Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall


Tucked away in a secondary road in Balestier is the former Sun Yat Sen Villa. Just over a hundred years ago, it was the Southeast Asian (Nanyang) headquarters for Sun Yat Sen’s revolutionary activities with the Tong Meng Hui secret society.

The funds and support he raised here with the Tong Meng Hui had a role to play in the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty – marking the end of millennia of dynastic rule in China with the Xinhai Revolution in 1911. The Republic of China was established, Asia’s first. It had a western style parliamentary system although that didn’t last long.

Few Singaporeans, nor northern mainland Chinese know about the existence of this place which in our minds, a glaring blindspot.

First, it makes for a worthwhile visit to understand that Singapore’s relationship with China goes back a longer way than Deng-Lee relations, or the post-LEE post-Terrex new normal. Second, that Singapore had a hand in the birth of modern China. Sun Yat Sen visited Singapore nine times between 1900 and 1911. The villa was gazetted as a national monument in October 1994 and is now known as the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall.

Altitude: 200feet / 60m

#NeverForget Singapore’s #SeaState
Shot with the DJI Mavic Pro

Filed under: History, International Relations, Public Diplomacy, Singapore, Uncategorized, , , ,

#Chinese Migrant bus driver strike stuns #Singapore [The Australian/AAP]

The Australian: The first real strike in a quarter century involving 5% of critical transport services for an extremely population dense island-nation just over fifty years old, does seem to tell Singapore that leveraging on China’s rise may prove to be an increasingly delicate affair.

Contrary to opinion floating around, strikes are not illegal but rather, one must be extremely in the know and meet multiple conditions to pull one off.

This sure has angered many Chinese on the mainland and Singaporean Chinese too – it is a complex issue with a tremendous back story. It will however, surely do little positives for the projection of national image and public diplomacy between the only two independent Chinese-majority states with Chinese leadership at the helm in the world.

Indeed, Singapore has been a known transnational Chinese social sphere for the good part of three centuries. Sun Yat Sen organised his thoughts and finances in Singapore to trigger the Chinese revolution a century odd back – will this spawn a chapter between the Chinese of Singapore and China?

For more, check out Why Chinese drivers went on strike in Singapore at Xinhua, December 8, 2012. Also, for evidence the Chinese are keeping a pulse on their sojourning workforce and consequent international relations with the host country – see China hopes Singapore secure rights of arrested drivers: ministry at Xinhua on December 7, 2012. J

Just how these events unfolding will impact bilateral ties remains to be seen – more recently more workers went on strike at Singapore’s docks. More on that in a coming article.

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Migrant bus driver strike stuns Singapore
AAP Agency
Source – The Australian, published December 6, 2012

FOUR Chinese immigrant bus drivers accused of inciting Singapore’s first labour strike in 26 years have been granted bail in a case that highlighted growing social friction caused by an influx of foreign labour.

A fifth Chinese driver has already been sentenced to six weeks in prison even though prosecutors said he was not an instigator of the strike, which was called to demand equitable pay.

Walking off the job in protest is almost unheard of in Singapore, and the swift prosecution following the November 26-27 strike was a clear sign the government of this strictly-enforced country will not brook any disobedience from its work force. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Australia, Beijing Consensus, Chinese Model, Communications, Culture, Domestic Growth, Finance, Government & Policy, Greater China, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, Media, Nationalism, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Singapore, Social, Soft Power, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), The Australian, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Transport, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The new generals in charge of China’s guns #China [BBC]

BBC makes a point that China’s new CMC leaders have a wholly different world view and set of life experiences. How would they express those difference on the world stage?

A noteworthy reminder too, that its armed forces swear allegiance to the party, and not the country. This means it cannot act unilaterally, and must remain one of the priorities of the new leadership. This covenant between party and military was set in place early on by Deng – it seems to remain intact today.

The bit about the black box has been somewhat cleared after Hu Jintao, at least on the surface, stated stepping down as CMC chairman during the 18th NPC.

