept is similar to devolution as done in Spain (Catalonia, to name one such region, is given broad powers to govern itself). Federal Republic of Central America should be noted as an example of what not to do.
My map, instead of the 11 cultural nations, has seven federated republics and South Carolina. If nothing else, the essay takes on the serious difficulties with our federalist system directly, difficulties that too often get swept under the rug.
Note: I’m different from the Nick that wrote the “Big Solutions” essay almost three years ago. My views aren’t necessarily less vehement, I still dislike the ACA for what it doesn’t do, and I still think root-and-stem reforms and big constitutional questions should be foreground issues, I’m just more interested in understanding and dialogue than before, more keen to write things that further understanding of ideological opponents than to write diatribes like the one above. Though I still want to cry out against injustices, I feel an urge to love (and grok) thy enemy, and get a grayer, less absolute picture of reality. With that shift, I look back on the South (and Mobile in particular) with increasing fondness as I reflect on the good things that came with the bad.
Religious Literacy and Understanding
In the first weeks of November, The Atlantic‘s post Study Theology, Even If You Don’t Believe in God by Tara Isabella Burton was widely shared and blogged about, and I highly recommend it. Burton’s piece is the most powerful and succinct defense of studying theology I’ve seen to date, an excellent refutation of recent calls (from Richard Dawkins, et al) to deep-six theology departments in UK universities as he doubts theology offers “any real content at all, or that it has any place whatsoever in today’s university culture.” Burton nails it with the assertion that theology offers a unique “opportunity to get inside the heads of those whose beliefs and choices shaped so much of our history, and who—in the world outside the ivory tower—still shape plenty of the world today.” This piece really re-enforces what I was saying in my 2010 essay Religious Literacy and Understanding, For Our Own Sake,
where I argued:
You can’t really form productive relationships with many every day folk in the U.S. (nor Mexico, South America and Africa) if you’re completely ignorant of Christianity, and, increasingly, its more charismatic groups, which are seeing explosive growth. Unless you can get where people are “coming from,” you won’t understand them, and the spiritual is a huge part of that. The spiritual will always become more a focus when material things fail, and they are failing on a massive scale unseen since the ’30s.
As the U.S. falls, others prosper. You can’t understand what is going on in China right now (their return to their once-familiar role as #1 global superpower) if you have no clue what Confucianism is, and the role it is playing in Chinese policy and politics.
You can’t understand how cultures across the globe are responding to the rapid changes happening, a revolution in technology and society and the economy unprecedented since the Industrial Revolution, without religious literacy.
So, I’ve been considering the real causes of “red state” radicalism, and wrote an entire post on my attempts to grok the rapidly changing political landscape.
I learned a great deal from my investigation, which you can read here. But I want to go deeper on the economic roots of the situation, so I’m writing this post. Aside from the “gender damage”¹ that’s occurring when, for example, men grow up with cultural expectations to be provider and protector but find themselves never able to meet those gender expectations, which I think is the source of so many of our societal and political problems at present, there are even deeper dysfunctions. The deeper issues are all tied to an economic system that’s fundamentally skewed to serve the big fish at the very top of the food chain while laying off a huge chunk of the pyramid of smaller fish the big guys used to depend on. And if you’re among the rural and suburban whites typical of Tea Partier demographics, you’re seeing an economic system stacked against you so badly, rage and radicalism is almost inevitable.
The pacemaker sustaining the heart of our unfair economic system is Beijing’s “Marshall Plan” for the United States… meaning they loan us cash that is really meant to buy their exports.
The Marshall Plan of 1948-1951 (also known as the European Recovery Program) was a humanitarian project to ratchet down the desperation in post-war Europe, prime the pump of international trade, and bring back broad-based prosperity to rescue free-market economies in Western Europe (the subtext being that the whole continent would “go red” unless the economies of the war-torn Allied nations started to work for the average European again). The Marshall Plan was a great success, as evidenced by the relative stability and unity of Europe since its implementation, instead of poverty, radicalism and war. But in addition to its humanitarian aims, Marshall‘s plan had a major impact “priming” the American economy.
