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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

December 24, 2006

Written by C.N.

Tradition vs. Modernity in Chinese Classrooms

I’ve written about slow march of modern American-style capitalist consumer culture into traditional Chinese society on several occasions (click here for the latest such post). As the Christian Science Monitor reports, the latest example of this clash of contemporary vs. traditional is in regard to how Confucian ideals have been reemphasized to young students in Chinese classrooms, and how this will affect China’s ongoing modernization and globalization:

as the government asks schools like Bowen to focus more on classic Chinese literature and art – including the teachings of Confucius, who emphasized traditional values and respect for elders – recent national curriculum reforms also call for more creativity and critical thinking in the classrooms, including some approaches to teaching and learning more traditionally found in the United States and Europe.

The apparent contrasts in teaching trends reflect China’s ambitions to forge ahead as a player in the world economic scene without completely absorbing Western cultural values along the way. So while some lessons transport the children back to ancient China, others aim to prepare the students for a more modern, global future.

Even as the children at Bowen practice their ancient recitations, Chan points out some of the school’s other telling features, including summer foreign-exchange programs and a new 10-story international center that towers over the rest of the campus. Wang Jiajun, the principal of the Beijing Huijia Private School, says the goal is simple: “We want our students to become world people with Chinese hearts.” . . .

Noticeably absent from many civics courses is the history of Chinese communism and Mao Zedong. Instead, the works of Confucius, who emphasized community harmony, are thought to help in producing more obedient and peaceful citizens.

That last cited paragraph is telling — it seems that there is a slightly hidden agenda here. Confucian ideals teach Chinese citizens to be obedient members of society, to encourage them to submit to authority and the “common good.” In other words, the communist government knows exactly what it’s doing — using elements of traditional Chinese culture that supports their ideology to reinforce a sense of national identity and solidarity.

Pretty clever, actually. It looks like China’s rulers will do whatever they can to maintain their monopoly of power and control, with a little help from Confucius.

December 22, 2006

Written by C.N.

China’s Middle Class Takes a Stand

There is a Chinese proverb that describes the Emperor as the wind and the people as the grass: the grass bends according to the wind. This adage summarizes the traditional Chinese view on matters of government and populace. Ironically, these roles may be reversing as the Chinese government (at municipal level) is beginning to bend to the urgings of its new and growing middle class.

A recent article in the New York Times (NYT), recounted how the middle class residents of Shenzhen, one of China’s richest cities, successfully organized civic opposition against a highway that would have dissected their neighborhood. The article did not confirm if the neighborhood was spared from being split, but it affirmed that its residents achieved significant compromises by reengineering the highway and lessening its detrimental impact. This occasion was celebrated by the NYT as an important benchmark in China’s evolution towards a more participatory citizenry, and less authoritarian government.

This middle class is beginning to chafe under authoritarian rule, and over time, the quiet, well-organized challenges of the newly affluent may have the deepest impact on the country’s future.

Shenzhen has also spawned a local research group known as Interhoo, an independent association of civic-minded professionals who discuss municipal policy issues, publish position papers and quietly lobby the government over development strategy and other issues.

Academics and others who study the city’s development say it is no surprise that Shenzhen is emerging as the cradle of movements like this. From the start, its proximity to Hong Kong has made it unusually open to outside influence.

The NYT also reported that Shenzhen residents also extend their activism to other areas of concern, as some individuals run for office at the local level. But the article also warns that many advocates still face resistance from corrupt officials who resort to legal manipulation, electoral irregularities, and harassment. It is a reminder that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) still has the final word on authority, and it is habituated in repressing its critics rather than listening.

The angst felt by the CCP is well expressed in another proverb: “The relationship between the government and its people is like a boat on the water: the water supports the boat, and the water can also overturn the boat.” Perhaps the CCP is coming to the realization that it must relinquish some of its powers, in order to better manage popular discontent. Maybe it is just a question of deciding which powers they want to keep. In any case, it is better to lose some cargo than to sink the ship.

Hopefully, China’s civic activism will mature into a force that empowers ALL its people, not just the nouvelle riche.

December 21, 2006

Written by C.N.

