Monday, May 31, 2010

Note-June 4

Each year we post a commemoration to the Tiananmen massacre.  This year that commemoration will be at the top of the first page from 12:01 am to 9:36 am.  At 9:37 the first post in the series, The Murder of Lynne Friend, will be published as the lead.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Seeking the Soul: Happiness.

Immediately below is Mr. Wang Yi's response to the question:  How prominent a role is Happiness in the Chinese soul?
Confucianism is specifically mentioned in both Mr. Wang's response and in XYZ's. Professor John W. Head's marvelous book, China's Legal Soul, traces China's present legal system back to the influence of Confucianism. Crucially,
Confucianism is an ethical and philosophical system, not a religion. Thus there is no "higher power" restraining man.
Confucianism was transformed 2200 years ago into Legalism, which is Confucianism rigidified.

This was the seminal moment in Chinese history.

Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇) (259-210 BC) used this new Legalism  first to legitimate his own rule.  He succeeded, for he had tapped into something primordial in China's soul.  Qin Shi Huang is called the First Emperor because he was the first to unify China. The geopolitical desideratum of unity was based on a primordial need common to all animal species, security, and the need for security is based on an emotion:  fear.  A people's need for security is directly related to it's level of felt fear.  The Great Wall of China was built to keep the Foreigner out and Chinese within, secure. It was Qin Shi Huang who built the first version of the Great Wall.  
The greatest engineering project in the history of mankind was built out of bricks of fear. 
With Legalism came control that was centralized, the very idea of the Center () that exists to this day finds it's roots 2200 years ago. Centralized control made impossible the development of independent loci of power.  There was no Chinese "Second Estate" as the Church was in medieval Europe, no possibility that from within the Third Estate could develop a new power locus, as the bourgeoisie did.  
Legalism has been called man's first totalitarian ideology.  Today, Hu Jintao is known as the Paramount Leader of China The present regime explicitly bases it's legitimacy on a ruler who has also been called an emperor, a ruler who openly compared himself to Qin Shi Huang: Mao Zedong.

Photo: The famous Terra Cotta Army, buried with Emperor Qin Shi Huang.