As the Library of Congress’ “Fiftieth Anniversary of the Marshall Plan” online exhibit explains, “…increasing prosperity in the U.S. was one goal of the Marshall Plan. As a way of boosting exports, the plan had wide appeal to American business people, bankers, workers, and farmers. … During the years of the Marshall Plan, when much of the money European participants received was spent on U.S.-produced food and manufactured goods, the American economy flourished.” In many cases, Marshall Plan loan money quickly found its way to Maxwell House coffee or U.S. Steel to export out to Hamburg, Paris, Liverpool and the like. In rarer cases, instead of fronting Europeans the money, goods were granted outright, so Bethlehem Steel or the Iowa grain elevator guys or whoever got paid, direct from the federal government, to create and send their stuff out. There are a lot of interesting details about the Marshall Plan. If you’re nerdy like me, the Library of Congress exhibit has an excellent contemporary source, from Kiplinger Magazine, their guide for American businessmen on the Marshall Plan, how it works and how to participate in it, to get “your product on the list” [to be exported]. This magazine is also an interesting example of the bubbly, happy sort of graphical style—Will Eisner epitomized this—that dominated ’40s design, even in trade journals like Kiplinger’s, evidently.
Beijing’s loaning policies, and by “Beijing” I mean the PRC regime headquartered in Beijing, are similar to the Marshall Plan mainly in that we’re being fronted cash that’ll boomerang back to buy their exports. Beijing’s seemingly endless ability to buy U.S. debt, buy U.S. debt, buy U.S. debt, keeps the government and the American economy from collapsing, keeps the unhealthy trade deficit² going, which acts as a stimulus program for China’s economy as cheap clothes, toys, games and electronics dominate our markets (but undermine our economy). Unlike the Marshall Plan though, there’s no humanitarian intent; it’s done out of self-interest full stop, and even, arguably, part and parcel of the aggressively capitalistic culture that has gripped China from the back alley tinkerers to the backroom dealers. And while this capitalist transformation of China has lifted hundreds and hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty, it certainly has a dark side, often enabling the worst types of crony capitalism, and the exploitation of Chinese laborers, infamously
In terms of the political implications, the bottom line is: this economic system of heavy reliance on Chinese consumer goods and large-scale Chinese-financed U.S. debt never was voted on, never was approved by the American people, and is now deeply despised throughout the U.S.
The lack of democracy in our financial decision-making, our complete powerlessness to change the most fundamental economics undergirding American life, is driving both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street to push for change. Both hate what I refer to as “the invisible fist,” the government force that punishes smaller competitors and favors cronies; unlike the invisible hand, supposedly the mechanism of free markets, the invisible fist is the overtly violent mechanism behind Orwellian unfreedom. You might even see the invisible fist at work in the ways trade rules are rigged to favor Chinese consumer goods flooding U.S. markets. Both Occupy and the Tea Party are angry that the majority is left with fewer and fewer economic opportunities, and both want the trade imbalance with China to stop and our debt-selling to Beijing to dramatically change. Occupy wants a return to the income tax brackets we had when major federal projects—like the Apollo Program, the interstate highway system, etc.—were possible, more financial independence, more paying-down the national debt, through more revenue. Occupy understands that we need a real Marshall Plan for the American economy, to upgrade our infrastructure into something befitting a world leader and bring back the kind of broad-based prosperity stimulated by the 1948 Marshall Plan, along with more human rights and environmental conditions on foreign trade to ratchet down our trade deficit and weird co-dependent relationship with China.
Tea Partiers would have us stop borrowing from China entirely, even if it meant shutting down most federal departments, and would steer us into a default that would force a total from-scratch-rebuild of an American economy that would be self-sufficient instead of interdependent. So many out there in right-wing talk radio land are saying “default is patriotic” or things along those lines, that it’s best to “get the pain over with sooner rather than later” and so on, so a ground-up rebuilding, without the federal government in its current form or size, or without the federal government at all, can begin. It’s a much more radical vision than Occupy’s, and completely unmoored from anything that could be called “conservative.” Since they believe that a central government will always be tyrannical and inherently parasitic, their call for renewal makes “slaying the government hydra” almost a prerequisite for rebirth; and I’m not sure how much the anti-federalist fervor will dissipate with the rise of a Republican president this time. There’s this spirit of goddess of destruction and rebirth, alongside some straight up nihilism, shut it down, burn it down, shut it down.
…the real fight within the Republican Party now is between those who believe we actually are at the moment of crisis — existential or otherwise — and thereby must fight as we’ve never fought before and those who think the GOP can bide its time and make things right.
Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein says Republicans have lost their “raison d’etre” since the deficit has fallen with historic rapidity—the newest data shows a record 37 percent reduction in the deficit for FY 2013 ending September 30th— and that the deficit is on track to “[stabilize] in the (totally manageable) two-to-three percent range through the next decade.” As is often the case, Ezra Klein missed the bus, because pretty much zero Tea Partiers care that the deficit is headed to 2-3% of GDP. These are not the Wall Street Republicans that follow budget numbers, nor are they like the evangelical Christian right of the ’80s and ’90s talking about social issues; the Tea Party is first and foremost a rebellion on economic issues. Tea Partiers want no more borrowing and no more spending beyond annual revenues. They have a deep philosophical beef with the current size and scope of the federal government, which they see as a failed, unconstitutional project that has already brought us to the “moment of crisis” economically, existentially, etc. The consensus is that the current economic system is so disastrous for them, the entire system needs radical restructuring if not outright demolition.
The government shutdown and playing drag race chicken with sovereign default was meant to force a rethink of borrowing from China, in fact I think that scaring-off Chinese creditors was meant as a feature not a bug of the “strategy.”
I vehemently oppose the repeal of a century of social programs being pushed for at present; these programs keep me and so many going despite the hate-filled political climate. I also am in favor of paying our debts, of being a responsible country. That default has even entered the discussion is indicative that many in the demos see their home-country of the United States as less like a superpower and more like post-war recovery zones in need of a Marshall Plan. We’ve gotta WAKE UP! Looking at urban disaster areas like Camden and Detroit, portions of Los Angeles, Stockton, etc., it seems there really was a war lost, somehow.
Whether you are a Tea Partier, support Occupy like me, or don’t want any of it, I think most Americans have a nascent, not-articulated, inchoate sense that the New World being in debt to the Old World is fundamentally not right. The urge for perceived self-reliance is powerful. Very few Americans would vote to continue this weird economic relationship unchanged if our financial system was democratic and major economic choices were on the ballot. If for no other reason, China’s very Old World values about right to life, about women’s rights, human rights, rights for labor…that are very different from our own values in ways that create unease, to say the least, about the co-dependent relationship.
Our weird economic relationship with Beijing will continue to matter, continue to be up-front in the context of the ongoing debate over trade, budget deficits, government shutdowns, and so forth, though the news media is fairly terrible at bringing you that underpinning context. So keep reading Nick’s Crusade blog.
I’ll end on an internet meme, a really old one, pre-2000, maybe one of the first such memes; it’s about goofin’ on Chairman Mao…
1. this concept of “gender damage” was developed not by me but by Mary Louise Roberts, historian and French studies expert at UW-Madison, to describe what happened to French men following their devastating defeat in World War II, in her book What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France. I’ll elaborate on this more in a future post.
I’m happy that some of my blog posts have become particularly well-trafficked resources on the interweb. I’ve often written about historical topics that interest me, and, oddly enough, those posts get more hits than posts about disability, politics and injustice, the main subjects of my Nick’s Crusade Blog.
This is a survey of the most viewed posts ever on this site…
This post, about the explorer Zheng He and the voyages of his grand treasure ships, is usually the most viewed post for any given week. Not only does the post shed light on the way-ahead-of-their-time ways that the Yongle Emperor projected power and influence with technology like the printing press and an enormous Navy (techniques that would seldom be used with such sophistication until the 19th century) but it also remains very relevant because it details a Chinese period of prolonged international engagement, trade and wealth only rivaled by the high water mark of Chinese power today. The end of the treasure ships, with hardliners burning them as an isolationist backlash swept the empire, illuminates a pattern you see over and over again in Chinese history: after the inevitable bust comes following an economic boom, Conservative Confucians take over and crackdown on trade after a harsh isolationist reaction. Today, China-watchers and investors, and indeed the PRC regime, worry about another cycle of isolationist backlash cropping up if Chinese people in the underdeveloped heartland don’t feel enough improvement in their lives from foreign trade and become angry.
Rivaling “Zheng He” for the Top Search term leading people to my blog is “griffin” or related key words. This post is shockingly well-visited, and it’s one of the quickest ones I’ve written. I saw a program on the History channel about mythical creatures that suggested the Griffin came from ancient Scythian warriors who came upon dinosaur skulls and spread stories about Griffins to intimidate enemies, and decided to blast a quick blog post. I guess people really like Griffins.
This post, coming in a distant third in views, generates hits from the sheer bizarreness of the video it highlights, a war propaganda-era Disney short with Donald Duck dreaming he is a Nazi. Even though the film is clearly meant to mock and underline the failures of the Nazi system, seeing Donald in a Nazi uniform is still WEIRD!
