So it seems that hostility to China is now official American policy. Redgov, i.e. the Military Industrial Complex has been pushing it for quite a while, and for good reason: they want war, or at least a plausible threat of war so they can get bigger budgets and waste more money so they can embezzle their cut and invest it in things like Theranos. That's their job. And it happens that the narrow pecuniary interests of the Military Industrial Complex now fit very well with the electoral interests of the Republican Party. Trump wanted to run on the economy and the stock market, but Corona-chan has completely wrecked it. The strategy now is "It's all China's fault, let's make them pay". Again, lame, but understandable.
All in all it's been a while since these two sides of Redgov, the Military and the Republican party have interests so tightly aligned. As a result we've been having a massive onslaught of Pentagon-led propaganda this last year, and man, is it lame and stupid. The left really is better at this stuff. The left is not only smarter (on average, it attracts social strivers and smart people want status), it's also more motivated, and the internal competition is way higher. I've blogged before about how retarded Chinese propaganda tends to be due to a lack of market incentives: you could say the same about official right wing propaganda in the West. It's all for the boys, to fill up the resume. Not that promotion depends on anything but pedigree and connections, but it's always nice to have some stuff in there for when the Democrats come making questions.
So this guy called Matthew Pottinger yesterday published a speech to commemorate the May 4th movement in China. More on May 4th in a minute. What's remarkable of the speech is that he did it completely in Mandarin. And pretty good Mandarin at that. Very impressive for an Anglo I must say, pronunciation was tight. I don't give such compliments lightly. The guy is pretty good. If... very odd. His pronunciation is so textbook-ish it sounds like a text to speech generator. Tonal languages have tones, sure, and the guy nails the Mandarin tone contours. His first are high his seconds rise up and his fourth fall all the way. But you're not supposed to! Not like that. In actual speech tones vary according to syllable length and stress and just basic rhythm. The guy sounds like an A+ student who has never actually been to China. Biggest tell is that he doesn't do the 5th tone, the "light tone" of many common words like 父亲, "father". Imagine not pronouncing the word "father" properly.
It's really weird how accurate but mechanic he sounds. Either he's just some new category of cyber-bugman, or perhaps he wasn't reading actual Chinese writing, but a pinyin transliteration, i.e. an automatic romanization of Chinese letters. Transliteration engines usually translate letter per letter instead of words as a unit, so they lose light tones and other semantic influences on pronunciation. That would explain it.
Which makes it even funnier how some chattering heads (mostly co-workers of him in the USG foreign agitation apparatus) have come out saying his Mandarin is *perfect*. "Better than Deng Xiaoping's" said some banana retard. For fuck's sake. Sure, he's pretty good, easily top 1% of white guys in China. But please, apples to oranges. Deng Xiaoping was from Sichuan, he barely went to school, Mandarin was barely standardized at his time, and he didn't have access to teachers who spoke standard Mandarin. He also didn't need to learn a good accent, Sichuanese accent is quite strong but still intelligible to 90% of Mandarin speakers if not spoken too fast. Incidentally the first Chinese leader to speak unaccented Mandarin is Xi Jinping. Not because he's any kind of genius, but because he just happened to grow up in Beijing.
A bit of context on the timing: the May 4th movement (called 五四 in China, "five four". months in Chinese don't have names, just numbers) happened in 1919. China was in a rough spot in 1919. The Qing Dynasty fell in late 1911 and the Republic of China was declared; old general Yuan Shikai kept things more or less together until 1916 when he suddenly declared himself emperor and not even his own generals obeyed him. He died of sheer embarrassment weeks later, and China officially entered the "warlord era".
That was in the midst of WW1, where European powers were murdering each other in sight of the whole world. In theory China was lucky that Europeans were killing each other instead of carving out pieces of China as they used to. And the Chinese government (to the extent there was one) did the fairly rational thing of joining the allies at the last minute in the hope of getting something out of the peace treaty. That didn't quite work out though. China did send laborers to France to man the factories, but it didn't have the ability to send troops. And without troops, no leverage.
