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Monday, December 10, 2012

Thoughts on Multiculturalism

I confess to mixed feelings about the term "multiculturalist".  Yes, I've used it as a term of abuse.  Too often, it seems to describe only the self-hatred of Western liberalism, and an excuse for the intellectually lazy to cry "racist" at any who would criticize those whom the political Left wishes to claim as clients.  This seems especially true since 9/11, when anyone who dares to find anything wrong with Islam, even if drawn from the Qur'an and Hadith themselves, would suddenly find himself decried as illiberal and chauvinist.

Yet I would like to call myself a multiculturalist.  My second language is Chinese, which I read as well as speak, and I even make a few extra dollars translating documents from that language to my native English. I've even learned some Classical Chinese (古文,文言文), and have read some of the Confucian Classics, Lao Zi, and Tang poetry. I love the fine arts of China, and respect the long continuity of its culture. I served as US vice consul in Guangzhou, in Mainland China, for two years; and while I am not means pro-Communist and have little sympathy for the alien smugglers operating out of the Fuzhou area, this experience did nothing to damage my interest in China and its culture.  While teaching English in Taiwanese colleges, I met my wife and started my family. Had I the right kind of job there, I could probably live very comfortably in crowded Taiwan.

I've also gotten my feet wet in Theravada Buddhist Southeast Asia, thanks to two years of diplomatic service in Bangkok, Thailand.  I still retain a little spoken Thai (but, alas, have forgotten how to read), and wish that country well.

Add to this, I have explored the roots of my own Western Christian tradition through studying ancient Hebrew and Greek in order to read the Scriptures in the original tongues. Hence, my interests beyond the confines of the white American culture of the 20th and 21st centuries are wide temporally as well as spatially.

Perhaps I believe and dare to hope that a meeting of at least some of the world's cultures is possible; even if it remains necessary to maintain a critical stance towards others.

This began during my first stint teaching in Taiwan.  I was young, a theology student in the American Midwest, and a Chinese friend arranged for me to work a year in a technical college that was soon to be transformed into a university.  Not only did I get to know the students to whom I taught English (and also evangelized to the extent acceptable under the guidelines of Taiwan's ministry of education), but also got to know faculty members and people in the wider community, too.

One professor whom I met through the faculty's Christian fellowship group was a Chinese nationalist in both large- and small-n senses of the term.  He loved his country deeply--and saw it as embracing the unredeemed, Communist-ruled Mainland as well as the rump of Sun Yat-sen's Republic of China on Taiwan and its associated islands. I'm sure that today he probably votes pan-Blue in every election. He had gotten his doctorate in the States, a country he generally liked and respected, but had always planned to return to his homeland to contribute to the building of its technological capabilities.  He was quite proud of China's long traditions, the glories of its language, its ancient proto-scientific technological breakthroughs from engineering to papermaking to gunpowder to the invention of the compass, and its enduring character. He was also a card-carrying member of the Guomindang.

Yet, having studied Chinese history in the West,I wondered how he squared his Chinese nationalism with his Evangelical brand of Christianity.  After all, I had been taught about a "deep-seated xenophobia" among the Chinese (it was still, after all, the 1970's), and this was used to explain the political and diplomatic stance of Communist China.  Precedents for this attitude had been found in the Boxer Rebellion and the Ming overthrow of the Mongols, after which foreign contacts were limited to a few carefully selected coastal enclaves.  And, on the streets of the Hakka-speaking town where the college was located, I had heard the Christian faith spoken of as "Fung-mo Gao" (红毛教), or "Redhair Religion" (for the record, Uncle Cephas has never been a redhead).

The Professor smiled and laughed gently and bemusedly at my shallowness and ignorance.  He went on to explain to me that neither Sun Yat-sen nor Chiang Kai-shek (who had not been dead for very long at the time) found no contradiction between Chinese nationalism and the Gospel, so why should anyone else?  He then went on to note that the first introduction of Christianity into China (along with Judaism, Islam, Manichaeanism, certain schools of Buddhism, and the like) had occurred during the glorious Tang dynasty, when China was a great trading and immigrant-receiving power; certainly the greatest organized state of the 7th and 8th centuries A.D.  I gulped.  He had a point, for the story of the Tang had been part of my Sinological education, too.  I was not only living in a meeting of East and West in the late 1970's, but being reminded that there had been precedents for similar meetings of civilizations, and not necessarily in the contexts of lord-client, empire-colony, or center-periphery. 

Years later, after having served as US vice consul in Guangzhou, and having gotten my Ph.D. as a non-traditional grad student at a Midwestern university with a large international population, I discovered that while there remain serious issues in America's relationship with China, the USA is not necessarily the land that the Chinese love to hate; and perhaps American attitudes towards China can, for better or worse, embrace both an admiring Sinophilia (not necessarily a bad thing) as well as "Yellow peril" racism.

And, indeed, perhaps after 30 years of marriage to a Taiwanese lady, I've become a little bit Sinicized myself, much as I remain grateful to all that I have received from a Western heritage whose roots I trace back to Sinai, 'Eretz Yisroel, and Mesopotamia, as well as to the lands between the Mediterranean and North Seas.

Yet as a political conservative, I can't help but note the growing hostility between the lands of Islam on the one hand and the West on the other. I've made a reading acquaintance with the likes of Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch, and Peder Jensen, who formerly blogged as Fjordman (and, unlike Anders Breivik,another of Jensen's readers, I have no intention of shooting anyone, thank you; nor have I noted either blogger advocating violence). Further, I have come to read Daniel Pipes' site regularly.