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The new generals in charge of China’s guns
Source – BBC, published November 14, 2012

Photo source – AFP, 2012

As China’s ruling Communist Party prepares to hand power to a new generation of leaders, the BBC Beijing Bureau explains why changes at the top of the armed forces are also being closely watched.

China is ushering in a new generation of political leaders this week, as Communist Party leader Hu Jintao hands over power to successor Xi Jinping.

At the same time, a new group will take over the armed forces.

Amid a wave of retirements, at least seven new members will join China’s 11-member Central Military Commission (CMC), which oversees its armed forces – including the world’s largest standing army. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: BBC, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Culture, Government & Policy, Influence, International Relations, military, Nationalism, New Leadership, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Strategy, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), Territorial Disputes, The Chinese Identity, , , , , , , , , , ,

Sophia Rd cafe cashes in on island dispute #Singapore #Diaoyu #Senkaku [AsiaOne]

AsiaOne: Cafe in Singapore rides the wave of the East Asian island dispute by reaching out through a true-blue Singaporean, if not their primary past-time – food.

Singapore is multicultural by legacy, design and device, and expressed largely through the collective love of diverse foods – the more diverse the better – anyone who visits Singapore can attest to this – it is a global epicentre for cuisine in both high and low places. Peace Centre where this cafe is located is somewhat in the city, but nowhere near the central business district.

There is limited space in Singapore – we are all of 42km wide with barely 20km running north-south. It is the second smallest country in Asia and urban density stands about 12,000/sqkm. 40% of the island is thankfully zoned as a green belt because we cannot do without the rain catchment areas, for now. That also means more than 5+ million (3m citizens, 1m Permanent Residents, the rest imported workers) share a living space of around 400+sqkm. Of course that means if everyone had to stretch out their arms all at once it would be a problem. Most live high-rise, so at any one time the reality of that density is not apparent. Helps that it is a 24-hour city too, makes movement a little bit more spaced out.

Having spent the past three years on travelling cycles of – Australia – Singapore – China documenting and getting a first hand view of China I can almost acutely feel the clear impact population density makes. Australia is at 4/sqkm (in June 2010 it was 2.9), China at 116/sqkm, Singapore – as I mentioned, about 12,000. The difference is clear.

I’ve mentioned a few times over the course of the past two years that population density through a decade of opening floodgates, is becoming a serious problem but I digress. I think the reality that the authorities had no qualms allowing this name to be used for the business as positive. They banned Ministry of Sound from setting up a dance club in Singapore because they felt the Ministry name would resonate negatively with officialdom. They eventually relented after years of deliberation, but case in point.

And that there is a large body of Japanese and Taiwanese working and living in Singapore for decades, I know many of them frequent the area – with no qualms, I think here is where Singapore can be a useful model. Despite the ongoing online vitriol for the past two years, they qualify as growing pains – any host nation can attest to that, as you add more layers to your identity, some meet, other’s don’t, and some just need a bit more fine-tuning, talked over a meal perhaps!

This is a great read by Professor Brenda Yeoh from the National University of Singapore –
Rapid Growth in Singapore’s Immigrant Population Brings Policy Challenge (Migration Information Source, April, 2012) if you’d like a pulse of Singapore’s challenge towards this aspect of globalisation – convergence of movement and with divergence needing attention of consensus, felt made more apparent in confined space.

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Sophia Rd cafe cashes in on island dispute
By Adrian Lim, for myPaper
Source – AsiaOne, published November 6, 2012

Source – AsiaOne, 2012. Photo from myPaper

SINGAPORE – The decor is nostalgically Singaporean while the affordable food served includes casual Chinese-Hong Kong fare like bolo buns.

But this street-facing cafe at Peace Centre in Sophia Road, which opened two weeks ago, bears a moniker which might raise a few eyebrows.

