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Mar 15, 2018

Slavery: Cory Turner

Why Schools Fail To Teach Slavery's 'Hard History'
By: Cory Turner

"In the ways that we teach and learn about the history of American slavery," write the authors of a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), "the nation needs an intervention."

This new report, titled Teaching Hard History: American Slavery, is meant to be that intervention: a resource for teachers who are eager to help their students better understand slavery — not as some "peculiar institution" but as the blood-soaked bedrock on which the United States was built.

The report, which is the work of the SPLC's Teaching Tolerance project, is also an appeal to states, school district leaders and textbook-makers to stop avoiding slavery's hard truths and lasting impact.

The Teaching Tolerance project began in 1991, according to its website, "to reduce prejudice, improve intergroup relations and support equitable school experiences for our nation's children."

The report includes the "dismal" results of a new, multiple-choice survey of 1,000 high school seniors — results that suggest many young people know little about slavery's origins and the government's role in perpetuating it. Just a third of students correctly identified the law that officially ended slavery, the 13th Amendment, and fewer than half knew of the Middle Passage. Most alarming, though, were the results to this question:

Which was the reason the South seceded from the Union?

a. To preserve states' rights
b. To preserve slavery
c. To protest taxes on imported goods
d. To avoid rapid industrialization
e. Not sure

Nearly half blamed taxes on imported goods. Perhaps, the report's authors guessed, students were confusing the Civil War with the Revolutionary War.

How many students chose slavery as the reason the South seceded?

Eight percent.

"Slavery is hard history," writes Hasan Kwame Jeffries in the report's preface. He is an associate professor of history at The Ohio State University and chair of the Teaching Hard History Advisory Board. "It is hard to comprehend the inhumanity that defined it. It is hard to discuss the violence that sustained it. It is hard to teach the ideology of white supremacy that justified it. And it is hard to learn about those who abided it."

The problem, according to the report, is not that slavery is ignored in the classroom or that teachers, like their students, don't understand its importance. Many clearly do. The problem is deeper than that.

The Teaching Tolerance project surveyed nearly 1,800 K-12 social studies teachers. While nearly 90 percent agreed that "teaching and learning about slavery is essential to understanding American history," many reported feeling uncomfortable teaching slavery and said they get very little help from their textbooks or state standards. The report includes several powerful quotes from teachers explaining their discomfort, including this from a teacher in California:

"Although I teach it through the lens of injustice, just the fact that it was a widely accepted practice in our nation seems to give the concept of inferiority more weight in some students' eyes, like if it happened, then it must be true. Sometimes it gives students the idea to call black students slaves or tell them to go work in the field because of the lack of representation in textbooks. So when students see themselves or their black classmates only represented as slaves in textbooks, that affects their sense of self and how other students view them."

And this from a teacher in Maine:

"I find it painful, and embarrassing (as a white male) to teach about the history of exploitation, abuse, discrimination and outrageous crimes committed against African Americans and other minorities, over many centuries—especially at the hands of white males. I also find it very difficult to convey the concept of white privilege to my white students. While some are able to begin to understand this important concept, many struggle with or actively resist it."

Jackie Katz, a history teacher at Wellesley High School in Wellesley, Mass., says student discomfort is a big challenge when talking honestly about slavery.

"When you bring up racism, kids start getting really defensive, thinking that they're to blame," says Katz. "To feel comfortable, you need to have a really good classroom climate, where students feel that they're not being blamed for what happened in the American past, where they don't feel shame about it. It is 100 percent not their fault that there is racism in this country. It will be their fault if they don't do anything about it in the next 20 years."

This defensiveness from students does not surprise Ibram X. Kendi, a professor of history at American University and author of the National Book Award-winning Stamped From The Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas In America.

"Saying that the deadliest conflict in American history was fought over an effort to keep people enslaved conflicts with students' sense of the grandness of America, the grandness of American history and, therefore, the grandness of themselves as Americans," says Kendi.

Beyond this discomfort, the report lays out several key "problems" with the way slavery is often presented to students. Among them:

Textbooks and teachers tend to accentuate the positive, focusing on heroes like Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass without also giving students the full, painful context of slavery.
Slavery is often described as a Southern problem. It was much, much more. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, it was a problem across the colonies. Even in the run-up to the Civil War, the North profited mightily from slave labor.
Slavery depended on the ideology of white supremacy, and teachers shouldn't try to tackle the former without discussing the latter.
Too often, the report says, "the varied, lived experience of enslaved people is neglected." Instead, lessons focus on politics and economics, which means focusing on the actions and experiences of white people.
States and textbook-makers deserve considerable blame for these problems, according to the report. The project reviewed history standards in 15 states and found them generally "timid," often looking for slavery's silver lining; hence a common preference for coverage of the abolitionist movement over talk of white supremacy or the everyday experiences of enslaved people.

"State standards we looked at are simply confused," says Maureen Costello, the director of Teaching Tolerance. "We celebrate the heroes who escaped slavery long before we explain to children what slavery was."

Reviewers also studied a dozen popular history textbooks, using a 30-point rubric to measure their engagement with slavery's key concepts. No book scored above 70 percent; five scored below 25 percent, including state-level texts from Texas and Alabama that earned just 6 points out of a possible 87.

Teaching Hard History comes out of earlier work the Teaching Tolerance project had done, unpacking how schools teach the U.S. civil rights movement.

"One of the reasons that schools don't teach the civil rights movement particularly effectively," says Costello, "is because we don't do a very good job of teaching the history that made it necessary, which is our long history of slavery."

Mar 10, 2018

War Crimes

78 Years Ago Today Churchill Incinerated 100,000 Defenseless Civilians in Dresden
By: Michael Hoffman

The original headline of this article was: 'The People Who Were Burned to Ashes on Ash Wednesday'

"In the sky Allied fighter planes caught sight of the civilian train and opened fire on the children inside, whose blood was soon pouring out of the wreckage."

It was Shrove Tuesday, 1945 in the magnificent German art city of Dresden, which was packed with helpless Christian refugees fleeing the Red Army of the Stalinist USSR. Dresden’s native Lutheran and Catholic children, dressed in their festive Saxon folk costumes, were aboard a train taking them home after Mardi Gras parties at different points in the far-flung city.

Still merry from the night’s festivities, they cavorted on the train prior to Ash Wednesday, February 14, and the solemnities that would be observed even in wartime, in memory of the passion and death of Jesus. In the sky Allied fighter planes caught sight of the civilian train and opened fire on the children inside, whose blood was soon pouring out of the wreckage.