In my post in September 2006, The Religion Century, I argue that now that the world is no longer bi-polar, the only pole left is the US, and in place of a conflict between nation-states, we have clashing cultures and ideologies. Religious fervor, among Muslims, Christians and Jews, not to mention European paganism and the ancient religions of the East are increasing. The Religion Century post was important for this blog, predicting a groundswell in spirituality, setting a tone and establishing my position as pro-religion, favoring religion as a positive force for community building, fulfillment, artistic expression and connecting to something larger than yourself.
But what’s that, my thesis about The Religion Century is being challenged? People think this will be the non-religious century because Europeans are rapidly going atheist?
BBC News reports:
A study using census data from nine countries shows that religion there is set for extinction, say researchers.
The study found a steady rise in those claiming no religious affiliation.
The team’s mathematical model attempts to account for the interplay between the number of religious respondents and the social motives behind being one.
The result, reported at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US, indicates that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.
The team took census data stretching back as far as a century from countries in which the census queried religious affiliation: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.
Wait, not so fast, nothing here means “The Religion Century” won’t happen.
First, this study is flawed, basing itself on the concept of “utility,” that there was more self-interested utility in belonging to a religious community in the 19th century and their model shows that utility dropping more and more in the future. The model fails because religion isn’t always (and should never be) about self-interest, rather about something larger than the self and self-interest. But if social services across Europe collapse as predicted, that utility model turns upside down as the lower and middle classes suddenly have great self-interest in joining a helping religious community.
Secondly, yes, atheism is on the rise across European Christendom, but these countries also have low birth rates (see List of countries by birth rate, European states are at the bottom). This means that religious communities with really high birth rates (Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Mormons, other sects) within and without Europe will more than replace them, ultimately resulting in a big jump in religious populations.
Lastly, just because “traditional Christendom” as we’ve known it in Europe for the past 1,000 years will shockingly shrink doesn’t mean that other faiths won’t move in. Nature abhors a vacuum, y’see, and religions are no different. In Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Switzerland, you’ll see people turning to Islam, or Mormonism, or nonsense like Scientology, or New Age paganism or old-school paganism (with Europe going full-circle back to druidism and Norse beliefs) or something worse, who knows, but it’ll definitely be something. Human beings are hard-wired to seek out and connect with spirituality.
Though I understand the fear of Christianity waning in Europe, because when Europeans have let even a sliver of their leaders put weird Norse beliefs ahead of Christianity in the past, it has ended up like THIS, the worst thing ever.
The Religion Century, an upswing in religiosity as support structures we’ve relied on (especially government) are failing and changing more and more, will most definitely have its downsides, too, with intolerance and violence. But just because religion has gone bad many, many times doesn’t mean it can’t be great. Just because an ice pick can kill, doesn’t mean it can’t create beautiful ice sculptures.
The Arab Spring, the revolutionary wave rippling across North Africa and the Middle East has, from its outset in Tunisia, been driven by Islamic arguments about dignity for all and about how proper Muslim rulers should try to measure up to the “righteously guided Caliphs” and respect human rights as seen in Islam. Though many have forgotten this, the first actions of the Egyptian uprising were about solidarity with Egyptian Christians following the brutal Alexandria church bombing that rocked Egypt seconds into New Year’s Day, and, famously on January 6th (Coptic Christmas) groups of demonstrators formed lines of “human shields” for churches during Christmas mass. Amid reports of the Mubarak regime‘s consistent discrimination against Christians and indifference to violence against them, revolutionary demands quickly grew. The rationale behind the Arab Spring is that the brutal dictators in the Arab world have broken Islamic law and should be removed. This is a dimension of The Religion Century that is amazingly positive.
The assertion often made by scholars and social scientists that religion wanes as affluence in a society increases is false–you only really see that correlation in the Western world. In Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, China, and many others, they have built more and more spiritual interest, congregations, houses of worship and religious learning institutions as their exponential increase in standard of living and disposable income has allowed it. More income among religious populations has meant more mosques and temples built, more clergy trained, more religious texts produced. In China (most striking because the PRC has enforced atheism until recently) the newly affluent are funding an explosion of Christianity, Buddhism, even traditional Chinese Taoism. Check out this fascinating NYT story China’s Taoism Revival.
I know that I open myself up to potential ridicule by posting such unabashed pro-religion views. But I see people across the world living in despair, and more disconnected from each other in daily life than ever before. Americans work more and more hours than any other people on earth, go home alone, veg out on fake corporate food and culture, rinse and repeat. In this rat race culture, devoid of much meaning and largely disconnected from religious traditions, spirituality couldn’t be more important, and religion is key as an organizing force that I hope will foster more human connection, community building, artistic expression (see Religious Art} and fulfillment to a bleak, materialistic world. We need it now more than ever.
