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  • Dec 24, 2014
  • Updated: 11:29pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 August, 2014, 5:05am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 August, 2014, 5:05am

Rights and wrongs of observing China

Pierre Ryckmans, who died this month aged 78, was better known by his pen name Simon Leys. And Simon Leys was best known as a sinologist. But, given his vast literary and artistic interests, Ryckmans is best described as a man of letters, or a Confucian gentleman, for whom the humanities in the European and classical Chinese traditions had been a lifelong source of joy, inspiration and contemplation.

Sadly, I don't have space to go into his ideas about Chinese paintings, calligraphy and what may be called a Chinese philosophy of language and reality, which were what inspired him.

Ryckmans is usually credited as one of the first Western writers to warn against the totalitarian terror of Maoism and the Cultural Revolution. He did so at a time when the doyens of China studies such as Han Suyin, Ross Terrill and John King Fairbank were singing their praises. Why did he, as he once put it, see clearly where others didn't? He was observing from Hong Kong during those turbulent years and became an avid reader of the weekly China News Analysis, published in the British colony over almost four decades by the Reverend Laszlo Ladany, a Hungarian-born Jesuit.

If you had followed Ladany's work early on, you would have skipped all the romanticism about Mao, and concluded that the Communist Party was a secret society, its methods and mentality resembled those of "an underground mob" and that it only knew how to rule by terror. But given such idées fixes, Ryckmans' mind was closed to the possibility that the party could change, and in doing so, bring the economy into the globalised 21st century.

He would never write something like this: "Over the past 30 years," writes Hugh White, an influential Australian defence analyst, "the Chinese government has achieved by far the largest, fastest increase in human material welfare in history, [providing] fuller, and more secure and richer lives for something like a tenth of humanity in a single generation."

Ryckmans made the opposite mistake as the China apologists in the West a generation ago. If their early positive exposure blinded them to the horrors of Maoism, his early realisation of Maoist terror made him unable to acknowledge the party's positive transformation in recent decades.


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This article is now closed to comments

And Alex Lo makes the same mistake as the CCP apologists working in official media. His early participation to the high table dinners organized by Leung Chun-ying made him unable to write a proper piece of journalism in recent years.
As an avid reader of the China News Analysis, which looks astonishingly like Xinhua's daily news digest which could be found in Beijing Hotel rooms, the 8-pages pamphlets enables me to follow the events from a U.S. campus to events in China in early 1970s. Rev. Ladany was peerless in his analysis. Simon Leys' "Chinese Shadow" was a masterful read. Ryckman's insight could partly be explained that he was also a resident Belgium diplomat in Beijing when U.S. sinologists were encamped in Hong Kong. He must know the experience of how red guards tried to storm the British embassy in Beijing and how a Chinese diplomat was a cat strangler…These were the times Ross Terrill was praising Mao, and Han Suyin was romancing with the idea of New China. It helps that observers of China need the scholarly depth of Chinese humanities but on the ground experience seem irreplaceable.
If China is such a transformed and promising country, why is anyone who can leave and emigrate to the West does so the first chance he/she can ? And those who cannot wishes that he/she can ?
Thank you shouken for the comment
Ley’s testament supports the phenomenology
expounded by Mao in On Contradiction
where there is x, anti x will follow
Ley’s antagonist is a variant that isn’t for the better
but for balancing or customarization
even if x is recognized as something good
anti x will surface for modification
“to bring down to our own wretched level”
CCP is good and evil
USA is good and evil
Between the two there is a difference
in philosophical legacy
The Chinese are Mencius
The basis of humanity is original kindness
People are expected to conform to li 禮
the goal and principle of the gentleman
Anglo-Saxons are Hobbesian
Humanity begins with original sin
to be controlled by law and saved by grace
with “civilized beast” the ideal individual
The west has to demonize Mao
whose GPCR was meant to beastify the gentleman
if successful, the west will be like Cain
waken up to find Abel’s successors
first the Chinese
then Arabs, blacks, indigenous Americans, …
Re: hsliu
about “ground experience”
Inasmuch as field experience is irreplaceable
it’s also variable, circumstantial
dependent on individual interpretation
and cyclical
Prevalence of Edgar Snow, William Hinton, JKF, etc
in sinology necessitated contrarian views
for fringe scholars to find work space
Ley’s own experience in Buruma’s words:
“sitting in an Australian café minding his own business while a radio is blaring musical and spoken pap in the background. By chance, the program switched to a Mozart clarinet quintet, for a moment turning the café “into an antechamber of Paradise.” People fell silent, there were looks of bafflement, and then, “to the huge relief of all,” one customer “stood up, walked straight to the radio,” turned the **** to another station, and “restored at once the more congenial noises, which everyone could again comfortably ignore.”
“Leys describes this event as a kind of epiphany. He is sure that philistinism does not result from the lack of knowledge. The customer who could not abide hearing Mozart’s music recognized its beauty. Indeed, he did what he did precisely for that reason. The desire to destroy beauty, according to Leys, applies not just to aesthetics but as much, if not more, to ethics: “The need to bring down to our own wretched level, to deface, to deride and debunk any splendour that is towering above us, is probably the saddest urge of human nature.”
This is mere personal attack. What high table dinners did YOU attend that were organized by Leung's enemies? Can you point to serious factual blunders in Lo's analysis? Personal attacks are very easy, but perhaps you are only capable of such banalities.
This is not an attack, just a (critical) comment and I am not an "enemy" of Mr. Leung, just someone who wished he could have the opportunity to read more quality articles in SCMP (as was still the case about six to seven years ago) and the right to elect its leader. I can't point to serious factual blunders in Lo's analysis as there is no analysis so to speak. And, most importantly, because Lo himself did not suggest a single fact in support of his stance that Leys has been "unable to acknowledge the party's positive transformation in recent decades". What unability ? What positive transformation ? All that totally comes out of the blue. I hope you understand why I think such pieces with their all too expected conclusions are just rubbish.
I’d wonder why the same social phenomena
engendered contrasting veracities and possibilities
from these sinologists
This seems to be a relatively easier question to answer. They may have placed undue emphasis on different aspects of the same social phenomena, resulting in highly individualized interpretations. The question to me is whether problem is inevitable because sufficient information or information in its totality is always elusive so that judgments even by the most intelligent are necessarily skewed and out of balance. Reading JFK repenting of his earlier misjudgment of Mao, I cannot escape the sense that he erred again in totalling rejecting him.
yours is a disney world without Micky
tedious and smallish
you and anyone are the same
and your circle represents “those who”
For such tenacious egocentricism
my suggestion is: try沈重的翅膀
where you'd find discussion dealing with a remark
that summarizes your generalized obsession




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