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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 31, 2007

Written by C.N.

Changing Gender Attitudes in South Korea

It’s a well-known phenomenon that in virtually all Asian countries, there has been and continues to be a strong traditional preference of males over females. One of the consequences of this is that pregnancies are more likely to aborted if the fetus is a girl.

In turn, this has led to growing gender imbalances in many countries and worries about significant social problems in the future because of this gender imbalance. However, as the New York Times reports, this gender imbalance is actually being reversed in South Korea, as the cultural notions about the value of boys versus girls are slowly changing:

According to a study released by the World Bank in October, South Korea is the first of several Asian countries with large sex imbalances at birth to reverse the trend, moving toward greater parity between the sexes. Last year, the ratio was 107.4 boys born for every 100 girls, still above what is considered normal, but down from a peak of 116.5 boys born for every 100 girls in 1990.

The most important factor in changing attitudes toward girls was the radical shift in the country’s economy that opened the doors to women in the work force as never before and dismantled long-held traditions, which so devalued daughters that mothers would often apologize for giving birth to a girl. . . .

In the 1970s and ’80s, the country threw itself into an industrial revolution that would remake society in ways few South Koreans could have imagined.

Sons drifted away to higher-paying jobs in the cities, leaving their parents behind. And older Koreans found their own incomes rising, allowing them to save money for retirement rather than relying on their sons for support.

Married daughters, no longer shackled to their husbands’ families, returned to provide emotional or financial support for their own elderly parents.

In short, because achieving a comfortable economic situation is no longer so dependent on the husband’s income, the value of South Korean wives has increased based on their own economic contributions to their families and because they are more likely to provide emotional support for their aging parents.

On the one hand, it’s nice to see that the old patriarchal notion that males are more valuable than females is beginning to reversed — that was always a sexist and discriminatory idea that unnecessarily led to much social inequality and division. In that regard, South Koreans should be applauded and their example will hopefully inspire other Asian countries to do the same.

But on the other hand, aren’t we just trading in one set of gender biases for another? In other words, while the overall status of women in South Korea has increased, much of that increase is apparently based on the expectation that wives will be primarily responsible for emotionally supporting their parents as they grow older.

Therefore, doesn’t this expectation only reinforce gender stereotypes and limit the overall life choices that women have?

I suppose you can’t change everything — or centuries of tradition — overnight, so perhaps we need to be satisfied with small, little victories, one at at a time. In other words, some progress is better than no progress.

December 27, 2007

Written by C.N.

Class Inequality Growing in India

It’s a well-documented phenomenon that wherever capitalism spreads and grows, it brings rising class inequality with it, as it makes a very small group of people very rich while keeping the vast majority of a country’s population poor or working-class. As the Christian Science Monitor reports, this process is now becoming evident in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, India:

Since February 2007, the value of India’s stock market has doubled to 20000 points, and the biggest winners have been India’s richest. Based on these gains, India’s four wealthiest men are now worth more than China’s 40 wealthiest combined. . . .

The top-heavy distribution of India’s stock-market billions is further amplifying the extremes of rich and poor in a country where an estimated 400 million people – more than the population of the United States – live on less than $1 a day. . . .

It is partly the legacy of out-of-date laws governing stock offerings. . . When going public, India’s largest companies need to make only 10 percent of their stock available to the public. Other Asian neighbors, such as Thailand and Malaysia, usually force a company to make available 25 to 40 percent of its stock. . . .

[As a result,] only 3 million Indians – from a working-age population of 321 million – hold stocks. A further 3.5 million hold stocks through mutual funds. The numbers are small, and the money invested is also modest.

As most people should know by now, India can indeed by a land of extremes — success and riches for some, grinding poverty and subsistence for many others.

Nonetheless, since India is still in the relatively early stages of global capitalist expansion and development, my hope is that there is still time for India to put into place measures that will help alleviate or even mitigate some of these inequalities before they get extreme.

Developing countries like India have the opportunity to forge a new model of capitalism for the rest of the world — one in which hard work and monetary riches can coexist with equality of opportunity for all social classes.

December 26, 2007

Written by C.N.

Asian Scientists Returning to Asia

In the academic and scientific research and development industries, it’s very common to find large numbers of Asian and Asian American scientists and researchers. For various reasons, a disproportionate number of Asians and Asian Americans are drawn to the sciences as a career and such fields have benefited tremendously from their work through the years.