Asian American Wins Survivor

You might remember several months ago the furor that erupted over CBS’s plan to structure their next Survivor reality TV series based on racial groups. As it turns out, after the dust finally settled, one of the Asian American contestants, Yul Kwon, a management consultant from San Mateo, CA was crowned the million dollar winner:

Kwon, a 31-year-old management consultant who lives in San Mateo, Calif., was the brain with degrees from Stanford University and Yale Law School. He controlled the strategic aspect of the game, particularly after he found a hidden piece of jewelry that guaranteed him one-time immunity from being voted off the island. . . .

For a game that began in racial controversy, it turned into a showcase for the nation’s diversity, according to Kwon. “Survivor” producers were criticized for segregating four, four-person teams along ethnic lines at the game’s start: white, black, Hispanic and Asian American. Despite the racial divides this year, the game seemed less contentious and bitter than in other seasons. Kwon said that the cast was very likeable and filled with “genuinely good-hearted people.”

“I don’t think there was a single person who harbored any racist attitude on the show,” he said. “Obviously tensions run high during the show but everyone was able to put it behind them and coming together at the library reunion, everyone was happy to have the experience.” Kwon said earlier that he wanted to do the show to improve and expand the image of Asian-Americans and he hoped that he achieved his goal

“I don’t think I was the best person to represent my community, but I had this golden opportunity in my lap,” he said. “I wanted to break stereotypes. When I was growing up, I didn’t see many that looked like myself that could be a role model.”

Congratulations to Yul on a job well done. I normally don’t watch Survivor, but this time I did tune in a couple of times just to see how these racial teams would work and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised — as Yul said, there didn’t seem to be any racial hostility among the competitors at all, or at least none that were shown on TV. It appears that CBS’s experiment paid off after all.

Regarding Yul’s role and its effect on the image of Asian Americans, on the one hand, it is great that an Asian American contestant finally won and yes, that is a big accomplishment. At the same time, I can’t help wondering whether his method of winning — by relying on brains and cunning strategy rather than brute strength — may only perpetuate the image of Asian Americans as smart, plotting, and perhaps even a little conniving, rather than physically dominant.

Nonetheless, I would rather have an Asian American win by using his brains than one that has to again settle for second best. Great job, Yul.

December 19, 2006

Written by C.N.

Rosie O’Donnell’s Anti-Chinese Comments

For those who don’t know already, Rosie O’Donnell is an actress and talk show host who has seen her fair share of controversy through the years. The latest incident occurred on Dec. 5, 2006 on her talk show The View when she was discussing actor Danny DeVito’s recent drunken run-in with police and how she predicted that the story was being discussed around the world: “You know, you can imagine in China it’s like, ‘Ching-chong, ching-chong. Danny DeVito. Ching-chong, ching-chong-chong. Drunk. The View. Ching-chong.'” The video of the incident is below:

As the San Francisco Chronicle points out, predictably, the Asian American community was outraged and just as predictably, O’Donnell was absolutely clueless about why Asian Americans found her ‘ching chong’ comments offensive:

So far, she has not apologized for her Dec. 5 comments as Asian Americans in the Bay Area and across the country are demanding. But she has responded on her blog at She writes that she “wasn’t mocking / that’s my best impression” and that her “bad accent was not meant to insult or degrade / linguistic incompetence — guilty / mocking — never.” She tells one detractor to go “f- urself.”

Spoofing a language belittles the people who speak it, community leaders say. They also say it’s disappointing to hear such insensitivity from O’Donnell, who has championed gay and lesbian rights and taken others to task for being homophobic. “She’s shrugging it off, saying get over it, but it’s hypocritical,” said Pauline Sze, 20, a UC Berkeley student and an editor of Hardboiled, a news magazine focusing on Asian American issues.

I should be shocked at this particular incident but unfortunately, I’m not. First, many Americans are still completely clueless as to why making fun of someone’s language — and by implication, their culture and identity — is blatantly offensive and racist. But second, historically oppressed groups such as gays/lesbians are certainly not immune from being racist — or at least being completely racially ignorant.

