Fretting over systemic tension while ignoring the substantive reasons for worry: China is run by people not by ‘forces’

Recently, a friend attended a conference on Sino-American relations in Singapore. He perceptively remarked that, amid all the talk of rising tension, no one seemed to dare to mention why countries around the world are getting wary of China. Although there are plenty of reasons to highlight systemic causes for tension between a declining United […]

Summarising Zhao Dingxin’s lessons from 1989 for the Hong Kong protests: protest ecology and conflicting state legitimation

Talking about the on-going protests in Hong Kong, pundits love to invoke the 1989 Movement that famously centred around Tiananmen Square in Beijing. I myself have previously argued that it might be more useful to compare the overall effect on Hong Kong of the ‘Hard Had Revolution’ to the effect that the February 28 Incident […]

Hong Kong shows that ‘communism’ is the most efficient creator of alienation

As Hong Kong is gripped in chaos and violence, there is something interesting about the ‘strongly condemn’ statements that Hong Kong SAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor puts out at her rare press conferences. Completely in line with the rules prevalent on the Mainland, the first thing she condemns is always the harm done […]

The Hard Hat Revolution will not be Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Square, it might be its February 28 Incident

Tension had been building for a long time. It had been a while since the former colonial power had returned the island to China, but rather than being grateful, the local inhabitants were increasingly chafing under what they saw as a breakdown in the rule of law and encroachment on their economic opportunities. Finally, one […]

Party Not Required: nationalism’s long-term threat to the Chinese Communist Party

Xi Jinping’s well-documented attempts to become ‘chairman of everything’—as several observers have argued before me—are in fact a testament to his need to shore up weak central power. The Chinese party-state works through broad project campaigns, launched through the apparatus of party committees and propaganda organs. Local leaders take the cue to come up with […]

Reading that shapes my understanding of PRChina

This is a live list of various works that have most fundamentally shaped my understanding of the People’s Republic of China. Last updated 2019/09/14. Philip Selznick. 1952. The Organizational Weapon: A Study of Bolshevik Strategy and Tactics. 1st ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is a marxist-leninist ‘party’. This type of organisation is […]

The question of banning Chinese ‘academics’

Twitter today lit up with condemnation and partial praise over a report in the New York Times about the growing number of Chinese academics banned from the United State and having their long-term visas cancelled by the FBI. This is understandable, as innocent Chinese-Americans have been swept up by espionage paranoia in the past, and […]

The Need for Reparations

To this day, the evil of colonialism has not sunken in. The exhibition on Thomas Stamford Raffles in the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) in Singapore on the occasion of the bicentennial of the 1819 founding of the British colony has provided an opportunity for reflection. I was inspired by posts and remarks from Faris Joraimi […]

It’s not ‘just’ a social construct: pessimistic about change

‘Social construct’ is a favourite bogeyman of the anti-PC brigade. These daring, freethinking spirits see dangerous relativism lurking behind this widely-accepted social science concept. The problem is that they generally do not understand what a social construct is. They are not alone: even many people dabbling on the more extreme side of ‘social justice’ seem […]

The dangerous long-term weakness of authoritarian leadership

A strong leader can put the house in order. Authoritarian figures with a vision have some successes on their names, notably in East Asia. But their cheerleaders often underestimate how much their achievements were possible because of broad support. As Paul Krugman pointed out in his 1994 Foreign Affaris article debunking uncritical celebration of the […]