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October 22nd, 2008


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04:43 pm - The ideas gap.
Sitting in one of my classes (Political Economy to be exact) I've got this...surreal feeling.  It's one that's been growing increasingly ever since this semester's began, but now with my laptop in hand I can listen to the prof lecture/classmates discuss while at the same time look up things to supplement the lectures.

Today's topic, democracy and the economy.  Fun stuff, I know, but that's not what's making me feel surreal this time around.  What's making me raise an eyebrow is as I'm looking at the slides from my prof, I'm on Chinese websites to read various Chinese attitudes towards democracy...and I see such a split.  The same old discussion of democracy, pros and cons, the same old debates over the role of the state ripples through the classroom...but within the Chinese community (at least online) the entire idea of democracy is so different that the two sides start out from fundamentally different places.  In the classroom, democracy HAS to be a system of multi-party elections, any suggestion of otherwise raises tensions amongst the classmates.  In the Chinese forums, democracy..民主, is more of a concept, an idea where literally the "people are the masters".  But, that causes a problem for the whole concept that democracy=elections since it's not hard to guess what's on the minds of most civilians if the country in question is so poor that almost the entire population is in poverty.  The Chinese government's goal of 温饱 (warmth and enough to eat) was probably a common goal amongst a good hunk of her population back when the PRC was first formed, elections wasn't really needed to deduce that.  In the English definition, does democracy = an actual political system that centres around some form of election or is it more flexible than that?  Is it really impossible to deduce the wishes/desires of the people without elections of some sort?

It's like...all these great ideas being discussed in the classroom here, and yet if you go onto a Chinese forum, the peoples' starting points are so different that you can't really shift the ideas being discussed in my classrooms onto those forums.  Anyone on my f-list with the ability to go onto other languaged forums who find the same thing?  I almost feel like we're in this little bubble, talking about all these theories and concepts based on Western countries' experiences and histories which is all fine and good, but outside of our bubble everyone else is eye-rolling at us <__<

[EDIT]:  Hmm, this is interesting.  My prof JUST (just as I posted this entry) told us that in one of her Masters classes, a Chinese-origined student attempted at making an argument that democracy is actually detrimental or at least unhelpful to development (economic).  It's interesting that my prof laughed it off like a joke whereas I was JUST on a forum/discussion thread where a few dozen Chinese (membership including internationals, abroad, within China, born and raised outside of China, born in China and raised outside) were discussing that exact question of democracy and its impact, positive or negative, on development.  Perhaps in this classroom it's quite a joke to suggest such a thing, but I'll bet if you discuss it with the 1.3 billion Chinese it wouldn't seem like such a ridiculous notion.

Now maybe China's a special case, but let's face it, ramming democracy down the throats of countries not prepared for it has had some disastrous results too, and I may be biased towards China but admittedly it's one of the main development successes in the past 5 decades, AND she's managed to have pulled it off having the world's largest population not to mention having come from a starting point that was pretty...pitiful.

