Posted in China, World Politics

China and the “End of History”

In the summer of 1989 we were told that “anti-communist protests” were sweeping across the Soviet Union. This was of course a bare faced lie, typical right wing propaganda. The vast majority of Soviet citizens wanted to preserve the Soviet Union (depending on the region that number was in the high 90% of the populace in the referendum). The people, as usual, were betrayed by the rich and powerful who not only totally ignored the wishes of the vast majority of the working people but then lied to the world and claimed to speak for the majority. (As a side note, another lie they told us was that the Soviet Union was broke because of communism. Yeah, well where did all these Russian oligarchs get their money from then? By stealing public resources and funds. The Soviet Union was bankrupted by corruption on an industrial scale which created the Russian oligarchy, not by any communist policies).

So the people were told that communism had failed. Liberal democracy had apparently triumphed against all other ideologies. Fukuyama famously called it “the end of history”, borrowing a phrase that had been used many times before by the likes of Thomas More (Utopia) and even Hegel and Marx.

That we have just lived through a uni-polar ideological age is probably true. Neo-liberalism has been pretty hegemonic for the last 25 years. So the right wing claiming victory is unsurprising. What needs further thought and scrutiny is why the left have bought into this “end of history” type of thinking.

When I was a kid the working class were fighting a ferocious battle against Thatcher and her ilk (mine is the generation that Thatcher stole the milk from). But then Thatcher gave way to Major and a supposedly new way of doing things; Major’s ‘back to basics” when he ordered the Tories to concentrate less on ideology and more on things that actually mattered to people in their daily lives. This was of course just a sham. Ideology never went away. Neo-liberalism just learned to disguise itself as a sort of pragmatism, but it kept doing what neo-liberalism is ideologically driven to do – privatise, privatise and privatise.

After Major came Blair who was supposedly “beyond left and right”, and more recently we’ve had Obama who called for a “declaration of independence from ideology”. And of course, neo-liberalism survived during these two all the while doing what neo-liberalism does – stealing our resources and our wealth. And as that is what the right want they’ve only been to happy to repeat this “end of history” and “end of ideology” nonsense.

While declaring that the old polarities no longer pertain, all the main parties have shifted to the right. In such a political environment it is the left that loses – which is why “left wing” groups like RISE are so dangerous, with their candidates who proudly announce that they’ve never read any political theory “ ‘cos politics is just old men “ (an actual quote from one of their candidates at the last Holyrood election). When parties like RISE reduce politics to single issue campaigns and internet petitions (not that I’m suggesting there isn’t any room for these) it greatly harms the potential for a genuine organised opposition to the status quo.

I’m not advocating getting angry with RISE types, they are just the result of a wider problem of the Western left – its current intellectual bankruptcy. With the exception of perhaps some French Marxists there has been no real attempt recently by the Western left to produce a unified alternative theory to neo-liberalism. They’ve not done this in part because that would be an ideology, or ideologically informed, and they’ve bought into this “end of ideology” rubbish.

Its worth remembering that Fukuyama, unlike say Daniel Bell before him, didn’t actually mean that there was to be no more ideology. For Fukuyama “the end of history” meant the victory of one particular ideology – Western liberal democracy. (For Marx the “end of history” meant the victory of communism). While the likes of Blair and Major may have used the “end of ideology” type rhetoric of Bell, examining their policies highlights that they were more in the Fukuyama camp – that the one true ideology forevermore was to be Western liberal democracy, which to these people is synonymous with free markets and capitalism. And while Western lefties continue to use “end of ideology” or “end of history” type rhetoric the right will continue to dominate – because that type of rhetoric only solidifies the right wing myth that the current neo-liberal inspired policies such as austerity are somehow beyond ideology, as if they are just prudent responses to “natural economic and market conditions”.

While all this has been going on in the West, on the other side of the world an alternative has gradually been gathering strength. Western lefties tend to dismiss China – but that’s just because they’ve unthinkingly swallowed another piece of right wing propaganda, namely that China is just capitalist now. This piece of propaganda relies on Western left wing ignorance of what is actually happening in China, as well on the Western lefties ignorance of their own ideologies, which results in them failing to appreciate that China is still a very Marxist country. Indeed, within in the last few months the Chinese leadership have vowed to continue Mao Zedong’s revolution until the end. But that is sadly a message that is lost on Western “lefties” who lack any understanding of Marxism, economics or ideology.

