Thought policing by remote control

Interesting discussion on whether free speech on American campuses can withstand Chinese nationalism:

Earlier this week, Kunming native Yang Shuping, a student at the University of Maryland, gave a commencement speech extolling the “fresh air” and “free speech” she experienced while studying in the United States. Video of her speech spread on the Internet, and Yang and her family found themselves under attack by fellow Chinese students in the U.S. and a chorus of critics on Chinese social media, who argued—at times viciously—that she had betrayed her country. Yang then apologized for the speech and asked for “forgiveness from the public.” Why was she attacked? What do her speech and the reaction it engendered reveal (or obscure) about the experiences of Chinese students on American campuses, and what do they portend for the future of academic freedom in the U.S.? To what extent is Chinese nationalism reshaping university life in America?

The answer would appear to be no.


But the environmental NGOs don’t usually hesitate to confront governments. For example, Greenpeace activists scaled an oil rig in 2012 to protest Russian drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The WWF and Greenpeace even spoke out against Chinese-government subsidies that have resulted in destructive overfishing, especially off the coast of West Africa.

So why didn’t they utter a peep about China’s degradation of the South China Sea?

Knowing when to keep their mouths shut seems to be the price these organizations must pay to enjoy the good will of Beijing. It’s one thing to offer respectful criticism over Chinese fishing subsidies within the bounds that the Communist Party tolerates as a social safety valve. But it’s another matter entirely to condemn the crimes that China is committing in the South China Sea, a position that would infuriate the Politburo.

Saturday links: Coffee edition

Now you understand why this website has a coffee favicon:

Before the Enlightenment, Europeans drank alcohol throughout the day. Then, through trade with the Arab world, a transformation occurred: coffee, rich with caffeine, a stimulant, swept across the continent and replaced alcohol, a depressant.

As writer Tom Standage put it,

“The impact of the introduction of coffee into Europe during the seventeenth century was particularly noticeable since the most common beverages of the time, even at breakfast, were weak ‘small beer’ and wine. Both were far safer than water, which was liable to be contaminated … Coffee … provided a new and safe alternative to alcoholic drinks. Those who drank coffee instead of alcohol began the day alert and stimulated, rather than relaxed and mildly inebriated, and the quality and quantity of their work improved … Western Europe began to emerge from an alcoholic haze that had lasted for centuries.”

An illustration of this process from Twitter user @Supreme_Owl_FTW:

Francesco Sisci on the murder of Kim Jong-nam and China policy:

But can Beijing still work with a ruler who goes as far as to kill his own brother abroad? North Korea is not new to terrorist attacks overseas. In 1983, it organised the attempt in Rangoon against the South Korean president and in 1987 it planted a bomb on a Korean Airlines flight. But those were the last days of the Cold War and it was all against the old, traditional enemy, the South.

Now times are radically different and young Kim has killed his older brother, thus proving he is capable of anything – even lobbing a dirty bomb to Tokyo, the American west coast, or China. Missiles are not the only course of action. North Korea has in the past hired criminals, mainly Chinese or Japanese, possibly of Korean descent, to carry out dirty work. The same could happen again now.

The question is can Beijing still be confident it can control in general terms Pyongyang? The preferred answer should be “yes,” also because with the growing friction with the US, it would be convenient for China to be able to play the North Korea card.

But what if this card refuses to be played and turns against the player? And what if, especially in times of tension, it would be better for China to offer the US a North Korean bone to prove good faith in a future political dialogue involving China’s maritime borders?

American college campuses continue to places of tolerance and respectful debate:

Hundreds of students at Middlebury College in Vermont shouted down a controversial speaker on Thursday night, disrupting a program and confronting the speaker in an encounter that turned violent and left a faculty member injured. […]

After almost 20 minutes, it was clear that he would not be able to give his speech, said Mr. Burger, the spokesman. Anticipating that such an outcry might happen, Mr. Murray was moved to a separate room equipped with a video camera so that Allison Stanger, a Middlebury professor of international politics and economics, could interview him over a live stream.

Haha. College students can’t handle edgy ideas and are prone to violent spasms of outrage; controversial speakers must be quarantined.

Once the interview began in the second room, protesters swarmed into the hallway, chanting and pulling fire alarms. Still, the interview was completed and officials, including Ms. Stanger, escorted Mr. Murray out the back of the building.

There, several masked protesters, who were believed to be outside agitators, began pushing and shoving Mr. Murray and Ms. Stanger, Mr. Burger said. “Someone grabbed Allison’s hair and twisted her neck,” he said.

After the two got into a car, Mr. Burger said, protesters pounded on it, rocked it back and forth, and jumped onto the hood. Ms. Stanger later went to a hospital, where she was put in a neck brace.

The original Indiana Jones

I enjoyed this article in Aeon about the eighteenth-century French scholar-adventurer, Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron, who authored the first translation of the ancient Zoroastrian scriptures into a Western language. According to the article, Anquetil was also the prototype for a long line of swashbuckling Orientalists like Sir Richard Burton and Lawrence of Arabia, and indirectly the inspiration for fictional heroes such as Indiana Jones and Lara Croft.


Before Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, there was this guy

I was less impressed by the author’s efforts to paint Anquetil as some kind of con artist. “Violent, paranoid bully” he might have been, but that only makes Anquetil more interesting as a historical figure.

Banal incidents such as passing through customs inspections, suffering travel delays and being propositioned appeared to Anquetil as life-or-death crises. In his memoirs, he transformed them into stories of his own bravery and of the dangers lurking in India.

What a huckster! I’m sure traveling through India in the mid-eighteenth century was perfectly safe.

Also, the suggestion that later British adventurers such as Burton and Lawrence “adopt[ed] Anquetil’s methods of self-promotion” is something of a cheap shot that does nothing to detract from their undeniable achievements… like translating One Thousand and One Nights and helping lead the successful Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. For example.