Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rural means ...

Wow, I just read a first-person piece describing the struggle of rural people and their experience growing up in China. Entitled, "I fought for 18 years to have a cup of coffee with you", it really hit me hard.

In related news, the United Nations Film Festival is showing a documentary on rural China called Restoring the Light. Made by Carol Liu, a Stanford alum ('05).

TODAY (Wed, Oct 26) at 5:15 PM
Stanford Medical School (Li Ka Shing Building)
Room: Alway M114

More info at

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

When the tide turns

ATTN: Russia and China
RE: "Syrian Opposition Calls for Protection from Crackdown" from NYTimes

When the popular movement triumphs, how do you think the people of Syria and their newly-elected government will receive you? The populace knows you are stymieing efforts at the United Nations to protect human lives in Syria. (See:

It may behoove you to support the people working to peacefully secure their rights, rather than a regime that brutally suppresses a non-violent movement with bullets and tanks. Moreover, given the reasonable nature of the Syrian protestors, can you really justify supporting Assad to your own population? Is there any moral grounding for your actions, other than naked self-interest?

Even if you view this through the geopolitical lens of national interest, a weakened autocrat sitting on a tinderbox won't be a useful partner in the long run. He may be more pliant, but he will also be less able to support your initiatives or guarantee stability. Indeed, Assad's reputation on the world stage and in the region have already been severely undermined. In contrast, an empowered and legitimate government grateful for international support in the Syrian people's time of need will be much more amenable to working with you and would welcome your future investments.

Choose wisely.



The story of Yue Yue, the Chinese toddler who was struck on the road, then summarily ignored by 18 passers-by before being hit again by another vehicle, has brought to a head an issue that I've been pondering about for a while. It reflects the real problem in China today, which is one of ethics.

In Chinese society today, there is a lack of concern for the fate of others. This is paralleled by an absence of a civic culture, a certain sense of public-spiritedness. Instead, it's all about "me, my, mine" and what I want. We desperately need something different.

Forced public action is not the way -- that's just coercion, and is ultimately ineffective. (This is why Communism rings so hollow today). Instead, we must change hearts and minds, awakening people's loving-kindness and come together to exercise compassion for others. Only that kind of normative transformation, undertaken freely and with good will, is sustainable in the long-run, and can permanently alter society for the better.

Otherwise, what we're left with is this barren landscape entirely bereft of humanity. Yet (ironically) this has been a historical problem with Chinese people. The critiques of this abdication of responsibility for other human beings became quite sharp in the modern era -- for instance, in the literature touching on issues of social justice in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But the major difference is that at least in the past, we had certain traditional obligations to others -- to our parents, our siblings, our other relatives -- that kept us from being completely selfish prigs. We knew how to look beyond ourselves. There were also proper ways of behaving toward others in society. Today, it seems egocentricism reigns, and self-enrichment is the only watchword.

We can blame the people involved, but a serious part of the problem is related to governance. If a government fundamentally does not respect the rights of individuals and believes they can simply be trampled and tossed aside, how can we expect it to effectively inculcate positive social values? If the government itself is just fine when millions of people are displaced and their homes demolished; or when people should be squashed for the sake of "development," any admonition to act differently rings hollow. If the government treats people as resources to be pushed around and moved however the center sees fit; if it places no value on the lives of Chinese; if it doesn't care about individuals, but always views things in the lens of "the mass of people," then how can it possibly promote sensitive actions at the personal level?

If the government's position is that fundamentally, human lives don't matter all that much, and can be sacrificed for other objectives however the Party sees fit, is it a surprise that all levels of society see this and fall into the same ranks that disrespect and denigrate human lives?

So now it falls upon social organizations to teach and to share how we might care for others. But perhaps this will actually be a more effective program, because any action necessarily becomes a voluntary effort. And therein lies the strength of such a social movement: people choose to act benevolently. They now consciously strive to be more generous, expansive, broad-minded and compassionate. And that act of choosing is important, because it means the issue has been considered and is now being acted upon. It takes place in a "mindful" way, which is a crucial step in learning to care for others, and then applying these principles in real life.

From the Guardian:


"The fundamental problem, in my view, lies in one word that describes a state of mind: shaoguanxianshi, meaning don't get involved if it's not your business. In our culture, there's a lack of willingness to show compassion to strangers. We are brought up to show kindness to people in our network of guanxi, family and friends and business associates, but not particularly to strangers, especially if such kindness may potentially damage your interest.


