Published on 23 May 2016
China was in a constant period of unrest and turmoil after the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion. None of the new leaders and presidents could really consolidate their power in China and a struggle between the different warlords. broke out. At the same time, China was eyeing a more prominent role within the international community and sent 150,000 workers to the Western Front as part of the Chinese Labour Corps.
May 24, 2016
April 2, 2016
In retrospect the fight against Napoleon seems to have engendered a new strategic method, later employed against Germany in two world wars and against the Soviet Union thereafter. The French might call it the Anglo-Saxon encirclement strategy. Its essential aim was to avoid direct combat with a formidable enemy, or at least to limit engagement to a minimum. Instead of confronting one vast army with another – at Waterloo there were only 25,000 British troops – the Anglo-Saxon approach was to take on the big beast by assembling as many neighbourhood dogs and cats as possible, with a few squirrels and mice thrown in. With the obvious exception of the Western Front in the First World War, that is how the two world wars were fought, with an ever longer list of allies large, small and trivial (e.g. Guatemala, whose rulers could thereby expropriate the coffee plantations of German settlers), and that is how the Soviet Union was resisted after 1945, with what eventually became the North Atlantic Alliance. Like the anti-Napoleon coalition, Nato was – and remains – a ragbag of member states large and small, of vastly different capacity for war or deterrence, not all of them loyal all the time, though loyal and strong enough. Like the challenge to British diplomacy in the struggle against Napoleon, the great challenge to which American diplomacy successfully rose was to keep the alliance going by tending to the various political needs of its member governments, even those of countries as small as Luxembourg, whose rulers sat on all committees as equals, even though they could never field more than a single battalion of troops.
Now it is the turn of the Chinese, whose strength is still modest yet growing too rapidly for comfort, and who are inevitably provoking the emergence of a coalition against them; the members range in magnitude from India and Japan down to the Sultanate of Brunei, in addition of course to the US. Should they become powerful enough, the Chinese will force even the Russian Federation into the coalition regardless of the innate preferences of its rulers, for strategy is always stronger than politics, as it was for the anti-communist Nixon and the anti-American Mao in 1972. China cannot therefore overcome its inferiority to the American-led coalition by converting its economic strength into aircraft carriers and such, any more than Napoleon could have overcome strategic encirclement by winning one more battle. The exact repetition of Napoleon’s fatal error by imperial and Nazi Germany is easily explained: history teaches no lesson except that there is a persistent failure to learn its lessons. It remains to be seen whether the Chinese will do any better.
Edward Luttwak, “A Damned Nice Thing”, London Review of Books, 2014-12-18.
December 3, 2015
Published on 24 Oct 2015
After his success at Myeongnyang, Yi began rebuilding the Korean navy and strengthening his partnership with the Chinese. But then, Toyotomi Hideyoshi died. Japan’s new leaders had no interest in continuing the war, but although they sued for peace, Korea now held the upper hand and was determined to punish the people who had committed so many massacres against their people. Yi and the Chinese fleet bottled up the Japanese at the fort in Suncheon. When the Japanese called for reinforcements, Yi interrupted them in Noryang Strait. Again they were outnumbered, 500 to 150, but the Chinese commander did not yet understand Yi’s long range style of warfare and immediately closed for close combat. Yi ordered his flagship to rescue their allies, and as soon as the Japanese recognized him, they focused fire on him. This allowed the Chinese, suddenly forgotten, to fire freely on them. The Japanese realized their error and tried to flee, but Yi would have none of it. Beating the war drum himself, he urged his ships to chase the Japanese – to punish them for all the slaughter they brought to Korea. It was then that he was struck by a fatal gunshot. Before he died, he ordered his son and nephew to command the battle for him. They dressed in his armor to hide his death from the troops and continued beating the dream. Together, they carried the day – only for Yi’s tragic death to be revealed at the moment of victory. But although Yi did not live to see it, 300 Japanese ships were captured and destroyed that day and the rest of their invading force was rounded up soon after. For his tireless service, his brilliant leadership, and his unwavering devotion to Korea, Yi was given the posthumous title of Chungmugong, the Martial Lord of Loyalty.