Is China still Marxist? The answer is an unequivocal yes. They have famously allowed limited capitalism within their borders, but it is very highly regulated and government directed. Make no mistake about it, in China business is subservient to the people via the CPC. Businesses of course have the right to operate, but they have very strict social and environmental responsibilities. Neglect those responsibilities and they lose their right to operate. Attempts by the rich to buy political influence is punishable by jail terms – unlike in the West where that kind of interference in the political process is encouraged by politicians trying to line their own pockets.

Lets put another falsehood out of the way right now. China is not capitalist “because of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms”. For a start, most of those reforms have since been repealed by the Chinese government. So while there is still an opening up policy in China (the Chinese call it “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”) to try to explain this policy in terms of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms displays a degree of historical and factual illiteracy.

We should also remember that the Chinese intellectuals who initially sought Westernisation gave up on this idea a long time ago in favour of “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”. Wang Meng is just one example, an author and former Culture Minister who was once labelled a “rightist” because at the beginning of the opening up period he couldn’t wait to see radical change and Westernisation. “In the 1990s, most of us abandoned the illusion of total Westernisation as we saw the social system was moving forward smoothly,” explained Wang. “We began to think about how we could benefit society and people under the current system. In other words, we became reconciled, at least partly, with the social system. Most intellectuals didn’t stand in opposition to socialism with Chinese characteristics.” So in the words of one of China’s most famous “rightists”, most Chinese intellectuals are not in opposition to socialism – contrary to what you’ll hear in Western propaganda mindlessly repeated by Western “lefties”.

But does this “limited capitalism” mean that technically China is no longer Marxist despite the government, people and intellectuals identifying as Marxist? That’s a firm no, but this one’s a little trickier to explain as it requires some knowledge of Marxist theory.

Let’s start with Hegel and dialectics. Hegel, when putting forward an alternative to Aristotelian logic (analytics), gave us the triad of thesis – antithesis – synthesis (dialectics). In admittedly over-simplistic terms we can explain dialectics like this: the thesis is the original idea, the antithesis is an alternative idea and the synthesis is a sort of compromise between the two – we can say it takes the best of both.

While Hegel used dialectics to explain ideas or arguments (i.e. logic), Marx and Engels took the basics of Hegelian dialectics and applied it to the real physical conditions of the world. This is what we call dialectical materialism and it is used to explain the evolution of societies. Lenin stated that “development is the “struggle” of opposites”. In other words, development and progress is the struggle between the thesis and the antithesis. The thesis represents the way the society currently is, the antithesis represents the way we want it to be, and the synthesis (the new condition of the society that we progress to) is a combination of the two – it contains elements of both the thesis and the antithesis. The synthesis now becomes the new thesis, a new antithesis emerges and the conflict between thesis and antithesis begins again. Those who benefit from the status quo will defend the thesis while those who do not will struggle for the antithesis.

We can see now what China has consciously chosen to do. They were a very hard line Marxist state. But the international community of which they wished to take part in was predominately capitalist. This created a conflict in China between the thesis (those who defended a sort of dogmatic adherence to Marxism) and the antithesis (those who wished to Westernise the country).

If Fukuyama was correct about the “end of history”, China should have become simply another liberal democracy. On the other hand, if the dogmatic Marxists were correct in their understanding of “the end of history” China should have remained as a sort of copy of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Instead, something else has happened. China has found a different way of doing things – a Marxist path to the end of the revolution, but one which has found room for the less insidious aspects of Western capitalism. What they have also shown is that there is no “end of history”. Every new synthesis becomes a thesis, which in turn comes into conflict with its antithesis. Understanding this is, in my humble opinion, key to understanding both Marxism and also why there can be no “end of history”.

Posted in China, World Politics

China puts “People First”

The first official meeting between President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida reconfirmed the long-standing normal relationship between the world’s two largest economies, thus dispelling the previous concerns about the possible confrontation of the two powers.

