Twofish's Blog

November 30, 2006

The Secret Plans of the Chinese Politburo

Filed under: Career, finance — twofish @ 6:16 pm

I knew that the title would get your attention. But I’ve been thinking about the recent Chinese series the “Rise of Great Nations” which has been summarized by Sun Bin on his blog…

The interesting thing about this program is that it gave a lot of emphasis to the rise of the United States and Britain, which got me thinking early American economists like Henry C. Carey.

Now here is the interesting part. Henry Carey’s great work is called “Harmony of Interest.” The big new slogan coming out of China is “harmony.” Look at Henry Carey’s economic program, and look at Hu Jintao’s.

The secret plan of the Chinese Politburo I think is for the next generation to copy the economic and foreign policies of the early United States.  The model the are using for relations with the United States in the early-21st century, I believe is US/Great Britain in the early-19th.

Also one other economist which seems to be influencing the Politburo is Friedrich List.  Sun-Bin mentioned the influence of List on policy with respect to Taiwan.  Here is a quote that seems interesting

But for the growth of the higher forms of industry all countries are not adapted only those of the temperate zones, whilst the torrid regions have a natural monopoly in the production of certain raw materials; and thus between these two groups of countries a division of labor and confederation of powers spontaneously takes place.

Can you see the relevance to Chinese policy in Africa?

Why I didn’t mention the Taiwan bits in the article

Filed under: china, taiwan — twofish @ 6:19 am

By the way, in case you are wondering why I didn’t challenge the bits about Taiwan…  The answer is simple….


Now that there is less and less chance of a war in the Taiwan straits, I’m losing interest.  As far as wikipedia, there are people who share my viewpoints and they are able to make sure that are reasonable represented.  If they aren’t, well I really don’t have the energy any more to argue about the meaning of obscure bits of history, and frankly I don’t think it matters much.

I haven’t been keeping up with Taiwan politics, and I actually feel a little sorry for Chen Shui-Bian.  I sort of hope that his son stays in the United States and has a baby because if the President’s grandson is an ABC, there is going to be less resistance to this ABC talking about Taiwanese politics, and that hopefully will help create a view on Taiwan that will be more amenable to unification in the next several decades.

Even more about the New York Times article

Filed under: china, wikipedia — twofish @ 6:08 am

Something interesting psychologically happened over the last hour that also happened the week before with my rant against Reporters San Frontieres

When I wrote my critique about the NYT article, I was thinking of myself screaming at the NYT, so I was rather loud and harsh.  It’s like being on the outside of a concrete building screaming inside, and I think I used terms like “slipshod, superficial journalism at its worst”, and I wasn’t particularly careful at toning down my language.  After all, I was screaming at the New York Times, who could hardly care what I thought about them.

Then I figured that in fairness I ought to e-mail the person that sent me the original request for comments, and suddenly I was positive embarrassed about what I had just said.  At that point, I was no longer screaming loudly at the New York Times, I was screaming at some anonymous junior journalist, probably in their 20’s, who doesn’t have all that much power, and is probably a very nice person that is going to feel awful if I trash their article (and would have felt a lot worse if they read my unedited version).

The same thing happened with RSF, when I started screaming and ranting against the big and powerful RSF, and suddenly I realized that press release was written by some young idealistic person that probably doesn’t deserve being screamed at.

Anyway I don’t know what this means, but it means something……

More on the New York Times article

Filed under: china, wikipedia — twofish @ 5:37 am

First, some ground rules. I make it a policy never to post people identities without their permission, nor will I post private e-mail that is written to me without permission. I will however post my statements if I think they are interesting, and I also will post things that are said in a public forum. Also whenever I summarize or cite someone, I do try to give people a “right of reply” so that they can agree/disagree whether the summary is fair and accurate.

With respect to the Mao article, the NYT just got the history wrong, and I think the article is an example of very superficial journalism. What happened with the English wikipedia (and I was there and you can look at the logs) was that after the book “Mao: The Untold Story” was published, a wikipedia user insisted on putting the millions of deaths line in the summary of Mao’s life. This prompted a reaction from the Maoists online, and a set of negotiations was taken that produced a very carefully balanced paragraph that everyone could live with.