It is called Diao Yu Dao, named after the group of disputed islands in the East China Sea, hotly contested by China and Japan for sovereignty. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: AsiaOne, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese overseas, Culture, Democracy, East China Sea, Government & Policy, Greater China, History, Hong Kong, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, Media, Nationalism, Overseas Chinese, Peaceful Development, Politics, Social, Taiwan, Territorial Disputes, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, , , , , , , , , ,

Singapore a model for Chinese democracy [Sydney Morning Herald]

Each leader of the People’s Republic is remembered by an overarching, guiding ideology.

Mao Zedong left his legacy with Mao Zedong Thought 毛泽东思想; Deng Xiaoping with the Deng Xiaoping theory 邓小平理论. Then came Jiang Zemin and the Three Represents 三个代表 in 2000; and Hu Jintao with Scientific Development outlook 科学发展观 in 2007 that for the first time, saw public diplomacy and soft power . To be leader of 1.3 billion requires more than just clout, it seems an updated grand narrative as calling card in line with the previously intricately marked out stages of development have to be in place. What will Xi Jinping’s be? The West contends China will become more democratic. Will it, must it?

The Sydney Morning Herald is suggesting, along with some others that the Chinese intend to use Singapore as a model for Chinese democracy. They do share some interwoven characteristics, meritocracy, authoritarian capitalism, one-party rule, and Confucian-value systems indoctrinated through textbooks and norms. But they only extend as far as socio-political constructs and institutions go. Culturally however, they are not the same.

Singapore’s former foreign minister George Yeo puts it best –

On why Singapore, a young nation of just over five million people, is of interest to China, an ancient civilisation with 1.3billion people, he says: “For China, Singapore is sometimes seen as a bonsai, but one with genetic similarities.” S’pore is ‘only one bonsai that China looks at’ in the Straits Times, November 1, 2012

In any case, most Chinese I speak to have an answer for this – Singapore is too small to be a model for the whole of China. While there are bits and pieces the Chinese have been gleaning from the island-state, is the Singapore model scalable upwards to 1.3 billion?

The piece in Study Times explains the attraction for China’s leaders. ”Since 1968, the People’s Action Party has won consecutive elections and held state power for a long time, while ensuring that the party’s high efficiency, incorruptibility and vitality leads Singapore in attaining an economic leap forward,” writes Song Xiongwei, a lecturer at the Chinese Academy of Governance. Sydney Morning Herald, October 30 2012

“The Singapore model has been admired by most Chinese leaders and Xi might see Singapore’s success as the dreamed accomplishments of his rule in coming decade,” said Zhang Ming, a political scientist at Renmin University. South China Morning Post, October 23, 2012

See also – a rather engaging religious analysis of the Hartcher article here – Singapore’s “Democracy” – The Lessons for Applying the Gospel?

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Singapore a model for Chinese democracy 
by Peter Hartcher
Source – Sydney Morning Herald, published October 30, 2012

Illustration: John Shakespeare. Source – Sydney Morning Herald, 2012

China’s incoming president, Xi Jinping, will take power formally in three weeks, yet he’s given no public hint of his plans. But he gave an intriguing glimpse to the Westerner he’s spent more time with than any other.

After a total of 10 days together across a year or so, Xi left the US Vice-President, Joe Biden, with one clear impression. He does not think that China’s political system can continue indefinitely, according to people Biden has briefed.

But while the inheritor of the one-party dictatorship does not think it will last in its current form, neither does he have a clear idea of what should replace it, Biden said. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Collectivism, Confucius, Culture, Democracy, Domestic Growth, Economics, Education, Government & Policy, Influence, Mapping Feelings, New Leadership, Overseas Chinese, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Singapore, Strategy, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Xi Jinping, , , , , , , , , ,

Old 100 names: Witnesses of China’s history [BBC]

BBC on 老百姓: A bottom-up look at China from its Lao Bai Xing 老百姓 as the 18th National Congress draws closer. Scientific development was entrenched as guiding ideology for the 17th. What can we expect from the 18th? In Chinese 老百姓 literally means the old hundred clans though it could range in semantic meaning from “ordinary folks“, “honest folk”, “the people“, or “commoners.” Historically, the genesis of the 100 clans in folklore is also an interesting shaper of an identity that has prevailed over the ages.