However, as the San Diego Union-Tribune reports, after receiving their education and first work experiences inside the U.S., more Asian scientists are increasingly returning to their Asian home countries to work (thanks to AngryAsianMan for mentioning this first):

Frustrated by stagnating federal funding for research and clampdowns on visas, Asian scientists are increasingly returning to their homelands. One-quarter of the 700,000 students who left China between 1978 and 2003 have gone back, China’s Ministry of Education has reported.

Most of those left the United States recently, with more than 20,000 a year returning to China in the past five years, according to the ministry.

In countries with blossoming economies, such as China, South Korea, India and Singapore, governments have identified biotechnology and other high-tech industries as a way to expand beyond basic manufacturing. They are spending billions to underwrite companies, build high-tech parks and help startup businesses cut through red tape.

The trend has negative implications in the United States, which has already lost much of its high-tech manufacturing to outsourcing, said Greg Lucier, chief executive of Carlsbad-based biotechnology company Invitrogen. If foreign scientists continue to leave, the United States also could lose its lead in innovation.

The article goes on to note that it’s not just Chinese scientists leaving the U.S. to return to China — it’s also Indian high-tech workers doing the same and returning to India. Also and perhaps surprisingly, this trend also involves many top non-Asian American (primarily White) scientists being lured away to live and continue their work in Asia.

It looks like the U.S. is continuing to lose its lead in terms of being the premier place for scientific education and research. We already know that American elementary and high school students increasingly trail their counterparts around the world in terms of scientific knowledge, and now we have many of our top scientists leaving to go to Asia.

Basically, the U.S. is sowing what it planted — years and decades of cuts in scientific funding to pay for wars and tax cuts for the rich, politically-motivated debates over scientific research, and a general anti-immigrant sentiment have all led to this trend.

In the end, our loss will be Asia’s gain and when “traditionalist” Americans gripe about Asian countries outcompeting and surpassing the U.S. in scientific accomplishments, they will only have to look in the mirror to find someone to blame.

December 24, 2007

Written by C.N.

New Opportunities for People of Color on TV?

I’ve posted before about the power of media images in influencing how Americans see people of color, since our society is so visually-oriented and media-centric these days. In that context, does the current television writers’ strike open up new opportunities for a more culturally diverse representation of television images for people of color? My Vietnamese American colleague and well-respected writer Andrew Lam thinks so in a recent article at New America Media:

With no writers, an onslaught of reality shows are being scheduled for January. Fox will offer The Moment of Truth, something that mirrors Guantanamo. In it contestants are strapped to a lie detector and asked about their most intimate secrets, without, mercifully, waterboarding.

American Gladiators are also back and that show is self explanatory. Then there’s Oprah’s Big Five, an ABC show sponsored by Oprah Winfrey in which contestants are to give away a lot of money for the greatest benefit of society.

Next season, it seems now certain, will be the beginning of the non-fiction era of Hollywood, where documentary and “real” personalities, rule the airwaves.

Thus minorities, in many ways, should rejoice. People of color gain strong foothold in term of representation in the New Media. Reality TV – American Idol and Survivor top among them – is the programming genre in which real demographic is more fairly integrated.

Consider too: Characters of colors don’t just get on reality TV shows, many actually win them. Jun Song won Big Brother, Vecepita Towery and Yul Kwon won Survivor, Harlemm Lee won Fame, Ruben Studdard and Fantasia Barrino won American Idol.

Asians, traditionally excluded in Hollywood, in fact, are winning quite a bit considering being a small population in the US. Vietnamese alone counted for four. Chloe Dao sewed her way to the top in Project Runway, there’s also Hung Huynh, who won on Top Chef, using fishsauce as the base ingredient. Last Comic Standing got Dat Phan, a Vietnamese American who made fun of, what else, his mother’s accent.

I think Andrew has a point and his listing of the successes of contestants of color on various reality TV shows certainly is undeniable. So on the one hand, I think it’s a very positive development that people of color are apparently becoming more popular and successful on reality TV shows.

On the other hand, I think we as a society still need to address the fundamental problem — that “mainstream” TV dramas and sitcoms still systematically exclude or marginalize people of color, particularly Asian Americans. The writers’ strike will not last forever, and once it’s resolved, is it just going to be business as usual in terms of writing virtually all-White plots?

I applaud the success of contestants of color on reality TV shows, but I urge our communities not to lose sight of the real battle — more substantive writing and acting roles for people of color — particularly Asian Americans — on mainstream TV shows.