This topic occurred to me after reading Larry Kramer’s long rant in the Huffington Post claiming that because men outnumbered women 6 to 1 in the original Jamestown colony in 17th century America, that lots of gay sex had to be going on, and that historians are erasing gays from history out of homophobic bigotry. I don’t dismiss the issue of whitewashing history; that IS a real problem. But I think Kramer is angry, verging on hysteria at times, more activist than historian, and he is often reaching–asserting conclusions without enough evidence to back it up. And is his crass language really necessary?
My history professor friend Bridgett and I discussed this on her blog post about Kramer, “Same-sex sexuality in 17th century British North America,” and she explains that real historians can’t “out” people from the past as gay without definitive, absolute proof, or they’ll be filleted by critics, discredited and risk their careers. Not a problem for Kramer, as he has no historian cred to risk.
To me, his biggest fallacy is that simply because no wives were available for many Jamestown colonists, they would “turn to each other.” It’s not something you can CHOOSE like that, and he of all people should know that. I could no more choose attraction to males amid a girl-shortage than Kramer could choose attraction to women.
Does anyone really believe that whenever there’s a scarcity of women in a society, large amounts of men will “turn to each other?” This made me turn my thoughts to China. Recently, a gay family member told me because of the lack of females in China and the fact that, mathematically, tens of millions of men will never be able to find women to marry (true) that millions will turn to gay sex. I don’t think that’s what will happen — it’s not A CHOICE!
Numerous articles about the gender imbalance in China (caused by abortions of potential girls and infanticide after birth) have been written. I recommend:
In this Washington Post op-ed, Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. Den Boer, the authors of “Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population,” wrote:
The old saying goes, “When you pick up one end of a stick, you also pick up the other.” When a society prefers sons to daughters to the extent found in parts of contemporary Asia, it not only will have fewer daughters, but it also will create a subclass of young men who are apt to have difficulty finding wives and beginning their own families. Because son preference has been a significant phenomenon in Asia for centuries, the Chinese actually have a term for such young men. They are called guang gun-er or “bare branches,” because they are branches of the family tree that will never bear fruit. The girls who should have grown up to be their wives were disposed of instead.
We have already seen in China the resurrection of evils such as the kidnapping and selling of women to provide brides for those who can pay the fee. Scarcity of women leads to a situation in which men with advantages — money, skills, education — will marry, but men without such advantages — poor, unskilled, illiterate — will not. A permanent subclass of bare branches from the lowest socioeconomic classes is created. In China and India, for example, by the year 2020 bare branches will make up 12 to 15 percent of the young adult male population.
Should the leaders of these nations be worried? The answer is yes. Throughout history, bare branches in East and South Asia have played a role in aggravating societal instability, violent crime and gang formation.
Though the existence of sizable numbers of bare branches is not a necessary condition for instability — the sex ratios of Rwanda in 1994 were normal, for example — it plays a significant role in the amplification of levels of instability and threat.
Consider the fact that in the mid-1800s, a predominantly bare-branch rebel group in the north of China called the Nien, in combination with rebel groups farther south, openly attacked imperial troops and forts, taking control of territory inhabited by 6 million Chinese citizens before it was quashed by the government years later.
More recently, Indian scholars have noted a very strong relationship between sex ratios and violent crime rates in Indian states, which persists even after controlling for a variety of other possible variables. And worldwide, more violent crime is committed by unmarried young adult men than by married young adult men.
According to sociologists, young adult men with no stake in society — of the lowest socioeconomic classes and with little chance of forming families of their own — are much more prone to attempt to improve their situation through violent and criminal behavior in a strategy of coalitional aggression with other bare branches.
Historically, governments facing a growing population of bare branches find themselves caught in a dilemma. They must decrease the threat to society posed by these young men but at the same time may find the cost of doing so is heavy. Increased authoritarianism in an effort to crack down on crime, gangs, smuggling and so forth can be one result.
At some point, governments consider how they can export their problem, either by encouraging emigration of young adult men or harnessing their energies in martial adventures abroad. There are very few good options for governments that find that their greatest threat emanates not from an external source but from an internal one.