In other words, the same kinds of prejudices and stereotypes that are reinforced and perpetuated against Asian Americans among “straight” Americans are also reinforced and perpetuated among gays and lesbians as well. Being “oppressed” does not mean that you cannot be guilty of oppressing others. When that happened, as the SF Chronicle article points out, Rosie O’Donnell was exposed for what she is — an ignorant and loud-mouthed hypocrite, plain and simple.

December 17, 2006

Written by C.N.

Chinese River Dolphin “Functionally Extinct”

On Thursday, December 14, 2006, the Guardian Unlimited published a story of immense sadness for members of the scientific community and for those who care about conservation. The Baiji, a rare Chinese dolphin that inhabited the Yangtze River, was declared extinct after a six-week hunt failed to find any living specimen. Even if there are one or two living dolphins, a Swiss naturalist who was part of the team declared the Baiji “functionally extinct.”

To be sure, animal extinction is not a phenomenon confined to China or to contemporary times. A quick check of the Encyclopedia Britannica will provide a list of extinct species world over. But the case of the Baiji river dolphin is particularly sad because the scientific community knew of their endangered status, but was unable to affect Chinese policy in the same way it was able to save the Giant Panda.

The Panda has two major benefits: its habitat is easier to protect because of its distance from heavy industry and human activity; and its “cute factor” is a huge asset for zoos world over. Unfortunately, the Baiji did not have these benefits. It was doomed by three things:

1. Its habitat, the Yangtze River, is indispensable to the Chinese economy

2. Unlike the Panda, the Baiji was obscure and did not receive the same level of attention.

3. Keeping dolphins in captivity, let alone breeding them, is not easily done.

Twenty years of rapid economic growth with little or no environmental protection has taken a heavy toll on China’s wildlife. Although international pressure has compelled Beijing into recognizing the gravity of an impeding environmental crisis; conservation still faces tremendous odds. This is especially true when economic interest collides with endangered species, as articulated by the Guardian:

The dolphin, which dates back 20 million years, has been pushed to extinction by severe degradation of its habitat. Increasingly noisy shipping traffic on the Yangtze affected the dolphin’s sonar, while sever pollution and over-fishing diminished food supplies.

The disappearance of the “goddess of the Yangtze” is a sobering reminder to the Chinese government about the extent to which the country’s economic transformation is affecting the environment.

As China gains economic parity with West, so does its environmental problem. Saving China’s environment will require political will and the participation of the people. Let’s hope other species can avoid the same tragic fate as the Baiji.

December 13, 2006

Written by C.N.

Asian American Figure Skaters

The editor-in-chief at International Figure Skating magazine alerted me to the increasing prominence of several up-and-coming Asian and Asian American figure skaters. For those who are interested to learn more, here are some links:

Asada Leads Ladies Field; US and Japan Each Have Five Entrants
Japanese Men Sweep Podium at NHK
Mao Asada Makes History; Leads Sweep of Ladies at NHK
Yu-Na Kim Makes History at Trophée Eric Bompard in Paris/Wins Korea First Ever Grand Prix Gold Medal
Oda Wins Men’s Title at Skate America
Oda Rocks House; Leads After Short program at Skate America
Mike Ando Stand Atop the Podium at Skate America: Inoue and Baldwin Win Pairs

It looks like the success of Asian American figure skaters such as Kristy Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan has generated more interest among Asian Americans in the sport. Good for them and good luck to everyone.

December 10, 2006

Written by C.N.

Asian Americans Overrepresented at Univ. of CA

This should come as no surprise to any student who attends one of the nine University of California campuses, but now we have data to show the exact extent to which Asian American students are overrepresented within the U.C. system. Not only that, but at seven of the nine U.C. campuses, Asian Americans are the largest racial/ethnic group (even larger than Whites) and at my undergraduate alma mater U.C. Irvine. Asian Americans are the majority at 51% of the undergrad population:

Asian-Americans – 14.1 percent of California’s 2005 high school graduating class – make up 41.8 percent of the freshman class at UC campuses, up from 36 percent a decade ago. Meanwhile, blacks at 3 percent and whites at 32.2 percent make up smaller shares of UC’s freshman class than they did previously. Latinos account for 16.3 percent of UC freshmen, up from 13 percent a decade ago, but still less than half their 36.5 percentage of state high school graduates. . . .