In the Chinese wikipedia that series of events just never happened, and so that carefully constructed paragraph was not written. No one was insisting that that line about millions of deaths was put in, and at the same time there wasn’t any counterreaction because there are very few Chinese speakers who are willing to undergo an edit war to say something nice about Mao (whereas in English, there are some revolutionary Maoists). What is the case among Chinese speakers is that I get the sense that there is a much less varied range of opinions (fewer people think that he was an insane homocidal maniac, but fewer people are also willing to argue that his later years were correct), but that the average is about the same as with English speakers.

When I’ve edited the English wikipedia Mao page, my main pet peeve has been to try to reverse the notion that the Chinese government is positive about Mao. The official view of history concerning Mao is actually rather complex, and there are some very strong motivations and issues that go into making up the history, and I’ve put some work into explaining these motivations and issues. One good thing about wikipedia is that it lets you go passed the “pro-X” or “anti-X” labels that are just killing political discourse.

Now I did get a message from the NYT which was e-mailed to me and posted onto my personal page (and since it was posted, I can reproduce it with personal identity removed).

Hi, this is ***** from The New York Times Shanghai Bureau. We’re writing a story about Wikipedia and by comparing both of its Chinese and English version we found some very interesting things. We’d like to interview wikipedians having frequent visits to both versions and to get their impression and comments on the phenomenon. Is there any chance we could get in touch with you by phone or email? My email address is ******* Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks!

Here is my reply:

If possible I’d rather do the conversation via e-mail. Also, after the
article has been published, I’d like permission to post the entire transcript
of the conversation on my blog without identifying your organization.

As far as differences in English and Chinese wikipedia, I’ve found two major

1) you have major differences due to the distribution of views. What is an
infrequent crackpot viewpoint among English speakers, could be an important
minority viewpoint or even the majority viewpoint among Chinese speakers.

2) English encyclopedias focus on providing contextualized summary
information. Whereas Chinese encyclopedias focus on providing almanac
information such as dates and places. I have some speculation about why that
is, but its merely speculation that could be very incorrect.

Also on an other issue, I’ve been trying to get the following two points
across to the Chinese authorities

1) Blocking wikipedia skews the contents away from views which are favorable
to the Chinese authorities, because it discourages people who are favorable
to the government from participating.

2) Blocking wikipedia harms the cause of national reunification. What
wikipedia provides is a forum for Chinese speakers from both the Mainland,
Taiwan, Hong Kong, and overseas Chinese to jointly create a description of
the world, and having these diverse groups working on a single project
promotes national unification.

I should point out that my background is that of an American-born Chinese, and
I’ve found wikipedia to be useful in strengthening a sense of national
identity of being part of the Chinese community. The nation-state was
created by the railroad and the telegraph, and wikipedia and the internet is
going to have profound political consequences in the 21st century. My point
is that these effects are largely favorable to the Chinese government in some
ways, and that it is in their interest to embrace the technology.

Personally, I thought that the resulting article was extremely superficial since it contained very little insight or depth. In order to do an in-depth analysis of the difference in one article would take a week, and to do a fair as systematic comparison of Chinese and English wikipedia would be a task worthy of a masters dissertation and to go into the political and social background of these differences would be a doctoral dissertation.

If you have one week and a deadline, the most you can do is not to be misleading, and I thought that the NYT article was a very bad example of taking some isolated facts and putting it into a frame that was very misleading. It’s the Chinese government is surpressing the truth and the poor Chinese are brainwashed by propaganda notion. The worst part of is that they could have done a much better job if they had an internet link to the primary source. Just reading the English article on Mao Zedong and the discussion would tell most people that the article is incomplete.

Now if this were a wiki article, what I’d do is to go into the article, add some verified tags, and change it. The writer would note their objections, and I’d note mine. I’d insist that the article note that Chinese article removed both positive and negative descriptions of Mao. I’d also include some information about the history that I remember, and since my memory is fuzzy, other people involved would include there’s. Since space is not a premium, I’d insist that the Chinese article be translated in full in English, the English into Chinese and a side-by-side comparison be available, and I’m sure that if you have thousands of eyes looking the comparison, people would spot some interesting and subtle things.

I suspect that doing things the wiki way would end up with a better much article.

