Friday, December 24, 2004

Hainan Adventure to begin tonight!

Dear All,


In less than 24 hours, I will be flying to Hainan Island, ChinaÂ’s southernmost province.  This is going to be an exciting week for me, not lest because I would be visiting the place where my father was born but also an island that is now the chief domestic beach holiday destination for the Noveau Riche of China (thus the nickname “Hawaii of China” for Hainan) and a land of ethnic-linguistic diversity.


As I have noted in my last posting, I have recently found out that, in 1242 during the Song Dynasty, an ancestor by the name of Chen Gong-chen moved to Hainan from Fujian Province on the Chinese Mainland when he was appointed Chief Magistrate and county head of Wenchang County in Hainan.   I have also said that he later surrendered this last outpost of Song power to the invading Mongols after the death of the last Song child-emperor.  


Further research in the last week have revealed that it was actually Chen Gong-chenÂ’s son, Chen Zhong-da, who as supreme military governor of Hainan, gave up what could have been a vain attempt at resisting what was then the worldÂ’s most powerful forces. (Chen Gong-chen had died in 1856).  I have also found out that a distant cousin of Chen Zhong-da, Chen Wen-long, as commander of Guangdong and Fujian provinces, was executed by the Mongols for resisting Mongol invasion.    Chen Wen-long was proclaimed a national hero and martyr by the family ancestral book which was the source of these discoveries. 


Chen Zhong-da, who retained his power as Hainan governor under Mongol sovereignty, later successfully invaded the ancient Hindu kingdom of Champa in what is today central Vietnam.  The Chams (people of Champa), who were an Indonesian-related people who later converted to Islam, had built a great Hindu civilization whose monumental temples I visited in 2002 ( and ).  Their empire was eventually vanquished by the Vietnamese who went on to take over the Mekong Delta from the Cambodians.  A small community of Chams live in southern Hainan today, one of their members emigrated to Penang, Malaysia in early 20th century and whose grandson is today MalaysiaÂ’s Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.  I wonder if Chen Zhong-da had anything to do with the Chams in Hainan?  Did he bring them across to Hainan after his invasion of Champa?


I will be spending a few days in the family home in Taijia Village where an ancestor moved to in the 16th century during the Ming Dynasty, and where my father was born but left for Singapore when he was two years old.  I also intend to visit nearby Wenchang City, Boau (site of the now important Asian Forum & Summit) well as Sanya, ChinaÂ’s premier winter beach resort. 


Near Taijia Village is the family home of the Soong Sisters, the three famous women who married three eminent Chinese leaders of the 20th century – the patriotic Soong Ching-ling who married Sun Yat-sen, Chinese republican revolutionary leader and “Father of Modern China”; Soong Ai-ling who married H.H. Kung, finance minister under the Kuomintang regime of pre-communist China, one of ChinaÂ’s wealthiest men at that time and direct descendant of Confucius; and  Soong May-ling who married Chiang Kai-shek, Generalissimo and Kuomintang leader who ruled China for many years before fleeing to Taiwan after the Communist Revolution.


I will take local buses to Wuzhishan in the central highlands of Hainan, where 1 million members of the Li tribe live today.  Chen Zhong-daÂ’s son, Chen Qian-ting, who succeeded as Hainan Governor, had a memorial carving made on Mt Wuzhi to commemorate Chen Zhong-daÂ’s successful crushing of a major rebellion of the LiÂ’s, one of the three dozen rebellions the LiÂ’s had staged against the Chinese state in the last two thousand years.  Alas – is my ancestor also an oppressor of indigenous peoples?


Apart from trying to gather more information about my ancestors and various aspects of HainanÂ’s diverse ethnic groups, I also look forward to try the famous Wenchang Chicken Rice of Hainan and see how different is it from SingaporeÂ’s unofficial national dish, the Hainanese Chicken Rice, which was adapted from Wenchang Chicken Rice to suit Southeast Asian taste by Hainanese immigrants in Singapore during early 20th century.


So, thatÂ’s my exciting plans for the next one week - with Christmas in Hainan, and New Year count-down in the air over the disputed Spratley Islands in the South China Sea while on my way back to Singapore. 





Best regards,


Wee Cheng



Friday, December 17, 2004

Kuda Kepang


See this amazing article with lots of pictures and videos about Kuda Kepang, the Javanese horse dance which involves trance and possession:

Does anyone know what are the spiritual theories behind the dance?  How often is it performed and where can I find out more about it?  I am refering to those performances that involve trance, not the tourist/cultural festival variety. 

I wonder if there is a connection in the use of bomoh/medium and trance for Southeast Asian cultures such as Hokkien Taoism and traditional/pre-Islamic Malay beliefs.


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Shame to the anti-casino campaigners

The anti-casino activists are an irritating bunch.  What do they think they are doing?  Spamming every yahoogroup mailing list with their dodgy petition website?  I received one such posting on the Taoist cultural list that I help to moderate.  This is my reply:

Date: Wed, 15 Dec 2004 04:56:02 -0800 (PST)
From: Tan Wee Cheng
Can you please quote the relevant Taoist text? 
I believe that Taoism is silent about the issue of gambling/casinos.   Taoism urges moderation in whatever one does.  I doubt Taoism is against gambling per se, but against addiction of any kind.  Indeed, one sees 4D numbers in many Taoist temples.  Perhaps the gods would bless the virtous ones who do good in everyday life and allow them to win lotteries.  Taoist teachers and mediums say that the evildoers should not expect the gods to grant them any favour.
In fact, gambling has been a traditional Chinese pastime for ages - It is a manifestation of the Chinese ability to manage risk and seek opportunities in the most unexpected places.  Many high-end gamblers are in fact stock brokers, traders and opportunistic businessmen.  
I am personally very sceptical about the anti-casino campaign.  I doubt it is a mere front for certain religious fundamentalists to push for their own agenda, which also includes discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens of this country, abortion and stem cell research.  We have to be careful not to fall into their trap.
As this is a list devoted to Taoist rituals and customs, I personally think anti-casino lobbying is rather inappropriate unless it has a Taoist context.
Just my 2cents worth.
Wee Cheng

EDIE <> wrote:
Hi All,
Today, I have a contribution - relevant, I hope. At least I believe Taoism is against gambling and Casinos.
So for your convenience, you can go quickly to the url below to vote. I'm no 4149 already.
Thanks for making SGP a better and hopefully Greener place.