October 18, 2015
Colby Cosh on why the Playboy brand is so attractive to the Chinese market:
… Playboy was once an important cultural force; and what are Chinese men and women buying when they buy jewelry or clothing with the Playboy bunny on it? They are buying a small stake in an anti-puritan, worldly vision of the good life. Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy philosophy,” which he used to set out in windy essays sandwiched between the pictorials, is still considered good for a laugh decades later. But every magazine does express a philosophy, whether or not it chooses to yammer on about doing so, and Playboy’s epicureanism was a powerful one. It practically amounted to a guarantee to the customer: if you bought Playboy, the only uplift you were at risk of encountering would involve lingerie, not morality.
When you were done being titillated by an issue of the magazine, the ads and the articles about stereos and cigars and cocktails were there to linger as an aftertaste, making a subtle but sharp imprint on one’s endocrine system. It is hard for us to appreciate what this kind of thing means in a strongly collectivist, egalitarian society. People who visited the old Soviet bloc, and who saw what blue jeans or heavy-metal cassettes did to the brains of the people there, will have some idea. It is an enigma of 20th-century history: stuff that seems trivial to a Western consumer somehow encodes a message of choice and private aspiration that can never be expressed as powerfully as an explicit proposition.
October 11, 2015
September 16, 2015
At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson comments on a story about Chinese drivers ensuring that pedestrians they hurt in traffic accidents don’t survive to sue them … because incentives matter:
Smelling a story that was too interesting to be true, I texted a friend who lives in China. He read the article and texted back that every word was correct. This behaviour was so common that it was a kind of dark joke. The phrase “drive to kill” was considered practical life advice for young and old alike. These are not members of some obscure and barbarous cult. China is one of the oldest and most accomplished of human civilizations.
The legal explanation for this — a moral explanation I suspect is impossible — is a combination of a weak insurance system and easily bribable courts. An injured pedestrian can become a lifetime financial liability for the driver. Murder convictions, even in cases with clear video evidence, are still unusual. Faced with a choice of becoming a bankrupt or a murderer the popular choice seems to be the latter.
Homo homini lupus est. Man is wolf to man.
Mainland China is, of course, a dictatorship. It seems likely that in a functioning liberal democracy, such as those of the West, very basic legal reforms would long ago have been implemented to remove these quite literally perverse incentives. The rulers of China have deigned it beneath their notice to make such minor improvements.
September 15, 2015
At Marginal Revolution Tyler Cowen pulls together the key economic points you need to know to understand what is happening in China’s economic downturn:
1. You can’t invest 45-50 percent of your GDP very well forever. It’s amazing how long China’s run has been, but it is over. The quality of their marginal investments is now low and that means their growth rate will be much lower too. The low hanging fruit is gone, at least for the time being. They might later on resurrect some new low-hanging fruit through institutional reform, we’ll see if they end up stuck in the middle income trap but right now they are at a sharp discontinuity.
2. There is no simple way to switch to a “consumption-driven” economy without the growth rate both falling and staying permanently lower. Structural reforms are absolutely called for, but in this context they represent a surrender to a lower rate of growth and thus they are especially difficult to pull off in a politically sustainable manner.
3. The Chinese have been growing at ten percent or nearly ten percent for about thirty-five years. More than a generation of Chinese is used to treating the risk premium as if they don’t have to worry about it. I shudder to think what economic and also political decisions have been made on that basis.
4. The Chinese economic response to the dwindling of their low-hanging fruit is sharp rather than smooth because there is a sudden revision of expectations, as people realize the risk premium isn’t zero after all. And seeing the others see that causes the new set of beliefs to spread pretty quickly. That is a very painful process for a macroeconomy, and it is not well captured by simple AD-AS analysis, although of course it has implications for both AD and AS.
5. I would not so quickly infer that the Chinese government is stupid when it comes to economics. It is true their actions do not correspond to what professional economists would recommend. But they are painted into a very unpleasant corner and have lots of interest groups to feed. Their observed response is possibly explained by some kind of public choice-constrained, nested game, internal conflict-driven seventh-best response. They were smart a few years ago, and they are still smart now. That doesn’t mean they will end up doing a good job.