December 23, 2007

Written by C.N.

Should Americans Boycott Chinese Products?

As we reflect on the major news events of 2006, one of the most prominent headlines were the recalls of a multitude of Chinese-made consumer products and stories that questioned the overall safety and quality of goods made in China. With these events in mind, should American consumer boycott all products made in China to force Chinese companies to improve and clean up their act?

Undoubtedly, many Americans from all kinds of racial/ethnic, cultural, and political backgrounds are already doing that. However, a recent editorial in the Christian Science Monitor describes one family’s reason why they stopped boycotting Chinese-made products:

Our boycott wasn’t about politics or product safety. It was an experiment to measure the connections between my little family and China’s booming export economy. We wanted to know if we could shake free of China in our lives as consumers – and whether we even wanted to.

The boycott upended our lives. Our son pined for Chinese-made light sabers and monster trucks. We placated him with Danish Legos. Broken appliances could not be repaired or replaced. Our son’s sneakers cost nearly $70 when our only alternative was tennis shoes from Italy. . . .

But in 2005 I had learned that . . . self-reliance, at the level of the family and the nation, is a thing of the past. Nobody relinquishes independence without a fight. But that is what we have done, quietly and irreversibly, in turning to China and the rest of the world for so much of what we want and need at the bargain prices we have come to expect.

The boycott taught me something else: that I did not want to turn my back on China. I’m not minimizing its huma rights record or abuse of the environment, but I believe the solutions to those concerns and others lie in turning toward China, rather than away. . . .

I will keep reading recall notices, but I won’t toss China from the house completely. And when I watch my son step onto his new skateboard and take his first tentative glide, I will imagine him sailing toward the rest of the world, rather than away from it.

As I said, many Americans have very valid and passionate reasons for boycotting things made in China and I am not here to denounce or criticize their choices. However, as I’ve written before on promoting democracy and human rights in communist and/or totalitarian regimes around the world, I believe the most effective strategy is not to boycott and isolate those nations, but to engage them, just like the editorial describes.

Engagement does not mean that we ignore their abuses or failures and just pretend that everything is business as usual. Rather, engaging a totalitarian regime means keeping their abuses and failures in the spotlight, pressing them to improve their record, and integrating them into the international community where public pressure will likely lead to gradual, not overnight, improvements.

As an example, I’ve railed against capitalism many times in the past for the evil social consequences it brings, like rising social inequality. However, as many academics have pointed out, capitalism has also helped to facilitate popular democracy movements throughout history as well.

In other words, the world is rarely a cut-and-dry, black-or-white, moral-or-immoral proposition. There are lots of gray areas and lots of nuanced aspects that can produce positive and negative outcomes for certain groups. Whether it relates to capitalism or to China as a whole, we need to accentuate the positives and use them to gradually reduce the negatives.

That is why I support engagement over boycotting China.

December 20, 2007

Written by C.N.

How the World Sees China

How has recent news and media coverage about China’s economic rise combined with negative publicity about its unsafe consumer goods affected its overall image around the world? To shed light on that question, the well-respected Pew Research Center says that in most countries, China actually has a better public image than the U.S., although there is a general downward trend of China’s image over the years:

Pew Research Center survey on global attitudes toward China

In 27 of the 46 nations plus the Palestinian Territories, opinion regarding China is decidedly favorable; in just five countries are views of China significantly more negative than positive. By comparison, opinion about the United States is favorable in 25 of the 47 countries; but decidedly negative in many more countries – half or more of the publics in 18 countries express disapproving views of the United States.

China’s fans are most prevalent in the neighboring Asian countries of Malaysia (83% favorable), Pakistan (79%), Bangladesh (74%), Indonesia (65%), as well as in most African countries. . . . While global opinion of China remains mostly positive, it has soured somewhat in recent years – though not as widely as have attitudes toward the United States. . . .

The largest declines are observed among of China’s Asian neighbors (Japan, South Korea, and India), but significant slippage is also seen in Western Europe (Britain, France, Germany, Spain). . . . In 32 of 46 countries surveyed, China’s increasing military muscle is viewed with alarm.

Ironically, in addition to some of China’s biggest admirers being other Asian countries, other Asian countries are also its biggest detractors — Japan, India, South Korea, and Indonesia in particular (although for the last three, more of its citizens still have a positive attitude about China than a negative one).