Anyway in the interest of doing something constructive I sent the following e-mail

You might be interested in two notes that I made about the article that came
out this morning.


Those bypass the great firewall.  I do apologize if I seem a little harsh, but
I do think that the article is missing some details that are extremely
important.  As always I do sympathize with the difficulties that reporters
face in generating articles with time and space constraints, but I do feel
that the article reinforces some simplistic stereotypes rather than provide
more insight into the complexities of a situation.

Please do feel free to response on the blog if you think my opinions are
inaccurate or unfair.  Also while, I will keep confidentiality in personal
e-mail unless otherwise requested, I would much rather you give me permission
to post e-mail with personal information removed.

Note on New York Times article about Wikipedia slant

Filed under: china, wikipedia — twofish @ 4:25 am

This is a horribly misleading article, and it’s ironic that in talking about leaving out facts, the NYT article leaves out one very important one.

Now this is a story about how brainwashed Chinese people that the leave out important facts in their encyclopedia article and have it more biased than objective Westerners.  Except for one thing….

Let’s print out the entire paragraph of the English wikipedia article

Mao pursued the ideal of a strong, prosperous and socially egalitarian China, endeavoring to build a modern socialist nation. However, the failings of Mao’s most significant socio-political programs — including the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution — have been widely criticized. Mao is a controversial figure today. While officially held in high regard in China, he is today rarely mentioned by the government, whose policies have diverged greatly from those of Mao. Maoists around the world look to Mao as a great revolutionary leader whose thought is the highest expression of Marxism. Many of his detractors however accuse him of having been a mass-murderer, holding his leadership accountable for the deaths of tens of millions of innocent Chinese.

This is the version of Revision as of 22:41, 15 November 200

And it is also the current version as of  11/29/2006

Now the Chinese leaves out the millions of deaths, but it also leaves out the positive statements about Mao, which is important fact that the New York Times article didn’t emphasize.  What this basically means is that the Chinese summary is no more pro-Mao or slanted than the English one.  The English one mentions both positive and negative aspects of Mao in the summary of the man, the Chinese wikipedia article mentions neither.  I was involved in the editing of the English Mao article, and the issue was that there is someone that insisted on putting the millions of deaths line in the header, which prompted others who were more favorable to Mao to insist that the positive contributions were added.  In the Chinese wikipedia case, this edit war didn’t happen so neither the positive or the negative contributions were added.  The result is that the Chinese wikipedia article (which by the way does include death tolls) in the Great Leap Forward article is no more biased toward Mao than the English article.

Now one has to ask about the bias of the NYT article that mentioned prominently the deletion of the millions of deaths line, but did not mention that the Chinese wikipedia article also doesn’t mention the “positive contributions to China”.

November 29, 2006

Interesting poll numbers from Taiwan

Filed under: china, taiwan — twofish @ 4:31 pm

Here is an interesting set of poll numbers.

This poll gives

Yu added that the percentage of respondents who considered themselves “Taiwanese” had increased from 56 percent to 60 percent, while the percentage of respondents who considered themselves both Taiwanese and Chinese had dropped one percentage point to 34 percent.

However, the same organization asks the same question in a tracking poll….

And then get equal number of respondents saying that they are both Taiwanese and Chinese or Taiwanese only.

It’s interesting. There are two explanations I can think of for the change. One is that the exact question might be different. The second was that the first poll was paired with a question “should Taiwan be independent even if Beijing does not allow it” and that might have provoked a nationalistic reaction. I’m personally more interested in the tracking poll because that gives you a time series in which biases cancel out.

One interesting note is that reading the Chinese version of the question “should Taiwan be independent even if China objects” gives you a different flavor. One change is that the term “be independent” and “declare independence” is very different. The other thing is that Chinese uses ying-gai which has a very subtle difference in meaning. I should exercise even though I’m not going to do it.  If I wasn’t familar with the organization running the poll I’d question that but the Election Study Center of National Chengchi University does good work, so I trust there are no basic methodological problems.

