March 2006

Hello everyone,

well, I’ve sorted through the forms I collected from you all at the first meeting, and I’m happy to say that I have six coordinators who volunteered for six of the subgroups.

the coordinators and their subgroups are as follows:

Language Exchange = Shentu Yujing

Sports = Ramsay Johnston (me)

History = The Royal Asiatic society (Me, Judith, and some others)

Nightlife/party = Vivienne (Wu Jing)

Hiking = Nyugen Thi May

movie = Alisa Wang

For anyone interested in the art and literature subgroups, please volunteer to be the coordinator of the subgroup, as there is plenty of interest in both of these areas, however, someone needs to step up and take a bit of responsibility for them to come into being.

At the next meeting, which will take place at the same Jazz bar, 393 xixi road, on Friday, march 24th at 7:00 P.M., the coordinators will have lists for those interested in their specific subgroups to sign their names and emails onto. Then the coordinators and i will determine the schedule of events for each of the subgroups, and we will email the members of our subgroups to inform them of the time and place of the first meeting of the subgroups.

Also, on thursday, march 23rd at 7:00 p.m. the first meeting of the history club will take place, near the main gate of Yuquan campus. anyone interested in attending, please contact me.

I hope all of you can come back and get to know the rest of the people in the club a little better. Remember, this club is all about making friends across cultural boundaries, and it is going to keep growing if you all believe in the club’s mission.

Thanks everyone for helping me build this great thing for Hangzhou, and please come out next friday and join us as we get the intouch cross cultural club into action.

your friend,

Ramsay Johnston

Well everyone, the cross cultural club I started up a few weeks ago in Hangzhou has officialy had its first in-gathering. About 100 people from roughly fifteen countries attended the meeting at the Jazz Pub on xixi lu, just north of the Yuquan Campus of Zhejiang University where the Friend’s World Center is located.

So far I’ve gotten sterling feedback from everyone involved, who said that it was long past time that the club got established to bring together the expat and local populations here in Hangzhou for mutualy beneficial bifurcated interaction through the facilitation of friendships utilizing common interests. Once I analyze the mountain of forms looming in the corner of my room, I’ll be able to determine the sub-groups which will form the future, cellular and autonomous yet held together under the umbrella nature of the club.

“I hate flowers. I paint them because they’re cheaper than models and they don’t move.” – Georgia O’Keeffe 