As Xi put it, “There are a thousand reasons to make the China-U.S. relationship a success, and not a single reason to break it.”

China and the U.S. must cooperate, but the cooperation will never be easy, as the two countries have different ideas about governance and development.

China adheres to the principle of People First while Trump advocates America First. The two slogans sound similar, but they are different in essence.

To the rest of the world, America First means America Only.

At the annual meeting of G20 finance ministers that ended March 13 in Germany, no concrete agreement on free trade and climate change was reached after the U.S. blocked any language that encouraged past commitments on the open flow of goods and services.

Trump  has vulgarised his America First policy as “buy American and hire Americans,” typical ideas of parochialism and protectionism.

But within the USA, America First does not necessarily mean benefits for the majority of the people. Trump proposed repealing ObamaCare. If successful, this would leave millions of Americans without health care again. He has increased military spending dramatically while slashing expenditures on education and scientific research. He even drastically cut down on food stamps for children.

As for China’s People First, in a nutshell, the Communist Party of China represents and serves the interests of the overwhelming majority of the people, rather than that of certain groups.

In a recent speech, a chief Party official warned against some businesspersons’ attempts to acquire political influence and power. The involvement of businesspersons in politics is a global phenomenon except in China.

The CPC is a genuine party of the people, born out of the people, consisting of the people, and working for the people. The nature of the CPC partly explains why China can achieve sustainable development.

Before the founding of the CPC, there had been a number of political parties or forces that attempted to change the miserable fate of China, but none succeeded, because they did not represent the fundamental interests of the majority. Nor did they have the political will or abilities to carry through the arduous task of seeking the liberation and independence of the nation and the people.

A basic knowledge of China’s modern history displays the truth that without the extraordinary leadership of the CPC, China could not have won independence from the grips of foreign invaders and control of foreign powers, not to mention the building of a strong nation.

It was with the support of the people, especially the grass-roots masses, that the CPC, with a will of steel, and solidarity of rock, achieved seemingly impossible feats one after another. It was under the leadership of the CPC that the Chinese people have acquired an unprecedented national sense of cohesion and pride.

The people are to the CPC what water is to fish. That’s the secret of China’s success and that’s a unique political advantage that China possesses over the West.

With the top leadership’s policies and popular will in unison, China is the only country in the world able to implement long-term and short-term plans with high efficiency and little interference and opposition.

That’s why China has lifted the largest population out of poverty within a mere three decades. That’s also why China has morphed from an agricultural society into an industrial one with the best high-speed railways, super highways and mobile payment systems.

Western doctrines define popular election to be the only way to legitimise a government. But the “universal value” has failed to explain what has happened in China. China’s epic achievements in economic and social development have endowed the CPC with indisputable legitimacy.

China’s People First is also an inclusive policy internationally; China seeks shared development and prosperity with other countries.

Posted in China

The Chinese “English Name” Culture

I’m sure everyone has heard any number of jokes about Chinese names, such as the Wong Fook Hing book store meme that went viral a few years back. But its not just Chinese names that we can have a giggle at, there is a whole culture in China surrounding giving yourself an English name – and many of these names sound just as funny and ridiculous to us native English speakers.

For example, if you’re ever in China be prepared to meet any number of respectable professional women who have, for want of a better expression, “stripper” names. I know an Art professor called Candy and a logistics professional called Unique. The guy who interviewed me for my first job in China is called Rock. I even met one guy called Giant Squid!

Believe me, it gets better!

Often Chinese people keep their own surname and only give themselves an English first name. The results can be, well, unintended. Some genuine cases of this strategy going slightly wrong include Annie Tang (anything), Harry Thai (hairy thigh), Barbie Kiu (Barbecue) and Never Wong.

So why does China have such a strange “English name” culture? Most people who laugh at Chinese names probably haven’t thought about this question. Those that have tend to give ridiculously over-simplistic answers. I’ve heard it said that Chinese people sometimes give themselves strange English names because they don’t understand our naming culture. This might be true to an extent, but a much more relevant answer is that these names sound ridiculous to us because we don’t understand the Chinese naming culture.