If the high Asian numbers at UC are reflective of anything, Teranishi said, it is UC’s heavy reliance on grades and test scores. The UC admissions process has two phases: the first looks at grades and test scores to determine who is eligible for the university. The second part involves specific campuses considering academic and non-academic elements to select whom to admit. Asians have the largest portion of students meeting UC eligibility requirements, 31.4% in 2003, compared with an overall average of 14.4% among all California high school seniors. . . .

Some predict that certain minority groups will continue to shrink at UC. That’s prompted a group of influential UC academics to propose changes to UC’s decades-old eligibility system. By relying only on course grades and standardized test scores, UC’s eligibility may not reflect a wide enough definition of merit, said Michael Brown, a UC Santa Barbara education professor. Adding the consideration of non-academic factors, such as leadership, initiative or improvement in grades in the course of one’s high school career, may better gauge a student’s potential, Brown said.

Diversity and representation in education and college admissions is always a thorny issue. On the one hand, I’ve posted about how Asian Americans continue to be denied admissions to elite private colleges at higher rates than any other racial group. On the other hand, many Asian Americans feel that there’s more to life than just academics and that too many Asian American students at a single school can actually hurt us in the end.

It can be tough to separate out these different, but interrelated arguments. But the one thing that I do want to keep emphasize as important is that, for various reasons, Latino and Black students are still significantly underrepresented at the U.C.’s. With that in mind, I generally support efforts to expand the admissions criteria to include other “extracurricular” achievements that would ideally help more Black and Latino students get into the U.C.’s.

But then the question becomes, if this happens, would Asians lose out and get rejected even though they have stronger “objective” qualifications, which is exactly what’s happening now at many elite private colleges? Is it inevitable that when one group wins, another group loses? Honestly, I don’t have an answer for that yet. Stay tuned . . .

December 7, 2006

Written by C.N.

China’s Love Boat Matchmaking Cruise

Say you’re a Chinese entrepreneur who’s newly rich, single, and looking for a wife. Sure, you can do the usual things and try the usual spots to try to find a wife, but there’s a more (supposedly) convenient alternative now available: matchmaking cruises designed to pair rich Chinese men with beautiful and desirable Chinese women:

Men on the cruise scheduled to go along Shanghai’s Huangpu River must be worth at least 2 million yuan ($250,000), the China Daily quoted organizer Xu Tianli as saying. Xu said more than 20 men had signed up for the Nov. 25 cruise and that half of those registered to take part were worth more than 200 million yuan ($25 million).

Fewer than 30 of the 1,000 woman who applied were accepted, Xu said. “Only those who were attractive in every category can take part in this event,” Xu said, without giving the specific criteria interested female applicants had to meet.

“Rich men are normally very busy, and most of the women they meet are there for work or business, which these men consider to be unsuitable for relationships,” Xu said. One of the men who signed up for the cruise, identified only by his surname Sun, said “appearance is most important to me.”

That’s right, who would want a Chinese woman who’s just as assertive, intelligent, and financially successful as you when you can have a good old-fashioned trophy wife. She’ll be more than happy to wait around your luxurious condo for you once you get home, order around your servants and maids while you’re away, and wile away the hours while you’re gone by shopping and contributing to China’s burgeoning capitalist economy.

Ahhh, the life of the newly rich in China . . .

December 5, 2006

Written by C.N.

U.S. Trying to Bridge Gap to Arabs & Muslims

One of the topics that I’ve consistently posted about is how Arabs, Muslims, and anybody perceived to be Arab or Muslim continue to be subjected to racial profiling, intolerance, and discrimination. Ultimately, the primary culprit of this has been the U.S. government by not just direct actions against Arabs and Muslims since 9/11 but also because of creating and in many ways, reinforcing anti-Arab/Muslim perceptions and sentiment.

But are we now at a turning point where things will improve? We can certainly hope that now that the Democrats control Congress that, at least in theory, they should be less tolerant of such blatant forms of discrimination. Also, as the Christian Science Monitor reports, another glimmer of hope is that the Bush administration is actually trying more diligently to reach out to Arab and Muslim Americans to improve relations with them:

Across the country . . . officials of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FBI are reaching out to Muslim-Americans in an attempt to bridge the huge gap of mistrust that developed on both sides after 9/11. It’s sometimes an uncomfortable process, as Ficke found. It’s also not being applied consistently across the country, working well in some places – like New York, where the Muslim Advisory Council meets regularly – and not so well in others. But homeland-security experts and Arab- and Muslim-American leaders believe such outreach is crucial to maintaining the nation’s security and strengthening its social fabric. . . .