Chinese Nationalism: An Exploration of the Meaning
The class I am currently taking concerning the Chinese version of nationalism taught by professor Liu Wei engendered an immediate question related to exactly what nationalism is defined as, and how it can be seen as different in the Chinese context. To begin my exploration of this subject, I looked up some definitions of nationalism and tried to translate them into the current political context of China; and in so doing, I found that I knew a little more about what nationalism is than I had previously thought.
                The first definition I found proved to be one of the most illuminating, since before reading it, and certainly before I began to take the class ‘Chinese Nationalism,’ I had never truly classified the political ideology as a negative one;
“The advocacy of the utmost political advancement of one’s nation or people, without regard to the consequences, in promoting hostility and competition, discrimination and vilification.”
                The above definition is easily understood in the Chinese context, since the process of legitimizing the current so called Communist government following the failure of the world-wide proletariat revolution involved the vilification of any nation which could be seen as responsible for hindering that revolution, i.e. the western powers, and also the island neighbor to the East, Japan. Competition is also promoted amongst the neighboring nations, though this is something which is a result of the realization that China is only a country like every other country, rather than the only civilization on earth – the dominant view held by the Chinese for millennia until the imperialist powers invaded and defeated the Chinese on their own ground, after which the recent butt-end of all the xenophobic anti-foreigner Government rhetoric, the Japanese, did the same.
Interestingly, despite the fact that the current government calls itself a Communist government, it has always sought to have a enemy to vilify and provoke popular support against; from the bourgeois to the imperialist invaders to the puppets of the imperialists to Russia to the west, and in particular America and Japan – an action which implies the need to legitimize the misnomer ‘Communist government’ by aiming the anger of the populace at that same government outwards through the remembrance of decades-old wounds. In this way is nationalism fostered under the auspices of Communism while the Chinese commoners retain the anger they have at their own political system but find it reflected off of the propaganda machines of that system towards ‘enemies’ with which they have no recent quarrel.
                The next definition I found related to nationalism paints it in a neutral light, though the negative aspects come out when one considers the implications of such a state as it attempts to classify all of China’s diverse populations into a single entity, which is much the same when studying the three other large countries whose nationalisms are the foundations of the study on the subject of Nationalism, namely Brazil, India, and The United States of America. That the multiple ethnic groups are being assimilated in response to the nationalistic drive of the nation makes the political ideology something which endangers cultural diversity and thus degrades it into yet another tool of globalization, however obscure the connections.
The prospect of all the people ‘living together’ under the auspices of a state created all of them with all of their cultural values and traits upheld is nowhere worse defined than here in China, were the majority alone are catered to and a minority of that majority hold the reigns of power – however, any Communism has been proven historically to fail in assimilating the peoples which its umbrella philosophy blankets over and attempts to muffle, making my objections of a purely intellectual sense;
“An ideology that each nation constitutes a natural political community whose members should all live together under the authority of “their own” independent nation state.”
                The following four part definition was fascinating mainly because within it I perceived the contradiction which is inherent within any nationalism: that any nation claiming to be composed of a number of equally represented minorities who are mutually agreeable to this umbrella-government are in fact composed at least in part by groups or members of groups who wish to have their own independent state which upholds the doctrines, principles, and ethnic traditions of their particular culture as the primary governmental precepts. This is as true in China as it is in any other nation where it is possible.
Another interesting aspect of the following definition is the equation of patriotism to nationalism: this is a thing ill-defined, if the purely positive sentiment of loving one’s country can be equated to vilifying others in the process. For instance, to take directly form the same definition, line two, patriotism does not necessarily mean that the national interests of your own nation are superior to any others, but rather that you support them strongly and love the ideals they stand for, that you are ready to lay down your life to defend these principles, but are not necessarily ready to aggress upon other, peaceful societies to overthrow their ideals and imprint your own upon their culture.
To put patriotism and nationalism into the same definition is academic misconduct of the worse kind, basically for the same reason why I had never had nationalism correctly defined to me before I researched it myself, which I had no inclination of doing since I had always thought of it as a principle equitable to patriotism.
Finally, and with a prominent point relating to China, is the last of the four definitions of nationalism in this single, many-pronged definition, that being that it is the doctrine that nations should act independently, rather than in joint effort, to attain their goals. Now I understand why the political ideology is scoffed at if professed: the illogicality of supporting isolationism in national efforts which are better conducted in cooperation with other polities is easy to laugh at, especially when one glances through the history of such single-nation endeavors and finds the many failures which have resulted from what can basically be boiled down to ignorance and pride. One must simply glance through the notorious historical blunders which such single-nation objectives have devolved into in the past, mistakes disastrous in nature of economic, political, religions, and military ethnocentric origin, for the countries who turned a blind eye to the objective views of their culture offered from the international arena;
“patriotism: love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it; “they rode the same wave of popular patriotism”; “British nationalism was in the air and patriotic sentiments ran high”
the doctrine that your national culture and interests are superior to any other
the aspiration for national independence felt by people under foreign domination
the doctrine that nations should act independently (rather than collectively) to attain their goals”
                The next definition is interesting because of similar deficiencies in the terminology of the definition itself which implies an equality within the nationalistic state which has never existed in any of the examples of those states. The second part of the definition is also interesting due to a dual misapplication: on the one hand, the nationalism is termed discrete or implied but when a government holds as its political voice a nationalistic megaphone nothing is discrete or implied about it – it is blindingly obvious exactly what is being done, and discretion or implication can only exist when issuing from a smaller organism than a state government, though perhaps I am taking advantage of a relatively removed vantage point when I make this claim; on the other hand, as aforementioned, the ‘distinct identity’ which is referred to only applies to those of the state in question who receive the full benefits of the nationalistic system, and none of the minorities in China have ever achieved that – in fact, the only distinct identity to reap all the benefits of the nationalism currently in full swing in China is the Han nationality, a half-truth in and of itself.
In the case of China, as with any other country that claims nationalism, and indeed any country made up of diverse ethnicities, this distinct identity is only the most powerful ethnic group of many who have asserted the claim to domination over the others and at the same time made the assumption that these others would be classified as ‘of them’ rather than as ‘other than them.’ One aspect of this definition which I see as indicative of the truth of nationalism is the terminology in the first sentence, which states clearly that nationalism is in fact an ethnically-oriented realpolitic that fosters the sense of a nation for an exclusive group of people – what is left out of this half-finished sentence is that nationalism, when fostering that sense for that select group of elites, deprives the others who are included inside the boundaries of such a state the right to express their own cultural diversity;
“Nationalism is an ethno-political ideology that sustains the concept of a nation-identity for an exclusive group of people. It is the discrete or implied doctrine which holds the preservation and independence of its distinct identity, in all its aspects, and the “glory and wellbeing” of the nation as core aspects of its fundamental ethos.”
                The last definition in this exploration of explanations of nationalism was included because it refers to something which must be considered when approaching the topic of Chinese Nationalism today: that all of the nations which have proclaimed their nationalistic ideologies have thereafter gone down paths which history has shown us are detrimental to the health of the people of the state involved – paths which usually find the dominant ethnicities either making up with those minority groups they had for so long suppressed, or being taken over by them;
“The belief that groups of people are bound together by territorial, cultural and (sometimes) ethnic links. Although nationalism developed in the 19th century and led to the formation of the nations of Germany and Italy, it was the cause of some of the most dramatic events of the 20th century.”
                What have I come to view nationalism as, then? In truth, I take it as the unintended application of the individual’s perspective on all of those who share the same national status as the individual, unintended because it is an assumption tacitly made and never clearly understood, based on ignorance of the diverse reality of the nation which is the individual’s home. Nationalism is bigotry, bias, xenophobia, and in the truest sense, an apparent admittance of self-consciousness and perhaps even self-loathing, cloaked in the projection of that hate outwards, hidden from inspection because the nationalistic individual will never have to compare his own enterprises with those of other nations, and thus find the falsity of his lofty ideals.
I think nationalism is the equivalent of the ‘in-crowd’ in high school in America: at the time it seems great to have an isolated niche that never changes and thus never needs to learn the processes of adaptation, evolution, and interaction – there is comfort in non-motion, especially at a young age, be the organism an individual or a nation; however, after graduation, the members of the group have all been left far behind in these basic facets of aforesaid interaction.
So does nationalism imply a will to dominate all others, this theory being derived from the fact that nationalistic/xenophobic societies never need to cultivate the growth of  the skills which are necessitated by multi-national societal systems and fostered by notions of equality and interaction amongst those who are decidedly different from the singular ethnicity which is nationalistic?
Perhaps, though it is far simpler to see nationalism as the group of people who will only learn the error of their ways after everyone else has tired of trying to tell them.
                In conclusion, I found nationalism to be something which states suffer through if they believe themselves inadequate in inter-national competition: the biggest drawback of nationalism, other than the isolation which ensues, is the limitation of the nationalistic individual’s perceptions of himself, his nation, and the world, since these are based on a model which becomes stagnant and ill-suited to the reality of social evolution always occurring, under the tenets of any political, religious, or cultural ideology, even those of nationalism.