Chinese people, when giving themselves an English name, do not somehow magically extract themselves from their own culture and their own way of doing things. Besides, often the reason for giving themselves an English name can be because its considered fashionable, or because its easier for foreigners to pronounce. It is very rarely because they want to assimilate into the cultures of countries that are literally on the other side of the world from them – they are not trying to be like us. This last point is worth remembering.

So what is the Chinese naming culture? I’ve set out four points below that I hope explains it to an extent (although bear in mind that I’m a newcomer to China, I’m far from an expert on matters of Chinese culture so if I get something wrong here let me know and I’ll correct it).

The first thing to note is that a Chinese given name can also be any word or character. In China there isn’t a strong distinction between a regular word and a name. This is why Chinese people with English names such as Boat, Rock, and Genius have these names, they are very likely direct translations of the person’s Chinese name.

We should also remember that Chinese is a much more complex language than English, they have a whole other level of language rooted in their characters. These characters, while very intimidating to those of us who like letters and alphabets, are actually intricate and beautiful representations of words and meaning. There is actually even a level of Feng Shui in these characters called the Five Elements. It is important for these elements (fire, water, stone, metal, and wood) to be balanced. If someone has a lot of Fire in their Chinese name they might want some water in their English name – so they pick Ocean!

Another relevant point to consider is that in China you can have a variant of a name that quite literally no one else you know has. It has been estimated that there are about 46,000 Chinese characters. Basic literacy only requires you to know about 2000 of these characters, and the average educated person in China knows around 4000 to 5000. That leaves a lot of characters that range from rare to extremely rare. And as we noted above, there isn’t a big distinction between names and words in China, so it becomes very easy to have quite a unique name given the sheer volume of rare characters to compose a name from. This could be a very unique character with a meaning deeply rooted in your family’s values, or simply one chosen purely for its rarity. When these practices are used in the “English name” culture in China people will try to find a name that no one else has – sometimes even inventing a name! An example of this: I met a guy called Karx, who told me he made it up himself by combining “Karl” and “Marx” (well, that’s what he told me anyway!)

Finally, remember that Chinese people put a lot of emphasis on the meaning of a name. While English names have meanings (check a baby name book, for example), in our culture we don’t attach much importance to these names – we usually just give our kids names we like the sound of. In China, the meaning of the name is extremely important – to the extent that parents often give their children literal names like “Brave”, “Strong”, “Beauty” etc. When choosing an English name for themselves many Chinese follow this way of thinking.

So by all means have a giggle if you hear a funny name, some of them are genuinely funny to Westerners. But just remember, if you’re laughing at a Chinese person because of their English name and thinking “That stupid Chinese person doesn’t understand English names!” then there’s a very good chance that that Chinese person would be thinking to themselves “That stupid laowai doesn’t understand how to choose a name properly!”

Posted in China

China is committed to Marxism

(I’m now in China! Being on the other side of the Great Firewall means that Facebook and Twitter are now not an option for me, so I’ll be making more regular use of this blog. I’ve decided to use it to share stories (mostly political) that I come across in China. Happy reading.)

I felt compelled to share this story, mostly because of the lazy lie that we hear in the West that “China is a capitalist country now”. Explaining the differences between capitalism and communism would be a lengthy, and boring, rant. So I’ve decided to tell you all about a speech made by the Chinese President recently. The content of his speech makes it clear that they intend on pursuing a Marxist agenda.

I came across this in an article published by Outlook Weekly. The article recounts an important speech delivered by CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping at a recent seminar for provincial and ministerial officials. Outlook Weekly is regarded as the most authoritative political periodical in China and is dubbed “China’s Time Magazine.”

The article starts with a quote from Xi’s speech: “History indicates that, as a Marxist political party, our Party must have a clear-cut political stance, and conduct intraparty political activities seriously. A clear-cut political stance is the fundamental guarantee for our Party to stay strong. It is also the fundamental way for our Party to improve itself and enhance the Party’s immunity.” Xi Jinping has given the first lecture for the annual seminar for ministerial and provincial officials at the Central Party School at the beginning of each year since the 18th National Congress of the CPC. At this year’s seminar opening ceremony, Xi Jinping expounded on the importance of implementing the spirits of the Sixth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC, and answered important questions on standardizing intraparty political life and strengthening intraparty supervision. The article revealed that Xi Jinping pointed out prominent problems existing in the Party, gave in-depth analysis of the essence of the problems and their harms, and put forward solutions to the problems.

