The Lectern


Steve Kelman

Lectern

By Steve Kelman

View all blogs

"Lin-sanity" reveals Chinese culture

The Jeremy Lin phenomenon has occasioned lots of discussion in the U.S. of everything from Harvard and basketball to stereotypes and racism about Asian-Americans. It has also gotten some fascinating reactions in China that say something about traditional Chinese culture and about the state of Chinese politics today.
 
As a fascinating report on CNN noted, Lin-sanity has definitely hit China. Its arrival there should serve as a reminder of what the CNN report referred to as a “wide and inclusive sense of national identity” in Chinese culture. When an athlete whose ancestors came from Italy or Sweden makes it big in a U.S. sport that is followed abroad, it does get some minor special play in those countries, perhaps including local media interviews with relatives of the star still back in the country of origin. But, deep down, most Chinese actually think that the descendents of Chinese immigrants in the U.S. are really Chinese, not American – a view tied in with the long-time (though now fading) strong Chinese identification of “overseas Chinese” in Asia with their homeland, which often included not even taking citizenship where they lived. 

As I often point out to Chinese audiences, while we in the U.S. refer to “Chinese-Americans,” Chinese call these people “American-born Chinese.” The former implies Americans whose background is Chinese, the latter Chinese who happened to have been born in the U.S. It reflects the cultural difference between how we see immigration in the U.S. and how Chinese see people of Chinese origin abroad.
 
But there is also something Lin-sanity reveals about the current, precarious state of Chinese politics, with its hard-to-understand mixture of censorship and repression with pluralism and freedom. As a perceptive article in the Financial Times noted, the official Chinese media have been basically quiet about Lin – he is an open Christian, and Taiwanese flags have been waved during his games in the U.S.  However, the official media no longer fully control the political debate by any means, thanks not the least to what is quickly becoming a crucial new feature of Chinese politics, the rise of microblogging, known in Chinese as weibo (“bo” is the sound-alike word for “blog,” while “wei” means micro). Twitter is blocked in China, but this is the domestic equivalent. 

Lin has a million weibo followers in China, and they are writing and posting videos about him, though the official media is largely silent. On a politically more serious note, there has been virtually nothing in the official media surrounding the fate of Bo Xilai, a top party leader who may or may not be in eclipse, following a bizarre story involving an effort by a top lieutenant to seek political asylum at a U.S. consulate. This story, however, has been all over weibo. 

As frequently occurs with sensitive stories, there has been an attempt to block the news – the name Bo Xilai gets no hits on weibo. However, as also frequently occurs, Chinese are making use of homonyms, which abound in Chinese, and word plays to get around the blocking – in this case they are playing on that Bo’s name sounds like the Chinese word for “thin” and calling him (in Chinese) “not thick” on weibo, which apparently is not blocked – though the question remains how, if I know about this workaround, why the government doesn’t block it as well. 

The era of Jeremy Lin is also an interesting era of transition in today’s China.

Posted on Feb 22, 2012 at 7:27 PM0 comments


"Lin-sanity" reveals Chinese culture

The Jeremy Lin phenomenon has occasioned lots of discussion in the U.S. of everything from Harvard and basketball to stereotypes and racism about Asian-Americans. It has also gotten some fascinating reactions in China that say something about traditional Chinese culture and about the state of Chinese politics today.
 
As a fascinating report on CNN noted, Lin-sanity has definitely hit China. Its arrival there should serve as a reminder of what the CNN report referred to as a “wide and inclusive sense of national identity” in Chinese culture. When an athlete whose ancestors came from Italy or Sweden makes it big in a U.S. sport that is followed abroad, it does get some minor special play in those countries, perhaps including local media interviews with relatives of the star still back in the country of origin. But, deep down, most Chinese actually think that the descendents of Chinese immigrants in the U.S. are really Chinese, not American – a view tied in with the long-time (though now fading) strong Chinese identification of “overseas Chinese” in Asia with their homeland, which often included not even taking citizenship where they lived. 

As I often point out to Chinese audiences, while we in the U.S. refer to “Chinese-Americans,” Chinese call these people “American-born Chinese.” The former implies Americans whose background is Chinese, the latter Chinese who happened to have been born in the U.S. It reflects the cultural difference between how we see immigration in the U.S. and how Chinese see people of Chinese origin abroad.
 
But there is also something Lin-sanity reveals about the current, precarious state of Chinese politics, with its hard-to-understand mixture of censorship and repression with pluralism and freedom. As a perceptive article in the Financial Times noted, the official Chinese media have been basically quiet about Lin – he is an open Christian, and Taiwanese flags have been waved during his games in the U.S.  However, the official media no longer fully control the political debate by any means, thanks not the least to what is quickly becoming a crucial new feature of Chinese politics, the rise of microblogging, known in Chinese as weibo (“bo” is the sound-alike word for “blog,” while “wei” means micro). Twitter is blocked in China, but this is the domestic equivalent. 