When existing outside of the frame of reference which has earned – for an idiosyncratic array of rational and meaningless elucidations which usually defy the power of the tacit – the title ‘home,’ and considering what one has lost, it is imperative to remember that the principal psychological fixation all of us lose once we make the great leap outward is the reality of our definition of home: our nascent persona’s training ground, that abode of the self which seems inimitable and eternal.
While the mental construct remains unchanged throughout the duration of one’s time away, upon returning he or she will find that the truth of life at the origin of the exodus has percolated slowly into a cup of purified change, adapting and mutating as the habitual structure of those one leaves behind evolves to support life without the vagabond who has managed to escape the imbedded and imbedding social dance, as the particulars take on their forbidding magnificence – for so long taken for granted.
As Thomas Wolfe wrote, ‘You can never go home again,’ meaning that whether or not one chooses to retreat back to the dwelling of the subconscious child inside, to the place one calls home, that dwelling will have been demolished, paved over, and rented out to people you barely know anymore, people who seem to barely know you.
            I have lost the sense of a tangible home, a place I can follow the dusty roads of attachment towards, a place I can return to – yet that paves the way for what T.S. Eliot articulated, ‘ return to a place and know it for the first time.’
            So what have I lost? It would be easy to say…home. But perhaps, for all of what seems to be my loss, I have gained a perspective on the place I love so much, removed from the cultural homogenization which circumscribed my former view of it, and that now, after all the travels of my wayward existence, I have baptized my home in the fire of sabbatical and found the secret name of the place I for so long misidentified: my home is myself.