6. Avoid mood affiliation! You can be a pessimist about the Chinese recession now without being a) a pessimist about China in the longer run, or b) a pessimist about Chinese political stability. Those are separate albeit related questions, and you are not forced to have the same mood response to all of them.
In the most recent edition of his wine review newsletter, Michael Pinkus just barely avoids sounding like an editorialist from the anti-Chinese era of American yellow journalism (er, sorry) over Chinese money being used to buy up Ontario wineries to concentrate on icewine production for the Chinese market:
Hinterbrook, Joseph’s, Marynissen, Alvento, Lailey – all wineries in Niagara that have seen a major shake-up of ownership over the past few years; in fact it is reported that about 8 or so wineries have seen new ownership, which potentially can be seen as a good thing: a revitalized interest in wineries in Ontario’s largest growing area.
Now before I go any further, I’m sure this topic is going to spark some controversy and some of the comments I’ll make might come off a tad inflammatory, but hear me out over the next few paragraphs.
The majority of these wineries have been purchased by those of Oriental decent, namely Chinese interests, who see exporting Ontario Icewine back to the homeland as a path paved with gold … On the positive side this provides wineries and workers with jobs, another bonus is that Icewine is still being made here at home, instead of being falsified, forged, misappropriated, and wrongly-labelled elsewhere; and some longtime growers and owners are finally cashing-in after a lifetime of tilling the soil, and growing the grapes to make the wines we all know and love … but at what cost to the industry and reputation of Ontario wine?
We have been battling a snake-belly-low reputation for years – one that never lets us forget we put Baby Duck and inferior Baco Noirs (with apologies to Henry of Pelham) into bottle. Now we have some of our most beloved names (namely Lailey and Marynissen) seemingly on the brink of becoming Icewine houses. The fear here is that Ontario will be bought up by foreign interests and our wines moved off-shore, and most, if not all our grapes used for the purpose of making Icewine – for all intents and purposes killing off our quality domestic dry wine production.
These fears were realized once again in July after reports were confirmed that Lailey had been sold. They then closed their doors for “renovations”, subsequently re-opened to sell their remaining inventory, and netted their entire 2015 crop to be used in the production of Icewine … As the French say, “quel domage!” (what a pity) – those beautiful old vines of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, that fantastic Syrah, the Sauvignon Blanc … all the grapes that were lovingly nurtured so that they produced the fruit to make wines full of terroir / character will go into lifeless sweet Icewine. Frustration and dismay were echoed time and time again on Twitter and FaceBook with the hashtag “RIPLailey”.
No matter how we may try to romanticize them, wineries are just businesses. Not only businesses, but farm-related businesses. Farming is a hell of a way to earn a living — ask any farmer — so if someone comes up to your farm gate and offers you enough money to sell up … at least some farmers/grape growers/winery owners are going to take the cash and split. From the list of wineries that Michael lists, I’d had poor experiences at three of them … bad enough that I’ve never been back. If my experiences were typical of other customers, then selling up was a great thing for the former owners. Treat your customers like shit, don’t expect them to come back (but do expect them to mention you to all their friends).
If someone thinks that it’s worth the money to buy up these places and convert them to all-icewine production and concentrate on exporting to China, great. More wineries are opening every month, so the loss of a few under-performing (and customer-abusing) “old names” has more chance to improve the overall wine scene in Ontario.