What seems to be more troubling for China is that its image is clearly experiencing a downward trend — in 10 of 19 countries with longitudinal data, China’s image has fallen since 2002, with Nigeria being the only country in which China’s image has improved since 2002.

What I find most interesting is that the fears that many around the world have about China is not its growing economic power, growing thirst for oil, concerns over the quality of its consumer goods, nor its environmental record. Instead, the biggest fear is its rising military strength.

Granted that China has a million-man army and nuclear weapons, but unless I’m completely missing something, China has not been throwing its military weight around by threatening countries left and right, or by invading sovereign nations and overthrowing their governments, correct?

So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m slightly confused why people around the world, especially those who are not China’s regional neighbors, say their biggest fear about China is its military strength. If somebody can elaborate on that for me, please feel free.

December 18, 2007

Written by C.N.

Racial Profiling Against Indian Companies

The recent troubles concerning the quality of Chinese products has undoubtedly hurt the reputation of all Chinese companies. But what about India? In many ways, India lags behind China in terms of economic development and still experiences high-profile incidents of bad publicity, but should these shortcomings suggest that all Indian companies are inferior?

This question is at the heart of an emerging controversy in the corporate world. First, Ford Motor Co. is selling off one of its most prized and prestigious subsidiary units — Jaguar luxury cars. Two of the most serious potential buyers are Indian corporations. As Time magazine reports, the possibility that Jaguar will be owned by Indian companies has many people predicting doom and gloom for the brand:

A group of U.S. Jaguar dealers said they opposed the possibility that Ford, Jaguar’s owner, might sell the British luxury car brand to an Indian firm. . . . The dealers said that the sale to an Indian company would hurt Jaguar’s image.

“I don’t believe the U.S. public is ready for ownership out of India of a luxury car make,” Ken Gorin, chairman of the Jaguar Business Operations Council, told the Wall Street Journal. “And I believe it would severely throw a tremendous cast of doubt over the viability of the brand.”. . .

A few days later Indian Hotels, which owns the luxury Taj hotel chain and is itself a branch of the Tata empire, was told its overtures to New York Stock Exchange-listed luxury hotel and cruise firm Orient-Express were unwelcome — and potentially damaging. . . .

Many Indians shared Kumar’s sense of outrage. Commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath warned that, “There cannot be any discrimination against outward investment from India.” In an era of globalization, he said, “trade and investment [is] a two-way street.”. . .

Both Orient-Express and Jaguar’s Gorin emphasize that their judgments were based on business strategy alone. . . . “My concern is perception,” [Gorin] said. “And perception is reality.”

If people like Gorin want to talk about perceptions, by all means, let’s do so — the perception that Jaguar or any other “luxury” brand will be damaged if bought by an Indian company is about as blatantly ignorant, prejudiced, and racist as you can get.

It is nothing less than another ugly form of racial profiling — prejudging someone, some group, or an entire country based on biased perceptions and broad generalizations.

I find it rather ironic that “White corporate supremacists” like Gorin and Orient Hotels CEO Paul White (what an appropriate name) conveniently ignore the fact that Indian companies such as Tata, Mahindra & Mahindra, Indian Hotels, United Breweries Group/Kingfisher and others have become so successful and powerful despite their alleged “inferior” brand image, especially considering an “all-American” owner like Ford basically ran Jaguar into the ground under their ownership.

Ultimately, blaming one’s racist views on “consumer perception” is just a cop-out. It would have been better if people like Gorin and White would have just come out and said “Whites should not have to work for a bunch of third-world Indians” — at least that would have been more straightforward and honest on their part.


Update: On January 3, 2008, Ford Motor Company picked Tata Motors (one of the two Indian companies bidding) as its top pick to buy its Jaguar and Land Rover subsidiaries.

Second Update: On march 36, 2008, Tata Motors’ purchase of Jaguar and Land Rover for $2.3 billion was finalized and officially announced.

December 16, 2007

Written by C.N.

Indian American Becomes CEO of CitiGroup

I’m not exactly sure how many CEOs in the Fortune 500 there are, but I’m pretty sure it’s rather small, with just one Asian American female among that list. Whatever that number is, it just grew by one as Indian American Vikram Pandit was recently named as CEO of CitiGroup, one of the largest and most powerful financial services corporations in the world:

Citigroup Inc. named Vikram Pandit, the head of its investment banking business, as chief executive Tuesday, after searching five weeks for someone to restore the bank’s profitability and reputation. . . .