Josiah Ramsay Johnston

Ethnography: Non-Participation Observation

I performed an ethnography at Starbucks to observe the cultural hybridization overhauling Chinese society while concordantly getting my daily fix, believing I would be able to blend into the blatantly western shtick at a Starbucks a bit easier than I would have been able to in a place where it was less common to find isolated western men rapidly losing interest in hasty half-thought nonsense such as myself, thus making it easier to ‘fit in’ while I observed as unobtrusively as possible – meaning I was only kind of falling out of my chair fueled by far too many espressos, my leg only slightly thumper-esque.

Essentially, I thought that at Starbucks, a place which epitomizes guiltless self-indulgence and the necessary denial that results from deliberately taking part in the exploitation of countless droves, I would find Chinese individuals who would fit into a demographic with which I had little experience thus far while in China: the affluent; I also enjoyed the paradox of a symbolic representation of capitalism in a nation which for so long denied the value of said system, situated on its own concrete peninsula, thrust out  like a masthead into the cultural relic of West Lake in an incredible yet apparent contradiction of semiotic terms.

I observed the lower level of the Starbucks on Nanshan rd. for two hours, from 12:30 P.M. until 2:30 P.M., on January 22nd, 2006.

Data – A few of the inferences included the following:

1)Westerners who showed up at the cafe stayed much shorter spans of time than the Chinese who frequented the spot, implying a culturally-inherited lebensangst necessitating frequent and excessive movement in reaction to large, anxiety-inducing amounts of caffeine, as well as things to meet and people to do;

2)Westerners were the only ones who came by themselves, relating both a lack of the stereotypical loner-intellectual for which European cafes are so unhealthy as well as a system which supports those types and the spare possibilities of aforementioned round-eyed hominids in swindling some hapless chick into an ‘English lesson’;

3)Of the Chinese observed, about 90 percent seemed to be couples, and the rest were single-gender groups, as well as two father and daughter pairs – though any of these groups could feasibly have been slotted into any of the other categories if one has an imagination like this guy I know who isn’t me;

4)The average Chinese couple stayed at Starbucks for roughly an hour and a half – far longer than the average time spent in Starbucks by Americans, even in America, where the music isn’t quite as Kenny G.

 5) The Chinese present wore American brand names rather than their Chinese counter-parts, and spent a great deal of money on a simple morning at the Café, implying both affluence and at least a certain level of acceptance of things western, basically mind-altering alkaloids – and who can blame them;

6)There was a level of jollity in the atmosphere of the room, due partly to the sun, partly to the affluence, but some small bit seemed unaccounted for, and while caffeine may be the obvious answer, I also believe in at least the possibility of Starbucks as a kind of haven from the reality of the state in which the individuals live, in some sense, that state being one of constant mental girl-running;

7)Another difference I noted, as opposed to cafes in other parts of the world, was the interaction of the couples present in the observation area, the seemingly business-like relationships, the lack of P.D.A. (with the exception of one, rebellious-looking couple who managed to get kicked out of the place), and the reactions they made to each other in conversation, reactions that made every couple seem as if they were insecure about their status with their significant other as well as with the social group of which they were a part – occasionally, ten minutes would pass in awkward silence while the man tried to think of something to say and the woman looked at the hairy ghost in the corner scribbling;

8)Cold drinks were often the choice of the Chinese at Starbucks that day, defying the freezing temperature outdoors with a kind of merry masochistic stoicism derived from some inane sophism concerning irrational behavior when in the presence of aliens, which I have observed elsewhere;

9)Strangely, or perhaps not, the one mixed couple I observed stayed about one hour – exactly the median between the Westerners and the Chinese – making my theory law and my foot thump faster;

10)Despite all the couples present, and relevant to my previous note on public intimacy, only the rebellious looking couple kissed during the course of my two-hour observation, and then they promptly were asked to leave – due in part to the fact that they didn’t order anything;

11)The children some of the older couples had with them were allowed to consume massive amounts of sugar straight from the packets, as well as coffee, which expedited and magnified their screams until I saw ripples in my fifth espresso and felt a sudden urge to throw my chair at unspecified organism;

The limitation I encountered with this method of observation was basically the fact that it was limited to the range of possible explanations of the phenomena I observed which were derived from my own necessarily limited frame of reference, which in turn was based on facets of experience gained in vastly different settings. The implication of this limitation is, basically, that any of my aforementioned conjectures can only be seen as what I experienced, rather than what actually occurred, and thus must be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Or double-espresso.