May 2, 2010:
I believe it is the view point of Professor Yu Shiying of Princeton University that China’s ideology is basically Legalist in the name of Confucianism. Honestly I can’t agree with that. 
I am not a Chinese historian and didn’t read much about the history of ideological development. However, based on what I know about Confucianism and what I have experienced in Chinese culture, I have to say Confucianism is the prime culprit of all the bad things about Chinese culture. Maybe originally, Confucius meant good to ask emperors to be benevolent to their subjects. Nevertheless, he was the one who combined ancestor worship with politics and thus made Chinese society a very stratified one. Therefore, the important concepts of “tolerance” and “benevolence” have become totally different things from those as understood by the American mind. Since Confucius wanted people to behave in the way appropriate to his/her position, tolerance means putting up with injustice, wrong doings by the people who are more powerful than you. Because of that, Chinese naturally have, compared with other cultures or ethnic groups, a lesser sense of justice and lack enough courage to pursue it, which, in a sense, has prolonged the authoritarian rule in history. 
On the other hand, Chinese are less socially spirited compared with other ethnic groups. Corruption is always the by-product. Chinese are always concerned about the interest of his family or relatives or any connections which they consider “useful” to them. Aside these people, they can be very cold, unsympathetic, and insensitive. In Islamic culture, there is a strong sense of brotherhood, but much less among Chinese. They have less courage to stand up to evil, compared with other ethnic groups. They are quarrelsome, always fighting among themselves. They are not good team players. Look at the two physicists who worked together and won Nobel Prize. Now they are enemy, attacking each other in the paper. Chinese don’t see or care things beyond their threshold. One of the bad mottos or sayings is: “Sweep only the snow in front of your door, never mind the frost on others’ roof.” Of course, Chinese parents love their children. However, with Confucian teachings, the parental love turns sour and became a kind of investment for themselves, unlike the unconditional love of this country. People always quote the poem line from Tang Dynasty: “Who can say that the inch-long grass would be able to repay enough for the sunshine of its life?” I hate it.  Also, Confucianism wants you to believe that no matter where you go, you are still a Chinese and you should remember the difference between “us” and “them”. That is called “the difference between insiders and outsiders.”  A friend accused me of criticizing Chinese government in front of Americans. I told him that I stick to the oath I made when I swore to be an American citizen (he is an American citizen, too) and everyone who has self-respect should do the same.
Now I am going to give you some examples from my life experiences. I won’t tell some of them to anyone else because they are too personal. One summer more than twenty years ago when I was a student, I tried to find a summer job in NY and saw an ad which was looking for someone to design T-shirts. There was a note that they hired people who spoke English or Mandarin. After I was hired, I asked the man what he exactly meant by this note. He, originally from Taiwan, told me that he hated Cantonese because when I first came to this country, he tried to get some help in Chinatown (at that time, people there were mostly Cantonese), he was surprised to find that people suddenly became so cold and insensitive when they realized that he could not speak Cantonese.
Another examples, Chinese mafia always target Chinese in Chinatown. Unfortunately, the victims often “tolerate” them. They seldom report to the police. Sometimes, they refuse to be witnesses. I know there are Americans like that, too. However, in Chinatown, I think they are still thinking from the perception of “insiders and outsiders.”
I have just come across an interesting description of Chinese ideologists’ motivation by contemporary historian He Bingli. He says that instead of being concerned about the benefits of the people, Chinese ideologists in history all set their minds on safeguarding the authoritarian rule of the emperors. What they did is just wrapping exploitation in Confucian language. To say the best, they were Confucian in words but Legalist in action. Maybe that best defines the history of Chinese ideological development.
Because of the weak sense of justice and moral sensitivity in Chinese daily life, the thing which is critical to everyone is “kuanxi” (influential connections). The tradition of power-worship drives everyone to feel more comfortable nestling under the protection of powerful people. Therefore, people try hard, and even shamelessly, to seek for this kind of protection. The stakes are too high to ignore. When you are accepted under their wings, you can enjoy some privileges till the day the power kingdom falls apart. That would be the time like the old saying goes: The fallen tree scatters monkeys all over.  Then everybody leaves and starts all over again to find another big tree to lean on. When I say “power”, of course, it means the politically powerful officials, but not limited to that. It could be anyone who is powerful enough to get things done in his field, be he a mafia boss, a university president, a wealthy businessman , etc. If you are not related to them, you need to use your brain to get inside of the protective network. It all depends on your creativity and/or how disgracefully low down you are ready to be. You, sometimes, have to be all eyes and say or do right things in the right time and edge your way artistically. Of course, there is competition and you need to watch your back. Most people will try to be involved with important events of the person’s family, including their birthdays, children’s weddings, funerals of their relatives, or even match-making for their children...There is a traditional story about it: On the birthday of a powerful official who was born in the year of the mouse, one of his inferiors presented to him a gift which is a life-size mouse made of gold. He felt so proud of himself that he emphasized the mouse was life-size. His boss smiled and said, “My wife is one year my junior and she was born in the year of the bull."...
Of course, with the motto “being rich is glorious”, you can be sure some ladies won’t hesitate to sleep their way to their goals. It is shocking how shameless some girls are these days. Let me tell you how people feel threatened by this kind of twisted morality. In recent years, there are quite a number of high-tech personnel, who came from China, got Ph. D from top-notch universities, and had some years of working experiences in this country, are, for various reasons, thinking of going back to China. When those men are making the decision, oftentimes the force at home that is against going back to China is their wives. Their wives are afraid that if they leave the decadent capitalist country for China, there is no way for them to compete with those unstoppable and invincible home wreckers in their socialist motherland and possibly their marriage will end up in divorce. Isn’t that sad? Some people ridiculously call it China’s “sex liberation”. To me whoever says that is shameless. China has an old saying to describe how people lack sense of ethical principle: “They laugh at people who are poor but honest but they look up to you even if you get wealthy from prostitution.” Unfortunately, it is now a fact.
Americans need to remember that giving people presents or receive them in Chinese, and Japanese, culture is never a token unless people consider you are a foreigner. It is an important ritual/activity of social interaction. Its monetary value is important. People have to balance the “norm” of gift value on such a certain occasion and his/her personal relationship with the receiver.  So you need to be familiar with the “market value of social interactions” and accurately handle the psychology of your boss or whoever you try to establish a relationship with: what is it he/she likes? Is it impressive enough? More or less, everyone is involved in this game and learns how to be a politician or schemer. People like to talk to you, but never directly say what they think or want. They drop cues, make hints or analogies and say things in a roundabout way, leaving everyone else to guess. That’s how difficult it is to live in Chinese culture. Maybe I should call it cultural psychology. You have to keep a keen eye on everything and be very tactical. Everyone complains about it but everyone does it. As a matter of fact, when Mao got his absolute power during the Cultural Revolution, all the people in the top-ranking leadership were guessing who would be the next person that Mao tried to get rid of. They worked hard to accommodate his despotism and attempted to divert his attention to others. In the end, they all fell into his trap. 
No matter how subservient one is in the outside world to his bosses, traditionally he feels he is the boss to his children. Home is often a miniature of the society. 
I guess both China and I have changed. Like one of my friends in China said, people used to get married and feel a sense of security, but nowadays, when people get married, they feel insecure. I am so glad I and my family live in this country. Bai Young called Chinese culture the sauce-fermenting jar. So long as you live in it, willing or not, eventually the maggots in the jar will turn you into part of the sauce.
It’s too ugly and disgusting. I don’t know. Maybe I am an extremist.  However, I simply can’t TOLERATE it. I remember during the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards made up a lot of crimes to fabricate a case on me but they accused me of holding resentful feelings about socialist motherland. They said I had told my friends that if I was unable to leave China by the age of 40, I will commit suicide. I admitted that I said that. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to leave China before I reached the age of 40.