You know who had troops? Japan. Plenty of them. Japan did a smart bet and joined the allies from the beginning, and very early on took over Germany's colonies in Asia. Conquered them, by force. Among them Qingdao, where the Chinese beer comes from. The question at Versailles was then whether German possessions go back to China, the rightful owner, or to Japan, who actually made the effort of conquering them and already had troops in the ground. Well, Britain and France and America weren't going to send troops to China and make Japan surrender Qingdao. And so China got shafted, Japan got all it want, and it proceeded to use its position of strength to keep bullying China little by little, in what eventually became what we know as the Pacific theatre of WW2.
The Chinese were furious, of course. The government (to the extent they had one) could do little, but the intellectuals really felt the nation was at crisis. China was in disarray, starving, ruled by a bunch of tragicomic iliterate warlords who fought each other all the time, and bullied and ridiculed by foreign powers. 8 years after the foundation of the "republic", and all the hopes for a national renaissance, that obviously hadn't worked out. China was fucked, more than ever. Что делать?
Chinese academia, i.e. the university faculty and their students concluded that what was needed was... demonstrations. So a few thousand people in Beijing went out in the streets with banners demanding the government do not sign the Versailles treaty, and that they got their shit together and reunified the fatherland. The first they could do and did, the second wasn't possible obviously. Not like the students were forming an army and offering themselves to do the job of retaking Qingdao from the Japanese military. No, they just were there shouting and nagging what they knew was impossible. The warlord government just suppressed the demonstrations, and that was that.
The actual outcome of the May 4th movement wasn't political. Again, it was a fairly tame student demonstration at most. The importance comes from its link to the New Culture Movement, which was a burgeoning intellectual movement in China which argued that traditional, confucian culture was dead and harmful, and China should westernize utterly, and fast. This had several branches: one argued for Western style democratic politics, another argued for writing using vernacular language instead of classical Chinese (akin to the transition between Latin and local languages that European countries did from the 15th century), another for gender equality, etc. You get the picture.
All that was a small minority view at the beginning, but after China kept decaying more and more, the May 4th movement did get a lot of people to stop for a minute and think that maybe these guys were right. Maybe we should change the way we write and improve literacy among the masses. Hey, have you guys heard about Russia? They got this communism thing going on. Didn't take long for China to get its own Communist Party in 1921.
So in short, May 4th 1919 was one of the peaks of Western cultural and intellectual influence in China. It was a time where everyone in China agreed that China was inferior to the West and that China should adopt Western culture and politics. You see why the United States Government is making a point of celebrating this date? The gist of Pottinger's speech is, not surprisingly, "Hey, you guys used to worship us and do everything we said. Go back to that".
Who is this Matthew Pottinger guy though. His resume is... weird. His father was a high ranking bureaucrat in the 1970s, Harvard grad who ended up in Wall Street making millions. I'm sure those two parts of his career are a mere coincidence. He also was Gloria Steinem's boyfriend for 9 years.
Matthew himself studied at Amherst, majoring, of all things, in Chinese. He learned it well apparently, and after that went to Beijing as a Reuters, and later Wall Street Journal reporter. Spent seven years there, seems he got in trouble and police roughed him up a couple times. After his good career in American journalism, in 2005 he quits reporting and... joins the Marine Corps. Age 32. What?! "He spent several months in Beijing getting in good physical shape" so he could pass the requirements. Huh?
The whole thing is just... bizarre. He spent 5 years in the military, did some tours in Iraq and Afghanistan where he met many people of influence, and after leaving the military he goes to... a hedge fund in Wall Street. LOL. I mean, come on. I'm just gonna come out and say that the whole thing is fishy, this guy was an intelligence operative from the minute he left college, and his whole career is a CIA op. So following the example of Peter Buttigieg, who has a rather similar profile, I'm gonna come out and call Matthew Pottinger - CIA Matt.
CIA Matt I guess was lucky to leave China when he did, before the Chinese government got a list of names of CIA operatives in China and shot every single one of them. Seems he had a much safer life in Iraq and Afghanistan writing reports and drinking tea.