July 16, 2015
Yuxin Zhang looks at China’s misunderstood history of tolerance for gay culture:
The Chinese LGBT community and culture have attracted interest among Chinese youth in recent years. Evidence of this is the use of the Internet slang term gao-ji, indicating two men of the same sex having an affair, which has become well-accepted and entered daily use (including among straight people, as a way of teasing each other). The prevalence of the Internet has contributed to gay activism in contemporary China. Gay parades and campaigns have emerged, as young and sometimes middle-aged Chinese are inspired by the LGBT activism overseas that they learn about online, and by events such as the coming-out of celebrities such as Tim Cook and Anderson Cooper, the legalization of same-sex marriage in Western countries, and the discussion of a same-sex marriage bill in Taiwan, with its linguistic and cultural similarities with the Mainland. Some have taken bold actions. In 2010, two Chinese men, Wenjie Pan and Anquan Zeng, hosted the first public same-sex wedding ceremony in Sichuang, a city in China’s southwest.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Chinese gay dating application Blued has scored a $30 million round of investment co-led by DCM Ventures, as its users reached 15 million at the end of last year. This number is likely to grow, as China has both the world’s largest population and the most Internet users. A concomitant outcome, however, is worrisome. Most gay Chinese men who use online dating applications do so to have casual sex, and this has fueled a spike in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS. Thus, some middle-aged and older Chinese associate homosexuality with infection by HIV/AIDS and other STDs, and this has contributed to discrimination against the gay community.
One main reason why many people in China oppose homosexuality is because it clashes with their notions of traditional Chinese values. Some even think that homosexuality does not exist in China, and must just be something from the West.
July 13, 2015
In The Diplomat, Stephen Joyce reviews Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army, a recent book by Phyllis Birnbaum:
Divisive figures often make the most compelling biographical subjects; and Kawashima Yoshiko is no exception. During her life and in death opinions have varied markedly. Loathed by the Chinese as a traitor, extolled by the Japanese for her talents as a spy, more recently she has even become a heroine to the LGBT community.
In Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army, Phyllis Birnbaum provides a measured assessment of the fascinating rise and fall of this erratic, narcissistic, cross-dressing, bisexual princess.
Born in 1907 as Aisin Gioro Xianyu, Kawashima Yoshiko was the 14th daughter of Prince Su of the Qing imperial family. Soon after the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912, she was unwillingly sent to Japan to be adopted by family friend Kawashima Naniwa.
Her formative teenage years were spent in Matsumoto being educated in Japanese language and culture. It was not the happiest of upbringings. An attempted suicide and sexual assault by her new father are noted as potentially life-defining events but are hard to verify. Whatever the root cause of her discontent, in 1925 she shaved her head and started wearing men’s clothes.
In 1927 she married a Mongolian prince in a politically convenient union that quickly failed and Yoshiko soon travelled to China to pursue her dream of a honorable return to power for the Qing dynasty, beginning with Manchuria and Outer Mongolia.
With Japan increasingly active in China she soon found herself a raison d’etre: a spy in the service of the Japanese. Several incidents define her status as a spy; all are shrouded in mystery.
Although it would be hard to argue that she had a major influence over the key events of her time, Kawashima Yoshiko is a superb subject for biography and should interest all lovers of Asian history. And despite living her life in the public and media glare her essential mysteriousness remains—even in death. Did the Chinese Nationalist government execute her (as Kim Bai Fai) in 1948 or, as some would have it, did she escape and live out her last days quiet obscurity? Birnbaum concludes that the latter outcome is questionable, to say the least. Assuming she was indeed executed, her memoirs reveal a wry acceptance of her ultimate fate, despite her life aims lying in tatters.
The sheer wealth of material — autobiographies, Yoshiko’s letters, interviews, press reports, sensationalist magazine articles and official documents — with which to write a biography to some extent serves to cloud rather than illuminate the life of Yoshiko Kawashima. Much like her futile efforts to restore the Qing dynasty in China, any attempt to firmly pin down her real life story and true character seems destined to fail.
June 3, 2015
Strategy Page posted this informative article the other day:
China announced that it will hold military exercises tomorrow along the Burmese border, including firing artillery shells into jungle areas next to Burma. These exercises are a response to fighting between Burmese troops and ethnic Chinese (Kokang) rebels within a few hundred meters of the Chinese border. This has frequently led to bullets and shells landing in China. Since this fighting began in February this stray fire has killed five Chinese civilians and wounded many more. Burma blames some of it on the Kokang rebels firing into China to cause problems between China and Burma. In any event Burma insists that this fighting is finally over and that the Kokang rebels have, for now at least, been defeated.