(17 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 22nd, 2008 09:23 pm (UTC)
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Don't think that a different view on Democracy is simply a Chinese philosophy: you would be surprised how many people outside of North America would agree with an alternative view of democracy. That student your professor spoke about is definitely on to something: I whole-heartedly believe that democracy cannot do anything to promote/induce development, & the fact that we can't accurately ascertain a concrete definition of democracy is not only troubling, but reflective of the weakness of the democratic answer to development. In many cases, it is actually ineffective & dangerous, exacerbating exisiting problems & maintaining systems of inequality (for a broad example, just look at any Latin American nation; for a more concrete example, take Brazil, which has had democratic rule since 1954, but many of the 'good' characteristics that come with it (ie. dispersion of power) actually increased the bureaucratic authoritarian control of the state over the population (ie. the clientilistic & particularistic interests of politicians & bureaucratic agencies deepened & were legitimized under 'democratic' rule). Democracy is a misnomer in that it doesn't really exist independently of the social, political, cultural & institutional conditions that precede it: more clearly, democracy can only be called democracy after the fact (once a political regime is stabilized that is characteristic of what the Western conception of democracy is). I'm just as disillusioned with the whole debate as you are, & in many cases, I argue against it, seeing that it is wholly pointless to defend it.-James
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From:koneko_desu
Date:October 24th, 2008 02:53 am (UTC)
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Oh good, good, so it's not just me off in some twilight zone :D
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From:jailbaitjello
Date:October 23rd, 2008 01:22 am (UTC)
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No, I get that feeling a lot too. That the West laughs at any other model of development is nothing new, or even that they think there is only one "right" way to do "democracy" since they think that they were the ones who invented the system of democracy. Every non-Western country who tries to be "democratic" now is said to be trying to emulate "Western" ideas, when really, it could be entirely possible that they're not. Just because the West did it first (on a large scale, I doubt they actually did it first) doesn't mean that they own the concept.
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From:koneko_desu
Date:October 24th, 2008 02:57 am (UTC)
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It's like the two sides are mutually laughing at each other, the West being more of an arrogant, haughty laugh. It's true, I do find that this entire notion of becoming "developed" or "modern" has almost become just another way of saying "become a mirror image of a Western country" which is kind of absurd since if you really think about it the West only managed to surge "ahead" developmentally for a relatively short period of time historically speaking, but these days it almost feels like there's a sense that it's always been this way.
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From:abomvubuso
Date:October 23rd, 2008 05:54 pm (UTC)
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You know, there's this predominant attitude in the West (mainly in US) about China, and the notion that everyone in China has the same opinion due to the government brainwashing. When you mention that there are ppl with different attitudes and opinions in China, the people in the West would stare at you in dismay. Now, who's brainwashed, i wonder? ;)
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From:koneko_desu
Date:October 24th, 2008 03:03 am (UTC)
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I agree 100%, and I find even if you're not in China (using China as an example, but I'm sure it happens with other countries too) like myself and people I know who have either been born outside of China or have grown up and lived mostly outside of China, if we even attempt at suggesting that the Chinese model isn't so disastrous as the West is making it out to be we get labelled brainwashed. It's like if you're Chinese-looking and support China's model of development, you can throw in as many evidences to back up your support as you want, but you're still brainwashed, even if you and your parents and grandparents have never set foot on Chinese soil. My non-Chinese friends don't get that though, which I find quite frustrating, I have a few non-Chinese friends who are quite supportive of China's current path of development and it's like their word has more credibility than mine or something just because they don't look "Chinese" -___-;;
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From:abomvubuso
Date:October 24th, 2008 08:12 am (UTC)
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Stereotypes live in every society, but they seem to be more blatant at your side of the Big Pond...
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From:koneko_desu
Date:October 24th, 2008 02:55 pm (UTC)
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Lol, that's definitely a good way of putting it.
From:_zox_
Date:October 23rd, 2008 06:20 pm (UTC)
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This is totally off topic...but what's your icon from?
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From:koneko_desu
Date:October 24th, 2008 03:24 am (UTC)
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Lol, the icon itself was made using a drawing/painting someone did of a Chinese actor (陈道明/ ChenDaoMing). In that particular drawing/painting that I used for the icon, he was playing the role of 八贤王 / BaXianWang for the C-drama 少年包青天/ ShaoNianBaoQingTian;

http://hi.baidu.com/happy%D3%EA%B8%F1%B8%F1/album/item/fe47a1de4114424eccbf1a9f.html

Edited at 2008-10-24 03:26 am (UTC)
From:_zox_
Date:October 24th, 2008 02:57 pm (UTC)
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Ahh...I thought the name looked familiar even though I haven't seen the Young BQT series. Thanks!
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From:platinum_ice
Date:October 23rd, 2008 10:53 pm (UTC)
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it's pretty irresponsible of your prof (and ignorant, i'd say), to laugh off her masters' student's suggestion that democracy is detrimental to development. isn't that basically what we've been taught in university ANYway?? that fledgling, developing states NEED some sort of heavier-handed government to guide it along the way and then, when sufficiently grown, can start talking about democracy??
wth.. i can't think of any prof who'd say that.. i don't know who else teaches political economy, it better not be the prof i'm thinking of.. or else my opinion of her just dropped waay low.
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From:koneko_desu
Date:October 24th, 2008 02:52 am (UTC)
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Ok, first let me clarify my statement about the Masters' student, lol, after re-reading what I wrote I realized it didn't come out quite as clear as I thought. The Chinese-origined student isn't currently a Masters' student under my prof, but was a Masters' student alongside my prof back when my prof was also studying for her Masters' degree, so I guess maybe back then it was still "democracy=thebestinventionlikeomgevarsinceslicedbread!!"? I still found it a bit rude of my prof to laugh it off though since, as you said, we're beginning to see a trend that states in the initial states of development can essentailly benefit enormously from more heavy-handed government guidance.