So much about the guy, let me fisk his little speech. It really is quite something. It's hard to ignore how... demeaning the whole thing looks. A guy who looks like him, the Uber Anglo, with his blue eyes, pasty skin and preachy tone, exhorting the Chinese to learn from all those white academics and their research on the real meaning of Chinese history. Listen to us, we know better! The aesthetics are just awful. But again, the US really is the hegemon, so arrogance of this sort is to be expected.
Again, as you know, the United States is an empire, but it's not one empire. By and large, following Moldbug's parlance, we can divide USG in Bluegov and Redgov. Bluegov is what we call "the Cathedral", i.e. the US government bureaucracy, the State Department, journalists, international institutions, NGOs, academia, etc. They all look and talk the same way. That's "the Left". Bluegov's imperial outreach works through international bureaucracies, the media and NGOs, and they talk the language of Bioleninism. Privileging feminism, LGBT, ethnic minorities. They do that very well, have a *very* polished rhetoric on the subject, and have been very successful in spreading their ideology in foreign countries. Xi Jinping has had to work overtime for 10 years to push away this stuff in China's media and academia. Bioleninism is dangerous stuff. It works.
Redgov though is much smaller. It's basically the Military Industrial Complex. It's well funded, and quite competent, but propaganda it's just not its forte. It can more or less sell old school patriotism inside its own country, but there's some basic conflict between a patronage network centered in the armed forces of a certain country and their ability to persuade foreigners. Armies are just not in the business of persuading. Their business is in threatening, that's what they do. The Melian Dialogue is the beginning and the end of military rhetoric. That and Gengis Khan's admonitions to Nishapur. There's really little else you can say.
Alas, we live in clown world, where everything is fake and gay, so the US military is now in the business of trying to trigger an uprising of the Chinese people against their government by appealing to that time 101 years ago where China was weak and poor and felt inadequate.
First of all it was obviously written in English and then translated to Chinese. Here's a transcript. The tone, the pacing, the rhetoric is just full 100% American political speechwriting. I mean... don't do that. Ostensibly this was a speech to the Miller Center of the University of Virginia. But why do it in Chinese? So that Chinese people can see it, right? This is an attempt to agitate Chinese people, give them some first hand American official speech. That's quite valuable, if done right. This wasn't.
If you're writing a speech for a specific audience (to the Chinese people, supposedly) then you should write it from the beginning in the language of those people. This will force your mind to use their idioms, their pacing, their rhetoric. You'd put yourself in a position to persuade a Chinese person, and if you've ever done that before, you know the language you're supposed to use. It doesn't seem like CIA Matt does. He doesn't even get the basic difference between writing for readers and writing for a speech; you're supposed to use more colloquial language for the latter, avoiding words which come down well in Chinese logographic writing but are hard to pronounce and parse by ear when uttered aloud. This may sound very hard but it really isn't rocket science.
I mean, he even doesn't get basic vocabulary right. Pandemic as 传染病大流行 when in China everybody says 疫情. Whoever translated his speech hasn't been reading *any* news from China for the last 5 months. Internet as 因特网？That's Taiwanese Mandarin, in China it's 互联网. Why would you write a speech where even basic words aren't translated properly? Isn't this supposedly about reaching the Chinese public in their own language? Seems not. They must have outsourced the translation to the Taiwanese government, because who cares. This isn't supposed to work. This is just a LARP, a piece of theatre for domestic (and vassal) consumption, where Americans can pat themselves in the back about what a great job they're done. "That'll show them", they must be saying.
Note how much time he spends thanking his teachers and think-tank pals in the beginning. Who in China gives a shit about Governor Jerry Baliles? Why on earth thank that guy in public in Mandarin? This is typical bugman speech, the point is to show one's good standing at the ruling class, scratch the right backs. Quoting John Pomfret! Who the fuck cares? Again, bugman speech, the same thing that makes academic papers and books be 70% about quoting the right people with appropriately groveling adjectives and 30% to making the actual argument (in arcane prose lest the commoners read it).