The fighting against the Kokang in the tribal north (Shan state) apparently has died down since the middle of May. As usual the rebels lost because the army had more, and bigger, guns (artillery) and aircraft. The rebels were gradually pushed back and the soldiers took over twenty rebel camps or fighting positions (like fortified hilltops overlooking key roads). The action was spread out and gradual. Since February the rebels lost over 500 dead while the army lost over 140 soldiers in about 300 separate violent encounters (ambushes, artillery or air attacks or battles for small bits of territory). Some of the army forces were pro-government tribal militias who suffered fewer losses than the army. Nearly 100,000 tribal civilians fled (most into China) the fighting and for the last few weeks more of these refugees have been returning home. Some of the refugees are fleeing rebels who are more aggressively recruiting new fighters. In some cases the tribal militia recruiters are “conscripting” (kidnapping) young men and when word of that gets around many potential victims flee, often with their young wives and children.
The fighting isn’t over, this is just a pause. A permanent peace deal does not exist yet although negotiations continue on yet another agreement that will finally bring peace to the north. The Kokang tribal rebels of the MNDAA (Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army) are accused of starting it all when they ambushed an army patrol on February 9th and wounded four soldiers. The rebels say the soldiers fired first. That led to more fighting which then escalated. The rebels claim it was more army abuse (rape and robbery) against tribal people that set off the latest round of violence. All this is actually a resumption of clashes that began in December. By the end of 2014 the army had moved in reinforcements and the Kokang withdrew gradually, continuing to inflict casualties on the soldiers. According to the rebels, soldiers kept advancing and have attacked other rebels groups near the Chinese border as well. The rebels often ambush army trucks bringing in supplies and reinforcements and are expert at ambushing army patrols. The army responds by attacking villages and driving away the families of the rebel fighters, denying the rebels food, medical care and other support. The rebels have struck back by firing on neighborhoods where the families of local policemen live. In response the government has moved these families further south until the fighting is over.
May 7, 2015
Reducing the realities of life in a given city to a quick numerical value or data point on a chart requires you to ignore subtleties and local influences. Last month, Mark Collins linked to this article by Terry Glavin on what the “quality of life” numbers for Vancouver actually conceal:
If the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual top 10 world cities rankings are what you’ve been relying on, you probably weren’t surprised last month when the global human resources outfit Mercer tagged Vancouver on its Quality of Living index as the best city in North America. But you might have been surprised this week when Statistics Canada released a study showing that, by a variety of indices, Vancouverites are the unhappiest people in Canada, falling dead last among the residents of 33 cities across the country.
We like to think of Lotusland’s grand metropolis as a place where people ski, sail, ride their bikes, swim, and hike though lush rainforests, all in the same day. But StatsCan’s annual survey of median household income in Canadian cities routinely puts Vancouver close to the bottom of the heap on that same list of 33 cities, and in January the Demographia International research institute ranked Vancouver second to last in a global survey of 378 cities on its Housing Affordability Survey.
Vancouver’s median household income in 2014 was $66,400, while the city’s median home price was 10.6 times higher: $704,800. Only Hong Kong fared worse, and just barely. Hong Kong also tops Vancouver, again only barely, as the property investment bolt-hole most favoured by Mainland China’s loot-laden millionaires. For years, we’ve been instructed to pretend that this is somehow mere coincidence. You can’t get away with talking to Hong Kongers like that, but Vancouverites take it sitting down.
In happier places like Saguenay, Sudbury and Thunder Bay, there’s manufacturing, dairy farming, forestry and mining, and there’s a high degree of neighborliness and civility. But Vancouverites make most of their money from increases in the real estate value of whatever property they might be lucky to own. This tends to skew any real sense of hometown belonging, and nothing quite so rattles the cages as loose talk about the elaborate, federally-sanctioned swindle that has been keeping the bubble inflated all these years.
May 6, 2015
At The Diplomat, Jack Detsch looks at the rapidly increasing Chinese wine sector:
China has surpassed France, the world’s foremost producer and exporter of wine, in total acreage, but don’t expect to bring a Ningxia over to a dinner party any time soon.