Every political party has set its political stance since the inception of modern political parties, whether in the West or in the East, the article says. Marxist parties make their political stance most prominently. As a Marxist party, the CPC certainly must have a clear-cut political stance and conduct intraparty political life seriously. The article points out that the history of the CPC has shown that whenever the whole Party sticks to its political stance and has a normal and healthy intraparty political life, the Party will be clean, united and full of vitality; otherwise, it will be plagued by prevalent maladies and low morale.

The article stresses that the “Four Consciousnesses” — “consciousnesses of the ideology, the whole, the core and the line” — hold the key to our political stance, in other words, resolutely upholding and safeguarding General Secretary Xi Jinping’s core leadership of the Party is paramount in our political stance. The article further points out that “Four Consciousnesses” should be put into action, and political disciplines and political rules should be strictly abided by. Every Party member should be absolutely loyal to the Party and the Party’s core at any time and under any circumstances. The leadership core is of vital importance to a state and a party. General Secretary Xi Jinping is the core of the Party’s central leadership, and the core of the whole Party. This reflects the common will of the whole Party and the common aspirations of the Party, the armed forces and people of all ethnic groups in the country. The article requires every Party member to take action to uphold General Secretary Xi Jinping’s core leadership, and stay absolutely loyal to the Party’s core. Resolutely upholding the core is the fundamental test of our political stance.

The article especially points out that the whole Party should be loyal only to the central leadership and no other individuals can have unchecked power. It is politically wrong or even harmful for Party cadres at different levels to call for upholding their own authority and demand loyalty to themselves.

The article explains that the “Four Consciousnesses” and advocation of Xi Jinping’s core leadership are essential now given the current complicated, changing international environment and more difficult tasks for reform and development. This is an inevitable choice for the country to realize the Chinese Dream and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. This is also an essential prerequisite for the Party to solve outstanding problems and strengthen the central leadership. The article points out that as the Party and the country are now at a crucial stage of development, the Party’s unity and advocation of the authority of the central leadership and the party’s core are more necessary than at any time before. Therefore, party organizations at all levels should unswervingly implement the decisions by the party’s central leadership, uphold its authority and keep in line with the central leadership with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core.

The article unequivocally points out that the advocation of a clear-cut political stance is pointedly relevant to reality. The article says that some cadres still regard a political stance as “outdated.” Party members and cadres in some places pay lip service to or play tricks on the implementation of Party disciplines and political rules, using “special circumstances” as an excuse. Some take no action when a few cadres talk irresponsibly about or even smear the central leadership, sowing the seeds of grave incidents. The article states that the essence of the problem lies in the fact that a murky political stance will lead to political mistakes being committed knowingly or unknowingly. The fundamental reason for the corruption of some senior officials lies in the absence of a correct political stance, the article revealed.

The article states that political ability refers to the ability to grasp the direction, learn the trend and overall situation, stay politically committed, and prevent political risks. It urges cadres at all levels to study Xi Jinping’s new ideas and strategies in governing the country, gain more knowledge in economic and social management, and pay special attention to the training of political ability. They should conduct self-reflection to see if they have grasped the correct political direction and if they are strictly abiding by political rules. Leaders should enhance self-discipline, and stay loyal, clean and devoted.

At the end of the article, the author quoted what Xi Jinping said at the CPPCC New Year party: “Vigorously carry forward the spirit of carrying on the revolution to the end.” This inspiring sentence is reminiscent of Chairman Mao Zedong’s New Year address titled “Carry on the revolution to the end.” The article points out that General Secretary Xi’s call requires us to strengthen our belief to carry on the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics. And it requires every Party organization and every Party member at all levels everywhere to be united around the central leadership with Xi Jinping as the core, to follow the instructions of the central leadership with Xi as the core, and “roll up our sleeves” to take actions to carry on the CPC-led revolution to the end.