If you are not against the idea, thank you for your time to read this email nonetheless.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Why The Rejection of Snowball 04 is Bad for Singapore

This article by a Singaporean gay banker articulates why banning Snowball party is a bad idea: 
It's amazing that Singapore, along with fundamentalist Arab states, are the only countries in the world that continues to discriminates gay and lesbian people - which accounts for 10% of the national population - even more than the Indian community here!  Should we allow our national agenda be captured by the religious fundamentalists? 
The police press statement talks about Singapore being a conservative society where kissing between people of the same sex would be affront to the large majority of the Singaporeans.  Utterly ridiculous remarks! 
How conservative are Singaporeans?  Just go to Geylang or Orchard Rd after dark and you see the many thousands of brothel patrons and the ladies of the night.  And the ever-busy Hotel 81's with never ending new branches opening.   How about Zoukout where half naked couples partying mad on the same beach Snowball was supposed to be held?  Doesn't anyone know how easy it is to pick up girls in the many night clubs in Singapore?  And how about the many Singaporeans who patronise KTVs and massage parlours when they travel abroad on holidays or business? 
Why should they be bothered about people of the same sex who show their affections for each other in private parties like Snowball?  Maybe those who are "conservative" should not even be there in the first place!

Free Elections in Kabul?


Toronto Sun, December 12, 2004


U.S. caught in Kabul


By Eric Margolis -- Contributing Foreign Editor



Excellent news from Afghanistan. A new president, chosen in the country's first democratic election, has just been sworn in.


He pledges to extend democracy across Afghanistan, liberate and educate all women, and wipe out "the last remnants of Islamic terrorism" impeding economic and social development. Foreign troops supporting the Kabul government will remain only until security is assured and terrorism eliminated.


But this was not Kabul, Dec. 7, 2004, where the U.S.-installed regime of Hamid Karzai was inaugurated to great fanfare from Washington and the western media. Both hailed -- quite mistakenly -- "Afghanistan's first elections."



Correction. Afghanistan's first true national elections were in 1986 and 1987, under Soviet military occupation. First, the KGB organized a "loya jirga," or national assembly in 1985 and, through bribes and intimidation, got its new Afghan "asset," Najibullah, positioned to replace the ineffectual Afghan communist puppet then in office.


In 2002, the CIA got its Afghan "asset," Hamid Karzai, nominated president through a loya jirga that seemed to many as rigged as the one that promoted Najibullah.


National elections in 1986 and 1987 confirmed Najibullah, Moscow's man in Kabul, as president of Afghanistan. These elections were manipulated, yet they were arguably more open and fairer than the recent U.S.-staged Afghan election.


Warlords were bribed


How can this be? The Afghan communists allowed genuine opposition parties to run and even sought a coalition with anti-communist forces. But these groups -- mujahedin, or "freedom fighters," as the West called them (Kabul branded them "Islamic terrorists") -- spurned Najibullah as a traitor and quisling.


In the U.S.-run Afghan election, all parties or individuals opposed to the American occupation of Afghanistan were excluded. So only ethnic minorities like Tajiks, Hazara and Uzbeks bought candidates -- and figures favouring collaboration with the occupation were represented.


Warlords, who control 80% of the nation, were bribed with tens of millions to give at least tacit support to Karzai. Afghanistan's majority, the Pushtun, were represented only by a few minor candidates without any political base. The most important Pushtun leader, Gulbadin Hekmatyar, declared a "terrorist" in 2002 for opposing the U.S. invasion, was, of course, excluded.


Afghans, it is true, turned out in large numbers to vote. Elections are still a novelty in Afghanistan, even fake ones. Only in developed democracies are citizens too lazy or indifferent to vote. But the Afghan election had no more democratic credibility than the Soviet elections of the 1980s. In fact, it's painfully ironic to see the U.S. demanding honest elections in Ukraine -- a position applauded by this column -- while staging what amounts to predetermined elections in Afghanistan, and, next year, in Iraq. What about some honest elections in U.S.-dominated Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, etc.?


An expensive mayor


Afghanistan's new "democratic" president is the world's most expensive mayor. Karzai rules only downtown Kabul, protected by 200 U.S. bodyguards, 17,000 U.S. troops and a token NATO force that includes Canadians. It costs Washington $1.6 billion US monthly to keep Karzai in power. Without the foreign troops' bayonets, Karzai's little puppet regime would quickly be swept away.


The real power behind figurehead Karzai is the Northern Alliance, the rump of the old Afghan Communist Party, made up of Tajiks and Uzbeks.


Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers almost totally ended poppy/heroin production. Today, America's Northern Alliance communist allies have restored the multibillion-dollar drug trade and are now said to control 95% of the world heroin supply. As in Indochina, the U.S. again finds itself in bed with major drug dealers while espousing a platitudinous "war on drugs."


Outside Kabul, Afghanistan is a chaotic mess ruled by warlords, drug kingpins, and the Taliban, which is alive and well, waiting with legendary Pushtun patience for the U.S. to withdraw.


The U.S. has stuck its head in a hornet's nest in Afghanistan. Staying on is hugely expensive and painful. But a U.S. pullout would be hailed as a triumph by anti-American forces across the Islamic world. So the U.S. is good and stuck in Afghanistan -- just what Osama bin Laden wanted.


Porn sites lay bare São Tomé 'image problem'


Porn sites lay bare São Tomé 'image problem'

By Michael Peel

Financial Times

Published: December 14 2004 02:00 | Last updated: December 14 2004 02:00


The tiny western African nation of São Tomé and Principe claims it has unwittingly become the continent's electronic porn publishing capital after a Swedish company and its local partner sold the country's internet identity without government approval.



The government is demanding a share of the income earned from selling addresses using São Tomé's .st suffix, after a US survey found they accounted for more than three-quarters of the porn pages generated from websites that use African nations' identities.


The controversy highlights an evolving debate over control of potentially lucrative national internet identities - known as top-level domains - after disputes over domains ranging from Moldova to the minuscule Pitcairn Islands in the south Pacific.