This carnage registers almost not at all in the American mind. The holocaust in Dresden, lasting two days and killing at least 100,000 people, like the atomic holocaust in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, usually merits not much more than a few sentences or a single paragraph in the back pages of metropolitan newspapers, unlike “Yom HaShoah (יום השואה) Holocaust Remembrance Day,” in April, which is observed with countless civic, educational and media events, hosannahs, apologies and genuflections, from the Vatican to the White House. The barely remembered German and Japanese victims of Allied war crimes were of the wrong race and religion.

In the spring of 1945, after prosecuting the bombing holocaust against every major German city, and with the end of the Second World War in sight in Europe, Winston Churchill began to consider his reputation in the post-war period, when the 500,000 German innocents he ordered incinerated could come back to haunt him and stain his prestige. On March 28, 1945 he issued a deceitful, back-stabbing memo blaming the mass incineration on his own Bomber Command and by insinuation, upon its commander Arthur Harris, whose force would be denied a post-war campaign medal, and Harris a peerage.

Harris and Bomber Command had been only following Winston Churchill’s explicit orders, yet Churchill attempted to shift responsibility onto the corps of airmen who had suffered among the highest casualties of any branch of the British military.

Churchill, like many others, endeavored to blame Germany for being the first to saturate civilians with terror-bombs —at Guernica in Spain on behalf of Franco’s forces, and in Rotterdam, during the war with Holland. In both cases Churchill stated that thousands had been killed. Even one death is regrettable of course, but less than 100 people were killed in Guernica according to historian David Irving, and less than a thousand in Rotterdam, when the Luftwafe accidentally struck a margarine factory and the flammable liquid burned houses nearby.
Churchill had said “thousands” died in Guernica, and that 30,000 perished in Rotterdam, which is more than what Deborah Lipstadt says died in the two-day inferno in Dresden (the absurdly low figure of 25,000 is now the officially fixed count to which the “news media” comform without deviation).

The Germans had pledged not to be the first to bomb civilian centers in Britain. Churchill had hoped they would carpet bomb London to give him the excuse to silence the large peace movement in England which was dogging him in 1940, at a time when the Germans had not dropped a single bomb on London, almost a year after Britain had declared war on Germany.

The British Prime Minister obtained his pretext toward the end of August, 1940, when a lone, wayward German bomber “lost its way flying up the Thames” river. It had orders to attack an oil refinery, but instead dropped its bombs on London’s East End. No one was killed thankfully, but Churchill was elated.

He had the excuse he needed to massively retaliate against Berlin, knowing Hitler would respond in kind, and that the British peace movement would vanish in the smoke and flames of the “Battle of Britain” and the “Blitz.” Churchill ordered a hundred bombers to attack Berlin. Royal Air Force (RAF) commanders warned him that the Luftwaffe would do the same to London.

At this juncture we pause to contemplate the bloody treason that was at the heart of Churchill’s soul: he wanted as many of his own English civilians in London to die as possible, so he could point to their deaths as the justification for a total war against Germany, and he succeeded in his objective.

To this day the war crime the leaders of Britain and the United States perpetrated in Dresden is justified on the basis of the tired fable that “Germany did it first to Rotterdam and Guernica,” and “Look at the terror the Germans visited upon London.” Nothing that occurred in Guernica, Rotterdam, or for that matter London, begins to even approach the scale of the holocaust that the firebombs of the air forces of Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt inflicted on Dresden.

On September 4, 1940 Hitler gave a speech in which he stated that if the “mad drunkard” Churchill continued to attack Berlin, the Germans were not going to stand by and take it. It was Neanderthal thinking on the führer’s part: you club me over the head and I will club you. Hitler was almost always outfoxed by the clever machinations of the masonic treachery at the heart of Britain’s ruling class.

No matter what Churchill ordered, Hitler should have limited his air campaign to British military sites and munitions factories (the Luftwaffe never bothered to attack the factories that built Britain’s Lancaster bombers).
On September 6 the English people heard the ominous drone of a fleet of Luftwaffe bombers flying up the Thames. Some 3,000 Londoners subsequently died. Now Churchill had what he wanted. You won’t find these facts in the multi-volume history he wrote, or in the pages of the work of the conformist historians. To learn the truth one must read and study the revisionists, particularly the demonized David Irving, the preeminent military historian of World War II in the Atlantic theatre.

Irving’s nemesis, Deborah Lipstadt meanwhile, has taken it upon herself to deny the holocaust casualty figure of 100,000 for Dresden, but God help any one of us who would have the temerity to doubt the Six Million casualty figure of Holocaustianity, or even to apply the word “holocaust” to what happened in Dresden.

I challenge any reader to collect the legacy media’s descriptions of the bombing of Dresden from the 1990s onward and count how many term it a holocaust.

The extent to which we are imprisoned in an Orwellian dystopia of our own making is revealed when we consider the fact that it is regarded as highly insensitive or indeed “anti-Semitic” to violate the self-appointed Newspeak holocaust trademark appropriated by the Holy People, and apply it to the German cities that were incinerated, or to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even though those war crimes were genuine holocausts by dictionary definition: “Destruction or slaughter on a mass scale, especially caused by fire. Origin: Greek holokauston, from holos ‘whole’ and kaustos ‘burned.”

Even in the liturgy of Holocaustianity it is not decreed that most Judaic victims of the Nazis perished by fire. A half-million German civilians and three-quarters of a million Japanese civilians (including the victims of the fire-bombing of Toyko), were indeed burned to death, yet it is a thought crime to say so. Tell me we are not all cowards for allowing truth itself to be forbidden. We live in Talmudic times.
This writer is sometimes accused, as a researcher in the field of the Babylonian Talmud, of seeing the Talmud where it is not. It is not so much the Talmudic texts themselves that we observe in our society, but the results of their influence. The single most remarkable dimension of Talmudic halacha is its narcissistic exceptionalism, born of the self-worship it inculcates.

Prof. Lipstadt, who has made an career out of stigmatizing anyone who doubts any aspect of the “Holocaust” narrative, as a diabolic “Holocaust denier,” is free to deny, without negative consequences, the holocaust in Dresden, because of her exceptional status as one of the Holy People. She may do as she likes with history, in ways that the rest of us may not. For that reason alone we cannot respect the religion of Holocaustianity.

It is not history. It is a product of Talmudic megalomania. Few of us tolerate fanatical egoism from Catholics, Protestants or Muslims. The very idea raises our secular indignation and “Separation of Church (or Mosque) and State!” is our cry, in the face of it. But to shout “Separation of Synagogue and State!” in nations where Holocaustianity is the last truly believed state religion in the otherwise agnostic West, would be unthinkable for anyone who valued their reputation, employment, personal safety, or in Europe, freedom from incarceration.

Beyond the “Jew and gentile” entanglement is the fratricide: Churchill and his top military circle were not Judaic, yet they set afire the medieval cities of their German cousins, who only two generations before had comprised the royal blood within the House of the German-speaking Queen Victoria.