Years ago I saw Hudson and Den Boer’s book discussed on CNN, and in that segment, they argued that the explosive growth of Islamic conquests…
…in the 7th and 8th centuries wasn’t just “to spread the faith by the sword,” but, because the prevalence of polygamy on the Arabian Peninsula made it impossible for large numbers of angry young fundamentalist males with swords to ever find wives. Large groups of them invaded Egypt, Persia, etc., where the population of widowed women had just grown considerably from the war. Hudson and Den Boer suggested a similar phenomenon may happen in China.
We are already seeing the consequences of gender imbalance in China that Hudson and Den Boer’s research predicts: increased sex trafficking, prostitution becoming more widespread and more lucrative. Will we see China invading neighboring countries as well?
Blogging History: China’s Islamic Christopher Columbus
Decades before Christopher Columbus was even born, 18 years before Europeans began their “Age of Discovery,” an Admiral from the Chinese Empire sailed west, explored unknown lands, visited with strange “barbarian” peoples, and projected Imperial might as far away as Africa, covering more than 50,000 kilometers in his 7 epic voyages. I saw the story of the legendary navigator Zheng He mentioned in passing on History Channel’s Engineering an Empire and I was so fascinated, I had to research him so I could highlight him on my blog.
Zheng He was born Mǎ Sānbǎo in China’s southwestern frontier Yunnan province, in 1371. He was of the Hui ethic group, which is similar to the predominant Han Chinese, except the Hui have been practicing Muslims since early on in Islam’s spread. Mǎ Sānbǎo’s father and grandfather had both been on the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca (no small task). Young Sānbǎo grew up during a time of great turmoil in the Chinese Empire. The majority Han Chinese got tired of being oppressed by the Mongolian-led Yuan Dynasty (dynasties never learn) and a mass peasant revolt overthrew the regime and forced the Mongols back into the steppe. In 1368, peasant leader Tai Zhū established the Ming Dynasty, ascended to the throne as the Hongwu Emperor, and enacted highly successful reforms, such as redistributing land to the peasants, which vastly increased China’s stability and power.
The Emperor proclaimed his motto “Exiling the Mongols and Restoring China,” and when Mǎ Sānbǎo was 11 years old, the Ming Imperial army overran his home province with 250,000 troops to take down a Mongol holdout. The army captured Sānbǎo in the process and castrated him. He was brought to the Imperial court as a gift to the Emperor, where being a eunuch was required to work in the royal household (to ensure that the Emperor’s aides couldn’t spawn a competing dynasty, and perhaps thinking eunuchs wouldn’t touch his hottest courtesan women).
Mǎ Sānbǎo became a court servant, and after a dynastic struggle and civil war in the wake of Hongwu’s death worked itself out and the Yong-le Emperor took the throne, Sānbǎo became the new emperor’s closest adviser. In honor of his service in the civil war, Yong-le called him Zheng He, and this was his new Imperial name (alternately translated into English as Cheng Ho).
Yong-le directed a stunning expansion of China on a scale not seen again until the 20th century. He imposed a sort of Pax Sinica on the whole region (similar to Pax Mongolica). Yong-le’s reign was one of secure dominance over all of China and no real threats to the Empire. Relative tranquility prevailed (though not if you were living in one of the several neighboring states that Yong-le violently subjugated). In addition, Yong-le forced virtually every kingdom in East Asia, even as far away as Thailand and the Philippines, to become tributaries (i.e. extorted tribute from them).
Ming Empire under Yong-le
The Yong-le Emperor marked a peak in Chinese confidence. He sought to advertise China’s cultural superiority to the rest of the known world and to this end, he distributed 10,000 copies of the Biographies of Exemplary Women to various non-Chinese countries for their moral instruction, and he oversaw the compilation of the vast Yong-le Encyclopedia, documenting the Yong-le era and incorporating eight thousand texts from ancient times.
Yong-le also dominated maritime trade. This is where Zheng He comes in.
Zheng He captained seven naval expeditions to project Imperial power, protect and extend Chinese trade, and possibly vassalize far-away peoples. He assembled a huge naval fleet–317 ships holding almost 28,000 armed troops for his first voyage. By comparison, the U.S. Navy in 2007 has only 277 ships on active duty. . Imagine if you were an early 14th century Indian or Arab, and saw 317 ships bearing down on your harbor! This was meant to impress (and intimidate) foreign peoples into paying China tribute.