"São Tomé doesn't receive a thing," protests Deolindo Costa de Boa Esperança, São Tomé's infrastructure minister, adding that the profusion of porn had given his country an "image problem".


The government's dismay began after the publication in June of a global internet porn survey by Secure Computing, a California-based company. It said that São Tomé - an impoverished archipelago off the west coast of Africa, whose population is estimated at less than 150,000 - accounted for 307,000 of the 389,000 porn pages found on African domains.


Shocked by the findings, Mr Costa says he delved into his files and was surprised to find a June 1999 document concerning the appointment of new domain managers. Headlined simply "Announcement", the paper is signed by Aguinaldo Salvaterra, a local network engineer, and Jon Karlung, chief executive of Bahnhof Internet, Sweden's oldest internet operating company. They say they were appointed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the US-based body that took over domain management authority from the US government amid concerns over Washington's potential control of the web.


São Tomé says the partners should have sought official approval and claims they have failed to honour a series of promises made at the time of their appointment, including setting up a fast link to Bahnhof's Swedish network centre and free connections for São Tomé's parliament. A US telecoms lawyer is working free of charge to help officials investigate the case.


Domain names can be big business: VeriSign, a Californian company, paid $45m (€34m, £23m) in 2001 to buy the company that manages the sought-after .tv domain of the Pacific island of Tuvalu. Bahnhof markets the .st suffix on the internet as "The street domain", charging a €35 annual registration fee for each user.


Mr Karlung insists his company has done nothing wrong, adding that Bahnhof had applied to take over the .st domain after discovering it was being co-managed by a dead priest. He scoffs at the US porn survey figures, saying they are "completely wrong", and that the São Tomé domain has "not been a fantastic business", with about 5,000 clients and average revenues of between €10,000 and €12,000 a month.


He added that the application was supported by São Tomé's government, although he admits the arrangement is "informal", and he has nothing in writing to verify his claim. Bahnhof has been stung before, he says: it had an accord in 2000 to manage the Democratic Republic of Congo's domain, but the agreement collapsed after President Laurent Kabila was assassinated and an official separately demanded that 10 per cent of the venture's income be paid into his Swiss bank account.


The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the US not-for profit corporation that took over IANA's role and appoints domain managers on behalf of all internet users, declined to reveal any details of the São Tomé case. The corporation, which says it takes the wishes of governments "very seriously" when making its decisions, has over the past five years changed mangement with government consent in a number of countries such as Australia. In a tacit acknowledgement of the increasing commercial exploitation of the internet, the corporation says it is moving away from delegating domain management responsibility to "trusted individuals" and towards a more formal process involving accountability to the local internet community.


Mr Salvaterra, the co-signatory of the agreement with Bahnhof, runs a bar and cybercafé in São Tomé, where the staff wear T-shirts bearing the logo "internet for all".


He acknowledges that he and Bahnhof have done little in the country other than give two high schools computers and internet connections. He says this is because the government has shown little interest in working with him, in spite of his good intentions: he points to a July 2002 testimony written by a former infrastructure minister, praising his dedication to domain management.


Mr Salvaterra claims all his investments improve the country's technological infrastructure, even if some of the money goes into his own businesses. He has plans for a radio station and a television venture.


Asked if he has kept records of the money he has earned and spent after selling his country's identity over the past five years, he grins and regrets that he does not.


"That's my big mistake," he says.


Sunday, December 12, 2004

California dreaming through Chinese eyes

California dreaming through Chinese eyes 
By Fuchsia Dunlop
BBC, California 

China is one of the world's hottest travel destinations at the moment. We go there from the West for a glimpse of an exotic, ancient culture. But what is it like for Chinese tourists visiting the West for the first time? Fuchsia Dunlop, has been accompanying three Chinese chefs around California.
The designer boutiques of Rodeo Drive are a haven for tourists
Since my companions don't speak any English, we talk only in Chinese. And as always with speaking another language, it's not only my words that are becoming foreign.
As we drive through the sun-dappled landscape of the Napa Valley, I find myself looking at America through Chinese eyes.
One of the chefs compares the hills, shrouded in early-morning mist, with the romantic Qingcheng Mountains in Sichuan.
The view of San Francisco across the Bay from Sauselito reminds him of the skyscape of Hong Kong. And the city's steep hills evoke the sloping roads of Chongqing, Sichuan's Mountain City.
'Eerie beauty'
In San Francisco, we stumble upon a Remembrance Day Service in the Grace Cathedral.
None of the chefs has been inside a Christian church before.
Incense drifts over a hushed crowd of worshippers; pipers in full Scottish regalia play mournful tunes. And finally, a cloud of paper poppies falls from the ceiling, shimmering down like blood-red snow.
  I quickly notice a cultural gulf between our aims in sightseeing
Because I'm with my Chinese friends, I notice the eerie beauty of the service, and I'm taken back in an instant to my own first visit to a Chinese temple, when the strange gilded statues and coiled incense brought me out in goosepimples.
I quickly notice a cultural gulf between our aims in sightseeing. I gravitate towards the historic temples of San Francisco's Chinatown, to narrow streets and small cafes.
The chefs want to see skyscrapers and glitzy shopping malls. So instead of relaxing in the Bohemian neighbourhoods of San Francisco, I end up taking them to Los Angeles and driving them around the mansions of Beverly Hills and the swanky designer boutiques of Rodeo Drive.
'Karmic retribution'
They even persuade me to take them to Disneyland, where we ride the rollercoasters, buy souvenirs and take hundreds of photographs.
Sunshine, sea and surf at Venice Beach, California
And as I pose for a picture outside Mickey Mouse's House, it strikes me that this must be some kind of karmic retribution.
For years I've been dragging bemused Chinese friends round picturesque teahouses which to them are miserable hovels, and backstreets that I find charming but they think should be demolished immediately.
And here I am, to my surprise, paying homage at the temples of Western consumerism and the American Dream.
On our last day together, the chefs want to buy some gifts, so we go to a famous department store. But as we stroll around, our quest takes a desperately comic turn.
Everything we pick up - leather wallets, fashion accessories, beauty products - turns out to be made in China.
We literally can't find anything that is locally produced.
"And it'll look really stupid," says one of the chefs, "if my friends notice their gifts are Chinese after all." In the end, we leave without buying anything.
As the days go by, I realise that the chefs have a travel plan that is more alien to me than I'd thought.
  They want to see it in all its brilliant modernity, to understand how far China has to go to catch up
They are just not interested in exploring American history and culture, and they don't want to see spectacular scenery, they've got plenty of that at home.
What they do want is to see how America measures up to the American Dream.
They're all familiar with the stereotype of the United States as the richest and most advanced nation in the world, its lifestyle as the holy grail of development.
And they want to see it in all its brilliant modernity, to understand how far China has to go to catch up, and whether the struggle will be worth it.
Given their high expectations, it's not surprising they are disappointed.
Even lovely San Francisco doesn't fit the bill.
  The American Dream is a myth which has not lost its potency in China
"If that's going to be the end result of China's development," says one, "then I'm really in despair."
The extravagant mansions and leafy avenues of Beverley Hills are more promising.
"This is what we should be aiming for," says one of the chefs.
But perhaps it's a shock that the gilded life of the Hollywood elite is such a tiny part of what we actually see. The rest is simply ordinary: people going about their lives, vagrants begging on the streets, cheap consumer goods.
The American Dream is a myth which has not lost its potency in China.
But China itself now has gleaming skyscrapers, luxurious apartments, private cars and designer clothes aplenty for those who can afford them.
It takes more than that, these days, to impress a middle-class Chinese tourist.
And ironically, considering the tough scrutiny given to their visa applications, after a couple of weeks my companions can't wait to go home.
Pure joy
When I've seen them off at the airport, I meet up with a friend in Los Angeles.
We laze around on Venice Beach, eating ice cream and chatting.
And since I'm not comparing the experience with anything, it feels like pure joy, what with the blazing sunshine, the fine Italian ice cream, and the gentle rush of the Pacific on the sand.
And I have to admit that contrary to all my expectations, I'm enjoying California more as an English than as a Chinese tourist.