Fei Xiaotong, China's first sociologist, described Chinese people's moral and ethical characteristics in his book, From the Soil, in the middle of the last century. He pointed out that selfishness is the most serious shortcoming of the Chinese. "When we think of selfishness, we think of the proverb 'Each person should sweep the snow from his own doorsteps and should not fret about the frost on his neighbour's roof,'" wrote Fei. He offered the example of how the Chinese of that period threw rubbish out of their windows without the slightest public concern. Things are much the same today.


China's moral crisis doesn't just manifest itself in personal life but also in business practice and many other areas. The high-profile "poisoned milk powder" case and the scandal of using "gutter oil" as cooking oil have shocked and disgusted people around the world. Last year an article, "Why have Chinese lost their sense of morality?", in which the author tried to find an explanation, was widely read. He reasoned that China has introduced the concept of a market economy from the west but failed to import the corresponding ethics, while the traditional moral principles of China no longer fit the market economy model.

There's a lot of sense in that. I believe that the lack of a value system is also deepening the moral crisis. Before Mao, the indifference towards others once so accurately described by Fei existed but was mitigated by a traditional moral and religious system. That system was then almost destroyed by the communists, especially during the 10 mad years of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. Nowadays communism, the ideology that dominated Chinese people's lives like a religion, has also more or less collapsed. As a result, there's a spiritual vacuum that cannot be filled by the mere opportunity of money-making."


Note: This is the Chinese government that also jails lawyers who wish to help people and declares them subversive. Are we really surprised?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The 5Rs of Common Thread

Sign the Patagonia pledge to not buy something if you don’t need it. Reduce, repair, reuse, recycle, reimagine! It's a pretty innovative/courageous/risky/bold stand from a clothing company. Definitely requires a re-imagining of the business model -- but could also produce some very compelling stories and help to cement loyalty.

"The Common Threads Initiative addresses a significant part of today’s environmental problem—the footprint of our stuff. This program first asks customers to not buy something if they don’t need it.”
—Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia founder & owner

I wonder if there's a way to get Da Ai Technology into a partnership as well ...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Reminder: DON'T BE EVIL

On October 25th and 26th, Access will be hosting the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference ( in San Francisco. The main focus of the conference is to examine and explore how the high-tech industry can better plan for and manage the emerging human rights implications of their technologies. The event is designed as an exchange of experiences, learnings and best practices between tech companies, grassroots activists, technologists, civil society organizations, academics and governments.

Sponsored by Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Skype and Mozilla, among others, in partnership with civil society organizations.

Also, ATTN CISCO: Don't be a moral pygmy. Live up to the Valley's ethos. These companies aren't just businesses; they are the projections of our ideals and beliefs, our dreams and values. We choose to work for them because we believe they are helping to create a world we want to live in. Yes, we engineers are allowed to say that. Thank you, that is all.

Watch at least 0:20-0:45 for the relevant quote.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tiger Cubs, Tiger Tiger Cubs & American Battle Hymns

I started reading Amy Chua's book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" and I suddenly realized that she's not the voice of our parents' generation, the people who are thought of as stereotypical "tiger moms." Chua is actually the voice of *our* generation.

When she talks about her childhood and upbringing, or reflects back on her life choices, she articulates the concerns and hopes and fears people like us have. She grew up in a conservative (Chinese/Fujianese) household, but chose an independent, though high-achieving, route. Her tone, her insights, her wry sense of humor -- it all sounds like *us.* It's definitely not the way our parents speak or communicate.

Chua's explanation of Asian parenting doesn't come from the perspective of a tiger mom; it comes from the perspective of a tiger cub analyzing "Asian parent" behavior, and then choosing to apply it in the lives of her own children. This style of parenting comes about not because it's the only way she knows how (as it would be with immigrant parents), but as a rational choice.

Author and professor Amy Chua

So even if her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, are close in age to us, they are actually more akin to our (future) children -- the third generation in America. The life stories that my peers and I relate to aren't theirs, but Chua's. (Lawyer mom and Jewish professor dad in New Haven? Definitely not something we are familiar with.) And given her experience growing up in America, she is more refined and sophisticated in what she chooses to do and how to justify it than your average Asian mom.

While I don't necessarily agree with all of Chua's prescriptions for parenting in the first few chapters, I do find much of the diagnosis compelling. The author's voice is unmistakably ours.

You can say "Battle Hymn" is a book about Chinese parenting, but even just a few pages in, I can already recognize it is an unequivocally American work.


You've got to clean up after yourself

Today in The New York Times, another article about "Occupy Wall Street" that jogs some thinking. The police are moving protesters aside, so the walkways can be cleaned. Afterwards, the protesters are welcome to return, but sleeping bags and tents will not be allowed back in.