The difference between the polls gives you a flavor for the two different uses of polls. The first is to justify a position. HA!! HA!!! 60% of Taiwanese say they are Taiwanese, and so shut up all this talk about unification. In this situation you want to simplify the poll questions and results. The second is to figure out what is going on. In this situation you want to ask multiple questions in different ways and realize that you are simplifying a complex situation. Something that has been mentioned about these polls is that increasingly when people are asked this question, they question the question. What do you mean when you mean Chinese?

When I’m in a internet debate, I tend to use the the first mode, but I only bring this up when I try to rebut someone that is oversimplifying things, and I try not to get into “see everyone agrees with me” mode when I’m arguing (because most of the time people don’t agree with me). I’m more interested in the second use of polls because that tells you want people’s moods are, and what is politically possible and what is not. Personally, I’d like to push things toward Chinese unification, and if I get an accurate account of what people believe (and people believe some very complex things) this makes it more effective to move things in that direction. What I’m really interested is something that is hard to capture in a poll which is not what you believe, but what are you *willing* to believe and what will make you change your mind. Product marketing. I sell ideas like other people sell soap.

The key result is that things are not hopeless, and barring some extremely stupid move by Beijing that will get everyone in trouble, it’s unlikely that things will become hopeless. The key result is that most Taiwanese are in the “status quo now, decide later” point of view. My main hope right now is that nothing will happen that will force people to make a decision now, and fortunately since neither the PRC or the US want to get into a war, that’s unlikely to the point that I only lose occasional sleep rather than spend entire nights worrying about this.

To connect this with the personal. On February 13, 1991, I made a decision that had far reaching impact on my life and was essentially a bet on the future of world geopolitics. Between 2001 and 2005, I was very concerned that this decision turned out to be an extremely stupid one which would doom me for life. I was lucky. Things could have turned out very badly for me (if the pan-greens had won the 2004 legislative election and then pushed for a referendenum and Iraq had gone slightly less badly which would have increased the power of the hard nationalists in Washington). They didn’t. They still could. It’s all luck and chance, and things could happen so that in 2010, my decision that evening would look really stupid. I can’t control world events. I can influence them, but they work in unpredictable ways.

W hat I can do, is to play the hand that I’m dealt with honor, dignity, and with a deep commitment to do the right thing. Part of playing the hand is to fight when you can, and keep hope up with there is a reasonable chance that things will get better. The polls say that people think I’m crazy, but things aren’t hopeless, and that’s good enough for me.

Protected: Personal notes

Filed under: academia, personal — twofish @ 8:28 am

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Notes on microcredit in China

Filed under: china, finance — twofish @ 7:50 am

Some notes regarding microcredit in China in response to an article in ChinaLawBlog.

I’m very dubious of one size fits all solutions and silver bullets, and I’m also dubious of the “bad official” explanation of things.  OK, the official wants to keep his job and maximize his income.  Why does he have to block project X to keep his job and maximize his income?

It seems to me that microcredit doesn’t solve the essential problem of the Chinese peasantry. In contrast to much of the rest of the developing world, Chinese peasants have land use rights which gives them exclusive right to generate income from a piece of land which gives them enough money for subsistence and some extra that they are saving. Also in contrast to much of the rest of the world, Chinese peasants have access to informal sources of capital to start businesses, and I’ve never heard of lack of capital being a major problem in starting a business (expanding businesses is another story).

The trouble is that the Chinese peasant has much of his or her savings locked up because they do not have pension benefits or health insurance or access to funds for education. In this situation, I don’t see microcredit making much of a difference, because the peasant has the money in the bank, it’s just that they can’t use it because they need it when they get sick or get old. Having some form of health insurance and government funding of education would make a lot larger difference since it would allow the peasants to free up income that they already have. Insurance in particular would be helpful because the current method of having everyone save up huge amounts of money in reserve is not very efficient.

The other point is why the government is careful not to endorse microcredit initiatives. Again, the issue that there is large amounts of cash in the countryside. The problem (which happened in the early 1990’s) is that people deposited this cash into an institution thinking that the government was insuring the deposit. The institution then got into trouble loaning money to the wrong people, leaving the peasants and the government with a big mess. This is probably why microcredit agencies are allowed to lend, but not to accept deposits.

The basic issue that I think faces the Chinese peasantry is not access to credit, but rather access to places to *save* their money that results in save, reasonable returns. This decreases the amount they need to save for retirement. Also there needs to be some access to health insurance and public goods like education, which decreases the amount needed to save for these things. Once that is done, I think you’ll find more than enough capital getting unlocked.