Zheng He led his fleet with 62 mammoth, nine-masted “treasure ships.” They are described as so massive (400 ft long and 170 ft wide) many experts dismiss them as impossibly large, because early modern ships of comparable size were unwieldy and usually sank. However, history is full of unexplained technology. We have no idea how the Romans accurately engineered something as large and complex as the Colosseum without Computer Aided Drafting, and we don’t know how the Byzantine flamethrower ships that saved Constantinople worked (they are neigh-impossible to duplicate even with modern welding methods). So I wouldn’t dismiss Zheng He’s treasure ships as impossible.
If the reports are to be believed, Zheng He’s ships would dwarf Columbus’ 55 ft ships.
Treasure ships likely weren’t this huge (aircraft carrier-big) but it is safe to assume they were the largest ships ever seen up to that point. Their enormity is described in Marco Polo’s writings, and Moroccan explorer ibn Battuta visited China and saw the giant fleet being constructed. He wrote that a nine-masted ship “…has four decks and contains rooms, cabins, and saloons for merchants; each cabin has chambers and a lavatory, and can be locked by its occupants.” China hired a Swedish shipwright to build a replica of a Zheng He treasure ship to serve as a symbol for the 2008 Beijing Olympics (story). At almost 250 ft long, it will be the largest wooden ship ever recorded, and they hope to retrace Zheng He’s voyages with it.
But where did Zheng He (pronounced “Zung Ha”) go with his legendary fleet? And what did he do when he got there? Well, on his seven voyages he went up and down Indonesia, visited India, Persia, Arabia and Africa. The purpose was to make “first contact” with strange new peoples (like the S
tarship Enterprise) but also awe them with China’s power, give gifts of their finest silk and porcelain (showing superiority) and in exchange, extract tribute. Zheng He brought back gifts of African zebras and giraffes for the Imperial zoo.
In this art from 1414, a giraffe from Zheng He is shown being led to the Imperial zoo.
In at least one instance, Zheng He’s missions included military confrontation. On several occasions, he ruthlessly took down pirate networks that had been plaguing Chinese shipping. Each of the seven voyages included stops in Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka), an important gateway for Chinese trade routes. Evidently, the ruler of Ceylon, King Alagonakkara, had been threatening his neighbors, and pirating Chinese traders. Zheng He came to deliver a message from the Yong-le Emperor: “stop it. respect my authoritaah.” King Alagonakkara refused, and sent troops to attack and loot the Chinese fleet. Zheng He ordered his soldiers to attack the city to draw the enemies away from the ships. He ended up capturing King Alagonakkara and brought him back to Nanjing to apologize to the Emperor.
Some speculate that tales of Zheng, a Muslim explorer from the East who made seven voyages, and his name Sānbǎo, inspired the tales of Sinbad the Sailor, but there’s nothing concrete to back this up.
Zheng He made it all the way down to Kenya (they found ancient Chinese artifacts there) and there is some evidence he went beyond the tip of Africa and into the Atlantic Ocean. Zheng himself wrote of his travels:
We have traversed more than 100,000 li (50,000 kilometers) of immense water spaces and have beheld in the ocean huge waves like mountains rising in the sky, and we have set eyes on barbarian regions far away hidden in a blue transparency of light vapors, while our sails, loftily unfurled like clouds day and night, continued their course [as rapidly] as a star, traversing those savage waves as if we were treading a public thoroughfare…
— (Tablet erected by Zheng He, Changle, Fujian, 1432)
Zheng He left a monument on Sri Lanka too, honoring Islam as well as the local deities (Vishnu and Buddha). He also erected a monument in India. One quack author thinks Zheng’s crew left structures in the Americas.
Did Zheng He “discover” America?
No, it’s crap. There’s no evidence to support that, but former British submarine captain Gavin Menzies (who has no historical training) has made a killing with his discredited 1421 hypothesis, and is selling books, maps and TV specials convincing people that Zheng He found the Americas before Columbus and circumnavigated the globe before Magellan. Menzies bases his theory on wild speculation, and an 18th century Chinese world map showing America that he (falsely) claims was made in the 1400s. He also alleges that old structures such as the Newport Tower were built by Zheng He (rubbish) and that Native Americans are actually children of Zheng’s crew (laughable). This is the perfect example of historical hucksterism.
Still, it revived interest in Zheng He, so I guess that’s good. If you get the History International Channel, check out Zheng He: The True Discoverer of America? which airs tonight (Monday) at 8pm ET / 7pm CT.
