Judging China through a Chinese lens

April 10, 2019

I have often read or heard what others think of China and its government with them knowing little or nothing of China’s history, culture, or what China’s Constitution says. Too much of that criticism is often influenced by bias and/or ignorance.

In this post, I will focus on four articles from China’s Constitution and attempt to link what they say to Confucius. If you want to learn about the rest of China’s Constitution, click the link in this sentence.

Chapter II

Article 51: Citizens of the People’s Republic of China, in exercising their freedoms and rights, may not infringe upon the interests of the State, of society or of the collective, or upon the lawful freedoms and rights of other citizens.

Article 52: It is the duty of citizens of the People’s Republic of China to safeguard the unification of the country and the unity of all its nationalities.

Article 53: Citizens of the People’s Republic of China must abide by the Constitution and other laws, keep State secrets, protect public property, observe labour discipline and public order and respect social ethics.

Article 54: It is the duty of citizens of the People’s Republic of China to safeguard the security, honour and interests of the motherland; they must not commit acts detrimental to the security, honour and interests of the motherland.

If you clicked the link and read/study China’s Constitution, do not forget the four articles listed above. Through the lens of Articles 51 – 54, you might learn how to interpret the rest of the Constitution. It also helps if you understand the basics of Confucian ethics.

Confucius was a Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher of the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history. The philosophy of Confucius, also known as Confucianism, emphasized personal and governmental morality, the correctness of social relationships, justice, and sincerity.

The Khan Academy says, “Towards the end of the Zhou Dynasty, as feudal lords fought over land, there was a scholar and government minister by the name of Kong Fuzi—later Latinized as Confucius by sixteenth-century Jesuits. … Confucius urged ethical and upright behavior, framing responsible government as a moral duty similar to parenthood. He believed providing a good example of moral conduct to the people would spur them to act within the confines of the law.”

How is Confucianism guiding President Xi Jinping?

CNN reported, “In the first few months since he took power, Xi has pushed a popular and arguably progressive agenda: attacking corruption, not just flies (junior officials) but a few tigers (senior officials) too; curbing official extravagance, like senseless banqueting, and, one of my favorites, banning ‘empty speeches.’

“But in recent weeks, Xi has turned ‘left’. He allowed tighter control over the traditional and social media, silenced dissenting voices among academics and scholars, and cracked down on liberal activists, petitioners and protesters.”

Return to Articles 51 – 54 to help understand what Xi might be thinking when he curbs official extravagance, silences dissenting voices, and cracks down on activists.

Is Xi Jinping following the Confucian Ideal of Harmony?

Harmony (known as “he”) is probably the most cherished ideal in Chinese culture. The word “he” predates Confucius. Its earliest form can be found in the inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells from the Shang dynasty (16th to 11th centuries B.C.E.)

The Harmonious Society (Chinese: 和谐社会; pinyin: héxié shèhuì) has been a socioeconomic vision in China. The concept of social harmony dates back to ancient China, to the time of Confucius. As a result, the philosophy has also been characterized as a form of New Confucianism.

Therefore, when Xi Jinping and/or the Chinese Communist Party “cracks down” on corrupt officials, activists, and protestors, think about what a harmonious society means to them and what they think they have to do to achieve one, and do not confuse “he” with the Western concept of human rights.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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What Makes China Different?

April 3, 2019

China is one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world. In fact, while older civilizations around the world crashed, burned and vanished, every time a Chinese dynasty collapsed, China picked itself up, started a new dynasty and continued on. Some have argued that the Chinese Communist Party and its republic is just another dynasty with a twist.

Bloomberg even said, “This Chinese Dynasty Needs a Name. This Communist Party of China, it is frequently asserted, is a misnamed organization. That’s because, since the party began experimenting with private enterprise in the 1970s, it has shed much of the intellectual baggage associated with Marx, Lenin and that ilk.”

The Chinese culture features an abundance of values, unchanged over millennia. In spite of the influence from outside of China and numerous invasions, the Chinese culture preserved its unique identity.

Rebecca Graf points out 13 of the major cultural differences between China and the world.