From Our Own Correspondent

Friday, December 10, 2004

Maid's test needs fine-tuning


Business Times - 10 Dec 2004


Maid's test needs fine-tuning



I GOT the answer wrong.


I was taking a test that I saw in The New Paper, which reproduced sample questions in a compulsory test that maids will soon have to pass before they are allowed to work in Singapore. The question was: 'You are alone with a baby at home. The baby keeps crying. What must you do?' The multiple-choice answers were: give the baby some fever syrup; take it to the park; telephone the employer at once or; wait for the employer to come home. The correct answer was to call the employer at once. But I picked 'take the baby to the park'. Well, it seemed logical to me. What was I supposed to do, call my employer and then pass the phone receiver to the baby? Like, duhhh ...


There was another one which had a picture of four items and the question: 'Which of the items should not be stored with the other three?' The four items were a bottle of Coke, a carton of milk, a can of insect repellant and a tube of what looked like potato crisps labelled 'cheese'. Well, of course the insect repellant shouldn't be with the other three. But the other three shouldn't be together either. The tube of cheese crisps shouldn't be stored with the Coke or the milk, which should be kept in the fridge. Or, if the Coke isn't meant to be drunk soon, it could be kept in the cupboard, with the crisps. But the milk, unless it is UHT, should always be in the fridge. And if it is UHT, which the question does not specify, it should be kept in the fridge immediately after opening. Are you confused? Be thankful you're not a maid. I think a few rocket scientists wouldn't be able to answer some of the questions either.


Which brings me to the conclusion that maybe the person who drew up this test also did the recent PSLE science paper. So maybe they should rethink the questions in the test. Or at least get a better illustrator who will not make a crying baby look like a very fat cat that just got flattened by a car.


Or maybe they should make employers take a test. Particularly those who keep changing maids every few months. The questions could be tailored to assess the employer's needs and expectations, and the results would determine whether the employer wants a maid or a Harvard-trained professor with excellent vacuuming skills who is also an atheist and will therefore not bring any weirdo things into the house.


Some sample questions could be: 'You see your maid speaking to another maid. What is your immediate reaction?'

a) They are having a casual chat;

b) They are exchanging recipes;

c) They are plotting to kidnap me, steal my money and run away with their boyfriends;

d) Change maids since it's still free replacement period.


Or, what about: 'You notice money missing from your wallet. What could have happened?'

a) I could have misplaced it.

b) The kids took it.

c) The maid stole it, bought sexy lingerie and intends to sneak her boyfriend into my home after I've gone to bed.

d) This would not have happened if you'd let me change maids earlier.


And what would all this testing prove? That some people are good at drawing up test questions, test results can always be manipulated, a test may get you a lot of right answers but not necessarily the right people, and at the end of the day, uh ... actually, can you repeat the question?



Beijing & Dharamsala: Propaganda from Both Sides


This is an excellent blog posting by a Chinese-American commentator on the Tibet issue.  It’s very long but highlights the dramatic divide of opinion between the East and West, as well as the role of the propaganda machinery of both Beijing and Dharamsala (Dalai Lama’s residence in India) that distort the history of Sino-Tibet relations.  That’s why there are only two views on Tibet – both mutually antagonistic and extremist - and both presenting drastically different interpretations even on the most basic facts.


China's growing ties with Africa

Published December 9, 2004


China's growing ties with Africa

Beijing's thirst for commodities like oil is fuelling its links with a continent that has long been neglected by the West

Business Times





CHINESE businessman Hansen Luo came to Africa eight years ago to seek his fortune and found it under a mountainside in South Africa's Limpopo province.




Chinese takeaway: From oil fields to roads and eateries, China's emerging influence is visible nearly everywhere on the African continent

It's where his mining company each year claws out 400,000 tons of chrome ore to feed the Chinese economy's insatiable appetite for natural resources, in this case for making stainless steel.


Nearby, at this rural mining town's only shopping mall, fortune has also smiled on the Ling brothers. Seven years ago, the brothers came here from China to open the Chinese Clothing Shop, where bins of underwear, racks of colourful dresses and shelves lined with discount stereos, all made in China, help satisfy South Africans' demand for cut-rate clothing and electronics.


Mr Luo and the Ling brothers are two parts of an economic equation that is driving China's economic push into Africa, shaking up the continent's historical partnerships with Europe and the United States, as African leaders look increasingly East for trade, aid and political alliances.