Pandit faces multiple challenges. He must not only attract more cash to offset Citi’s debt and bulk up the bank’s risk management, but he also needs to strengthen Citi’s lackluster consumer-oriented businesses and clean up its reputation. . . .

Rubin said after Prince’s resignation that the search committee was looking for someone to focus on Citigroup’s “multiplicity of businesses” and with “a strong international focus.”

Pandit, though he spent his childhood in India, has little experience with banking abroad. His strengths are his decades on Wall Street and his analytical mind. . . .

Some see [Pandit’s] lack of flash and pizazz as a drawback, though to others, a cool, quiet demeanor in the top spot could be just what is needed at a company often criticized as arrogant.

I’m not a Wall Street analyst, so I can’t really speculate on how well Pandit is likely to do as CitiGroup’s new CEO. However, as an Asian American, I am glad and encouraged to see that the corporate world is apparently becoming more open to promoting Asian Americans into top executive positions.

It will take many more executives like Pandit to break through the glass ceiling barriers that in many ways, still limit the advancement of many Asian Americans into the often opaque realm of corporate leadership. Nonetheless, this is a very positive step in that direction and I wish Pandit the best.

December 12, 2007

Written by C.N.

Applying Social Science in the Combat Zone

This post does not relate specifically to Asian Americans per se, but nonetheless it centers on an issue that is certainly important to me and can have implications for all kinds of racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious groups.

One of my core principles as a sociologist and a social scientist is that I want my academic research to have some kind of relevance and application to the “real world.”

That is, instead of just conducting research and publishing it in obscure academic journals that few people outside academia read, I want to disseminate my academic knowledge to a wider, more popular audience and to use it to help address real world issues and problems. That is one of the reasons why I started this blog in the first place.

In fact and encouragingly, more and more social scientists feel the same way. But as Time magazine reports, one particular program of “applied social science research” is creating quite a controversy inside and outside of academia — using social scientists to help the U.S. fight terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq:

Two years ago, the CIA quietly started recruiting social scientists, advertising in academic journals and offering princely salaries of up to $400,000. But . . . in September, Washington turned a pilot project called Human Terrain Teams into a full-fledged, $40 million program to embed four- or five-person groups of scholars — including anthropologists, sociologists and social psychologists — with all 26 U.S. combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan.

[S]ome preliminary reports are encouraging. From Afghanistan, the 4th brigade (82nd Airborne Division) reported a 60-70% drop in attacks — and a dramatic spike in capture of [suspected terrorists] after anthropological advisers recommended redirecting outreach from village elders to focus on the local mullahs. One mullah was reportedly so moved after being invited to bless a restored mosque on the nearby U.S. base that he quickly agreed to record an anti-Taliban radio ad. . . .

In the wake of the colossal mishandling of the Iraq occupation, this new partnership manifests the military’s renewed appreciation of the importance of culture. . . . Montgomery McFate, a Navy anthropologist, [was an] early advocate of what she says is best described as anthropologizing the military, not militarizing anthropology.

Yet many in the profession contend that any collaboration of this nature compromises their field’s integrity. Anthropology deployed under such circumstances will become “just another weapon…not a tool for building bridges between peoples,” argues Roberto Gonzalez, an anthropologist at San Jose State University and member of the Network of Concerned Anthropologists.

I spent some time thinking about programs like this and trying to decide whether I think they are a good thing or a bad thing for the academic disciplines involved and for American society in general.

On the one hand, I would say that it’s beneficial for social scientists to get involved in these efforts because they can fulfill the fundamental professional mission I mentioned above — using their expertise to address an important social issue and to produce the most benefits for the most people possible.

On the other hand, it would be a negative thing for social scientists to engage in if their efforts basically amount to a “more effective method of killing people,” to put it bluntly. That is, depending on how you choose to see it, their knowledge can basically be used for the purpose of perpetuating war and the taking of human lives.

So ultimately, when it comes to the question of whether programs like this are good or bad, I think my answer is that just like life in general, the final answer is not a simple binary of good/bad, yes/no, or moral/immoral. At the risk of sounding like a cop-out, there are both positive and negative aspects to it, like the rationales I just mentioned.

But if I had to pick one side of the argument over the other to support, at this point, I would agree with Prof. McFate’s position that I quoted above, that programs like this are about “anthropologizing the military, not militarizing anthropology.”