There is a lot of unresolved history in China, some of it too recent and too painful to address, but not far below the surface. And deep history matters too – the cycles of unity and fragmentation, and the deference punctuated by rebellion that defines the relationship between people and state.

Further reading – A designer’s thoughts – Curiousity Chronicles on Lao Bai Xing

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Old 100 names: Witnesses of China’s history
By Carrie Gracie
Source – BBC News, Shixiaguan, published October 18, 2012

Photo source – BBC, 2012 from Getty Images

Chinese has a word for the people whose names don’t make it into the history books – the Laobaixing or “old 100 names”. They have witnessed history, even if they have only played a bit part. They have also inherited their community’s folk memory and will pass it on to their children.

Mountains behind. Blue sky above. And all around a forest of gold spears. Mei Jingtian is harvesting his maize with a scythe. It’s a scene which can’t have changed much in hundreds of years.

The sweetcorn is fine this year. Heavy summer rains have made the cobs swell. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: BBC, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Collectivism, Confucius, Culture, Domestic Growth, Economics, Education, Environment, Government & Policy, History, Human Rights, Infrastructure, Mapping Feelings, Nationalism, New Leadership, Peaceful Development, People, Politics, Population, Poverty, Public Diplomacy, Reform, Social, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, , , , , , , , , ,

The China8 Interviews: On Singapore and China with Dr Danny Tan

Wandering China is pleased to release the fourth of the China8 series of interviews. China8 is where China’s perceived and presenting selves are discussed. This it hopes to achieve by looking closely at both China’s international and domestic coherence of its harmonious ascent. Ultimately, Wandering China hopes these perspectives will be helpful for anyone making sense of depending on how you see it, the fourth rise of the middle kingdom, or sixty odd years of consciousness of a new nation-state with a coherent identity emergent from a long drawn period of ideological strife. Note – this is an expanded interview (the norm is/was eight questions).

Wandering China catches up with Dr Danny Tan, a vocal contributor to Singapore’s fourth estate forums both in traditional broadsheets and new media. He is also a scholar on Southeast Asian studies. In general, he is interested in cultural flux and how each culture adapts to these changes. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: ASEAN, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, China8 Interviews, Chinese overseas, Collectivism, Confucius, Culture, Domestic Growth, Economics, Government & Policy, Greater China, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, Media, Overseas Chinese, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Singapore, Social, Soft Power, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, , , , , , , , , ,

Sihanouk reminds China of shared stand [Global Times]

The once leadership-turmoil stricken former King of Cambodia has passed on.

And it’s not just China, Singapore’s former president SR Nathan too, weighed in with the true friend narrative – Singapore loses a “true friend” with Sihanouk’s death (Channel News Asia, October 16, 2012)

See also – Int’l society mourns passing away of ex-Cambodian king (Xinhua, October 16, 2012)

The Global Times communicates China’s ideological memories on anti-hegemonic diplomacy:

Looking around the world, China has too few friends like Sihanouk. We have too many scruples regarding Western diplomatic actions. We rarely have the opportunity to express China’s values and developing countries’ common moral principles. Of course, China has come a long way from the maverick country in the 1970s that was at odds with both the US and the Soviet Union. It has deeply integrated itself into world systems, upholding a cautious and balanced approach to diplomacy. The era in which Tiananmen Square hosted an anti-US rally to welcome Sihanouk is forever gone.

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Sihanouk reminds China of shared stand
Global Times Op-Ed
Source – Global Times, published October 16, 2012

Retired Cambodian king Norodom Sihanouk died in Beijing early Monday morning at the age of 90. Sihanouk was one of China’s closest friends. He reminded us of the close relations between the two countries and provided enlightenment on the future of China’s diplomacy.