'China needs the raw materials from Africa,' Mr Luo says. 'Africa needs cheap products from China.'



"China needs the raw materials from Africa. Africa needs cheap products from China. It's a perfect partnership, one with a huge potential for growth.'


- Hansen Luo, 

Chinese businessman 



It's a perfect partnership, he says, one with a 'huge potential for growth.'


From oil fields and refineries in the malarial heat of Sudan to hydropower stations and roads in Ethiopia to hotels, office buildings and dozens of Chinese-owned mom and pop shops in southern Africa, China's emerging influence is visible nearly everywhere on the continent.


The latest trade figures show how China's efforts to strike profitable deals in mining, oil production, textiles and other industries are paying off. In 2003, China-Africa trade rose to US$18.5 billion, a nearly 50 per cent increase in a year. This year's trade is on track to be significantly higher.


Oil is fueling China's push into Africa. Now the world's second largest consumer of oil after the United States, China, an exporter of oil as recently as the 1990s, is scouring the globe in search of untapped reserves. With oil partnerships in Sudan, Nigeria and Gabon among other countries, China now depends on Africa for about 25 per cent of its oil imports.


In South Africa, China's largest trading partner in Africa, Mr Luo's chrome mine is regularly mentioned by Chinese officials as example of the type of China-Africa partnerships that should be replicated across Africa.


Luo's ASA Metals, a joint venture between a subsidiary of one of China's state-controlled trading companies and the South African Limpopo Development Agency, bought the Dilokong Chrome Mine in 1997. ASA Metals invested US$90 million in improvements. Today, the mine produces some of the highest quality chrome in South Africa. Demand is high enough in China that Mr Luo is considering expansion.


Despite China's controlling stake in the mine, on site it's difficult to know China has anything to do with the business. On a recent afternoon, dozens of black and white South African workers in hard hats and blue work suits moved about the grounds, but just two Chinese employees could be seen. Of the mine's 750 employees, three are Chinese, including Mr Luo, a financial manager and a temporary consultant.


The cultural differences between China and Africa might be vast, but China is doing its part to bridge the gap, working to forge deeper political ties and friendship with African leaders.


In the past year, China has sent high-ranking officials, including President Hu Jintao, on official state visits to Africa, spreading a message that Africa and China share a common history of colonial exploitation and should work together as members of the developing world.


Likewise, African officials, from mayors to presidents, are boarding flights to Beijing for state visits, trade fairs and cultural exchange programmes. Mauritius, home to many Chinese-owned textile factories, this year added Chinese to its primary school curriculum.


'Strengthened consultation and even closer cooperation between China and Africa are conducive to augment the voices of developing countries in international affairs and safeguard their rights and interests,' said Liu Guijin, China's Ambassador to South Africa during a speech on China-Africa relations this month in Pretoria.


Although China's overriding interest in Africa is economic, it is doing its part to offer the world's poorest continent development assistance, deploying hundreds of doctors to clinics and hospitals, offering low-interest loans and debt forgiveness, as well as donating bridges, railways and roadways.


Unlike assistance from the Western nations that often links aid to a country's record of human rights, good governance and transparency, China's assistance comes with no strings attached. China's only requirement is that its African partners do not recognise Taiwan.


Understandably, many African leaders are eager to foster friendship with a nation that doesn't meddle in their internal affairs.


'They (African leaders) see it as a welcome, alternative opportunity,' says Jakkie Cilliers, executive director of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. 'China comes and says we will help and help unquestioningly.'


There is the example of Zimbabwe, shunned by its former supporters in Europe and the United States because of the government's self-destructive land reform programme, its efforts to undermine democracy and its poor human rights record.


Into the void stepped China, which embraced the resource-rich state as one of its closest African friends.


China's top legislator, Wu Bangguo, spent four days in Zimbabwe during a recent tour of Africa.


Arriving with gifts of 45 laptop computers and other office equipment for Zimbabwe's parliament, Mr Wu and his delegation set to work signing joint business ventures in mining, transportation, communications and power generation.


The countries agreed to set up a direct flight between Beijing and Harare to help attract Chinese tourists to Zimbabwe's largely empty hotels and game parks. 'With all-weather friends like the People's Republic of China, Zimbabwe will never walk alone,' said Zimbabwe's Speaker of Parliament Emmerson Mnangagwa during the Chinese delegation's visit.


Likewise Sudan, with which the United States cut off trade in 1997 for Khartoum's sponsorship of terrorism, found Chinese entrepreneurs eager to develop oil fields, refineries and pipelines where Western oil companies could not operate. Sudan is one of China's major sources of imported oil.


In return, China has showered Sudan with assistance, building Khartoum's Friendship Hall, the Friendship Hospital, a bridge over the Nile, a rice farm and a textile mill. More importantly, China was instrumental this year in thwarting a US-backed United Nations Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Sudan for its support of marauding Arab militias, blamed for the deaths of tens of thousands of Sudanese in Darfur.


'This is the best kind of partner you can ask for,' says Mutrif Sideeq, undersecretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, speaking several days after the Security Council passed a watered-down resolution against Sudan.


African analysts say China's growing influence in Africa comes with some risks. China's unconditional aid to select African nations threatens to undermine long-standing Western efforts to strengthen democracy on the continent.


China risks sullying its image as it cozies up to African regimes like Sudan that have been widely condemned for human rights abuses. In a recent report on Sudan's oil industry, Human Rights Watch charges that China's oil imports from Sudan have given the Sudanese government the financial resources to buy weapons from Beijing and other nations to further violence against rebels in the South. - LAT-WP

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Was My Ancestor A 13th Century Chinese Warlord?

Here’s an update on some exciting happenings over here.  First, the least exciting bit: Thanks to those who have sent in their orders of my first book – The Greenland Seal Hunter ( ).  Keep them coming… Christmas is near – the books are ideal for those with friends into traveling to unusual places.  Let me know if you would like to order more of my book. 


My next journey will be on the early hours of Christmas Day, to Hainan Island in southern China.  Only slightly smaller than Taiwan, Hainan is a province first settled by Han Chinese two thousand years ago and today is home to 8 million people including 1 million members of the Li and Miao ethnic minority tribes.  Hainan is also a tropical island with gorgeous beaches in the south which hosted Miss World 2004 this week.