The prof's first name is Debra, she's...Argentianian or Brazilian I think, glasses, accent, shoulder-length hair, don't know if it's the same prof you're thinking of.
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From:platinum_ice
Date:October 24th, 2008 03:29 am (UTC)
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oh nope i don't know any profs by that name. i'm somewhat relieved it's not the prof i was thinking of, lol. and LOL if she's from argentina.. they sort of benefitted from heavy-handed governance themselves.. somewhat.. haha i can't remember but i'm thinking yes. :P
yeah so maybe "back then".. yeah that makes more sense lol i couldn't believe that any prof TODAY would laugh off their master's student like that.. i'd be like.. o__O that's not very professional, nor professorial.. (i don't think that's a word but i think you understand what i mean haha).
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From:koneko_desu
Date:October 24th, 2008 03:06 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, she kind of throws me a bit as to where she's coming from. Usually with most profs I can judge within a class or two their stance on certain issues, but I can't quite read her. She seems to be very pro-"development cannot be without democracy" camp, but once in awhile she'll throw in a comment that just seems...off. I'm surprised at how much this "development must start right off the bat with democratic electoral systems" thing is still being pushed given how much it's failed, in 3 out of the 4 classes I have this semester there's at least one class dedicated to democracy and its importance to development (one class is on Asia, one's on Africa and then this one on Pol. Eco.). It almost feels like the profs are the ones unwilling to let this idea go whereas I find a lot of the students now are pointing out (time and again) the flaws with it)
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From:platinum_ice
Date:October 24th, 2008 06:08 pm (UTC)
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actually all my profs have always thrown out the idea that maybe democracy isn't the key to everything, but i felt that in my third and fourth years i've been exceptionally blessed with awesome profs.. :P. students thought it and profs encouraged and even espoused that thinking so i think that's really good. it actually does encourage mental exercising and debate and discussion (though i guess if everyone agrees that democracy isn't the be all and end all, then there isn't a huge debate there lol).
i don't think i've ever had a prof that was "no development without democracy".. but that could be because my profs might have been more attuned to my program (eil); i've found that dvm people (in general) are a lot more western-centric in their ideas and values and are as such less willing to budge on their beliefs cause god-forbid we should disagree with them - that makes us capitalistic exploitative pigs!! *rolls eyes*.
i'm sorry, just sometimes listening to dvm people makes me frustrated.. :P eil students are so much more reasonable.. :P
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From:koneko_desu
Date:October 24th, 2008 06:47 pm (UTC)
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Pffft~

Probably because all the development theories are based on Western-centric ideas, so if you want to toss that out you take them out at the knees and they have to start all over, which can be hard if all one's been exposed to is Western-centric ideas.

For the first time I feel so blessed that my mom lectured me time and again with her stories of childhood because her "back in my days..." stories to me are basically primary sources for Chinese contemporary history. It's odd thinking that my mom's generation actually lived through things like the Cultural Revolution, and then the other day I was reading the beginning of this autobio of sorts of Mao and he was talking about his days living under the Qing Dynasty and I was like "holy geez...the guy actually LIVED under the Qing emperor/Empress Cixi...I never even thought of that!!". Or thinking that my grandpa's generation lived through the Japanese invasion and people like Premier Wen and President Hu has actually been alive for as long as the creation of the PRC O___o It's so crazy, time gets more and more condensed the more I think about it...

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