Chinese society is more familiar with “Prince Sihanouk.” His government was overthrown by a US-instigated coup in 1970 because of his persistence in adhering to neutral diplomacy, and his refusal to join the US-dominated Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty. China accepted him at his most difficult time.

It was a high-profile action by China’s anti-hegemonic diplomacy. Some Web users think that China’s investment into Cambodia is a poor decision. This argument itself is small-minded and populist. These views are totally incompatible with China’s fundamental interests. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: ASEAN, Beijing Consensus, Cambodia, Chinese Model, Communications, Government & Policy, History, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, Nationalism, Peaceful Development, Pollution, Public Diplomacy, Soft Power, Strategy, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, U.S., , , , , , , ,

Kublai Khan: China’s favourite barbarian [BBC]

A most interesting piece from the BBC on China’s love-hate relationships with things foreign – indeed they spent millennia building a string of walls Ripley’s Believe it or Not claimed could be seen from outer space  (yes that is the genesis of the fantastical notion that became part of some school textbooks). The study of Kublai Khan provides unique insights into what it takes for the Chinese mind to subsume a different paradigm of thinking into their collective identity.

For those who are fans of Star Trek, the Chinese, in my mind, are not unlike the Borg – they learn, assimilate making it their own.

The very last emperor of all loved bicycles, by the way. He is said to have removed doorstops in the Forbidden City so that he could cycle around, but that is another story. The point I want to make is that there is complicated history around what is Chinese… and what is not. Carrie Gracie

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Kublai Khan: China’s favourite barbarian
By Carrie Gracie
Source – BBC News Beijing, published October 11, 2012

Kublai Khan who demolished 1,000 years of more or less united Chinese rule by setting up the Yuan Dynasty, a feature of which saw a Chinese civil service – “For the Song, it would been absolutely inconceivable that the Mongols could take over the whole of China,” says John Man, author of a biography of Kublai Khan.
Source – BBC, 2012

China has a love-hate relationship with what is foreign. Traditionally all people beyond the Great Wall were barbarians – only part human. But invaders have sometimes been welcomed, in time, into the Chinese family. One was Kublai Khan.

In the 13th Century, no-one knew how big the world was so it was not so wild for the Mongols to set off from the grassland with the idea that they were going to conquer all of it.

When the mighty Genghis Khan died in 1227, he had already claimed an empire stretching from the Pacific to Europe. His grandson Kublai set out to finish the job, and started by moving south to attack China’s Song dynasty. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Back to China, BBC, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Collectivism, Culture, Domestic Growth, Education, Great Wall, Greater China, High Speed Rail, Influence, Inner Mongolia, Mapping Feelings, Peaceful Development, Social, Strategy, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, , , , ,

Who are the Chinese 誰是華人? [Youtube]

Overseas Chinese making sense of China through largely positive memories. Filmed in 2011 – in China, Singapore, London, Paris, Melbourne and Malaysia, this ethnic narrative is UK Christian minister (though not apparent initially in the first fifteen minutes) Reggie Lee’s take on the Chinese identity through history, dynasty, philoosphy and culture. The short film then steers toward reconciling Chinese-ness with Christianity in anticipation of what many Chinese Christianity skeptics would say about the bible – ‘but there is no mention of Chinese people in the bible’.

Making up about 20 percent of the world’s population, the Chinese are a significant race and have a history of more than 5,000 years steeped with traditions. However, because of the Chinese Diaspora and the cultural revolution in the early sixties, many Chinese have a very vague idea of their history, culture and tradition. “Who are the Chinese?” is a film that takes you into the deep cultural and spiritual roots of the Chinese. Filmed in 6 locations across the world, this production provides those searching for their history a well researched documentary with a few surprises. Source – Whoarethechinese.com 2012

Filed under: Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Chinese overseas, Culture, Domestic Growth, Economics, Education, Ethnicity, Greater China, History, Influence, Lifestyle, Mapping Feelings, Media, Nationalism, Overseas Chinese, Peaceful Development, People, Public Diplomacy, Social, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, U.K., Youtube, , , , , , ,

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