Graf says, “These differences do not make either culture better or worse than the other one. It just shows their differences which has been created through centuries of history and development. China can trace its traditions and customs for thousands of years. America is still a small babe of a nation that has had very few traditions of its own but has become such a melting pot of cultures that there is almost no specific American culture that can be said is applied across the board. This makes both cultures unique and worthy of study and respect.”

Three of the 13 differences Graf mentions in her piece on Owlcation are: Respect for Elders, Humility, and Collectivism. She says, “The Chinese looks more at the group collective than at individualism. … A person from China is more prone to look at how their acts affect the whole instead of how it affects them personally. They are more willing to give up and sacrifice for the greater good. For the Chinese, each person fits into the greater body of the nation, so individual accomplishments are downplayed.”

To hold on to those unique differences, during the Ming Dynasty, China experienced isolationism motivated by a desire to prevent foreign influences from undermining Chinese values. Study.com reported, “After being ruled by Mongol emperors for almost 100 years, Ming society was obsessed with restoring a sense of absolute Chinese culture. Chinese arts rejected foreign influences, and the emperors restricted trade with foreign nations for much of the 14th and 15th centuries.”

However, the BBC reports, “In the 19th Century, European nations used military power to pry open China’s market. To earn hard currency from China, the British and Americans even smuggled opium into China and basically drugged its people.”

The result was two Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860). When China lost those two wars that eventually led to the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901, another failed attempt by the Chinese people to rid China of foreign influence.

Even the Chinese Civil War (1927-1950) was a result of foreign meddling in China’s affairs, and Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) was another attempt to rid China of foreign influences that had been forced on the country starting in 1839 with the first Opium War.  In fact, it was under Mao that China ended illegal drug use in 24 hours. The People’s Liberation Army rounded up and executed about a million drug dealers and forced more than 20-million Chinese addicts into compulsory treatment with a warning that if they were caught using again, they would suffer the same fate the dealers did.

China stayed fairly drug free until Deng Xiaoping opened China to foreign trade again even with China’s existing strict laws concerning illegal drug use. Today, sentencing for drug trafficking could include capital punishment.  For example, the seizure of 50 grams or more of heroin or crystal methamphetamine might result in the use of the death penalty by the Chinese government.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Magic

March 27, 2019

Magic is not exclusive to any culture or race, but in China, “the art of magic has (more than) a two-thousand-year-old history,” gbtimes.com says. “Traditional Chinese magic was developed by peasants in the northern part of the country where harsh conditions and the need to survive influenced the development of skills like street acrobatics and magic tricks in order to bring in extra money.”

In addition, China Underground.com reports, “In Chinese folklore, especially in the South, … Gu magic was used to manipulate the will of others, partners, to make people ill and not least cause death. According to Chinese folklore, a Gu spirit was able to transform into different animals: snakes, worms, earthworms, frogs, dogs or pigs. … The name Gu has ancient origins dating back to the oracle inscriptions of the Shang Dynasty (fourteenth century BC).”


In “The Sorcerer and the White Snake” Jet Li stars as a sorcerer monk in an epic special effects fantasy film based on a Chinese legend. This complete film runs more than an hour and a half.

Encylopedia.com tells us, “Magic and mantic arts are endemic in Chinese life and prominent in the religions of China, both in popular religion and in Buddhism and Daoism.”

Practicing magic in China was also risky. Ancient Origins.net says, “The rules of the time (during the Han Dynasty) declared the use of magic as a capital offense. It was especially unforgivable amongst the nobility, including the royal family.” … “Black magic was well known in Ancient China, but research related to this topic is still full of gaps. It is known, however, that one of the most famous methods for practicing magic was ‘magic mirrors’”. As M. V. Berry explained.

It seems that black magic also cast its spell over Chinese movie audiences in 1975, starting a few months before Mao died in 1976. “Between the late 70s and early 80s,” Den of Geek.com says, “Chinese black magic movies were pumped out en masse, feeding audiences their fill of evil sorcery and twisted moralizing. The formula usually featured some poor schmuck enlisting a dark wizard to help them achieve something (more often than not, something sexual)”

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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GUANXI

March 13, 2019

The more China changes, the more it stays the same.