A thousand years of national and religious wars in Europe had not managed to wreak the destruction which Mr. Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt directed against the cultural treasure houses of western civilization, in cities like Dresden. They tossed a match into Dresden as casually as a drooling meth addict would torch an apartment building for revenge on the landlord who had evicted him.
Yet “conservative Christian” American university professors and administrators in institutions of higher learning such as Michigan’s esteemed Hillsdale College, which is the recipient of millions of dollars in donations from “Conservatives” seeking to preserve western civilization, have hallowed Churchill into a paragon of decency, courage and western leadership. This view of this mass murdering vandal is such a defect of vision as to be fatal spiritually, culturally and politically on a national scale.

If the powers that be decided, for example, that Russia needed to be fire-bombed, given sufficient pretext our “Conservatives” would do it all over again in the name of “civilization.” The blood of the innocent in Moscow and St. Petersburg would signify no more to the Hillsdale College type of crusaders than the charred bodies of the civilians in the apocalyptic wreckage of Dresden.

American civilization in 2018 is not worthy of the name. We have the illusion of a civilization, which we cherish for our own aggrandizement and nostalgia. “Conservative” America has made common cause with the Talmudic mentality, as did Antonin Scalia, another of its plaster saints.

At the start of Lent 2018, seventy-three years after the Allies’ mass murder in Dresden, we inhabit the money changer’s house, where Christ on the Cross is sold not just for a buck, but for a bucket of Talmudic vindication.

Mar 3, 2018

The Figure a Poem Makes: Robert Frost

Written in 1939, Robert Frost’s essay is combative, ironic, cryptic, delightful, damning of scholars and, for aspiring poets, encouraging of both a formal awareness and a cavalier attitude. The Figure a Poem Makes talks of the experience of writing rather than reading and the resulting poem is first described negatively (what it is not) then more positively in the famous phrases that it is a “momentary stay against confusion”, that it begins “in delight and ends in wisdom”. Along the way, Frost images the poet as giant, lover and grasshopper. Like most of his comments on poetry, the essay does not develop in a scholarly way, but there is an underlying coherence and in what follows I hope to track it down. You can read Frost’s full text here. I have also posted a discussion of Frost’s poem ‘A Soldier’.

Paragraphs 1-3
Frost opens in the middle of a battle against what he calls “abstraction”, long accepted as part of philosophic method but now – in the first half of the 20th century – “a new toy” in the hands of poets. This idea occupies the opening 3 paragraphs of the essay. It is the temptation to separate out the constituent elements of a poem and to elevate or prioritise one over all others. Frost’s faux-infantile tone here suggests he will not be offering any approval of this method (“Why can’t we have any one quality of poetry we choose by itself? . . . Our lives for it.”). He floats the idea of focusing only on the sound a poem makes – “sound is the gold in the ore”. He’s thinking of the experiments in sound of a Mallarme, a Tennyson, or a Swinburne, the lush aestheticism of a few years before. It may also be relevant that, in the UK, Dylan Thomas’ early work had appeared in the mid-1930s.

“sound is the gold in the ore”

But Frost’s doubts about such approaches to poetic composition take a surprising form. From the premise that “the object in writing poetry is to make all poems sound as different as possible from each other” he argues that a reliance solely on linguistic and formal elements (“that of vowels, consonants, punctuation, syntax, words, sentences, metre”) is never going to be enough to achieve this aim. If we abstract for use only the sonic and formal elements of poetry, “[a]ll that can be done with words is soon told”. Frost is known for his interest in form (as against other Modernists’ scepticism about it) so it’s with some surprise that we hear him say: “So also with metres – particularly in our language where there are virtually but two, strict iambic and loose iambic. The ancients with many [more varieties of metre] were still poor if they depended on metres for all tune. It is painful to watch our sprung-rhythmists straining at the point of omitting one short from a foot for relief from monotony”.

With this Frostian chuckle, it’s clear that only monotony results from this approach and also that the poet can only gain relief from it with “the help of context-meaning-subject matter”. This clumsy, composite term is quickly honed down to the single word “meaning” (later in this essay he uses “theme” and “subject” to refer to the same thing). This is Frost’s argument against the lure of abstraction. The poet – even merely to achieve poems which sound as different as possible from each other – must have something to say, must mean something. The limits of pure sound/form can be breached once meaning is played across the sonic/formal qualities of language. For me this gives rise to images of a jazz soloist improvising across the rhythms of a band. For Frost: “The possibilities for tune from the dramatic tones of meaning struck across the rigidity of a limited metre are endless. And we are back in poetry as merely one more art of having something to say”.

The third paragraph opens: “Then there is this wildness whereof it is spoken”. The quasi-Biblical turn of phrase here suggests irony is again at work and it is a second form of abstraction that Frost is mocking. The “wildness” of a poem is the way its component parts are related – or not – to each other. He mocks the kind of “Poem” – note the ironic upper-case – that results from those who seek “to be wild with nothing to be wild about”. Though the sudden switches of focus, the jump-cuts of strong emotion, the leaps and gulfs of epiphanic moments are certainly (Frost implies) part of great poetry, the Modern(ist) abstractionist will want the leaps and jumps “pure”. Frost is again concerned about the lack of “context-meaning-subject matter” in this kind of poetry. He is taking aim at Surrealism with its reliance on irrational leaps, its dislocation of the senses, the shock value of the illogical. For Frost such practices lead only “to undirected associations and kicking ourselves from one chance suggestion to another in all directions as of a hot afternoon in the life of a grasshopper”. To create poetry that has something to say, Frost suggests for the second time that “Theme alone can steady us down [. . .] a subject that shall be fulfilled”.

Paragraphs 4–6
The essay now moves away from the constituents of a poem to the process of its writing, a process Frost sees as organic, instinctive, unpredictable, exploratory, holistic, and – like love – an experience and source of pleasure. This is where he uses the title phrase and the figure of a poem turns out to be ‘the course run’ by the poem, its track or trail or locus. The elliptical sequencing of the next few paragraphs doesn’t help the reader but Frost considers 5 areas: the poem’s origins, its development, its impact on writer and reader, the importance of the poet’s freedom.

The delight with which a poem begins is “the surprise of remembering something I didn’t know I knew”. I don’t think this need be a literal recalling (on this Frost is not Wordsworth) but an insight or sensing of a connection between things which has a familiarity and feels like a remembrance. (The way in which metaphor is at the root of poetry and, perhaps, all knowledge is a point Frost developed in ‘Education by Poetry’ (1931)). The substance of this initial insight is what constitutes at least the beginnings of the “context-meaning-subject matter” so essential to any successful poem. All poets will recognise such a moment as Frost describes: “I am in a place, in a situation, as if I had materialized from cloud or risen out of the ground. There is a glad recognition of the long lost and the rest follows.” But from such momentary delight and recognition (which will be accompanied by powerful emotions, even tears), Frost makes it clear the process, the figure, of the poem’s making, still lies ahead and is one of surprise and discovery.

As the poem struggles to exist, the poet must remain alert and watchful to what may help build it as “it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events”. It is a fundamentally metaphorical process of making connections, often quite unforeseen ones: “The impressions most useful to my purpose seem always those I was unaware of and so made no note of at the time”. In a striking image, Frost suggests we are like giants, drawing on elements of previous experience and hurling them ahead of us as a way of paving a pathway into our own future. We make sense of what we encounter by reference to what we have experienced in the past. It’s in this way that a poem is able to result in “a clarification of life – not necessarily a great clarification, such as [religious] sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion.” Our pathway ahead is illuminated, even if only briefly, by the ordering and landscaping the poem creates towards future experience by reference to what we already know.

This is why Frost teasingly argues the logic of a good poem is “backward, in retrospect”. What it must not be (and he has his earlier abstractionist targets in mind again) is pre-conceived or imposed before the fact (even if what we pre-impose is the illogical kicking ourselves from one chance suggestion to another). Such willed pre-conception can never yield anything other than a “trick poem”. It is not a prophecy, but rather something “felt”, a feeling figure, an emotional response involving both past and future and it must be “a revelation, or a series of revelations, as much for the poet as for the reader.” The crucial role of emotion is perhaps easily missed. And to allow the role of the passions, Frost insists on the greatest freedom of the poetic materials to move about, to be moved about, to establish relations regardless of time and space, previous relation, and everything but affective affinity. This is Frost’s answer to one of the writer’s constant quandaries: how true to the original experience must I be? For Frost, truth to the emotional response at the inception of the poem (not necessarily the original incident’s emotional charge) is key and that demands artistic independence and freedom. Some distance is required.

Paragraph 7
The essay comes to concentrate finally on the necessary freedoms of the poet. The artist’s freedom is the freedom to raid his own experiences: “All I would keep for myself is the freedom of my material – the condition of body and mind now and then to summons aptly from the vast chaos of all I have lived through.” It’s in this freedom that Frost contrasts scholars/academics and artists. Scholars work from knowledge. But so do artists – this is the point of the early paragraphs of the essay. But the two groups come by their knowledge in quite different ways. Scholars get theirs via a conscientious and thorough-going linearity of purpose. Poets, on the other hand, acquire theirs cavalierly and just as it happens, whether in or out of books. Poets ought to “stick to nothing deliberately, but let what will stick to them like burrs where they walk in the fields”. Poets do not learn by assignment, Frost says, not even by self-assignment.

In the course of the figure a new poem may be making, the poet must assert his liberty to work in a dramatically metaphorical way, to be possessed of both “originality” and “initiative” in order to be able to snatch “a thing from some previous order in time and space into a new order with not so much as a ligature clinging to it of the old place where it was organic”.

Frost concludes with another vivid image of the poem making its figure in the course of composition. “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.” The aptness of the image lies partly in the ice’s gradual vanishing (what a poem can offer is only ever “momentary”) and the frictionless quality reflects Frost’s insistence that a poem cannot be “worried into being” through pre-conceived effortfulness. The ice’s movement is generated and facilitated by its own process of melting and the poem too must propel itself (not be propelled by the artist). The resulting figure follows an unpredictable and fresh course, the links it draws from both past and present towards the future offering temporary clarifications of all three for the poet and (something Frost does not explore here) perhaps finally broadcast, available and effective for its readers too.

Mar 1, 2018

Mao, Women and China

Thousands of Women Used and Discarded by Mao
Translated from Kanzhongguo (10/11/2009)

Mao Zhedong’s licentious life may be well known by many people, especially overseas Chinese who are able to talk freely among their acquaintances. Recently, as there are many people talking on the web about the adultery of Mao and his daughter in law, I recalled what I had known about Mao, and hope it may help those women who had suffered and maybe help release some of their sorrow.

I recall in the 90’s, that when I was working in China, a friend told me that there was a very beautiful girl (let me call her G) who was secretly selected from a section of the army posted in Baoding, who was sent to be Mao’s secretary, or some similar position. When G was sent there, after she was introduced to Mao, Mao told G that his marriage to Jiangqin was not very good, etc. and he hoped to sleep with G, but would like G to agree. G refused persistently. So G was sent back to the army. My friend told me that G’s superiors in the army were very angry with G as they feared that G may have destroyed their chances for promotion. G immediately faced severe persecution and disappeared. Later I found that this was just a “little incident among thousands of women” that Mao tried to possess. Let me put a few cases here:

Mao had about 15 places for his dalliances with women, other than Zhongnanhai, that were well know by his close guards and many top leaders of the Communist party.

These cases are only a drop in the ocean. For those women who were well known before being raped, they still struggled to have a life afterwards, but the unknown girls that were selected from the masses, after being seduced and sexually exploited, they were either sent to the remote corners of China, or to isolated islands, to remain anonymous for the rest of their lives. It might be possible that some of them may think that their story should be told.

All of you would know, I hope, is that for those girls, who were born later than 1950, I will only talk about their cases, but will not reveal their names.

From those who researched the history of Mao from sources other than publications by communist China, you may know that Mao’s first wife, Ms Lee, was 6 years older than Mao, and was chosen by both senior members of the family. They were married according to Chinese tradition, and bowed to heaven, earth and their parents, the proper process for a traditional marriage. But Mao left her without explanation a few days after the wedding.

Even when that miserable American journalist, Edgar Snow, thought to please Mao and asked about Mao’s first marriage, Mao did not even bother to answer him. Mao never showed any respect, compassion or tolerance to ordinary people, and he left his small village and his first wife for good shortly after the marriage.

The first lover Mao encountered was Miss Tao Siyong, who came from Xiangtan county, Hunan province. She was from a very wealthy and famous family, a well educated, very gentle and compassionate lady. She was a classmate of Mao in Changsha First Teacher’s college, and they were from the same province. From 1919 to 1920, Mao and Tao opened a bookshop together, and they were very much in love during that time. But in the summer of 1920, Tao could not bear the attitude of Mao on rebellion and violence, and besides, Mao had turned his attention to Yang Kaihui.

Yang Kaihui’s father, Yang Jichang was Mao’s teacher in the college. Yang Jichang was a very famous scholar and was invited to teach in Beijing. So Yang Kaihui and her mother lived in Beijing for a while although Yang Kaihui knew Mao, but did not take any interest in him.