In other words, if used effectively and properly, the expertise of social scientists can indeed help people who may initially be on different sides of the war — U.S. troops and Afghan or Iraqi civilians or tribal/religious leaders.

The U.S. would get culturally competent knowledge about how to best relate to the native population in order to effectively communicate and build interpersonal connections with them. The native population could also feel that their needs, issues, and concerns are genuinely being heard, understood, and incorporated into the actions of the U.S. military operating in their neighborhoods.

Of course, like I mentioned above, critics would point out that the assistance of social scientists is ultimately just being used to promote war and killing. I respect that opinion, but I choose to see a more nuanced point — that terrorists who target the U.S. military, generally speaking, are likely not to have much concern for the native population civilians as well.

Therefore, if the terrorists see both of these groups as enemies or at least expendable casualties of war, the native population has a right to join efforts to oppose such terrorists. With that in mind, the U.S. military and the native population can work as allies, not in opposition or suspicion of each other.

After all, if sociologists say that we should use our expertise to help solve social issues, we have two very important social issues in front of us in this particular situation: (1) terrorism against the U.S. military and against Iraqi and Afghan civilians and (2) the U.S.’s tragedy of miscalculations in invading Iraq in the first place and multitude of failures in actually making life better for Iraqis thereafter.

If we as sociologists can lend our expertise to help address these two very real problems, I would say that it would be an appropriate opportunity to do so.

In the end, I know that people will have strong opinions on both sides of the issue, and I am not here to condemn anybody for what they feel or believe. At the same time, I hope people can respect my opinion that there are different ways in which social scientists can apply their expertise to help solve social issues.

Even if that means that some people will inevitably die, I would rather have those people be terrorists who indiscriminately target everybody who disagrees with them and who distort the doctrines of a just and honorable religion to suit their extremist views.

I might have generally liberal views but that doesn’t mean that I should overlook the fact that the question of whether terrorists have legitimate grievances needs to be separated from the manner in which they try to address those grievances. In other words, the ends do not justify the means.

That’s where sociologists and other social scientists can be useful — in helping different groups of people recognize that not everything is cut-and-dry, black-and-white. Instead, every question and every goal have their own subtle and specific points that need to be addressed respectfully, thoughtfully, and competently.

December 9, 2007

Written by C.N.

Juvenile Crime in China Increasing

As China continues to industrialize, the BBC News reports that rates of juvenile crime have been on the increase as well:

Juvenile crime is increasing rapidly in China and becoming a serious problem, Chinese experts have warned. The number of young offenders had more than doubled in 10 years, officials told a Beijing seminar. The offenders were getting younger, forming larger gangs and committing a greater variety of crimes, one academic said.

Social change, China’s one-child policy and the internet were all partly to blame for the rise, the experts said. . . . These included theft, assault and rape, but also 22 new categories of crime linked to fraud and the internet.

Part of the problem was the breakdown of families caused by migration, Mr Liu said. In hundreds of thousands of rural families, children are left with elderly relatives or friends while their parents travel to cities in search of work.

Shang Xiuyun, a Beijing judge specialising in juvenile crime, suggested China’s one-child policy could also be to blame. With most families having only one child, the children were under greater pressure than in the past, China Daily quoted the judge as saying.

I don’t specialize in China or criminology, but my take on this issue is that yes, migration and pressures to succeed are probably part of the problem, but the underlying cause of both of these factors is capitalism and the incessant drive to become rich, which has apparently enveloped much of Chinese society.

In all fairness, many Chinese who leave their rural villages to find work in urban factories are doing it for economic survival, not necessarily because they expect to get rich. But my point is that since the Chinese government basically opened the floodgates to capitalism, this fundamental change has led to greater economic inequality, and as any criminologist will tell you, to more crime.

I’m not necessarily saying that China should go back to an entirely communist economic system, but I am saying that within a communist government system, China’s leaders have the power to control or at least limit economic inequality — and as such, juvenile crime — if they actually want to do so.

But that wouldn’t be capitalistic, would it?

December 6, 2007

Written by C.N.

