Sunday, 3 May 2015

Thomas More's Utopia in Chinese & Japanese Translation

There are many strange discontinuities and asymmetries in the "East meets West" equation, and these become even stranger when you need to work through English-language documentation.

I have thought for some time that particular aspects of Mao Zedong thought derived from Thomas More's Utopia --possibly via Japanese theoreticians who were (uncontroversially) influenced by More, and possibly via the Chinese translation of Utopia itself.

I was able to track down the (known) Chinese translations simply through library catalogs, but the only secondary sources (in English) are in the somewhat obscure journal Moreana.  This is a journal that has not (yet) been digitally archived, nor indexed in a way that can be found through library-record searches.  I found these articles in the "old fashioned" way of the 1990s: by sending an e-mail to the editor of the journal, asking for advice.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Ras Kass on Growing Up with the Encyclopedia

About nine minutes and 45 seconds into the tape, he's asked what kind of encyclopedia he grew up with.

"Oh, so you was a Britannica [老黑],* I was a World Book [老黑]."

* [老黑 was the polite translation of "the n-word" used in the Chinese subtitles to The Wire on Cambodian television.  If I hadn't been living in Cambodia at that time, I would've never seen an episode of The Wire at all.]

Link to the interview:

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Wage Growth (or Lack Thereof) in Japan & Canada

The C.B.C. had a rather hilarious headline in 2014: Canada's dismal wage growth still better than most of G20 (Source).  Wage stagnation (despite rising productivity) in the western world has been politicized in various ways.  A very short note from The Economist (in 2011) points out that Canada provides an instructive contrast to the U.S. precisely because the degree of labor-unionization is so different between the two: link here.

As my (rather boring) essay on Japanese immigration policy pointed out, maintaining low wages has been one of the broadest and most consistent policies of the Neoconservative and Neoliberal era, i.e., in contrast to the era immediately before it:
The period of the Nixon shocks (1971–1973) was not the end of Japan's restrictive immigration policies… However, it was the end of the income doubling plan; from this point forward, the Japanese government believed it was in its interest, instead, to keep wages as low as possible, in order to be internationally competitive. (Source)

Monday, 27 April 2015

Learning Japanese, How Many Hours To Reach "Level 1"?

An interesting contrast to my earlier source on how many hours does it take to learn Level One Chinese? (click), this also raises the perennial question of "How do we define 'Level One', anyway?"

Thursday, 23 April 2015

蔵, Kanji of the Week

In Japanese, 蔵 means a "storehouse" of some kind (possibly a cellar, granary, treasury, etc., and possibly used in an abstract sense).  The strange thing is that, underneath the plant radical at the top, the basic framework of the character comes from a word meaning "to kill" (and still used in Chinese as such, if rarely: 戕害, qiāng hài).  Added to this is the familiar glyph for an overseer (or government official of some kind).  Incongruously, the combination of these two results in a character meaning "happy", or, sometimes, "skillful".  Although this is presumed to be arbitrary (or "merely phonetic"), the ominous tone of the etymology here is not entirely unique: the correct origin of 幸 (in shiawase, "happiness" & xìng, "good fortune") is similarly macabre.

Post-Communist Poverty in Perspective (China, Laos, etc.)

Where do you suppose China ranks on the chart above?  Based on both the economic and geopolitical assessment of China in the western world, you might imagine either that China's line would be soaring above the other three examples here, or that it would be rapidly rising, overtaking Thailand and Malaysia.

Click below to see the same chart, with China included.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Japanese Immigration Policy (Near Zero)

To make a long story shortwhat follows below is a somewhat boring paper that I wrote on Japanese immigration policy.  I wasn't really planning to post it to the internet, as I thought it wouldn't be interesting to anyone aside from undergraduate students trying to copy an essay on the subject.  However, the contrived serendipity of the internet (i.e., google searches for related terms) drew my attention to the video below, and this made me aware of just how many misconceptions abound on this subject… and how wishful thinking may be misrepresenting the basic political facts.

So, to offer just a few points for those who don't have the patience to to read this (and I can't blame you),
  1. Yes, Japanese citizenship is based on "blood" (the legal principle of jus sanguinis), contrary to what Mira tells you in the video below.
  2. Yes, Japanese law does tightly restrict and discourage permanent migration, and even temporary labor-migration (although the government is less restrictive now than it was in the 1960s, through a series of changes in policy discussed below).
  3. While the statistics do reflect Japan's (remarkable) history of discouraging immigration, the numbers are actually skewed by the bizarre legal treatment of Korean-Japanese and Brazilian-Japanese [日系人], who are labelled and counted under special categories.  If you look at the bar-chart, above, Japan's apparent number of foreign residents is dramatically lower than Denmark, but the real number is lower still, roughly half of what it appears to be (as explained in the essay below, e.g., "Out of the census-total of 1,686,444 foreign residents (for the year 2000), we would therefore have come to a smaller estimate of 781,934 by excluding zainichi [在日] and nikkeijin [日系人]").
Read on for all the glorious charts, legal details and citations.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

The Meaning of the Word "Statism"

In current, casual English, statism is most often used with an implicitly polemical sense of condemning authoritarianism; within the discipline of political science it is sometimes used to suggest highly centralized government, with or without insinuating disapproval.  Both of these diverge from a 19th usage that still remains as one possible denotation of the word.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

R.J. Lifton & The Psychohistory of the Cultural Revolution

Lifton's Legacy in China:
The Psychohistory of the Cultural Revolution

§1. A Research Question Out of Season.
This essay chooses to engage with an outmoded philosophy of history, partly to question in what sense it has become outmoded.  Robert J. Lifton's "psychohistorical" approach has become unfashionable, though not because of any single event (or error) that discredited it (i.e., we cannot point to an event like the collapse of the Berlin Wall, in its effect on Marxist historicism, as an equivalent "breaking point" for Lifton's approach).

R.J. Lifton published an influential analysis of Chinese Communism in 1961, followed by a separate volume dealing with the Cultural Revolution in 1968.  Although Lifton was not the first author to address "brain washing" and the psychology of "thought reform" in China (cf. Hunter, 1951, as an earlier precedent) the success of his book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, was influential both in its methods and in its selection of certain key issues for examination within Chinese Communism.  A review in The Journal of Asian Studies began by declaring that "this study by Robert Lifton is probably the most profound, the most intellectually rewarding and the most universally significant work which has yet appeared on any aspect of Chinese Communism." (Pye, 1961)

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Kita Ikki [北 一輝] and the Origins of Democracy in Japan.

The 1936 uprising in historical photographs.
The 1936 uprising in cinema: 1962's 二・二六事件 脱出 & 1989's 226.
At a time when Article 9 of the Japanese constitution is being re-examined, Kita Ikki ( 一輝) provides a political philosophy of military domination that is as blunt and direct as Thomas Hobbes or Machiavelli --and yet (unlike Hobbes or Machiavelli) his objectives were to create and maintain a "citizen state" of "social democracy". (Wilson, 1966, p. 91)  Kita's combination of militarism, socialism, and democracy (with an expansive view of Japan's leadership for the rest of Asia) is, perhaps, more salient to 21st century Japanese politics than anyone would like to admit.