Brown Pundits – Episode 6, Chinese history, pop culture and strategy, with Tanner Greer

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This week a very special episode of Brown Pundits’ BrownCast with Tanner Greer of The Scholar’s Stage, one of my favorite weblogs. If I’m a philosopher in the armchair, Tanner is a practitioner in the field. He lived for several years in China, and his observations have a contemporary salience that our discussion last week probably lacked.

15 thoughts on “Brown Pundits – Episode 6, Chinese history, pop culture and strategy, with Tanner Greer”

  1. Usually I don’t listen to any podcast for more than few minutes. This I have covered most and will listen to the rest. Very fascinating. How China is as varied as India in terms of language and culture. My first reaction is China does not have Eaton-bhakts and Trutscke-bhakts that is rampant in India especially highly educated. I have many opinions on different aspects of the cast.

  2. Fascinating talk from someone in the frontline, so to say.
    Chinese leadership is selling a great vision and dream to the Chinese ie China will be a great nation and leader among nations. It is not selling or bribing people with economic betterment. Hats off. I agree with him about soft power – whatever it is – of India doesn’t matter much.

  3. My initial introduction to China was from Naxalite days in India when I was briefly a Mao bhakts- not that I was ever a revolutionary apart from wishes and fantasy. Evolution of my ideas about China are similar to that of the interlocutor – Majid if I am correct. After college days, with reading historians like Toynbee, I saw parellal to ancient Chinese history. The present political dispensation in China is a response to westernization , a world dominated by the West and other themes like economic and technological progress. The Chinese communist party is totally committed to make China a topdog in the economic and technological sphere- under their control and supervision naturally.

  4. I came across a small book 36 Chinese Strategems – distilled strategy lessons developed over many a civil war. For the 20th century history, I found the BBC programme China a Century of revolution informative as they talk to many participants in great events and first hand witnesses.

  5. Very interesting to hear Tanner talk about the CCP being (wisely) less concerned with a repeat of the colonial era where China was physically dismantled, and more concerned with being ideologically dismantled by the liberal West.

    This is something I frequently find Islamist movements ignoring. They are very focused on chasing the carrot (installing Islamic governments, pan-Islamic unity), that they don’t really put much thought into how they would ideologically sustain such a project. I suppose that would be horse before the carriage, but some of the tepid responses to Islamism in otherwise very devout Muslim countries, is due to this fear that Islamists don’t really have a plan other than, “follow the Sharia and everything will work out”.

    Iran is an interesting model for this, as despite the Islamist government coming to power in the most perfect of circumstances (elected after ousting an oppressive foreign puppet-regime), the vigor of the “Islamic Revival” has essentially died just a couple generations later. There is increasing discontent with the regime, that is usually at an (ever-rising) simmer, though occasionally boils over. Many grievances aren’t policy based (taxes), they are about the very nature of the country (theocracy vs democracy, Islamism vs. Liberalism).

    Iran and the Muslim world generally haven’t been able to come up with a credible alternative to the Western civilizational model, and instead have had to keep their Islamism-model relevant by tying it to the ongoing anti-imperial struggle against the West. If this struggle ever ends, so too I think will the relevance of Islamism.

    Interesting to hear China wrestling with this issue, and how even after achieving what the Islamists aim for (political unity and economic/military power), its still in their interest to perpetuate a kind of struggle with the West to protect themselves ideologically.

    1. Interesting to hear China wrestling with this issue, and how even after achieving what the Islamists aim for (political unity and economic/military power), its still in their interest to perpetuate a kind of struggle with the West to protect themselves ideologically.

      Safe to say the million odd muslims they have in internment camps are also part of the same ideological struggle. At least we know now how they view islam.

      1. Its less about “Islam”, and more about the fact that the CCP can’t tolerate having an entire province where most of the inhabitants (Turkic-Muslims) aren’t shy about emphasizing their belonging to a Central-Asian Islamic civilization, while generally looking down on both the CCP and China generally.

        This may do for an isolated Tibetan village somewhere in the mountains, but for China’s largest province that attracts a large amount of Han from inner-China, the CCP can’t let such an obvious challenge to their ideological stranglehold go unpunished.

        If Han see these uncultured, uneducated, powerless Turks being indifferent to the ideological machinations of the CCP, they will start wonder why they should remain servile to a regime that not only fall short of the West, but is regarded as a joke by even neighboring backwards peoples.

        1. though they are now moving to hui muslims, who are politically more quietistic, at least of late.

          the initial motivation is clearly the strategic location of xinjiang and turkic religio-nationalism…but now that the tools of suppression and control have been perfected, the low view that han have of islam comes to the fore and they think perhaps the tools should be utilized more widely.

          1. True.

            We are also starting to hear whispers from more forward thinking Han about the potential dangers of these state-managing tools. Tibet and Xinjiang are seen as the laboratories where these tools are developed, with the ultimate goal of the CCP to turn these weapons (in some form) inward on the core of China, to quash any possible threat to their regime before it could take root.

            Side note: The (mostly Northern) Han have had a long-standing dislike of the Hui dating back to the Yuan Dynasty (that manifested in ethnic-cleansing campaigns during the Qing period). Its abated in the modern-era due to the cultural-break accompanying the CCP rise, and the attempt to contrast their more Sinicized brand of Islam with the Uighurs, but as you allude to, they won’t shed any tears on their behalf.

  6. This was an excellent discussion. Probing but polite questions put to a knowledgeable and perceptive expert.

    Regarding soft-power and India-China relations. Tanner is very right that soft power defined as cinema/culture means little. Pakistanis are avid consumers of Indian cinema, and that hasnt affected attitudes towards India in the slightest there.

    However, there is another kind of ‘soft’ interaction thats happening between Indians and Chinese. People to people encounters at the graduate school and high tech workforce level in the US. I believe that these can effect a change in how the Chinese elite see Indians. Chinese companies are now among the top 3 investors in Indian startups. It would have been interesting to hear where Tanner thinks the India-China relationship will go.

  7. Chinese soft power is also at work – Tai chi , kung fu, selfdefence, Maoist ideas, chinese medicine, acupuncture, Chan Buddhism, Chinese massage, Chinese restaurants, etc.
    Chinese way of looking at human body is so different clinically, it has more traction in the future.

  8. There are also typical Chinese sects like Falyn Gong, which rouses extreme suspicion from the government, all the more so since their roots are in China and their subversive potential is more than say Christianity.

  9. Have been enjoying the podcasts. Some feedback. Please match the “volume” of the microphones between participants. Omar comes through at very low volume and one has to boost the volume when he is speaking and then dial it back down when others are speaking.

    One other suggestion. Please establish a protocol for interjections so that we don’t miss the entire question/interjection. [We South Asians love interjections :-)] Perhaps use a separate tool for managing the interrupts.

  10. Interesting how China builds shoddy, costly infrastructure for countries and ensnares them in high level debt

    It Doesn’t Matter if Ecuador Can Afford This Dam. China Still Gets Paid.
    A giant dam was supposed to help lift Ecuador out of poverty. Instead, it’s part of a national scandal, and a future tethered to China.

    After Pakistan, Srilanka, Djibouti , now Equador

    Meanwhile Uyghurs are re-educated to be proper Chinese

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