There’s no question the US Muslim community felt the brunt of the FBI’s counterterrorism and law-enforcement initiatives after 9/11, say experts. More than 1,200 immigrants, mostly Arab and Muslim males, were detained and denied due process for months. The Justice Department’s own inspector general concluded that their detentions were “indiscriminate and haphazard,” with no clear distinction made between those held for immigration violations and those who were suspected terrorists. The report also found “a pattern of physical and verbal abuse” by correction officers. Ultimately, only a handful of those detained were charged with a terrorism-related offense, and 231 were deported.

The Justice Department also set up a special program that required male visitors from 24 Arab and Muslim countries to register with local immigration offices. More than 80,000 men did so. Immigration officials found an estimated 13,000 were “out of status,” which means there were problems with their visas. They’re now awaiting deportation hearings. But experts say many of the visa problems were caused by inaccurate data and long delays in processing applications for permanent status. The Justice Department eventually canceled the program.

It’s a nice development but one that is much too late in the whole scheme of things. While federal authorities were running rampant on the civil and human rights of Muslim and Arab Americans, any trust that could have been developed between these two sets of communities may have been permanently damaged.

I suppose the federal authorities’ efforts now are better than nothing at all, but they’ll have to put their money where their mouth is in order to convince us that they are genuinely sincere about such outreach efforts. If they’re gonna talk the talk, they’re gonna have to walk the walk . . . otherwise, it’ll be the same old, same old.

December 3, 2006

Written by C.N.

Rejected Asian American Applicant Sues Princeton

As I’ve written about before, the effects of affirmative action on Asian Americans is a hotly-debated topic. Adding fuel to the fire is the latest development — an Asian American applicant with seemingly stellar qualifications was rejected at Princeton and has filed a federal complaint against the school for discrimination:

His complaint states that he received 800s on the mathematics, critical reading and writing parts of the SAT, that he graduated in the top 1 percent of his high school class, that he completed nine Advanced Placement classes by the time he graduated, and that he had been active in extracurricular activities as well — serving as a delegate at Boys State, working in Costa Rica, etc. . . .

Even if Li was a strong applicant and Princeton knew he was Chinese, that doesn’t demonstrate discrimination. To try to do so, Li is pointing to research done by two Princeton scholars and published in Social Science Quarterly. The research looked at admissions decisions at elite colleges and found that without affirmative action, the acceptance rate for African American candidates would be likely to fall by nearly two-thirds, from 33.7 percent to 12.2 percent, while the acceptance rate for Hispanic applicants probably would be cut in half, from 26.8 percent to 12.9 percent.

While white admit rates would stay steady, Asian students would be big winners under such a system. Their admission rate in a race-neutral system would go to 23.4 percent, from 17.6 percent. And their share of a class of admitted students would rise to 31.5 percent, from 23.7 percent. . . .

Last year, she said, Princeton rejected about half of all the applicants who had perfect SAT scores — and in doing so rejected people of a range of ethnicities. “Princeton doesn’t discriminate against Asian Americans,” she said. Princeton does use affirmative action to recruit a diverse class, Cliatt said, but it does so through individual reviews of applications, not with separate policies for students from different racial and ethnic groups.

We should note however, that this study stands in opposition to other data which show that since affirmative action was ended in California, Texas, and Washington, the number of Asian American law school students has actually declined. So is there a middle ground here? Can Asian American applicants get a fair shake in the context of affirmative action programs that favor Blacks and Latinos?

I still think the answer is yes. I think it’s going to be inevitable that some applicants with “higher” objective qualifications will get rejected in favor of other applicants with “lower” objective qualifications. However, as long as minimum standards are met and that the goal of such programs is to create a racially and ethnically diverse class that gives students from less privileged backgrounds an equal chance at admissions than more privileged applicants, I feel that affirmative action still has a place in college admissions and other areas of American society.