Yet, in the cases of Spencer and Jensen, I note two men who have devoted much study to the Middle East and of the Arabic language.  Jensen apparently studied at the American University in Cairo and worked for the Norwegian foreign ministry on the West Bank.  Yet both men have become chroniclers of estrangement between the West and Islam, and open critics of both Islamic religion and culture.  While I would like to suppose that Daniel Pipes' high hopes for moderate Islam are better-founded; I can't help the nagging feeling that the observations of Spencer and Jensen are more incisive. Clearly, in Jensen's case, a close acquaintance with Arabic-speaking Islam has not led to any fond hopes for a meeting of cultures.

Perhaps my encounter with Chinese nationalism ran up against a nostalgia for a period in which China was both open to the "other" and powerful; perhaps Jensen ran into the deep-seated humiliation of a culture whose core texts teach a naked supremacism (one of the things with which my own dipping into the English translations of the Qur'an and Hadith have left me) that cannot respect the unbelieving "other".

So, apparently, there are cultures and cultures. 

This is a thought I plan to revisit more in the future.


  1. Interesting musing. Thanks. I also see a major difference between the Sino and Islamic world viewpoints, thus suspect multiculturalism per se is not the true aim of it's major adherents.

    1. My own feeling is that most so-called "multiculturalists" simply hate Western culture--especially the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For them, anything that contradicts it is good.

  2. Hello kephas

    If you look at the demographics of xinjiang province, you will find uyghurs the majority in their native lands in the desert oasis.

    The majority of han settlers in xinjiang live on non uyghur lands in dzungharia.

    Both the han and uyghurs in dzungharia are foreign settlers and colonists. The land was originally the dzunghars. The chinese Imperial government opened dzungharia to both han and uyghur immigration after conquering it and killing the dzunghars

    So the claim that china practices demographic swamping against the uyghurs is largely untrue. China has for the most part left them alone, neither helping nor hurting them. Most development is focused on dzungharia and the uyghur cities are left as backwaters. This has been the way it was since the qing dynasty.

    The claim by the world uyghur congress and uyghur dissidents that han people in xinjiang are colonialists is extremely obnoxious and hypocritical since they are "colonists" as well. Most of the riots against chinese rule have occured in dzungharia by uyghur colonists complaining about han "settlers" in that area.

    If we follow the proper logic, both han and uyghur should be deported from dzungharia and all kalmyks from russia should return to dzungharia and reclaimed it.

  3. Kephas

    The main separatist currents in the tarim basin have come from two sources- pan turkism from turkey and minority nationalism from the soviet union.

    The soviet union created the uyghur ethnicity. Before the soviets, the uyghurs never called themselves uyghurs. They were leaning towards pan turkism, since the jadidist movement from central asia encouraged turkic identity. The soviet union was afraid of pan turkism so it created the uyghur ethnicity and enouraged uyghur nationalism.

    When the qing dynasty first conquered the tarim basin, turkic opposition to their rule was not religious, racial, but sectarian. A certain sufi sect resisted qing rule and its leaders fled to kokand after the qing conquest and tried to recaptured kashgar. All other sufis and secular leaders accepted qing rule.

    The secular turkic khans and monarchs accepted qing rule since the qing left them alone. The qing dynasty encouraged traditional islam to stagnate the populace. When pan turkists and jadidists arrived in xinjiang after the fall of the qing, thats when the turkic population started to awaken nationalism and anti chinese sentiment. Before that opposition to China was sectarian.

    The kuomintang discouraged minority consciousness, but it shouted the anti imperialism line very loudly. The kuomintang accused the british of imperialism in tibet and france of imperialism in indochina and never lost an oppurtunity to attack britain. Chiang kai-shek met with gandhi with the sole purpose of angering britain during world war 2.

    If you read east turkestan independence propaganda from the early cold war, you will find that they curse Chiang the loudest and hate him much more than the communists.

    China also never treated them as savagely as russia did to people it conquered. The russians wiped out half a million circassians, chechens and others in its initial conquest of the caucasus. Right now, since genocide tends to make one look really bad, Putin settled for a satrapy in chechnya with kadyrov getting over 2 billion roubles every years from the government of russia, his own private militia and a great deal of latitude in governing the region. Anyone who thinks russia won the war in chechnya is deluding themselves. Putin just settled for a face saving deal. The only other two options were to abandon chechnya or genocide the place. Kadyrov controls chechnya as if he were a de facto independent ruler, with a massive subsidy from russia. If stalin were alive he would be crying like a baby when he sees how Putin capitulated in chechnya.

    And with regards to discrimination to minorities, while the communists enforced a one child policy ban on han people, discouraged hui from having more than two children, they allow uyghurs and tibetans to have over two plus they get affirmative action benefits.

    There is an entire community of thousands of han and hui people in taoyuan in hunan province who have distant uyghur ancestors and less than 1% uyghur blood, they don't speak uyghur at all and are indistinguishable from other han and hui, but when the communists started offering affirmative action for minorities, they all declared themselves to be uyghur.

    Its not a joke, look it up. They live in taoyuan and are descended from a uyghur general 600 years ago.

    Israel offers absolutely zero affirmative actions benefits and in fact discriminations against israeli arabs and africans. I would rather be a uyghur in china than an arab in israel.

    1. Anonymous: