By David Bandurski — When it comes to responsible global behavior on poverty alleviation, development assistance, resource conservation and environmental protection, China tops the charts. That is, according to a recent report from the government’s own scientific research institution, the Chinese Academy of Sciences. But China’s number one ranking is not the real shocker. Are you sitting down? When the academy puzzled out its “national responsibility” rankings, part of its first so-called National Health Report (国家健康报告), the United States came in dead last.
Briefly, Chinese readers at China Elections and Governance wrote:
This research report is just as much nonsense as those of the Mao era, when the ruling party taught us daily that two-thirds of the world population were living in extreme misery and that we Chinese were the most prosperous in the world. This is once again a set of emperor’s new clothes made especially for the ruling party.
When all of the words circulating in a nation are fake, you can guess what level of credibility rankings have?
Science cannot just raise viewpoints that go against universal knowledge. It has to back them up with proof and reasoning. Otherwise, these people who go against universal knowledge, if they “have viewpoints but not arguments,” are just charlatans, just like with this Chinese Academy of Sciences report.
Writing over the weekend about this gem of a scientific study, columnist Chang Ping — who drew harsh criticism earlier this year for his more even-handed views on unrest in Tibet — picked apart the report’s problematic use in its rankings of the Chinese word “guojia” (国家), which could translate as “country,” “nation,” “land” or “state.”
A full translation of Chang Ping’s editorial follows:
What exactly is a guojia?
By Chang Ping
The Chinese Academy of Science has released its National Health Report, and I hear it’s “the first [of its kind] in the world.” I think this is not only a first but also an original. It is original not only in its topic, but also in its methods of research. On the index of global “responsible nations” in the report, China is listed at the top and the United States comes in dead last. That result has floored a lot of people. Many people want to know what exactly this big result on “national responsibility” for China means.
As a rule, the concepts used in academic research must be applied consistently from beginning to end. I have not yet seen the original text of the Chinese Academy of Science report, but it is apparent from news reports that the concept of the “nation” (guojia, 国家) is applied rather vaguely. China News Service relays the report’s definition of “national responsibility” as: “In the age of globalization, a nation must take on responsibility not only for the subsistence, development, safety, health, prosperity and sustainable development of its citizens, but must at the same time the nation must, as a member of the international community, bear responsibility for the safety, health, prosperity and sustainable development of all of humanity. The two of these aspects together constitute national responsibility.” On first hearing, this seems to be well thought out. But those who observe carefully will note that the former and latter uses of “nation” are not consistent. The first refers to the national government, and is identical to the English word “government.” The second refers to a community that encompasses the citizenry, territory and state system, what is expressed in English with the words “country” or “nation.”
Before I came across this news, I had been in my own slump of sorts. Before the National Holiday editors at Southern Weekend had asked me to explore a set of questions: “What have you done for your guojia? What has your guojia done for you? What more can your guojia do for you?” I felt I had no answers because I had no clear idea what these various guojia’s” pointed to. Subsequently, I discovered answers to this questionnaire by professor Ding Xueliang (丁学良) and I was again faced with these questions. On his blog, he wrote: “The concept of the guojia (国家) gives rises to four different words in English: state, country, land and nation. The differences between these are not readily discernible in Chinese. The word ‘country’ focuses on territory and the people while the word ‘state’ refers primarily to state political power.” As professor Ding answered each question [posed by Southern Weekend] he was specific in each case about his definition of guojia (国家).
Actually, this concept is often used vaguely. This has already resulted in messy thinking, and even constituted an ideological snare. Some people, for example, say things like: “The guojia has raised you, and you have the nerve to grumble about the guojia.” This sounds reasonable at first, until you realize that these two guojia‘s are different concepts. The first one points to those people who live on this piece of land. The second one refers to a specific government organization.
When the students of “May 4th” accused the Duan Qirui (段祺瑞) government of selling out the nation, the nation (guo/国) they were speaking of was clearly not the government but the interests of the citizens. We call them the “patriotic youth” (爱国青年) because they opposed authorities who did not represent the interests of the people.
The fact that this word guojia can be stuffed with so many meanings makes the exchange of ideas difficult. Not only in English, but even in ancient Chinese these concepts were much clearer. In the pre-Qin period (先秦), the character for “country”, guo (国), meant country, and the character for family, jia (家), meant family. The combined use of “country” and “family” is a product of the integration of family-country in Confucianism. Even so, the term guojia referred more to “the world” (天下) and less to royal power. And so the emperors always had to consider how they could “keep the world at peace and benefit the people” (安国家而利人民).
When we say this word guojia today we refer mostly to political power and the government, what is denoted in English political philosophy as the state. I’m guessing that in the Chinese Academy of Sciences report the term guojia also principally has this meaning. Of course, even if we limit it to this concept [of the guojia], “national responsibility” remains a very difficult thing to calculate. As a propaganda slogan, this term “national responsibility” can be used. But for academic research and as a basis for ranking, it is not a very scientific concept. Let me give you an example. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, America’s Hoover administration employed a policy of noninterference, which exacerbated matters. After Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president, his New Deal was an opposite policy of economic intervention that led America out of the shadows. Can you say which of these policies represents America’s “national responsibility”? The same is true in China. If you look before and after reform and opening, many policies are radically different. Before, there were only nationalized factories. Now, there are private industries. Before, work units allocated housing. Now, people purchase their own homes. Before, we could only watch the “eight official dramas” (八个样板戏). Now, we can watch Hollywood blockbusters . . . So what does this “national responsibility” at the Chinese Academy of Sciences point to?
Rigorously speaking, we can only discuss the responsibility of a number of specific government administrations or eras. While policies can have historical continuity — the current financial crisis, for example, is an extreme result of the 1980s conservatism of Thatcher and Reagan, itself a reaction to the development to extremes of Keynesian economics after Roosevelt’s New Deal — every administration can have its own very different approaches to the indicators studied by the Chinese Academy of Science, such as arms reduction, the elimination of poverty, development assistance, resource conservation and environmental protection. Is the Chinese Academy of Science relying on the policies of the current administration [in America]? If that is the case, it should be explained that this is a bottom ranking of the “Bush government” and not “America,” but that would amount to free propaganda for Barack Obama, which I suppose does not accord with the academy’s intentions. So instead they use this fuzzy concept of the guojia.
“What have you done for your country?“, ESWN, October 4, 2008
[Posted by David Bandurski, September 13, 2008, 12:01am]