April 14, 2010:

Of all the facets of "humanness," humor has been the least explored by western philosophy.  The mind (Descartes), consciousness (Freud), death (Kirkegaard), sex (Foucault) are recognizably associated with particular philosophers.  Do a name association with humor, what philosopher comes to mind?  Uhh...Woody Allen? In modern times only Henri Bergson has written seriously about humor.  Maybe the oxymoron there is the reason.  Philosophy is serious, so humor can't be a subject of philosophy.  I laugh therefore I am not. 
It is precisely the reverse. It is our emotions, not our minds, that make us so distinct from other species.
Human beings are, if not literally unique, at least unsurpassed, in the influence that they give to the emotions over their conduct.  We love, hate, empathize.  And we laugh.  We like to have fun.  And we want to be happy, not just have "meaningful" lives (unless we are philosophers).
Happiness is so much a part of what it means to be Homo Sapiens Americanus that it is enshrined in our constitution.  Sometimes you can tell a person is American from a mile away.  Mr. Weimin Mo's painting of the young man I called "The Life Guard" is one such instance.  And I have written previously about Belinda Carlisle, Go-Go's circa 1981, as embodying a distinctively American joy.  There is no one photograph of her that can capture this, you have to see it: 
Anyone who can watch that video and not smile is not American and doesn't understand America.
I cannot picture anyone other than an American doing that video.  How about a contemporary of Carlisle's, young (in 1981), blonde, female, equally vacuous, like the one in the Swedish pop group ABBA?  No, the blonde in ABBA (nor the brunette) doesn't let go like that in "Dancing Queen." She's Swedish so I suspect she can't, even when "having the time of her life" (ooh yeah).  I don't know of any Russian female pop music stars, if any exist, but try picturing a Russian woman frolicking in the fountain like Belinda Carlisle does. No, she'd be standing in the water with a dour expression on her face singing "Lips, they are sealed." 
I have wondered here how much happiness is a part of what it means to be Chinese. I asked Mr. Mo and my Chinese female email companion XYZ to write for Public Occurrences about happiness and Chinese-ness.  First, XYZ: 
Hi, Benjamin,
When you ask if the Chinese are a happy people, you drive me to think about the nature of Chinese people. There are a lot of arguments on the topic. Actually, it has been a heat point in China since the May Fourth Movement, often accompanied by the fever of nationalism. In these debates the nature of the Chinese falls in two opposed categories, clever or stupid, happy or tedious. So I choose to consider the question in anthoter way.
If you wonder whether the Chinese are good at amusing themselves, my answer is definitely yes. It is not due to the nature of a people but the era of entertainment. You can get cheap joy easily by television shows, online videos or just being a consumer. To this point, everywhere in the world has no difference. Even the newspapers and politics are treated in a funny manner. 
I know it cannot satisfy you, thus I keep thinking. I can say the Chinese are happy in nature, comparing with their neighbor, the Japanese, which incline to suicide and has develop a peculiar appreciation of declined things in their culture. Unluckily, such good nature of Chinese people has been obscured by the miserable modern history of China. Instead, they are too often being described as insensitive to grief. The authority educates people to remember the tribulations but conceals their ancestors has also been lived vivid lives in those dynasties in history.
In the third angle of view, foreigners may find the Chinese are not happy as they are kind of dull and they lack distinguishable individuality. For example, the French are happy because they are romantic, dynamic, or something like that. So what about the Chinese? I would say the Chinese are never run short of passion. The only thing needed is to change the way of observation, from individual to collectivity. Is not the Cultural Revolution a result of passion though it is wicked? It is true that the Chinese people are apt to become crazy by collective things, while the faith came from Confucius and strengthened by communism. The nationalism and the pride of national economic growth are two other examples. You have been to China, so you must notice what kind of zeal and devotion the Chinese have put on the economic construction, and how happy they gain from the prosperity of the nation! It is the mainly shared joy of Chinese society.
And you also ask if the Chinese people are happy now, it is a different question. My answer is half-happy, half-unhappy. I think this question are connected with so many realistic issues in the society that I can only talk about two reasons for unhappiness. First, the pressure of living that is the money and how to get money; second, the spiritual pressure. Among the farmers, the old generation finds they lose their hometown because of industrialization while the young generation is undergoing a spiritual lost in the city as well as facing unjust treatment.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Politics & Justice in the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office