Part of the reason so much speculation surrounds Zheng He’s later voyages is the records of them were destroyed. After the Yong-le Emperor died in 1424, Zheng He lost his influence. Conservative Confucians assumed control of the Imperial court, and seeking “inner perfection” first, implemented very isolationist policies. Also, the new emperor needed to devote considerable resources to beating back Mongol hordes in the north and expanding the Great Wall of China to keep them out, and Zheng He’s lavish missions, which were mostly for prestige (and unlike European explorations were not self-funding with loot) were no longer financially viable. The new emperor burned Zheng He’s glorious ships, destroyed a lot of his documents, and banned maritime trade. Though the subsequent emperor lifted the ban and let Zheng He voyage again, a lot was lost.
Can you imagine how history may have been different if China had continued as a maritime superpower?
Zheng He statue
If China had continued on the path of Zheng He, much more of the world may be culturally like Indonesia now. Zheng He made a significant impact on Indonesia. His voyages there are well documented, and he left Ming-style architecture behind, as well as lots of Chinese people. He relocated a lot of Chinese Muslims to Indonesia and Malay. Indonesia is the most populous majority-Muslim state on Earth today, in no small part due to Zheng He and his crew promulgating the Islamic faith there. He was buried at sea when he died during a voyage in India in 1433, but has an Islamic tomb in Nanjing. “Allahu Akbar” is inscribed in Arabic above the door.
I whipped up this simple, amateur animation to make a point.
India and Europe are roughly the same land area, but India is considered a subcontinent. Why is Arabia dubbed a “peninsula” and not a subcontinent? These are all pretty arbitrary designations based on little but cultural history.
We forget that about 40% of humanity are either Chinese or Indian. That’s 2 out of 5 humans on Earth.
We don’t get much information on the bulk of our brethren.
We barely know anything about them.
We don’t hear that millions of Muslims have lived in relative peace for centuries in India and China, we just hear what a “threat” Islam is, how they are all “savages.”
We don’t understand China, even as they emerge as a hegemon.
I myself don’t know about the dozens of languages in India and how they communicate.
For 2006 Republican Leadership, Support For Slavery Runs Deep
More Revelations In Marianas Scandal Show GOP Chairman Involved
Yesterday, I shed light on the disgusting Republican effort to protect deplorable labor conditions on the American-controlled Northern Marianas Islands, where Chinese immigrants are kept in sweatshops with little to no pay and not allowed to leave. Basically, the definition of slavery.
The party that abolished slavery under Lincoln has now resorted to extraordinary measures to keep slavery and forced abortions in place in the Northern Marianas Islands.
It has now been revealed that Chairman of the Republican Party, Ken Mehlman conspired with Jack Abramoff to protect the slavery racket there. He intervened and got a State Department official fired for trying to enforce labor laws on the islands.
“…according to documents obtained by Vanity Fair, Mehlman exchanged email with Abramoff, did him political favors (such as blocking Clinton-administration alumnus Allen Stayman from keeping a State Department job)…”
Stayman had been on Abramoff’s hit list for a long, long time, because, as a higher-up at the Interior Department, he had been an ardent advocate for bringing the sorts of labor and immigration reforms to the Northern Mariana Islands that Abramoff had been hired to squelch.
In related news, China, tired of similar sweatshop operations, has drafted a new law to crack down and empower labor unions. The American response? Instead of applauding the Chinese effort to change their horrendous human rights record, U.S. corporations reacted angrily that their exploitation may be curbed, and are lobbying against this and threatening to stop opening factories there. Check out China drafting law to protect workers, regulate sweatshops Foreign firms hint they’ll build fewer factories if it passes (link).
It should be clear to everyone now that these sweatshop corporatists only care about profit, and the dignity of the human person is but another liability to be reduced and mitigated.
It should be clear to everyone now that a vote for Ken Mehlman’s party is a vote supporting his unabashed efforts to keep Marianas slavery and sweatshop exploitation shielded from U.S. regulation.
Three weeks until the Congressional elections. Stay alert, and VOTE!!!
Dr. Jen Gunter
OB/GYN Jen Gunter wields the lasso of truth, reining in issues of women’s health, reproductive care and the insanities of American health care.
Health Care Renewal
Dr. Roy Poses blogs fearlessly against the corruption and lies in the halls of power of the medical industry.
Under the tagline “Thoughts from the Front Line of Physician Leadership,” Dr. Hein runs down the true issues in U.S. health care beyond the headlines and press releases.
Not Running a Hospital
Paul Levy deserves not only an award for blog activism against “preventable harm”-ing patients, but an award for blog journalism, as he expertly collects the facts on what health care corps are really doing…