“I think they largely have the wrong grapes planted,” Geoff Kruth, Chief Operation Officer of the Guild of Sommeliers, a Sonoma-based non-profit, says. “They’re trying to model Bordeaux and plant cabernet – things that may not even really grow well there.”
Production is still on the rise, with China pushing through the ranks from the world’s eighth largest producer of wine in 2013 to the sixth biggest in 2016, due to growing acreage and soaring domestic demand. Wine consumption in China has increased by nearly 45 percent in the past 15 years, and vine planting jumped by 5 percent in 2014 alone, up to a total of 1.97 million acres, according to the International Organization of Vine and Wine. Chinese consumers have an especially discerning palate for red wine. In 2013, China became the world’s largest market for reds, a lucky color in folklore, downing 1.86 billion bottles, moving past France in that category. Per capita consumption is also on the rise.
But many Chinese vineyards aren’t producing wines yet, and much of the acreage dedicated to growing grapes is still used for appetizers and brandy, not wine. The majority of wine producers in Eastern and Western China, where companies in Xinjiang, Ningxia, and Gonsu have had success, produce bulk wine. At times, they’ve been competitive on a global level: in 2011, Jia Bei Lan, a winery in Ningxia, took home a coveted international gold medal for its 2009 Bordeaux blend.
May 5, 2015
I’ve had a few friends over the years who seemed to somehow be able to spend extended time in China. This article may explain how at least a few of them funded their stays:
In 2010, Mitch Moxley wrote a story for The Atlantic entitled “Rent a White Guy,” relating the story of his trip to Dongying where he pretended to be the representative of a non-existent California-based company that was allegedly building a factory in the city. His Canadian friend Ernie, hired to play the role of director, delivered a speech before a large crowd in which he “boasted about the company’s long list of international clients.” After the speech, “confetti blasted over the stage, fireworks popped […] and Ernie posed for a photo with the mayor.” The article has nothing to say about the extent of the scam. Were Mitch Moxley and his friend Ernie giving a boost to a local company or were the attendees being asked to invest in a company that didn’t exist?
A 2010 CNN report cited one ad posted on The Beijinger by a company called “Rent A Foreigner.” The story describes one foreigner who had police knock on his door one day, “after a financial company he worked at for a couple of months in Xi’an […] allegedly swindled millions of yuan out of clients.”
It’s commonplace in China to see expats paid exorbitant fees as dancers, singers, musicians, or models, often regardless of talent. I have seen unattractive models, dancers who couldn’t dance, and singers who couldn’t sing. One of my friends was once paid handsomely to play bass at a live concert. The thing was, he didn’t know how to play bass — so they left his instrument unplugged and he plucked at the strings as if he had some clue as to what he was doing. Several of the musicians were also pantomiming to a prerecorded track, but the track had no bass, so my friend was pretending to play a part that didn’t exist. No one in the crowd seemed to notice though, and he was paid more than twice what the Chinese band members, who were actually rather talented musicians, earned.
April 12, 2015
At The Register, Shaun Nichols talks about the new, weaponized Great Firewall of China:
China has upgraded the website-blocking systems on its borders, dubbed The Great Firewall, so it can blast foreign businesses and orgs off the internet.
Researchers hailing from the University of Toronto, the International Computer Science Institute, the University of California Berkeley, and Princeton University, have confirmed what we’ve all suspected: China is hijacking web traffic entering the Middle Kingdom to overpower sites critical of the authoritarian state.
These sites may end up being overwhelmed and crash as a result — a classic denial of service — meaning no one in the world can access them.
It is a clear case of China engineering a way to knock arbitrary websites off the internet for everyone, it seems.
Such an attack was launched last month at California-based GitHub.com, which was hosting two projects that circumvented the Great Firewall’s censorship mechanisms, and GreatFire.org, a website dedicated to fighting China’s web blocking. GitHub mitigated the assault to mostly stay online.
This weaponized firewall has been dubbed the Great Cannon by the researchers, and typically hijacks requests to Baidu’s advertising network in China. Anyone visiting a website that serves ads from Baidu, for example, could end up unwittingly silencing a foreign site disliked by the Chinese authorities.