US-Style College in China Started by Chinese American

One theme that I’ve written about, and that I think is very likely to become more common and prominent in the coming years, is how Asian Americans are increasingly using their cross-national social and professional networks to facilitate cultural or economic endeavors in Asian countries, most likely their country of origin (or that of their ancestors). As one example of this, the Los Angeles Times reports on the growth of a U.S.-style college in China that was created by a Chinese American:

Nine years ago, [Shawn] Chen launched SIAS International University with less than $2 million, 250 students and a healthy dose of gumption. Today, the school has more than 16,000 students and nearly 50 buildings — including a Roman amphitheater, French and Italian restaurants and an administration hall with a domed Capitol-like facade on one side and a Forbidden City tableau on the other. A swimming stadium, with an Olympic-size pool, is rising amid lotus and wheat fields.

The school’s faculty of about 700 includes 119 foreign instructors, mainly from the U.S. They teach English, history and literature and help students with debate club, cheerleading and marching band — things unheard of in this country. . . .

Chen went to the United States in 1985 and got a master’s degree in education at Linfield College in Oregon. After attending a typical no-frills, monochrome college in China, he basked in campus life in the Pacific Northwest. . . . Chen was so taken by American culture he named his children Brandon and Brenda, after the two characters in the early 1990s TV hit “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

In California, Chen made money trading lighters, shampoos and steel doors from China. With two partners, he paid $2.7 million for the four-story Best Western in 1996. Chen says the idea for SIAS came naturally as he traveled between China and the U.S., making contacts and building relationships. . . .

Chen saw the need — and the business opportunity — while serving on the board at three Chinese high schools in the early 1990s and organizing exchange visits between students in Chongqing and San Gabriel. He went on to arrange similar trips for government officials from China and California.

In 1996, he called a few friends and they put together a 20-page business plan. Chen took it to Henan, one of China’s poorest provinces and the most populous. Henan officials were hungry for investment.

This story is a great example of the kind of new Asian American identity that I’m talking about — Asian Americans using their cross-national cultural ties to achieve success for both sides of their identity — Asia and America. In the process, and for once, their “foreignness” is an asset, rather than a liability.

I predict that examples of this will only become more common as the world and American society both continue to become more diverse, globalized, and transnational, with Asian Americans leading the way in connecting Asia with America.

December 4, 2007

Written by C.N.

New Report on Spying by China

As we all know by now, China has been in the news recently mainly because of a rash of consumer recalls involving products made in China that were unsafe and potentially toxic. However, before these particular concerns became front page news, you might remember that China had been in the news because of recurring allegations of spying and espionage. Well, as CBS News notes, a new report recently brought this issue back into the spotlight:

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission also said in its annual report to Congress that small and medium manufacturers, which represent more than half the manufacturing jobs in America, “face the full brunt of China’s unfair trade practices, including currency manipulation and illegal subsidies for Chinese exports.”. . .

The report comes about a year before U.S. presidential and congressional elections, and candidates have been critical of what they see as China’s failure to live up to its responsibilities as an emerging superpower. China often is singled out for its flood of goods into the United States; for building a massive, secretive military; for abusing its citizens’ rights; and for befriending rogue nations to secure sources of energy.

U.S. officials also recognize that the U.S. needs China, a veto-holding member of the U.N. Security Council, to secure punishment for Iran’s nuclear program and to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. . . .

The commission also faulted China for keeping its currency artificially low. American manufacturers have long complained that Beijing’s low currency makes Chinese goods cheaper in the United States and American products more expensive in China. . . .

The report also described what it said was China’s tight control over information distribution, not only to manipulate its own people but to influence its perception in the U.S. That could endanger U.S. citizens if reports on food and product safety and disease outbreaks are affected.

It looks like China-bashers have another reason to cry foul and to blast China.

As I’ve said in the past, it is certainly true that in many ways, China needs to clean up its act, literally and figuratively. Its record of human rights abuses is well known, as are its continuing difficulties and issues in regard to censorship, environmental protection, and trade practices — all of which the new report confirms. Therefore, I am not necessarily disputing the specific points of contention in this report.

Instead, as a sociologist, I would like point to the larger socio-cultural context of reports and criticisms like this. Specifically, as other observers will probably tell you, China is not the only country in the world in the world who artificially undervalues its currency, or has problems addressing its environmental impact (we don’t need to look any further than our own country for that), or engages in human rights abuses.

China’s distinction, and the reason why it gets disproportionately more criticism than other countries, is because the U.S. increasingly sees China as a threat — politically, militarily, and economically. And whenever anyone, or any country, feels threatened, instinctively they lash out at the perceived threat. So what happens on the individual level can also happen on the international level.

We should all expect these kinds of criticisms and tensions between China and the U.S. to get worse before they get better.