It's just incompetent. You're not gonna reach any potentially friendly Chinese citizen like this. Not if you fail to do the basic job of using proper language. That's hard, though, most translated stuff is like that. There's a basic problem with translations which is that the consumers don't have enough information to judge the quality of the product. By definition, really. So translations tend to be atrocious. The only cases are in literature where you need a polished product to sell and make any money, and the original author takes an interest in seeing that his work hasn't been adulterated. Which he often doesn't, or if he does only about languages he more or less understands (not many).
It's hard for me to ignore the form and focus on the content, but this horrible, lame, kitsch, fake and gay speech needs a takedown. Let's focus on the first point he makes after speding 5 minutes licking the asses of all those western academics. Hu Shi's "gift of language" to the Chinese masses.
Again, what a gay way of putting it. "Hu Shi's gave the Chinese people the gift of language". Huh? Were they all speechless before? Pre-human savages who couldn't talk? No, of course, China has the longest uninterrupted literary tradition of all humanity. What he means is that Chinese writing was mostly done in classical Chinese, and Hu Shi argued that people should write in vernacular.
What CIA Matt seems to ignore is that Hu Shi didn't invent vernacular writing. Have you ever heard of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms? The Journey to the West? The Water Margin? The Dream of the Red Chamber? Those are known as the Four Great Novels in Chinese literature and... they're all written in vernacular. Yes, Chinese have been writing in vernacular since at least the Tang Dynasty, and vernacular fiction has been a major literary genre since the early Ming Dynasty (the 14th century). The Qing Dynasty had a flourishing literary industry of pulp-fiction (sort of) written in very colloquial language. The Qing Dynasty emperors wrote official letters in vernacular!
Sure, vernacular wasn't prestigious among the literary establishment. It was considered kinda trashy by any self-respecting intellectual in China. A properly educated man was supposed to read his history and his poetry in classical, vernacular novels were for kids and women. What the May 4th movement, and Hu Shi did, was argue that smart people should stop being so conservative and go populist, try to write newspapers, essays and political philosophy in vernacular too. Make it prestigious. Which they did; nobody writes classical anymore, the 1920s and 1930s saw a boom in very good literature written in vernacular. The Communists made a point of vulgarizing the language even more; CPC documents sound positively peasant-ish. That has been changing a bit recently though as China has developed a new chattering classes. Literacy in classical has also been strengthened in the school curriculum of late.
So again, it's quite a show of academic autism to make a change in the prestige of a type of prose into some sort of religious awakening ."The gift of language". Give me a fucking break. He makes fun of Gu Hongming as this conservative boogeyman who opposed the abolition of classical Chinese prose. What he fails to mention is where Gu Hongming came from. He was a British subject! Born in British Malaya, educated in Scotland; he was the first Chinese kid who became an anti-Western reactionary after experience with Western education. I'm sure he's crying of joy from the other side as he sees how millions of Chinese students abroad these days are sharing his experience these days. Gu was so much of a shitlord, he made a point of wearing the Manchu queue even after the Qing Dynasty fell.
As a counterpart then he chooses P.C. Chang. If Gu Hongming was a Chinese born in the West who grew to dislike it and ended up living in China growing a queue and wearing traditional clothing, P.C. Chang was the opposite: born in China but moved and died in America. Supposedly he helped draft the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Helping balance Western individualism with his input of Chinese collectivism. Wait, the Declaration of Human Rights has "confucian collectivism" in it?? Chinese Socialism?!! Sacrilege! Has Tucker Carlson heard of this. Might have to leave the UN now too.
Then he says the fact that P.C. Chang put some confucian perspective on the UN charter means the Chinese people can have democracy, and Taiwan is "the living example". Mmm quite the leap of logic here buddy. Guess somebody read the first draft and asked for Taiwan to be put there, somewhere, fast.