On 17th January 1920, Yang Jichang died so Yang Kaihui and her mother returned to Changsha. Mao then visited Yang Kaihui often while supposedly still “in love” with Tao. Mao and Yang Kaihui decided to get married in mid 1920.

Ms Tao left Changsha for Shanghai. She opened a school called “Lida School”. Tao died in 1932 when she was only in her early thirties.

Between 1922 and 1926, Yang Kaihui had two sons with Mao, Mao Anying and Mao Anlong. But soon after giving birth to Mao Anlong, Yang discovered that Mao had raped the wife of his comrade, Li Lisan. Yang and Mao had a big quarrel because of this.

Mao had started looking for a political career at an early age, and joined the communist party in it's early stages. The Chinese Communist Party had been established with the guidance and funding of the Russian Communist Party.

In the autumn of 1927, as directed by the Russians, Mao took part in a rebellion which was crushed by the nationalist army, so he fled to Mount Jinggang in Shanxi.

Two days after Mao arrived in the mountain, Mao started to live together with a famous woman of the area, Ms He Zhizheng, a young woman who made a living as an armed robber in the mountain area, and who could fire two guns at the same time. Ms He give birth to a daughter in 1928, while Yang Kaihui was living in Changsha trying to avoid being arrested by the nationalist army because of Mao’s student activities.

Yang had lived through a very hard period and asked Mao to let her come to Mount Jingggang , but Mao refused to allow her and their two sons to come. During this time Mao and other communists in Mount Jinggang, had committed many robberies and killings, so that many people asked help from the government, to purge Mao’s gang and stop their crimes.

In the winter of 1929, Yang Kaihui was arrested by the government, but as the governor was a friend of Yang’s father, he asked Yang to end her marriage with Mao, so that he could help her case. But Yang refused to renounce her marriage to Mao and she was executed on 14th November 1930.

In October, 1934, Mao was chased out of Jiangxi province by the Nationalist army. Mao and his communists were running for their lives in remote areas for more than a year, but Mao had made Ms He pregnant three times in one year and she had 3 abortions which caused her health to deteriorate badly.

Soon after that they arrived in Shanbei, Yanan area, where, away from the main Nationalist force, Mao’s situation became easier. But Mao had his new prey, the American journalist, Ms Agnes Smedley and her English interpreter, a young student, Ms Wu Guanghui. One day Ms He witnessed Mao’s adultery, and was so enraged that she said: "I will get my people to kill these two slugs". Mao then had his people force He Zhizheng out of Yanan.

So that is why many Chinese communist leaders would say nowadays: “I have conquered this country, so playing with a few women is not some big deal.”

After Ms He was forced out of Yanan, she went to Moscow in the spring of 1938 where she gave birth to Mao’s sixth child. When the baby was born it had pneumonia, but rather than receive treatment it was sent to the morgue while still alive. Ms He was treated badly by the Russians who understood Mao’s intentions. Ms He begged Mao to let her go back to Yanan, but Mao sent their three year old daughter to Moscow in return to Ms He’s request. Later, He Zhizheng argued with the hospital in Moscow about her baby being thrown in the morgue, but the hospital locked He Zhizheng in a psychiatric hospital for 6 years!

In the summer of 1938, while Ms He suffered in Moscow, Mao met actress Jiangqin (aka, Lan Ping or Li Yunhe). Jiang had four husbands or lovers during that time. Mao invited Jiang to chat and dine with him, and Jiang slept with Mao that evening.

During that period, there were four beautiful and famous actresses in the Yanan Theatre - they were Feng Fengming, Shun Shiwei, Zhang Xingfang, and Guo Lanying. Mao had his eye on Feng Fengming while sleeping with Jiangqin. Ms Feng had travelled overseas and was a well educated and talented actress, also very beautiful.

One day Mao invited Feng and Jiangqin and other friends to join him for a late night snack after watching the performance. When all the guests were about to leave, Mao asked Ms Feng to stay to discuss the development of culture, but instead, he raped Feng that evening. Ms Feng was very angry and traumatised. She left Yanan and continued her career in Japan and Hongkong, and was very successful there.

In December, 1949, after the communist takeover of China, Mao and Zhou Enlai went to Russia with the Chinese communist leadership team, and Miss Shun Weishi, the adopted daughter of Zhou Enlai, was the translator for Mao. One evening, Mao locked the door as he was taking Russian language lessons from Miss Shun and the next morning, Miss Shun was shocked to find herself waking up naked in Mao’s bed. Miss Shun was so distressed and frightened, she told Zhou Enlai, and certainly Zhou was not shocked.

After they returned from Russia, Mao asked Zhou if Mao should divorce Jiangqin and marry Shun Weishi. Zhou did not agree, and he married Shun Weishi to the theatre playboy, Jing Shan, who also slept with Jiangqin. Later, Mao said to people around him, “well, me and Jing Shan, we don’t owe each other anything.”

But when Jiangqin heard that Mao had slept with Shun Weishi, she tried to seek revenge on Shun. In 1966, at the beginning of the "Great culturural revolution", Jiang had Ms Shun arrested and sent to jail. The torture of Shun Weishi was well recorded. Shun had been severely beaten, and was not allowed to wore any clothes in jail. She was executed by punching a long nail into her head. The execution order was signed by Zhou Enlai. She was only 38 years old.

In 1951, the Chinese communist army was helping the North Koreans to set up a communist state and split the Koreas. But the three armies of communist China stationed in South Korea, were facing annihilation. General Peng Dehuai went back to meet Mao urgently, but was stopped by Mao’s guard outside of the door. General Peng was very angry, and pushed past the guard to see that Mao was with a young nurse in bed.

In 1953, the performing troupe which was set up to entertain the army during the war was renamed the performing troup of Zhongnanhai, which meant that the troupe would stay inside Zhongnanhai. In fact, the girls in the troupe had to sleep with Mao in turn every night.

Sometime, Mao liked to change a few dance partners during just one song, and his manner was rude and disgusting. Some girls went to General Peng for help as they could not stand the humiliation. General Peng disbanded the troupe after receiving complaints from the girls.

In the summer of 1956, after Mao arrived in Qingdao, two of the best dancers, Miss A & B of the Qingdao performing troupe were chosen to have a special talk with the minister of the culture department in Qingdao city. After meeting with the minister, Miss A was chosen to work for a State leader as a private assistant. Miss A was sent by car (to use a car was rare in that period) which had all windows covered in black cloth. The driver purposely made many detours during the journey, and finally, they arrived at a mansion with well kept gardens and red carpet underfoot.