 

Posted in China, World Politics

China and Women’s Rights

(I’m now in China! Being on the other side of the Great Firewall means that Facebook and Twitter are now not an option for me, so I’ll be making more regular use of this blog. I’ve decided to use it to share stories (mostly political) that I come across in China. Happy reading.)

I came across this article today and thought I would share it as it appeared in the Chinese press. My reason is that I think comrades back in Scotland might be interested in the similarities, and differences, in how the topic is discussed here in China compared to back home.

CHINESE actress, Ma Li, made a public post on her Weibo on Sunday, claiming that she had been harassed by a man at a supermarket in Shenzhen. The post drew many “likes” and positive comments for Ma’s courage to publicly call out the harassment.

Ma said in her post that a man had touched her bottom while she was walking around the supermarket. “When his hand touched me, I was shocked and thought about walking away without saying anything, but I eventually decided to say it out loud because I didn’t want other women to be harassed by men like him,” read Ma’s post.

According to Ma, the security guards of the supermarket assisted her in calling the police, but the police could hardly do anything about the harassment because there was not enough evidence. The surveillance camera at the supermarket did not cover the corner where the harassment took place.

The actress said her intention was to disclose the incident because she did not want to keep silent like “most female victims.” Ma specifically tagged the Weibo account of Shenzhen Police, but the public security bureau had not made a response as of yesterday afternoon.

Ma starred in the blockbuster, “Goodbye Mr. Loser,” in 2012 and won a reputation nationwide for acting out her bold personalities in the movies as well as in real life. Her post has drawn tens of thousands of “retweets” on Weibo and spurred a heated discussion on the topic of women’s rights to speak out against sexual harassment and for self-protection.

Ren Jue is a doctorate holder in gender studies. She is also the founder of an organization focusing on enhancing a friendly environment for women. Ren said that many social forces should join together in the promotion of a safer and friendlier environment for women.

“Ma is a famous actress, so her voice can be widely heard, but many women in real life don’t have a friendly environment for them to speak out against some harassment they encounter,” said Ren. She analyzed that many women who have been harassed feel ashamed when talking about those bad experiences.

“They fear that people around them will judge them and think it’s a shameful thing to utter.” In Ren’s eyes, the society does not give enough respect to women who suffer from sexual harassment.

“To provide a better environment for women to protect themselves involves multifaceted factors,” said Ren. First, the victims’ families and the police should attach more importance to women who report harassment cases and residents or passers-by should also reach out to offer help instead of just watching or being indifferent. “Keeping silent is to some extent being complicit in the crime,” said Ren.

Second, Ren said that the design of public spaces should also take women’s safety more into consideration. “I have a client who told me that she had encountered an exhibitionist man several times in a pedestrian tunnel on her way home, because the tunnel was dark and had no surveillance cameras,” said Ren, “so I think the urban designers and the authority should do more to make sure that concealed places are covered by cameras or a patrol.”

When encountering harassment, women should ask people around them for help instead of allowing the bad experience to pass. If in situations where no one can offer help, women should try their best to call the police afterwards and avoid those unsafe places in the future, according to Ren.

 

Original article by:
Zhang Qian

zhqcindy@163.com

Posted in China, World Politics

Taiwanese February Uprising of 1947

(I’m now in China! Being on the other side of the Great Firewall means that Facebook and Twitter are now not an option for me, so I’ll be making more regular use of this blog. I’ve decided to use it to share stories (mostly political) that I come across in China. Happy reading.) 

This week marked the 70th anniversary of the 1947 uprising in Taiwan, so as you can imagine many column inches have been given to recalling those events.

Most interestingly, from today’s geopolitical point of view, archives and witness statements have indicated that Taiwan’s “February 28 Uprising” had nothing to do with “Taiwan independence.”

Some witnesses recalled the occasion, saying that there were no slogans or leaflets advocating “Taiwan independence” during the campaign, and most Taiwan people believed that ideas advocating “Taiwan independence” are false and absurd.

“What the Taiwan people were seeking was local autonomy, rather than separating from the motherland,” Li Wei-kuang, head of a Taiwan people association in Shanghai, was quoted by archives as saying.