The Murder of Lynne Friend
(from the Sun-Sentinel)

Missing Woman Mourned

Authorities Suspect Foul Play Involved

October 08, 1994|By BATTINTO BATTS JR. Staff Writer

CORAL GABLES — Friday was supposed to be a day of smiles and happiness for Ed O'Dell and Lynne Friend, who were to be married on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.

Instead it was a day of tears and sorrow, as O'Dell sat among Friend's family and loved ones at her memorial service.

"I keep thinking about what we would be doing," O'Dell said. "I wonder if we would be having dinner now. I wonder if I would have been calling her `Mrs. O'Dell' and she would be giggling."

About 100 attended the service at University Baptist Church in Coral Gables.

Missing for six weeks and presumed dead, Friend was remembered for loving her son dearly, caring earnestly for her friends and longing for a better life.

Friend, 35, vanished from her Hallandale home on Aug. 28 - just days before she and her son, Christian, were to move to Nashville, Tenn., to live with O'Dell.

A marketing director at Parkway Regional Medical Center in Dade County, Friend was divorced from Christian's father, Clifford Friend.

Authorities think Friend was murdered and her body dumped in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Miami Beach.

On the night she disappeared, U.S. Customs agents reported seeing Friend's ex-husband and a companion drop something off a boat into the ocean.

No one has been arrested in the case.

Clifford Friend could not be reached for comment. He and Christian left for Texas on Thursday.

"Looking back now I wish I had grasped how scared Lynne was," said Greg Anderson, Friend's attorney in her custody battle for Christian. "It makes me second-guess and wonder if there was something I could have done to prevent this."

A U.S. Navy ship searched the waters off Miami for five days this week with a high-tech sonar device.

Authorities have refused to comment on any possible findings. O'Dell paid $13,000 for the ship OCP Seacon to continue the search through Friday afternoon.

"I want Lynne's body found," O'Dell said. "I want to be able to go to her grave and put flowers on it."

O'Dell, a Tennessee-based executive for a company that builds hospitals, said he and Friend met eight years ago at North Miami Hospital. She was looking forward to moving to Tennessee because of its tall trees and wide-open land. Christian enjoyed seeing the animals play in the front yard.

Friend's brother, Larry Allen, flew in from Norway for the memorial service. He reflected on how a day planned for happiness turned out to be sad.

"Today was supposed to be the beginning of a new life for her and Ed," Allen said. "She had been through so much. This is not the way it was supposed to work out."