Just because China has a one-party political system that calls itself the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), that doesn’t mean the government is not Chinese. In fact, the CCP maintains that despite the co-existence of private capitalists and entrepreneurs with public and collective enterprises, China is not a capitalist country because the party retains control over the direction of the country, maintaining its course of socialist development.

In China, Guanxi is a complex system of social networks and influential relationships which facilitate business and other dealings. Because Guanxi is built into social networks and influential relationships, it also runs deep through the CCP like threads through a complex interwoven, handmade tapestry.

Sir Robert Hart (1835 – 1911), the godfather of China’s modernization and the main character in my historical fiction novel, My Splendid Concubine, discovered the importance of Guanxi soon after he arrived in China and eventually went to work for China’s Emperor. Hart quickly learned that a ‘supreme value of loyalty glued together China’s structure of personal relationships.’

In addition, Robert Hart wrote in a letter in 1891, “These people (referring to the Chinese) never act too soon, and, so far, I have not known of their losing anything by being late. To glide naturally, easily and seasonably into the safe position sequence as circumstances make, is probably a sounder though less heroic policy for a state than to be forever experimenting …”

To translate, it takes time to develop Guanxi through relationships, friendships, and trust where everyone benefits. In China, one must prove they can be trusted before being accepted into a Guanxi social and/or business network.

There are several elements and layers to Guanxi. First, Guanxi is based on a Confucian hierarchy of familial relationships, long-term friendships, classmates, and schoolmates that no stranger, Chinese or foreign, will ever have access to.

Guanxi developed over millennia because China did not have a stable and effective legal system similar to the one that developed in western countries.

And thanks to the greed, insanity, and incompetence of President Donald Trump and the Libertarian movement in the United States, China will probably never become a capitalist kleptocracy like the U.S. is fast becoming. Guanxi will make sure that never happens in China, and corrupt individuals like Donald Trump will never understand how Guanxi works because of his inability to be honest and trust others. To Trump, he must always win and everyone else must lose.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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COLORS

March 3, 2019

Colors are important in Chinese culture and some colors come with lucky meanings. For instance the three main colors considered lucky in people’s daily lives as well as on special occasions are red, yellow, and green.

However, it isn’t that simple.

Allegravita.com reports, “While every world culture has its own unique symbolism and taboos, it’s fair to say that the ancient and very complex Chinese culture is the big daddy of cultural symbolism. Highly resonant symbolic memes run so old and deep that it’s impossible to summarize them into one blog post, or even a hundred posts.”

Associated with but ranked above brown, yellow signifies neutrality and good luck. Yellow is sometimes paired with red in place of gold. Yellow was the emperor’s color in Imperial China and is held as the symbolic color of the five legendary emperors of ancient China.

Nations Online says, “Historically, people actually worshipped the color yellow during the reign of the legendary Chinese sage king, a chief deity of Taoism, Huang Di or Huang Ti, better known as the Yellow Emperor. He is the emperor that is said to be the ancestor of all Han Chinese people and is believed to have reigned around 2697 BC to 2598 BC.

“Huang Di was coined the name Yellow Emperor because his army tribe honoured the value of the ‘Yellow Earth’ which was the symbol of farming and the ‘Yellow River’ of the central land (China).”

Nations Online also lists the colors and what they mean. For instance, RED: “traditional bridal color, expansive, blooming, dynamic, enthusiastic, reaching upwards, good luck, celebration, happiness, joy, vitality, long life; red purple brings luck and fame, money, recognition, propriety, creativity, joy vs. over excitation.”

In the West, North America, and Europe, white is usually the traditional bridal color.

Today in China

“Yellow is still reserved for royalty. Clothing and objects that are yellow in color still resemble a higher social status. Although each dynasty designated each official rank with their own color, yellow is reserved for the emperor himself.

“The color yellow and its shades are also the main color of Buddhism; thus it represents being free from worldly cares.

“Red is still used for happiness and joy. In fact, after the Ming Dynasty, only the Emperor’s close relatives could have homes with red walls and yellow roof tiles. Peasants could only live in homes made with blue bricks and roof tiles. Today though, most houses are made of black tiles and white walls.

“Blue-green is still a symbol of spring when everything is filled with vigor and vitality. Therefore, someone that is hoping for longevity and harmony will decorate with blue-green colors.