The first thing Miss A experienced was being medically checked by two female doctors “thoroughly”. Miss A was embarrassed as she was a virgin. She asked what type of leader needed such a check to be carried out? The female doctor answered her, “you will know, he is famous and always in the newspaper.” So Miss A was asked to go to help this leader have a bath while she was naked. She really had no idea what was going on, did not dare to enter the bathroom. Soon, that “central leader” came out from the bathroom. It was Mao. Miss A was not excited, but cried hysterically in shock. Mao said loudly, “who asked you to come?! Then Mao made an excuse and asked people to take Miss A back. The driver told Miss A in the car: “remember, nothing happened today!” The next day, Miss B was sent in her place, but Miss A was also sent away, to Mount Xinanling in Heilongjiang province, where she had to work as a woodcutter. She was raped frequently by many woodcutters while working there.

In 1978, two years after Mao’s death, Miss A was 42 years old, but she looked over 60. She was granted permission to return to Qingdao under the condition of “forgetting everything”.

Miss B who agreed to “serve the great leader” was sent to the remote mountain of Wuzhishan, on Hainan island, to live a seclusive life after being “used up” by Mao.

In 1961, after successfully starving 30 million people to death, Mao went to Shanghai to attend a meeting of seven thousand people. Mao stayed in the Xijiao hotel and thought of the famous actress C. Miss C was the most beautiful actress in Shanghai at that time. One evening after the dance party, the Minister for Culture, Zhang Chunqiao asked Miss C to stay, and told her that Chairman Mao had invited her for a late evening snack and to discuss with her about issues relating to the movie industry. Minister Zhang also told Miss C that the relationship of Mao and Jiangqin was not very good, and that it interfered with the national interests and development.

The central leaders in Beijing were all looking for a person more suitable for Mao, who would be beneficial to the future of the country. So Miss C started sleeping with Mao from that night. She stayed with Mao in that hotel for the rest of the week. She was also called to Beijing to stay at Zhongnanhai for a short time. From then on, Miss C refused any proposal from other men, and hoped to become the wife of the great leader Mao. But soon after that, the Cultural Revolution started. Miss C was facing the same fate as Shun Weishi, who was persecuted to death under instructions from Jiangqin.

In 1965, Mao went to Mount Lu. An actress from Jiujiang performing troupe, Miss D, played the Chinese instrument, Pipa. Mao liked her after watching her play, and was sleeping with her during his stay in the Mount Lu region.

Mao died on 9th September 1976. In October 1976, officers came from Beijing and took D away with them. No one knows where about D was sent. The workers in Mount Lu believed that D was sent to a place to be silenced, or to live a seclusive life.

In October 1965, when Mao was staying in Hangzhou, the local army officers found him a very beautiful girl, who was only 28 years old. Ms E was divorced and she was slim and tall. She massaged Mao every morning. Soon, she was pregnant. Mao gave her two thousand dollars and asked her to leave. There was no trace of E later on.

After E left, there was another young massage nurse F.

Mao liked F very much and called her "a fish from Wuchang province". But F was not as obedient as E. Mao’s personal assistant, Zhang Yufeng (I think everyone known about Zhang Yufeng’s relationship with Mao, so I do not talk about that here again.) remembered that F had run out of Mao’s bedroom on a few occasions, crying. Later, F was taken away by the army and no one knows her whereabouts after that.

In 1973, Mao was about to meet the leader from an Africa country. The camera man went to the meeting room a bit earlier than the arranged time to set up the camera and lighting. He found Mao holding a naked woman. The camera man was shocked and so was the woman. She quickly ran to the back of the screen in the room. But soon Mao and that African leader commenced their meeting while the women stayed behind the screen naked during the whole meeting. It was a cold night and if the air-conditioning failed, how would that naked woman stand the cold? Or if the screen had fallen it would have become the most infamous diplomatic meeting in the world.

According to those people who were close to Mao there were thousands of women or young girls who were raped and discarded by Mao.


Feb 17, 2018

The trouble with the Enlightenment

The trouble with the Enlightenment
By: Ollie Cussen

Like all good liberal intellectuals of the last century, Saul Bellow’s Moses Herzog spent a great deal of time agonising over the legacy of the Enlightenment. Cuckolded and divorced, Herzog seeks to make sense of himself, his country, and his century by writing unsent letters to philosophers and politicians, alive and dead. He laments the “liberal-bourgeois illusion of perfection, the poison of hope,” and demands that President Eisenhower “make it all clear to me in a few words.” Instead, he learns the brutal truth from his friend Sandor Himmelstein. “Somewhere in every intellectual is a dumb prick,” Sandor tells Herzog. “You guys can’t answer your own questions… What good are these effing eggheads! It takes an ignorant bastard like me to fight liberal causes.”

In the last decade or so, defenders of the Enlightenment have shunned Herzog’s anxieties about liberal modernity in favour of Sandor’s belligerence. In the wake of 9/11 and the perceived threats of Islamic fundamentalism, a brotherhood of articulate, no-bullshit philosophes, led by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, dragged debates about the Enlightenment’s legacy out of the academy and into the public sphere. They traced all that was worth defending in the modern western world to the 18th century, when rationality, science, secularism and democracy took hold of the European mind.

Though they possessed an impressive capacity for tub-thumping alarmism, these modern freethinkers were by no means the first to mobilise the Enlightenment for their cause. The 18th-century philosophes such as Voltaire, Diderot and d’Alembert effectively volunteered their services to the debates of subsequent generations by presenting themselves as the vanguard of modernity. In 1784, Immanuel Kant famously described the Enlightenment as “humanity’s escape from self-imposed tutelage”; it was an intellectual revolution which allowed the human mind to fulfil its natural desire to think for itself, and from which social and political freedom would follow. In short, the Enlightenment presented itself as the dawn of modern self-consciousness, and as the beginning of reason’s slow but inexorable triumph over myth and obscurantism.

Of course, the philosophes’ self-fashioning as liberators of mankind invited detractors. Just over 20 years after Kant’s triumphalist declaration, Hegel would blame the Enlightenment for the guillotine and the bloody excesses of the French Revolution, thus laying the groundwork for the criticism that the Enlightenment had sacrificed love, spirituality and tradition at the altar of reason and absolute freedom. Kant and Hegel effectively dug the trenches for the 20th-century philosophical battle over the Enlightenment. From Germany on the eve of the Nazi seizure of power, Ernst Cassirer launched a pre-emptive defence of Weimar liberalism by reviving Kant’s philosophy of reason. In Californian exile in 1944, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno retaliated against Cassirer’s naivety: the Enlightenment, they said, had found expression not in the dying embers of the Weimar regime but in the murderous furnaces of Nazi Germany, and in the technocratic totalitarianism that was then tearing Europe apart. (The view that the Enlightenment led to Hitler is today popular with the religious right. “You know the Age of Enlightenment and Reason gave way to moral relativism,” said Penny Nance, the CEO of Concerned Women for America, on Fox News earlier this week. “And moral relativism is what led us all the way down the dark path to the Holocaust.”)