As “Taiwan independence” secessionist forces described the uprising as a conflict between provinces, Li recalled that people in Taiwan were not against people from other provinces, but only hoped to seek their help and cooperate with them.

On Feb. 28, 1947, a Kuomintang (KMT) party enforcement team assaulted a woman near Taipei railway station as she was selling cigarettes.

The incident caused a bloody confrontation between Taiwan civilians and the KMT authorities, which developed into an island-wide movement against the despotic rule of the KMT.

The uprising was a spontaneous mass movement of the people of Taiwan for democracy and autonomy, but some people in Taiwan interpret the uprising as a “Taiwan independence” movement, completely distorting the true story.

An Fengshan, spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, told a press conference last week that “Taiwan independence” secessionist forces twisted the uprising for their own gain, adding that their intentions are despicable.

People across Taiwan also marked the civilian uprising to mourn the victims and calling for an understanding of the true nature of the event.

Among various ceremonies held across the island Tuesday, a symposium was held and attended by more than 100 people including participants of the uprising and their family members, as well as historians and academics.

“The Feb. 28 uprising was against the despotic rule of the Kuomintang party on the island at that time, and has no connection with current ‘Taiwan independence,’” said Chen Ming-chung, 88, a participant in the uprising.

Posted in Russia, scotland

Soviet Burns

I recently spent Hogmanay back in Scotland, and being there in January meant I witnessed the preparations for Burns’ Night. One thing that you can’t escape in the UK is the ruling class’s sycophantic fawning towards the USA. We’re led to believe that anything we produce only has value if the Americans approve. Robert Burns is no different, and so the BBC have commissioned a documentary about how much Americans love Burns. The subliminal message being that the Yanks like him so we can too, no Scottish cringe required.

Burns, however, had a massive impact all over the world. Its undoubtedly true that Burns did have a huge impact in the States – but he was also hugely influential in that other 20th Century superpower; the Soviet Union. Did you know that Burns was on the school curriculum in the USSR? I’ll admit that I didn’t know this until my Ukrainian mother-in-law told me. I’ll also admit to being quite annoyed – the BBC will spend a fortune to inform us of a tenuous link between Burns and Elvis Presley, but nobody thought it worthwhile to mention a very unambiguous fact about our national bard’s legacy? The political bigotry of the British ruling class becomes only too apparent under the microscope of facts.   

It’s not only a question of the classrooms of the old Soviet Union. Right across the region Burns’ influence is undeniable. Many of the soundtracks to iconic Soviet and post-Soviet movies use translations of his poems as lyrics, and many artists have had chart successes using his songs – from this punky effort in Moldova to this more folky sounding Russian artist.

Burns popularity in the region predates the Soviet Union of course. We know that the great Russian poet Pushkin admired Burns, but had found his poems extremely difficult to read because of the Scottish dialect. Other great Russians also professed their admiration for Burns, including celebrated novelists Lermontov and Turgenev. Why was Burns so popular among these pre-Soviet people? That is perhaps best answered by another poet, this time the Ukrainian Taras Shevchenko who when explaining Burns popularity remarked that, “to know people, you have to live with them – and to know their life, you need to be them.” What Shevchenko had realized in Burns was of the utmost importance – proximity to the people. That was the appeal of Burns, he spoke to the common man about the concerns of the common man. And in pre-Soviet Russia those concerns were revolutionary.

In the same period we find the first serious attempts to translate Burns into Russian, by the revolutionary critic and publicist Michael Mikhailov. Mikhailov was someone who translated many poems from English into Russian. He selected poems that were close to himself in spirit, and the revolutionary Russian saw in Burns the same rebel. In his translations Mikhailov gave Burns’ freedom-loving poetry a life affirming humanism and the spirit of struggle and action which is characteristic of his best works. Unfortunately Mikhailov only translated about a dozen of Burns poems: imprisonment and exile soon put an end to his translating and political activities.

