A colleague of mine once confessed that the most difficult thing to teach in a Chinese history class, is that Chinese people are human. Of course, no student would deny the humanity of Chinese people, but China’s image is so demonized that students experience cognitive dissonance in face of any positive facts about Chinese history. The facts, after all, tend to contradict the stereotypes, and so students hesitate to accept the truth.

Should we be surprised then, that those same stereotypes have the power to inspire brutal attacks against people of Asian descent?

Victims of anti-Asian hatred may trace their…


No power on earth can compare with that of the monarch, detail from the frontispiece to Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. Photo by author. Permission courtesy of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

Following the second impeachment something more serious than Donald Trump’s malfeasance got put on trial. The authority of facts was under cross-examination. Democratic senators repeatedly cited the facts and compared them to the president’s charge to “faithfully execute” the laws, showing that the two didn’t tally. Republicans refused to acknowledge the contradiction, resorting to name calling and equivocation as a defense. Since then, the assault on facts and logic has become the core political tactic of America’s far-right populist party.

A chorus of critics agree that the war on facts and logic poses a severe threat to democracy — citizens…


South China Morning Post, 6/24/20

https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/3090305/us-china-bashing-rooted-myths-western-superiority

Abstract: Across the centuries, Europe propagated anti-Chinese stereotypes as a response to the perceived threats to European might. Whatever the differences between China and the U.S. today — and that is getting harder to discriminate — China once provided Western liberals with a model of a less stratified society fostering rational policies for the public benefit. A rational response to China requires distinguishing between its beneficial policies and those we might reject, but in the heat of hysteria, that is difficult to do. This might be a good time for both sides to revisit their shared, cosmopolitan past.


South China Morning Pos, 1/31/21

https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/3119848/could-bidens-plan-unity-us-help-patch-relations-china

Abstract: Donald Trump’s us/them, zero-sum logic has not only divided the U.S. His racist agenda also exacerbates U.S./China relations. Stereotypes about a democratic West and a Despotic China do not stand up to scrutiny. In fact, Merrick Garland’s understanding of law could serve as a paraphrase of a ninth-century Chinese definition of law. Biden’s political thinking is broadly Jeffersonian, but some of Jefferson’s thinking echoes translations of Chinese documents in his library. Competition between the two great nations will not abate any time soon, but humanity’s best chance for combatting global threats like climate heating and a pandemic lies in U.S./China cooperation. Echoing Joe Biden’s inaugural address, it makes sense for both sides to “stop the shouting, and lower the temperature”.


Could Biden’s Plan for Unity Help Patch Relations with China?

South China Morning Pos, 1/31/21

https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/3119848/could-bidens-plan-unity-us-help-patch-relations-china

Donald Trump’s us/them, zero-sum logic has not only divided the U.S. His racist agenda also exacerbates U.S./China relations. Stereotypes about a democratic West and a Despotic China do not stand up to scrutiny. In fact, Merrick Garland’s understanding of law could serve as a paraphrase of a ninth-century Chinese definition of law. Biden’s political thinking is broadly Jeffersonian, but some of Jefferson’s thinking echoes translations of Chinese documents in his library. Competition between the two great nations will not abate any time soon, but humanity’s best chance for combating global threats like climate heating and a pandemic lies in U.S./China cooperation. Echoing Joe Biden’s inaugural address, it makes sense for both sides to “stop the shouting, and lower the temperature”.


Ann Arbor (Special to Informed Comment) — “Let the constitution of a government be what it will, if there is but one man in it exempt from the laws, all the other members must necessarily be at his discretion.”

Perhaps we should thank Donald Trump for demonstrating the truth of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s insight. No sooner did the Beltway accept “presidential immunity” as normative than Trump demonstrated how easily a reality television star could render the world’s leading democracy powerless to check even the most blatant abuses.

Following the election and Trump’s refusal to concede, the reality of this fact finally…


Ann Arbor (Special to Informed Comment) — On the left, there is widespread agreement that Trump’s immigration policies are informed by white supremacist doctrines. His travel ban on Middle Eastern nations was racially charged, not to mention restricting aid to Puerto Ricans ravaged by a hurricane. Combined with the utter absence of sympathy for families of murdered Americans, it would appear that race connects the dots in this administration’s policy puzzle, yet Trump-team’s hysterical China-bashing is often accepted as a legitimate response to an existential threat. Can we be certain that race plays no part in that drama?

Many recognize…


History Shows Why a U.S./China Clash is Not Inevitable

Recommending sanctions as a response to the treatment of Uighurs, The Guardian nonetheless urged that “whatever can be done to slow the runaway, off-the-rails train of Trumpian China policy more generally, and resolutely oppose racism and indiscriminate China-bashing, is equally necessary.” Good advice, but in America the word “China” has become so toxic that writers avoid it even when listing successful responses to the pandemic.

How should a rational reader cut through the hype? We might begin by questioning conventional but racialized assumptions about East and West. One common refrain is…


https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portland_Protesters_in_Tom_McCall_Waterfront_Park_on_June_3,_2020.jpg

Ann Arbor (Special to Informed Comment) — When Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in1997, the Western press loudly bemoaned the death of Democracy, but those of us who had lived there knew better. In times of stress colonial rule more closely resembled Trump’s Portland than a citadel of law, with the use of militarized police and extra-judicial abductions as common tools of racialist state policies. The resemblance is not fortuitous.

In the year of the handover, Richard Klein published a heavily-documented article in the Boston University International Law Journal detailing the systematic suppression of dissent in Hong Kong throughout…


Indignation runs rampant of late, and the easiest target is one or other group: immigrants, Muslims, the police. Indignation can be positive when it rouses us to action against injustice. I often regret its absence in our representative’s response to the daily theft of public funds. That indignation would be directed at particular persons for specific crimes.

When indignation takes an entire group as its object, it becomes righteous and potentially destructive. Righteous indignation presumes to condemn from a position of moral superiority, in contrast to social justice, which is rooted in equality.

Martin Powers

Martin Powers writes op-eds for the South China Morning Post and Informed Comment. He twice received the Levenson Prize for Best Book in Chinese Studies.

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