More importantly, my father was born here in 1938 in Tai-jia village, and brought to Singapore when he was two, on a little boat full of refugees fleeing the Japanese invasion.  They encountered pirates and had to take shelter in a protected bay on the Mainland, before proceeding on a long and dangerous voyage to then British ruled Singapore.  In short, it was a treacherous journey not very different from the Vietnamese boat people of the 1970s and the Afghans on their rickety boats to Australia.


For me, this coming trip is a journey to my ancestral village and past.  It is a journey that I have long contemplated – I have been to 20 Chinese provinces (out of 30) and yet never been to Hainan.  There is an element of excitement as well as fear, not to mention some embarrassment over the fact that I can hardly speak the Hainanese dialect.


Coincidentally, the past month had seen the dissolution of Nam-Li, my father’s clan association for immigrants from the village of Tai-jia in Hainan Island, after 70 years of existence.  For the knowledge of those not from Singapore, the clan association is basically a community group set up by immigrants from a specific locality, to provide mutual assistance and local contacts.  Singapore is an immigrant society where 76% of the population are ethnic Chinese whose forefathers emigrated here in the 19th century and early 20th century.  The clan associations have for a long time provided a link between the new immigrants with their clansmen from the old homeland.  However, with time, the children of the immigrants have become citizens of a new country as memories and affinity with the old country faded away.  As clan associations fell into irrelevance and memberships and funds dwindled, they are being dissolved and assigned to mere historical memory. 


By a stroke of luck, I have managed to salvage interesting material from Nam-Li’s premises, before everything else went to the junkyard.  I have donated most of these to the National Archives and would donate the rest after my own research.  Over the past few weeks after working hours, I found myself embarking on an exciting though unexpected process of self-discovery. 


Among the old dusty volumes of association records, I found what appeared to be family records that traced my family roots in Tai-Jia Village to a Chen Gong-chen, imperial scholar who moved to Hainan Island from Mainland China, in 1241 after he was appointed Chief Magistrate of Wen-chang county in the final years of the Song Dynasty (960-1279).  As Mongol armies closed in from the North, crushing the Song empire, defeated Song armies and refugees rushing onto boats and fled to Hainan Island, the southernmost outpost and last stand of the Chinese empire. 


At this point, Chen assumed supreme power as the Hainan Military Governor to organize resistance to the Mongol invasion.  The records were not clear of what exactly happened.  There were hints of chaotic times, political dilemma and difficult decisions.  As it transpired, the Mongols offered a deal.  In exchange for peace with Mongol sovereignty, Chen would be made supreme governor of Hainan and admiral of the South Seas.  Chen accepted the offer.


Shocking discovery – not just the fact that I could trace my roots to the 13th century, but also whether my ancestor, Chen Gong-chen, was a traitor to China, or a pragmatist who had to save the many people under his protection.  Let’s put this in the context of the era – the Mongols had conquered most parts of the known world – most of China except Hainan, Korea, Central Asia, Middle East, Russia and were besieging Krakow and Budapest.  (Marco Polo had just reached Dadu, capital of the Mongols and met Kublai Khan.)  The eight-year old Zhao Bing, last Song emperor, strapped himself to the back of prime minister Lu Xiufu, who jumped into the sea off the cliff near Hong Kong when they were surrounded by Mongol forces, thus the end of the Song royal family.  Chen, commander of the last Chinese forces, had to decide whether to continue an almost certainly futile resistance against the world’s most powerful empire even after the demise of the royal family, or to secure the safety of the many thousands of refugees who have reached this final edge and remnant of China.


Chen ruled Hainan on behalf of the Mongols who soon demanded for a test of his loyalty by ordering an invasion of Champa, a Hindu kingdom in what is today central Vietnam.  Chen succeeded in conquering Champa and went on to participate in the invasion of Annam, the Vietnamese kingdom around Hanoi.  For his contributions, Chen was awarded many titles.  His son succeeded him as governor and went on to crush a tribal rebellion of the Li people in Hainan.  Six generations later, in the 15th century, a descendant of Chen’s son founded the village of Tai-jia, where my father was born five hundred years later.


Amazing facts – there are still a lot of questions and many mysteries.  There is a lot from those material that I do not fully understand.  For me, an exciting process of self-discovery has begun and I wonder what more I would discover.  To be honest, I smell a good story, perhaps material for a new book.


Oh, dear friends, wish me luck!



Wee Cheng



Thursday, December 02, 2004

Remembering a War - The 1962 India-China Conflict


Remembering a War - The 1962 India-China Conflict






The Rediff Special/ Dr Gregory Clark


From - Oct 24, 2002







The Sino-Indian frontier dispute of 1962 was a key part of my education in foreign affairs, even though I was largely a bystander.


If I relate the details now, 40 years later, that is partly because they remain important in themselves. But even more importantly, they are also crucial to understanding the lying and duplicitous nature of Western foreign policies during the Cold War years.


For much of 1962 I was the official directly in charge of Chinese affairs within the East Asia division of Australia's former department of external affairs. As a Chinese language speaker, I had previously been stationed in Hong Kong as second secretary for two years.


At the time it was obvious that India was pursuing a forward policy in all three sections of the 'line of control' border with China. Posts and patrols were being pushed further and further into territory that seemed clearly to lie on the Chinese side of that border.


Beijing was warning heavily that if the pressure continued, inevitably there would be conflict. I decided to look much more closely at the claims both sides were making to disputed territory.


At the time, in any dispute involving China, Canberra's usual assumption was that Beijing was in the wrong. China had been labelled an aggressor in the 1950-53 Korean War. Taiwan was still a hot issue at the time, with China once again seen as an aggressor following the very dangerous 1958 Taiwan Straits crisis involving the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu (the civil war nature of Beijing's dispute with Taiwan had conveniently been forgotten).


1959 saw Beijing's suppression of the Tibetan uprising. By 1962 the Sino-Soviet dispute was underway, with Beijing firmly seen as seeking to follow a much more anti-Western and harsher ideological line than Moscow. None of us realised then what I later worked out to be the key cause of the dispute, namely Khrushchev's withdrawal of the Soviet nuclear umbrella from China during the Taiwan Straits dispute.