Lin has a million weibo followers in China, and they are writing and posting videos about him, though the official media is largely silent. On a politically more serious note, there has been virtually nothing in the official media surrounding the fate of Bo Xilai, a top party leader who may or may not be in eclipse, following a bizarre story involving an effort by a top lieutenant to seek political asylum at a U.S. consulate. This story, however, has been all over weibo. 

As frequently occurs with sensitive stories, there has been an attempt to block the news – the name Bo Xilai gets no hits on weibo. However, as also frequently occurs, Chinese are making use of homonyms, which abound in Chinese, and word plays to get around the blocking – in this case they are playing on that Bo’s name sounds like the Chinese word for “thin” and calling him (in Chinese) “not thick” on weibo, which apparently is not blocked – though the question remains how, if I know about this workaround, why the government doesn’t block it as well. 

The era of Jeremy Lin is also an interesting era of transition in today’s China.

Posted on Feb 22, 2012 at 7:27 PM0 comments


A BRAC-like commission for DOD cost savings -- and how it could be better

Tucked away in the president's new budget is a proposal for a "BRAC-like" commission to propose cuts and contribution increases for military retirement programs. The changes would not apply to current retirees but to future ones (it is unclear whether any such changes would apply to current service members when they retire from the military, or only to future service members).

The acronym BRAC stands for base realignment and closure. The phrase "BRAC-like commission" means something legislatively analogous to the rounds of base-closing commissions that have occurred in the past, where a body comes up with a package proposal that then is voted up or down in Congress without the possibility for amendments.

The theory behind this is that if amendments are allowed, everyone will try to eliminate the change that gores their ox, resulting in a situation where no change ever gets passed. This same theory was applied in last year's Simpson-Bowles deficit cutting commission, except that the commission didn't attain a large enough majority to trigger the up-or-down vote provision.
 
The cost of retirement benefits, including healthcare, to which service members pay only minimal contributions, threatens to overwhelm the Defense budget. That’s why Panetta wants to take on this politically charged issue. It's not an easy issue even substantively, because it's likely that at least part of any savings from these benefits might have to be made up in current pay, though my instinct is that not too many 18-year-olds are thinking much about retirement when they sign up for or even stay in the military.
 
I like the idea of a BRAC-like commission, but I wonder why it should be limited to savings from retirement benefits. First, just picking out retirement benefits adds to the third-rail dimensions of this. One of the merits of the up-or-down vote is that you take a package, which has various elements, each with the support of a different constituency, and other constituencies that may also support, or at least not oppose, the change. By limiting the changes to retirement programs, you get opposition from all the people who want the most expensive retirement benefits, but offer no other changes that such groups might be willing to accept, and that would create larger savings. So you bring out the one-issue opponents with fewer supporters to balance them. And substantively, shouldn't we be looking for other opportunities for cost savings other than retirement benefits?
 
I wonder whether the Defense Department shouldn't be looking to expand the scope of a cost-cutting BRAC. I'm not sure exactly how you'd set the parameters. They would need to be narrower than the kinds of general deficit reduction proposals that the Erskine-Bowles Commission was charged with. You wouldn't want to have a cost-cutting commission looking at military policy like which weapons we should buy. It shouldn't include military bases, since those would be dealt with by a BRAC commission. If third rails are being approached, maybe such a commission might look at Buy America provisions or price preferences that add to the Defense Department's procurement costs? Cost competitions between in-house providers and contractors for more maintenance work? Other areas for such a commission?

Posted on Feb 16, 2012 at 7:27 PM6 comments


What is your e-mail address?

My e-mail address is:

Do you have a password?

Forgot your password? Click here
close
SEARCH
contracts DB

Trending

  • Dive into our Contract Award database

    In an exclusive for WT Insider members, we are collecting all of the contract awards we cover into a database that you can sort by contractor, agency, value and other parameters. You can also download it into a spreadsheet. Read More

  • Is SBA MIA on contractor fraud? Nick Wakeman

    Editor Nick Wakeman explores the puzzle of why SBA has been so silent on the latest contractor fraud scandal when it has been so quick to act in other cases. Read More

Webcasts

  • How Do You Support the Project Lifecycle?

    How do best-in-class project-based companies create and actively mature successful organizations? They find the right mix of people, processes and tools that enable them to effectively manage the project lifecycle. REGISTER for this webinar to hear how properly managing the cycle of capture, bid, accounting, execution, IPM and analysis will allow you to better manage your programs to stay on scope, schedule and budget. Learn More!

  • Sequestration, LPTA and the Top 100

    Join Washington Technology’s Editor-in-Chief Nick Wakeman as he analyzes the annual Top 100 list and reveals critical insights into how market trends have impacted its composition. You'll learn what movements of individual companies means and how the market overall is being impacted by the current budget environment, how the Top 100 rankings reflect the major trends in the market today and how the biggest companies in the market are adapting to today’s competitive environment. Learn More!