Chinese Identity Politics

I’ve been reading this book called “China’s New Nationalism” by Peter Hays Gries and I think it brilliantly spearheads everything that I think missing in the analysis of modern China and the dilemma of studying Chinese Foreign Policy from a Western perspective. I’ve never been a constructivist, but I do find constructivist thinking useful and have long wished it to be integrated into the study of Chinese politics, apart from the usual realist and liberal ways of thinkings projected onto it already by American discourses.

I love how it debunks several American mythologies that have influenced the way that Westerners think about China, especially in a threatening way. The American media always assumes that popular outbursts of Anti-American sentiment (ex: the Belgrade bombing and spy plane crash incident) are products of Chinese Communist Party propaganda and not genuine anger from the Chinese nationalists. China’s abrasive response to criticism on its human rights record and other backwards ways of thinking are met with such sensitivity because of the notion of face, that is saving one’s reputation and honour. China loses its sense of moral superiority and legitimacy in such critique, similar to the way that American exceptionalism was injured when mass critique erupted due to the 2003 decision to go to war in Iraq. When studying Chinese foreign policy, one must look at how the Chinese perceive themselves, in terms of national memory and power relations (ex: Confucianism, gendered discourses on former Japanese rule). Since both China and the US project their fears and fantasies onto each other in their foreign relations, Gries argues that such identity politics must be confronted and acknowledged in order to prevent a potentially more hostile international environment with China’s rise.

More importantly, Gries seems to think there is room for the rise of civil society, since China’s new nationalists are open to new, participatory methods of political engagement. Many of the youth are aware of their revolutionary past and regret not having had the same chance to sacrifice much for the welfare of the country (similar to the American patriotism attached to military service). They have also distanced themselves from the 1989 movement and found alternative methods of expression through the Internet and nationalist outcries at key historical moments (as mentioned above). My own research about the rise of Chinese NGOs seems to confirm this, as civil society actors find loopholes in the CCP regulations to build autonomy from the state. In the next few years, Chinese NGOs will become interwoven with global civil society, further opening up China to the world in the fields of environmental protection, womens’ rights, and public health issues.

Many of my colleagues have asked me time and again whether I think China will become a threat to world peace and stability in the future. My short answer is no. Among a myriad of explications, I believe that Gries’ book as a part of the discourse is in itself a reason that demonstrates how the perception of China as a threat can be neutralized. The growth of China experts who can understand the Great Dragon from a Western and non-Western perspective and who can be consulted extensively on identity politics by our current foreign policy makers will hopefully construct the reality that the US and China are both stakeholders in ensuring the current tenets of the liberal international order. In hoping to be part of those ranks someday, I hope to contribute to such intercultural understanding in order to guarantee peace.

Nudge and Counter-Nudge

I’ve been exposed to some of this neuroeconomics (or behavioural economics) and the psychology of foreign policy making recently in one of my courses. It’s an infant field and I do approach it with a certain amount of reservation. The idea is that a variety of actors (corporations, governments, organizations, etc.) should provide “nudges” in decision-making processes in order to stimulate the rational-thinking part of your brain, which goes into auto-pilot sometimes with the plurality and frequency of choice in the modern world.

I disagree with the idea of “libertarian paternalism” which is an oxymoron in itself, since libertarians abhor the idea of any oversight. In this case, the paternalism indicates a sort of reverse psychology and setting up of decision points, so that the subject can make optimal choices factoring in “irrationalities” (ex: buying a candybar instead of yogurt). However, the definition as put forward in Thaler & Sunstein’s Nudge provides no meaningful distinction between coercion and liberty. There is nothing paternalistic whatsoever in enabling the quality of choice for consumer preferences and even then, traditional economics always assumes that individuals will have pareto efficiencies as well as non-satiation (aka: maximize benefits and more is better). The perspective presented is NOT libertarian paternalism, but paternalistic liberalism if you really wanted to dictate the hierarchy of choices beneficial to an individual’s development.

Behavioral economics asserts that people are not always rational despite assumptions that they are and always make optimal choices. It also devotes a great deal of time to bashing traditional models of economics theory. True, I’m no fan of the Keynesian model, but I think Hayek has articulated a better critique of this model than Thaler & Sunstein in his Road to Serfdom. Additionally, I only think the book is stating the obvious by saying that people make irrational decisions. What I don’t agree with is interfering in the existing patterns and processes of decision-making for these individuals who don’t always make optimal choices (myself included!).

I personally believe that it is the individual’s own responsibility to self-educate and interrogate his or her own patterns of behaviour, whether in the marketplace or personal life. The majority of people are ignorant or do put themselves on auto-pilot, which is the key dilemma that Plato presents in the analogy of the cave (yes, I will keep resurrecting this theme). I’m not bluntly implying that the majority of people are stupid and there’s nothing we can do about it, but I am saying that the individual alone is the best judge of his or her own life philosophy and how to achieve its aims.

Here we come to the major problem of the book: It talks about getting people to make better choices, but it dictates its own narrative of what those choices should be. There is no plurality of better choices OR the authors are not cautious or articulate enough in making an objective standard of the best choices. If “libertarian paternalism” is implemented, I want to know: Who is nudging me? In what direction am I being nudged? In whose interest would it be if I was nudged in that direction? Does a normative guilt follow if I do not follow the direction of the nudge? – There are a host of other power relations still inherent in this framework, which would arguably be reduced by true libertarians. Thaler & Sunstein’s book contains merely a pretty re-hashing of John Stuart Mill, who they probably haven’t read either…

Deconstructing Socialism

Taking a break from letting you read my insights and providing you with an entertaining hour of interesting critiques of popular socialist dogmas which were courtesy of your liberal education. Feel free to challenge what is said, but I’ve been exposed to so much of the other camp that such videos are refreshing!

A classic! Entertaining way to see the two major economic theories of our time!

What I find most “shocking” about this video is Naomi Klein’s assertion that the 1989 Tiananmen protests were really protests pushing for free markets, not for democratic rights and liberties. Any China scholar knows this to be blatantly false. If you read first hand accounts and documents from the protesters, the discourse that they perpetuate is for DEMOCRACY. Nowhere is it mentioned that they want free markets. It’s almost as bad as when Ann Coulter claimed that Canadian troops were sent to the Vietnam War.

A response by the articulate Lee Doren to the popular The Story of Stuff. I strongly suggest watching the original movie before watching the critique, but Doren is adept at highlighting the discrepancies in data used by Anne Leonard and debunking the assumptions that we take for granted in her video.

The morals of the story: get it right the first time and spending is bad. Makes a good point, that we often forget.

This last one is not really related to any of the above, but I find its tenets interesting. Behavioural economics is a fairly new field and I look forward to learning more about it.