All this combined with events along the Sino-Indian border served to create in the West the image of an aggressive China already on the move and out of control.


But when I began to look at the details of the Sino-Indian frontier dispute a totally different picture emerged.


In the NEFA, China seemed tacitly to have accepted the Indian claim and the fact of Indian occupation, even though this meant the loss of a very large and valuable territory populated by Mongoloid people and which in the past had clearly belonged to Tibet. It had come into Indian hands only as a result of British expansionism during China's period of historical weakness, a fact firmly suggested by the very name of the frontier Beijing had tacitly accepted as the line of control --- the McMahon Line.


In the central sector there seemed to be little to contradict Chinese claims to the small pockets of territory being contested. In the western Aksai Chin sector the Chinese claim seemed overwhelming --- the facts that most of the land lay on the Chinese side of the watershed, that China had built a badly needed road to connect Tibet with Sinkiang through the barren landscape without New Delhi even realising it, and that the population even on the Indian (Ladakh) side of the 'line of control' border was Mongoloid and Tibetan Buddhist.


When thanks to Alastair Lamb's important book, The China-India Border, I discovered that the Indian claim was based on serious distortions of 19th century British-Chinese documents, I was amazed by the seeming vehemence of New Delhi's very weak claim to the territory. (Distribution of Lamb's book was banned in India at the time.)


Even more disturbing was New Delhi's demand that China evacuate the entire territory before there could be serious border talks.


In short, it was obvious that Beijing was preparing for a very reasonable compromise settlement to the frontier dispute, namely giving up the NEFA claim in exchange for India accepting China's Aksai Chin claim.


This would leave India in control of by far the most valuable piece of territory, namely the NEFA. That India seemed to want to reject this very generous solution seemed most unreasonable. The Nationalist government in Taiwan was already criticising Beijing for being willing to abandon historical Chinese territory in the NEFA.


Gradually I began to realise that the entire dispute had to be seen in the context not of border rights and wrongs, but rather of Nehru's anger over loss of an Indian presence in Tibet after the establishment of the Communist regime in China and particularly after 1959. He seemed to believe that somehow the situation could be reversed by continued pressure on China.


At the time the details of how India had co-operated with the CIA in helping foment the 1959 Tibetan uprising were not known. But Beijing was already providing good evidence of Indian involvement. In short, and even without looking at the facts on the ground, it was very likely that New Delhi, not Beijing, was instigating border tension.


A key piece of evidence showing that Beijing was not trying to be aggressive along the border was the so-called Tibetan Documents --- material captured from a Chinese frontier post in mid-1962 and smuggled out to the West via Washington. Careful reading of the documents made it clear that Beijing was very concerned about Indian policies over Tibet, and warned Chinese officials constantly about the danger of Indian provocations.


In other words, China was clearly on the defensive. But none of the people around me at the time seemed very interested in this kind of reliable inside evidence of Chinese thinking. They had already decided that Beijing was aggressive, and that was that.


When serious fighting broke out on October 20 as Chinese troops moved south across the Thag La Ridge area following Nehru's October 12 order to have Indian troops occupy the Dho La Strip territory, I made it my job immediately to check where the disputed Dho La Strip territory was actually located. Extremely detailed and seemingly objective material coming out of Beijing, including copies of the original McMahon Line agreement, complete with maps, seemed to confirm that both the Dho La Strip and the Thag La Ridge were indeed north of where the McMahon Line was supposed to be. In which case, India was clearly the aggressor.


I sent cables to our offices in London and Washington with instructions to find out whether British and US intelligence confirmed my conclusions about the location of the strip and Indian activities there. A day or two later, probably around October 24, very guarded replies came back from relevant officials saying in effect that my conclusions were not inaccurate.


What to do? Already London, Washington, and Canberra were coming out with strident condemnations of Chinese aggression against peaceful India. Many were already saying how this was the first stage in a Chinese thrust through to the Bay of Bengal. Canberra had even announced that it would supply weapons to help peace-loving India resist the Chinese aggressors.


I decided to send up a submission to my superiors saying that Indian claims of unprovoked aggression from China were not quite as strong as most believed, and that Canberra's rushed offer to supply weapons should at least be conditional on a New Delhi promise to negotiate the frontier in a more serious manner.


My two immediate superiors accepted the submission, despite their normally rather hawkish views. But it came to a dead stop in the hands of the then division head, David Anderson, later to be Australia's ambassador to Saigon.


In the margin he had scrawled: "I fail to see that it is not in the Australian interest to see the Chinese and the Indians at each other's throats."


For me, this was the ultimate example of the ugly Cold War realpolitik that was to lead eventually to the mess that Anderson was to confront later in Vietnam. From then on there was little more I could do, other than contemplate cynically Canberra's puzzlement when the Chinese 'aggressors' failed to press on to the Bay of Bengal and in fact returned to precisely where they had started, without even trying to seize some of the NEFA.


Later, I resigned from external affairs in 1965 and became involved in the anti-Vietnam War protest movement. At the time the myth of an 'expansionist' China, with heavy emphasis on the 1962 Sino-Indian dispute, was being used constantly to justify Western, including Australian, intervention in Indochina. The only answer, it seemed, was for me to try to write a detailed book on China, pointing out the not unreasonable nature of Beijing's foreign policies.


A key element in rebutting the 'China as Asian aggressor' image would be a chapter giving full details of everything I knew about the 1962 Sino-Indian dispute. Other chapters would discuss the Sino-Soviet dispute (where I had already worked out the Taiwan connection), the civil war nature of the Taiwan dispute, and Tibet's role in the Sino-Indian dispute plus the fact that Tibet has always been seen as Chinese territory.


During a 1963-5 Moscow posting I had got to know India's top China expert, also posted there at the time, and he had confirmed my feeling that Tibet was indeed the key to Nehru's aggressive frontier policies.


The book, In Fear of China, finally appeared in 1968. I had assumed naively that the detailed research I had done with so much effort on the Sino-Indian dispute would be widely read and would awaken world opinion to the facts.