Horkheimer and Adorno’s nuclear Hegelianism, translated into English in 1972, energised the postmodern critique of liberal universalism. Continental philosophers such as Derrida and Foucault attempted to reveal the absolutist and imperialist nature of the principles of justice and truth, while in the English-speaking world John Gray and Alasdair Macintyre blamed the Enlightenment for the misguided utopian political projects of the 20th century and for the atomised and materialist world of the capitalist west. Predictably, the loyal children of the Enlightenment fought back. Where Kwame Anthony Appiah described himself as a “neo-Enlightenment thinker,” others, such as Francis Wheen, opted for stronger language to combat “mumbo-jumbo” irrationalism, perhaps inspired by Ernest Gellner’s self-identification in his 1992 book Postmodernism, Reason and Religion as an “Enlightenment Rationalist Fundamentalist.”

The strident rationalism of Hitchens, Wheen et al is, in this way, simply the vulgarisation of a long intellectual tradition, whereby thinkers view the Enlightenment in terms of whatever happens to be “modernity” at a given time, whether it is the atheist and communist modernity of the early 20th century or the secular, democratic modernity of today. As the Stanford historian Dan Edelstein recently pointed out, “accounts of the Enlightenment accordingly become something else entirely: thinly veiled ideological manifestos or pale reflections of current trends.”

Which makes it all the more strange that none of the major voices in this recent debate about the legacy of the Enlightenment belongs to a historian. It’s not as if the archives have been absent of historians investigating the intellectual world of 18th-century Europe. Since at least Peter Gay’s monumental The Enlightenment (1966), scholars have been attempting to reconstruct what the philosophes thought about their own politics and societies. What’s more, they have told us who read the philosophes’ work and what they made of it. They have told us that the Enlightenment was not only based in Paris and Scotland but in Italy, Poland and the European periphery. They have debated the reformist and revolutionary influence of the Enlightenment, and argued whether we can even speak of a single Enlightenment, given its various local manifestations. Our knowledge of the political, intellectual and cultural world in which the 18th-century revolution of the mind took place is vastly deeper and more textured than it was 50 years ago.

And yet this vast industry of research has scarcely registered in the trench warfare over the Enlightenment’s intellectual legacy. For whatever reason, the nuancing, problematising conclusions of historians have failed to break the centuries-old Kantian-Hegelian lines across which philosophers, theorists and journalists trade ideological artillery. Historians are certainly not oblivious to the contemporary relevance of the Enlightenment, and the achievements of scholars over the past half-century, such as Robert Darnton, Daniel Roche and Franco Venturi, have been extraordinary, necessary, and celebrated in the world of academia; but their assertions have largely failed to resonate above the clamorous tussle over modernity.

Perhaps frustrated by the impotence of historians in fighting for liberal causes, in 2001 Jonathan Israel released his inner Sandor Himmelstein and published the first (800-page) instalment of a three-part history of the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Here was a historian with impressive credentials in the study of Spanish imperialism, the origins of capitalism and the emergence of secularism in the 17th-century Dutch Republic—ideally qualified, it seemed, to tie in the contingent origins of the Enlightenment with its complex philosophical and political legacies.

No such luck. Despite the erudition of Israel’s monumental trilogy, he has rightly been criticised for an out-of-control obsession with Spinoza and for his apparent belief that what seem, to modern eyes, like the strongest philosophical arguments of the age (for liberty, democracy, tolerance) were also the most important historically. Many critics took Israel to be projecting a particularly benevolent view of western secular democracy into the distant and fundamentally different past. Once again, the 18th century had been swallowed whole by modernity, its supposed creation.

What is a historian of ideas to do? A pessimist would say she is faced with two options. She could continue to research the Enlightenment on its own terms, and wait for those who fight over its legacy—who are somehow confident in their definitions of what “it” was—to take notice. Or, as Israel has done, she could pick a side, and mobilise an immense archive for the cause of liberal modernity or for the cause of its enemies. In other words, she could join Moses Herzog, with his letters that never get read and his questions that never get answered, or she could join Sandor Himmelstein and the loud, ignorant bastards. Is there any other way?


Hope of redemption comes with the news that Anthony Pagden has written a book called The Enlightenment, And Why It Still Matters (Oxford University Press, £20). Pagden, now at UCLA, has had a globetrotting career of which most academics can only dream. Educated in Chile, London and Oxford, he has held a host of positions in the history, politics and philosophy departments at many of England, Europe and America’s most elite academic institutions. He has written learned studies of western-European imperialisms, migrations and ideologies. His last book was a survey of 2500 years of global conflict between “east” and “west.” He is, without question, a man of the world, and perfectly qualified to give us a global perspective on why the Enlightenment, in all its historical particularity, “still matters.”

Pagden’s story begins with the world that the Enlightenment saw itself as replacing. The great thinkers of the 17th century—Newton, Descartes, Hobbes, and Locke—destroyed the scholasticism of the universities, which held that the human mind is hardwired with innate, God-given ideas, and replaced it with an account of human nature that relied instead on empirical experience and self-interest. The 18th century therefore inherited a worldview with rational man, not God, at its centre. But with Christianity no longer pulling the intellectual strings, what was to stop humanity from lapsing into self-centredness, cruelty and conflict?

The Enlightenment’s great achievement, Pagden argues, was to repair the bonds of mankind. Its distinctive feature was not that it held history, nature, theology and political authority to the scrutiny of reason, as most of its critics and many of its champions claim, but instead that it recognised our common humanity—our ability to place ourselves in another’s situation and, ultimately, to sympathise with them. Adam Smith and David Hume taught us that man is neither a creation of God nor a selfish pursuer of his own interests; at the most fundamental level, man is the friend of man. This, Pagden argues, was the origin of cosmopolitanism: the central Enlightenment belief in a common humanity and an awareness of belonging to some world larger than your own community.

For Pagden, the significance of this turn in human thought cannot be exaggerated. Cosmopolitanism “was, and remains, possibly the only way to persuade human beings to live together in harmony with one another, or, to put it differently, to stop killing each other.” It is inextricably tied to the Enlightenment’s “universalising vision of the human world” that ultimately led to a conception of civilisation in which questions of justice can be applied and upheld at a global level. Pagden admonishes critics of the Enlightenment project such as Gray and Macintyre for reducing it to a movement based on autonomous reason and objective science. Instead, the Enlightenment was about sympathy, the invention of civilisation, and the pursuit of a cosmopolitan world order.