And then, he mentions Li Wenliang. Oh, Li Wenliang. Li Wenliang. It's all so tiresome. Would anyone remember the guy if he hadn't died? The guy wasn't arrested or incarcerated, let alone tortured like Steve Bannon's propaganda kids were claiming months ago. He was telling his fellow doctors on chat groups that SARS was back, and *his fellow doctors* called police because they thought he was annoying. Local police then followed the book and told him to shut up and sign a statement by which he promised to shut up. China is a big country, nobody up there in Beijing knows about any random doctor in a random hospital in a random city. No conspiracy to silence a hero. He turned out to be mostly right, and oddly for a man his age he died. Given his own coworkers ratted him to police it wouldn't surprise me some fellow doctor poisoned him at the hospital. He surely didn't have many friends around. Again, shitty thing that happened to him, but if he hadn't taken two selfies nobody would remember the guy.
He also didn't tell a reporter "in his death bed" that China needs "more than one voice". He wasn't even positive at that point! He told that to Caixin, whose reporting has been openly critical of the Chinese government early response (and somehow their reporters don't get sent to Gulags). Plenty of people in China are against censorship, even China's Troll in Chief Hu Xijin, who argued China has enough shitlords by now to deal with American propaganda online. Xi disagrees.
CIA Matt goes on. "China has expelled more foreign journalists in a year than the Soviet Union in decades". Hah. That says more about the Soviet Union that it says about China. Ever heard of Anthony Sutton? Read him.
Then he goes on to mention all those local Christians and Hong Kong protestors. Again, this is not a speech meant to reach common Chinese. This is meant for domestic consumption, a speech to all the clients of USG, a message to all his corporate employees, to thank for them for their service, sure, payments haven't been very regular, but we love you guys! Great job! The big boss is aware of you! Keep working for free just a little longer, any day now the Communist Party will collapse and we'll make you ministers or something.
Then he raps up by again mentioning Hu Shi, making a yet another weird link between Hu Shi's promotion of vernacular writing and democracy and whatever. Dude, wtf. Why make a hero of Hu Shi? Nobody in China likes the guy. Not even in Taiwan. It's real funny. I mean, *I* like the guy. He was a pretty good writer, a decent historian and a brilliant columnist. But he lived in an era of great encompassing ideologies and the guy refused to fit, refused to put his prestige to a cause. He was his own man. And that exasperated everyone. Mao Zedong and Chiang Kaishek both hated him, not a mean feat. He was also known as a whoremonger and general bon vivant. Famously argued that China should not waste energy fighting the Japanese given that at some point they'd overreach and get fucked by the Soviets and America and China could easily finish them off at that point. Cool guy in my book, if somewhat of a weasel, and a really really bad fit for the 30s.
Best story about him is how he chose his own name, Shi 適 (used to be common in China to change names to rebrand oneself). You know what that name means? "Fit", in the Darwinian sense. He loved the Origin of Species and changed his name to make a point of his Social Darwinist ideology! So again, great guy, but a very unlikely saint for the cause of American hegemony. The guy spent some years in exile in the US after the Communist takeover but he eventually left and died in dictatorial Taiwan. Obviously didn't like freedum. I don't know if there's some academic thing in America where some Chinese Studies prof who CIA Matt likes has made a point of promoting Hu Shi, but he really is not a guy you want to canonize.
And then the guys end a speech with an apology of "populism". "It fueled Brexit and Trump's election" he says. China could use more of that. Really, Matt? That's your argument? That China needs more populism? I mean, lol. If China had *more* populism they'd have nuked Washington and Tokyo just for lulz. Be very careful what you wish for.
I mean, I'm not in the business of helping USG subvert China, you couldn't pay me enough to do it, but hell, it just bugs me at an aesthetic level. There's so much more effective ways of doing it than this sanctimonious crap. Trump needs better advisors, he's a genius at trolling domestically, he could do so much better. If you made a speech in Chinese saying "actually it was the Democrats and covert commies in the US government that helped the Communist Party win the Chinese civil war. If it wasn't for American leftist help, the Kuomintang would have never lost and you wouldn't have had massacres of landlords and the 1960 famine killing 40 million people. Sorry 'bout that". Xinhua would get so angry the whole building would explode. Hu Xijin would get a stroke and go on a coma. But nah, all USG can do is get CIA Matt to exhort the Chinese populace to read John Pomfret. Pfff.