Also the idea that the government just doesn’t want independent financial institutions in rural China is a bit misplaced, since any financial institution in rural China is not going to be independent for very long. The fear I think is that the well-meaning microcredit agencies will set up shop in rural China, get “captured” by the local officials which then take deposits from peasants and rechannel them into dubious ventures, and when it all falls apart, there is a mess for the central government to clean up. This is *exactly* what happened with rural financial institutions in the early 1990’s, and there still is a $150 billion mess that remains to be cleaned up. (This mess got second priority after the $350 billion mess in the state commercial banks.)

Starting some fires

Filed under: academia, massachusetts institute of technology, wikipedia — twofish @ 4:15 am

The question that I’d like to pose, and which student government plays a key role is this. Does the rigid class structure in academia make any sense? I claim that it doesn’t. The other question is “Is the rigid class structure of academia spreading to society as a whole with bad social consequences?” and I claim the answer to this question is yes.

Academia has a very rigid class structure that resembles medieval nobility with professors at the top and undergraduates at the bottom. But in a world of “lifetime learning” does this make any sense? As far as 3-d visualization goes, I’m an undergraduate. Once you question the division between “teachers” and “students” and realize that being a teacher and being a student are situational roles that can switch, then a lot of other
questions open themselves up. In a K-99 world, what is the role of student government?

The interesting things about rigid class structures is that the people at the top often don’t benefit from them. In the brief conversations I was having with Dean Margaret MacVicar my senior year, I think she began to realize how powerless she really was, and was trying to reach out to the UA. She was talking in terms of having students play a role in determining curriculum, and that completely changes the power structure of MIT.

There are a lot of deep and scary questions here. I think the questions that  I’d like to pose are much too scary for people within the Institute to even think about, but since I’m half outside, and have a vested interest in destroy the power structure rather than joining it, I have some freedom to pose them.

And it’s a good thing to ask scary questions. Every communications technology has brought massive changes in power structures and there is no reason to think that the internet will be any different. There is a need to question some of the basic fundamentals aspects of MIT, especially those elements that separate academic-haves from academic-have nots, and dangers in not asking these questions.

Anyway its going to take years if not decades for these processes to work themselves out. I’m just starting some fires.

November 24, 2006

Hell freezing over

Filed under: china, iraq, neoconservative, taiwan, wikipedia — twofish @ 7:12 am

It tells you how much the world has changed when I end up being one of the strongest supporters of Chen Shui-Bian.  It also tells you how much the world has changed when I up being more optimistic about the neoconservative program than the neoconservatives.

The thing is that I happen to believe in the United States and its fundamental values, and I happen to believe that when you have your basic values right, and you keep fighting, you will win.  Iraq is just the first small parts of a decades-long struggle against barbarism and poverty.

Where I think the neoconservatives got it wrong is that they were infected with arrogance, utopianism, and most importantly an unwillingness to listen.  The basic values of the United States, which I argue are constitutionalism, tolerance, and rule of law, are basic human values.  Consequently when the rest of the world thinks you are wrong, you need to do some soul searching.

I’m finding the pessimism of the neo-conservatives more than a little annoying.  They are finger-pointing about mistakes, not realizing that people are falliable, and any foreign policy program that assumes that people won’t make mistakes and be able to recover from them is basically flawed.  There utopianism is also hurting them.  When times are good, people find me annoyingly pessimistic, but the thing about my pessimism and my faith in Murphy’s Law is that when everything falls apart (and everything will fall apart), I tend not to give up.

For a number of years, I’d been (justifiably) worried that the neo-conservatives would get the US into a war with China.  That hasn’t happen, and that isn’t going to happen.   The fact that we have a functioning trade and economic system that includes the US, China, India, and Europe means that we have a fundamental coalition against the Bin-Ladenists.

The fire of war has burned off a lot of idiocy (like the idea that China is the number one enemy of the United States).  The neo-conservatives can feel miserable about Iraq for a short time, but at the end of the day, things are what they are, and the basic reality is that we are in an epic struggle over the fate of the planet.

We are at war, and we will win……

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