But publication had not been easy. At the time I was supposed to be studying the Japanese economy full-time at the Australian National University. I had reluctantly been given a mere six months to go off and write the book. The ANU Press, which earlier had promised to publish the book, rejected it on the advice of the then heavily pro-government foreign policy International Relations Department (it was also heavily infiltrated by intelligence people determined to keep dangerous anti-government policy academics like myself at bay).


Melbourne University Press also withdrew a promise to publish (its head was later shown also to be closely involved with Australia's intelligence establishment).


Eventually I found a commercial Australian publisher --- the Lansdowne Press. But its weak overseas connections meant the book, and the all-important Sino-Indian chapter, could easily be ignored by the then ultra-hawkish US and UK foreign policy establishments. The China Quarterly, then the main journal on Chinese affairs and at the time edited by later UK governor in Hong Kong David Wilson, and which earlier had published much supporting the Indian case over the border dispute, managed dismissively to review my book in a single paragraph.


It was not until publication of Neville Maxwell's very important book, India's China War, in 1972 that the facts could no longer be ignored. But by that time it was too late. As Henry Kissinger is reported to have said at the time, if he had known the facts of the dispute earlier, his image of Beijing as inherently aggressive would have weakened, together with his support for US intervention in Indochina.


Former US secretary for defence Robert McNamara has also confirmed that the Washington view of China as aggressive was the key factor behind that intervention, with its three million deaths in Vietnam plus another million or so deaths elsewhere in Indochina.


And to think that it all began at that remote Dho La Strip, and that the inability of people like myself to get the facts out was at least partly responsible for the subsequent tragedy....


Alternative View: The Tiananmen Square massacre myth


An alternative view that is gaining credance in Asia. 


The Tiananmen Square massacre myth



By GREGORY CLARK Japan Times 2004.09.15 



China's recent ceremonies to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of former leader Deng Xiaoping have given the Tiananmen massacre myth yet another lease of life. Most media commentators, the BBC especially, have rehashed the standard condemnation of Deng as a hardliner who instigated a massacre of harmless demonstrating students in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.


Why someone who had suffered cruelly at the hands of Cultural Revolution hardliners and who did so much to push China on the path of liberalization should himself become a hardliner is not explained. Even less does anyone seem to have felt any need to check out just what actually happened in Tiananmen in 1989. Eyewitness accounts that say there was no massacre have been conveniently ignored. Blatantly anti-Beijing propaganda accounts have been unquestioningly accepted. Fortunately we now have a source whose sober impartiality cannot possibly be doubted, namely the de-classified reports from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing at the time (see Google under Tiananmen, Document 31 especially).


They confirm that there was no massacre in the square, that almost all the students who had been demonstrating there for two weeks had left the square quietly in the early hours of June 4, and that the real incident was panicky fighting triggered by crowds attacking troops, initially unarmed, as they headed for the square on June 3.


In the process a still indefinite number of troops, students and civilians were killed and many military vehicles were torched. Call it a mini civil war if you like, with troops eventually getting the upper hand over unarmed insurgents. But that is not a deliberate massacre of innocent students.


Curiously, the photo that most media use to illustrate the alleged student massacre shows a row of blazing army vehicles, some with crews trapped inside, in a long avenue that clearly is not part of Tiananmen Square. Indeed, the U.S. Embassy material speaks of troops only finally entering the square after some students attacked and killed a soldier in a vehicle at the entrance.


True, the Communist Party leadership under Deng later rounded up and imposed severe jail terms on student leaders involved in the Tiananmen demonstrations. But the same leadership had tried in vain to offer concessions to the students when they were camped in the square, and some of the student leaders have since admitted they were foolish to reject those concessions. Troops were only sent to remove the students when things were getting out of hand and the square needed to be cleaned up in advance of a Beijing visit by Soviet leader, Mikail Gorbachev.


Leader Li Peng later admitted that the real problem had been Beijing's inexperience in crowd control. Lacking the devices and trained police squads commonly used in the West for such control, it had had to rely on inexperienced troops.


If Beijing is to be faulted, it is for creating the conditions that encouraged the June 3 fighting outside the square. Years of insane Cultural Revolution economic policies and political oppression had created a sullen and impoverished proletariat only too willing to seize any excuse for antiregime violence. The attempt to remove the students from Tiananmen gave them that excuse.


Surprisingly, the media moralists so upset over the nonexistent Tiananmen massacre have little to say about the very brutal massacres of student demonstrators in Mexico (1968) and Thailand (1973). There, no effort was made to negotiate with or tolerate the students. They were rounded up immediately and killed in the hundreds. Yet both governments continued to enjoy Western approval. Meanwhile Beijing has had to suffer more than a decade of Western odium and sanctions for a non-massacre.


The New York Times, which should know better, recently ran an article by David Brooks opposing a EU move to lift some of these sanctions. He writes blandly of Beijing killing 3,000 students in the square. No sources are quoted. It is taken for granted that a massacre occurred.


This is not the first time Beijing has been condemned for something that did not happen. Perhaps the worst example was the Sino-Indian 1962 frontier war. As China desk officer in Canberra's foreign affairs bureaucracy at the time, I had to watch on impotently as the world, including Canberra, accused China of making an unprovoked attack on India when the evidence in front of me proved clearly that it was India that had first attacked China, across even the furthermost line of control demanded by India. It would be more than a decade before that evidence finally found the light of day. In the meantime, the myth of Chinese aggressiveness would be used to justify a raft of Western atrocities in Asia, the Vietnam intervention especially.


Another favorite of the anti-Beijing media has been alleged genocide in Tibet. This, when Tibetans, along with other minority peoples, have been allowed to have as many children as they wanted and Chinese have been subject to Beijing's one-child policies.


The latest sledgehammer aimed against Beijing, and a major reason for perpetuating the Tiananmen myth, is a claimed lack of Western-style political freedom. Whether Sinitic-culture nations with collective leaderships able to claim moral or revolutionary legitimacy -- Singapore is a good example -- should have to abide by Western-imposed standards of political conduct is debatable, particularly given the political circus we are seeing now in the U.S. But that aside, has anyone thought seriously of what would happen if China had our system of rival political parties competing for votes? First victim would be Beijing's one-child policy. The next victim would be the rest of the world as it tried to cope with the resource shortages and pollution created by a booming Chinese population. China is already destined to become a leading economic and political force in the world. The Western media should try harder to take it seriously.