As things moved towards the end of the 19th Century, and the 100th anniversary of Burns’ death, a new upsurge of interest in the poet was observed in Russia. In the pages of Russian magazines such as “Russian Wealth“, “Russian Thought“, “Education” and “Herald of Europe” there was a steady stream of articles about Burns and translations of his work. In one such article, from the journal “Idea”, the writer says of Burns: “The people will repeat his songs because in them they find the expression of their feelings, their thoughts, their life.” The article emphasizes that Burns, in his poems, expresses all the grief that has accumulated over the centuries in the hearts of people who exclaim, “We have a right to a better life!

However, at this time translations of Burns were known to be of poor quality – Burns was actually considered by many to be untranslatable, primarily because of his use of Scottish dialect. In the first half of the 20th Century the work of one man would change all of this and elevate Burns to new heights of popularity within the Russian speaking world – which by now was the Soviet Union.

Samuil Marshak was a successful poet in his own right, and was one of the few translators in the Soviet Union who had actually studied abroad. In the UK Marshak studied not only philosophy and English Language but also Scottish dialects. He actually travelled around the country collecting Scottish folk ballads and songs. This was key to the success of his translations – he understood Scots in way that all those who came before him, including the great Pushkin, could not. Marshak was to become a prolific translator on his return to the USSR, going on to translate not only Burns but also William Blake, Rudyard Kipling and William Shakespeare – but it was for his translations of Burns that he was to win most recognition with Soviet readers. “Marshak made Burns a Russian, leaving himself a Scot!”, wrote the poet Alexander Twardowski.

Beginning in 1930, Marshak would translate some 216 of Burns’ poems and songs, although lamented that his translation work remained unfinished. Marshak delivered Burns poetry in a foreign language with the same amazing freedom and engaging simplicity as the original. He smashed the myth of the supposedly untranslatable Burns. He expressed, with unusual strength for translations, all the features of Burns’ poetry. He managed to capture accurately the thought, the musicality of the verse and the combination of natural conversational speech with melodic power. He captured the satire and the jokes, as well as the deep intimacy of the works. The result is an illusion that Burns wrote in Russian.  

Marshak thought that what was most important was to convey the true image of the translated poet, to faithfully reflect his era and the national identity of his works. Marshak believed that the poet translator should be like the reincarnation of the author – he should fall in love with him, with his manner and with his language. It is heartbreaking, therefore, to see Marshak so maligned by the liberal intelligentsia as they attempt to remove from Burns any notion of his revolutionary character in order to “sanitise” him and make him safe for their own consumption.

Anti-Soviet scholars, such as Natalia Vid, have deliberately misinterpreted Marshak and his work in order to reject the notion of a “Soviet Burns”. Vid ties herself up in knots trying to slander Marshak through a combination of lies and her own obvious ignorance of the subject. She actually accuses Marshak of changing the title of “A man’s a man for a’ that” to “An Honest poverty” – allegedly Marshak did this for sinister ideological reasons as part of the Soviet dictatorship of the arts! Clearly Vid is unaware that the original title of the poem, as given to it by Burns himself, was “Is There an Honest Poverty”. In other words, Marshak’s translation of the title is actually closer to the intentions of Burns than the more common title that most of us use and are familiar with. Similarly, she claims that the Soviets banned all translations of Burns other than Marshak’s, which ignores basic checkable facts such as the 1963 publication of Burns poetry by the publishing house “Soviet Russia”, in which all the poems were translated by Fedotov.

Burns, through the great work of Marshak, became the people’s poet of Russia. As they did with McLean, the Soviets honoured Burns with a commemorative stamp. It is believed that there are more celebrations of Burns night in Russia than any other country outside Scotland – with evenings from 22nd to 25th January being taken up with music, dancing, poetry, whisky tasting and traditional Scottish meals. But to really grasp the importance of Burns in Russia I would like to leave you with the words of Marshak, who could answer that question better than anyone:
The poetry of Robert Burns is part of [Russian] daily life. Our young people quote him in their love letters. Our best composers have set his lyrics to music and these songs come over the radio intermingling with the hum of our work-days and the merry-making of our holidays. Volumes of his poetry are found in the studies of our intellectuals, the cottages of our farmers, the apartments of our workers and the tables of our students. Burns creates links between people in defiance of all who would keep our nations apart. And it must not be forgotten that it is in human hearts, not museums or monuments, that his poems will be preserved.