Facing Eviction, Protesters Begin Park Cleanup

Occupy Wall Street protesters at Zuccotti Park swept and scrubbed on Thursday afternoon, hoping to stave off eviction.Occupy Wall Street protesters at Zuccotti Park swept and scrubbed on Thursday afternoon, hoping to stave off even temporary eviction. (Robert Stolarik for The New York Times)

The issue of litter and filthy sidewalks might seem pedestrian, but in a way, it may symbolize a lot more.

The challenge by the police, and the attempts to rise to the occasion and clean their own mess can be seen as a test: if the so-called rabble here can actually be constructive instead of destructive; if they can show that they are not simply a bunch of "dirty hippies" or "messy socialists," then not only will they be allowed to continue the demonstration in the manner they see fit (with those tents and sleeping bags allowed back in), but even more importantly, with greater public support.

No one said change has to be disorderly. Socialist vandals are scary precisely because they cause chaos. In demonstrations past (think G8 or WTO), some of more idiotic individuals revel in it. But that so-called 99% includes middle class people, and they do not relish disorder.

This is therefore a litmus test for "Occupy Wall Street." Can you stop the destructive imbeciles among you, those people who have no civic regard and no sense of public-spiritedness, who litter with abandon and break things, just because they feel vengeful, annoyed, or simply malicious. Those people are as much about "me me me" and self-gratification and rejection of social norms as the high-fallutin' CEOs on Wall Street.

So this battle's one for the middle class. You, "occupiers" -- can you show that you can make this arrangement last? Do you have enough respect and discipline to not just be an angry mob that leaves trash and destruction and discomfort in its wake? Do you have decency and concern for others? Without this, how do you expect to gain the trust of the common people.

Oh, there may be proposals for people to act for the greater good, but I fear those ideas may be shouted down by the ass holes among them, and the thing will degenerate into the lowest-common denominator of every-man-for-himself-except-we're-mad-at-Wall-Street-too. When the Left and the Radicals can show a modicum of care for others in their midst, and for the land and public areas that are shared by everybody; when it's not the pot-smokers and unruly, but the studious and well-behaved, then this 99% idiom might actually convince the center to join in.

This battle for cleanliness and the resolve to clean is really a battle for this nascent movement. Let's hope the extremists don't win.

Monday, October 10, 2011

十十 Happy Birthday, ROC!

十十 Happy birthday, Republic of China! The dream is still alive.

十十 Today marks 100 years since October 10, 1911.

十十 The Republican Revolution of 1911 ended imperial rule by the Qing Dynasty, and ushered in the birth of Asia's first democracy.

十十 Remember the ideals that generation of revolutionaries fought for: liberty, equality, popular sovereignty. The rule of law. The right to participate in one's own governance. The right to determine one's own fate.

十十 May all people one day enjoy the fruits of peace, freedom and democracy that spring from the seeds planted by our forebears.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

UC Chile

An article from The Guardian profiles one of the leaders of the student protests in Chile. From "Camila Vallejo – Latin America's 23-year-old new revolutionary folk hero":
Vallejo "focused on what she sees as the positive achievements thus far. 'For years, Chilean youth have been consumed by a neo-liberal model that highlights personal achievement and consumerism; it is all about mine, mine, mine. There is not a lot of empathy for the other... This movement has achieved just the opposite. The youth has taken control… and revived and dignified politics. This comes hand in hand with the questioning of worn-out political models – all they have done is govern for big business and powerful economic groups." ...
Throughout the six-month revolt, Chilean students – in many cases led by 14- and 15-year-olds – have seized the streets of Santiago and major cities, provoking and challenging the status quo with their demand for a massive restructuring of the nation's for-profit higher education industry. In support of their demands for free university education, since May they have organised 37 marches, which have gathered upwards of 200,000 students at a time ...
What began as a quiet plea for improvements in public education has now erupted into a wholescale rejection of the Chilean political elite. More than 100 high schools nationwide have been seized by students and a dozen universities shut down by protests.
Hey, maybe the UC system could serve as a model for public education. Oh wait, that could happen only if we stop gutting this world-class model of higher education. Get it together, California! I'm also a little bit worried by these "takeovers" of schools. If not controlled, this kind of action might smack of the Cultural Revolution. One major difference is that Chile is a democracy with constitutional protections for citizens. Given the repression of the Pinochet regime and the non-violent movement that rose to overthrow it, the populace cares about concepts like liberty and the protection of human rights. That should be a major bulwark against unfounded attacks.