“White is a symbol of the unknown and purity. The color white is used during the time of mourning, death, and during ghost festivals. Therefore Chinese people will wear white during a funeral or while summoning ghosts.

“Black is used as the symbol of winter and the westerly skies which behold the heavens. It is used for times of the unknown and for the winter months.”

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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China is the Misunderstood Dragon

January 30, 2019

If you want to make an attempt to understand China, I suggest starting with the differences between Chinese dragons vs. Western ones.

Kid World Citizen.org tells us, “(Chinese) Dragons symbolize importance, power and strength, represent all things male, and were the symbol of the Emperor of China (who was said to sit on the dragon throne). The imperial dragon is shown with 5 claws instead of the usual 4, to distinguish him from lesser beasts.”

Chinese “Dragons are essential in agricultural life, since they are seen to control the seasons and the weather.  Although they (Chinese dragons) have no wings, the fiery pearl sometimes displayed in their mouths gives them the power to fly to heaven.  The male air and weather dragons would bring rains and winds to help the harvest, while the female earth dragons would preserve the waters in rivers and underground wells.” …

If you are interested, there’s more about Chinese dragons at Kid World Citizens dot org (find the link above).

Compare what you have learned about China’s dragons to the West’s. The Vintage News.com says, “From ancient Greek myths to Game of Thrones, the legend of the dragon is one of the most enduring and romanticized throughout history. It has been traced back as far as 4000 BC and exists in all parts of the world.” …

In the West, dragons were generally treated as violent monsters that must be slain by heroes and saints. European dragons could have four legs, two legs, or none, and often had wings.

“In Asia, and especially China,” The Vintage News continues, “the view of these creatures was very different. … They breathed clouds and moved the seasons. The dragon was the symbol of the Chinese Emperor, and the Imperial throne was called the Dragon Throne. Known as the Dragon, the emperor ruled in harmony, and brought peace and prosperity to all. … Chinese dragons are depicted as being more serpent-like, with long, snaking bodies and usually had four legs. They are generally seen as wingless.”

There are also a few other differences to compare.

China is a collective culture vs Europe and North America that are individualistic cultures. It is possible that the reason China’s dragons are different is because of the influence of a collective culture.

Does that mean we can explain the evil and danger of Western dragons to the influence of individualistic thinking?

European and North American cultures are influenced mostly by Christianity, Judaism, and philosophers from ancient Greece and Renaissance Europe. Ancient Athens in Greece is among the first recorded and one of the most important democracies in ancient times; the word “democracy” ( Greek: δημοκρατία – “rule by the people”) was invented by Athenians in order to define their system of government, around 508 BC.

Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have never been a major political or religious influence in China.

Religious and/or philosophical influences in China come from Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.

Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have never been a major political or religious influence in Europe or North America.

Because of these differences, mainland China has never had a republic or democracy similar to Europe or North America.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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The ancient Chinese concept of Hell after death

January 23, 2019

The Chinese have Dante beat. Dante only wrote about 9 circles of hell. The Chinese have eighteen levels. It makes sense in a gruesome way when you realize the Chinese also came up with a very slow and painful death by a thousand cuts, and then there’s the Chinese water torture. Where do you think the West came up for  waterboarding?

China Underground.com says, “Diyu, the Traditional Chinese Hell, based on Buddhism concept of Naraka, is an underground maze with various levels and chambers, where souls are taken after death to atone for the sins they committed when they were alive.”

Buddhism originated in India and when it arrived in China, it brought eighteen levels of hell with it. Over time, this belief spread across China.

Taoism, Buddhism, and traditional Chinese folk religions think that the souls of the dead must experience several tests before reaching the gates of hell, where demons demand money to enter, which might explain why many Chinese burn paper money at funerals to make sure beloved family members have enough for the journey through hell.

There are eighteen levels on this journey, and each level comes with a method to test for evil.

For criminals, the souls are heavy and the trip is long and painful. Chinese almanacs graphically illustrated the punishments while good souls were light and made the journey quickly.

Today, these beliefs are probably more alive in remote areas of rural China than urban areas where Mao’s Cultural Revolution had more of an impact getting rid of ancient beliefs.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

Where to Buy

Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

About iLook China