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John Derbyshire, On Understanding China And The Chinese

A published version of John Derbyshire PFS 2011 speech has been published, “On Understanding China And The ChineseVDare (Aug. 3, 2011).


John Derbyshire On Understanding China And The Chinese

By John Derbyshire

[Peter Brimelow writes: I was very impressed (as always) with John Derbyshire’s thoughts on China, originally delivered in Turkey this spring and published by Sean Gabb on his Libertarian Alliance Website—VDARE.com trademark links added here. For other reasons, I am cautious about China triumphalism. Some years ago, we posted an interview I did with Gordon Tullock, father of the concept of “rent seeking”, in which he suggested that not merely the imperial territories that Derbyshire mentions here, but also the Han core itself, might break apart. Nevertheless, China remains the quintessential nation-state—the political expression of a “nation”, an organic ethno-cultural community—and no student of the National Question can ignore it.]

John Derbyshire wrote: Here are some remarks I delivered to the sixth annual meeting of Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Property and Freedom Society, held at the Karia Princess Hotel in Bodrum, Turkey, May 26-30, 2011.[Video]

The subject of my address was “Understanding China and the Chinese.” The conference organizers meant it to form part of a set, with Jared Taylor following me on the topic “Understanding Japan and the Japanese,” then John O’Sullivan on “Understanding Europe and its Bureaucrats,” then Prof. Norman Stone on “Understanding Turkey and the Turks.”

As things turned out, the set was unfortunately incomplete, as the Japanese Embassy in Washington D.C., with very un-Japanese inefficiency, lost Jared’s passport a few days before the conference, leaving him no time to sort the problem out and so unable to embark for Turkey.

We missed Jared and commiserate with him on what seems to have been an exceptionally bad year for him so far, marred by misfortunes and indignities at the hands of various state apparatuses, by no means only the Japanese. (He did manage to bring out a book, though.)

The rest of us went ahead with our presentations anyway. Here is mine.

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. The title of my talk here is “Understanding China and the Chinese.” I’m going to take that very literally; so please let me make it clear that the topic of my talk is not China and the Chinese, about both of which I know all too little; the topic is understanding China and the Chinese, about which I am somewhat more knowledgeable—about which, indeed, I can claim, I hope not too fancifully, to be something of a world-class expert.

To make a claim to understanding of China and the Chinese, as opposed to merely understanding the business of trying to understand them, would be pretty darn presumptuous. For most of the past 25 years I’ve lived in the United States, a cousin nation to the one I was raised in, yet there are many things about the U.S.A. I still don’t understand, as evidenced by the fact that I still occasionally bang my shins against some aspect of the national psyche I didn’t even know was there. Peanut butter with jam—whose idea was that?

Eight years ago I marveled at the confidence with which American bureaucrats, military staff officers, businessmen, and think-tank whizz-kids breezed into Iraq declaring that they would remake that ancient place into a modern liberal democracy. If I, after all these years in America, still can’t pronounce the word “schedule” properly, what chance did George W. Bush’s proconsuls have of effecting social transformation in a country they’d only just learned to locate on a map?

I think subsequent events have justified my skepticism. We have transformed Iraq all right; but we have transformed it into a client state of Iran, which is not what was intended.

So what chance do I have, does any Westerner have, of encompassing China and the Chinese, let alone of transmitting any understanding to you in 30 minutes?

Modern commentators on China also have before them the dreadful example of the Three Week Sinologist.

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