While he is clearly in the Kantian camp in arguing for why the Enlightenment still matters, Pagden wants to make it clear that all participants in the debate have been fighting over the wrong issues. And these issues still matter because the cosmopolitan project is still incomplete. In shifting the focus of the Enlightenment away from science and reason in favour of sympathy and civilisation, Pagden may well have dodged the odd postmodern bullet. But what if his version of the Enlightenment is in fact even more questionable than the traditional “Age of Reason” Enlightenment with which the Hegelians, the postmodernists and the communitarians had such fun?

One major problem is that Pagden’s cosmopolitanism rests on outright hostility to any religion. He believes that as long as any “ethics of belief” still exists, the Enlightenment project will remain incomplete. For the most part, his presentist defence of secular cosmopolitanism is restrained to coy, rhetorical asides about suicide bombers, Pope Benedict XVI and “uneducated believers.” Yet it manifests itself fully in the book’s conclusion: a bizarre counter-history of a Europe in which the Enlightenment never happened—a Europe that had “dropped behind,” before being conquered by its “centuries-old antagonist to the east, the Ottoman Empire.” It is a Europe in which nobody can think for himself, choosing instead to listen to the Prophet and his laws. Europe has become a civilisation which fails to progress, which is no kind of civilisation at all.

This is a peculiar attempt to prove that the Enlightenment is all that stands between the west and Islamist despotism. But it is the natural culmination of a narrative that presents the Enlightenment project as the discovery of some timeless truth that had previously been obscured by religion. This raises a further objection to Pagden’s cosmopolitanism: it unquestioningly endorses the Enlightenment belief that “civilisation” is the inevitable destiny of all human beings and all human societies. The philosophes worked this out in Europe in the 18th century, thinks Pagden, and we in the west are still waiting for the rest of the world to catch up.

But a cosmopolitanism that rests upon ideals that were developed centuries ago in a few corners of Europe is just about the most restrictive, parochial cosmopolitanism imaginable. In its advocacy of a global “civilising process” it is archly imperial, recalling the condescending liberal aspirations that Thomas Macaulay and John Stuart Mill once held for the British Empire’s Indian subjects. And in its comprehensive rejection of religion as having any role to play in human understanding and organisation, it is a hopeless model for modern global governance. No society has ever existed without being accompanied by some form of religion or spirituality; this holds true today, even in the “disenchanted” west. If the dawning of a new cosmopolitan era is waiting on the disappearance of religion from human affairs, it will be waiting a long time.

This point about global governance is key, as Pagden is a keen supporter of supranational institutions such as the UN, tracing their origins back to Kant’s essay Toward a Perpetual Peace (1795). Kant was never quite clear on what this institution would be—a “league of peoples,” “an international state,” a “universal nation of states”—but Pagden emphasises that Kant could imagine a peaceful, global federation of political representatives. The global institutions that we have now, he argues, should be seen as a laudable attempt to make Kant’s imagined federation a reality.

Pagden’s faith in these institutions might strike some as quixotic, as the European Union struggles to find an effective democratic solution to its financial troubles, as UN sanctions struggle to deter bellicose nuclear powers, and as the US continues to see itself as exempt from the International Criminal Court. As Mark Mazower’s recent book persuasively argued, one of the principal lessons of the 20th century is that the claims of cosmopolitan ideals and institutions to trump the sanctity of borders “may turn out to produce more wars, more massacres and more instability.” And even if some form of cosmopolitanism or global legalism is needed to solve the problems of the 21st century, why should the answers lie exclusively with the cosmopolitanism of 18th century Europe? Arguing from the authority of the philosophes is unlikely to convince those non-European cultures which have their own heritage of cosmopolitan thought, nor those where the legacy of European imperialism is still a political factor.

Voltaire implored his contemporaries to eschew their deference to the past; perhaps it is time historians and theorists of the Enlightenment do the same. Pagden thinks the cosmopolitan Enlightenment that he has identified is so important that he has unquestioningly adopted its secular worldview, which sees global history marching in one direction, towards a future that was imagined in Europe over 200 years ago. In making his Enlightenment about sympathetic cosmopolitanism, he believes he has successfully broken free from the interminable debate about the legacy of the Age of Reason, in which the charges laid against the philosophes include technocratic scientism and the atomisation of society. But one doesn’t have to be a postmodernist, nor a postcolonial activist, to take exception to Pagden’s European triumphalism.


But all is not lost. Pagden makes no secret of writing his history of the Enlightenment with current debates in mind. Such presentism can skew our view of the past, and make us read into it the stories we want to tell ourselves. But it can also encourage us to discover aspects of the past that have previously been overlooked. And if Pagden’s account of enlightened cosmopolitanism is a surprisingly conventional narrative prompted by current controversies of “globalisation,” then there are promising signs that more original attempts will follow.

David Armitage, the Harvard historian, has recently argued that a renaissance in the history of international thought is underway. Intellectual historians are studying the movement, connections and interactions of ideas, how they travel and how they are communicated. Historians of the Enlightenment, for example, have begun to pay attention to Adam Smith’s claim that the two most important events in the history of mankind were the discovery of America and that of the passage to the East Indies around the Cape of Good Hope. The philosophes lived in a world connected across oceans by networks of navigation, commerce and correspondence, providing a contingent basis for their universal conceptions of cosmopolitanism and cultural progress. Humanity was drawn closer together in the 18th century not only in the minds of a few great thinkers but in a fundamentally material way as well.

While globalisation has encouraged historians to explore the spatial scope of Enlightenment ideas, another 21st century concern of planetary significance—the threat of climate change and global warming—has sent scholars in another fruitful direction. As the historian Dipesh Chakrabarty has noted, the Enlightenment coincided with the period in which human beings switched from wood and other renewable fuels to the large-scale use of fossil fuels; the origins of ideological and material modernity, in other words, coincided with humankind becoming capable of causing lasting change to the planet. As Chakrabarty puts it, “the mansion of modern freedom stands on an ever-expanding base of fossil-fuel use.” The not entirely unrealistic possibility that mankind might not in the future exist on this planet, that there might be a world without us, therefore calls into question the notions of freedom and of civilisation progressing endlessly into the future which began in the 18th century, along with mankind’s first significant intervention into its planetary environment.

These are grand historical projects, reflecting the scale of the contemporary concerns out of which they have emerged. It is unclear how the Enlightenment will look against the backdrop of primitive globalisation, or the planet’s transition to the anthropocene, but chances are that perspectives of such magnitude might shake the convictions of Kantians and Hegelians alike. These approaches will not be able to provide us with an Enlightenment that “still matters” in the sense that it has all of the answers to our political and philosophical anxieties. But unlike in Herzog, a question that goes unanswered is not always the sign of a nervous breakdown or of ideological impotence. A healthy society needs intellectuals to ask uncomfortable questions. After all, one of the many reasons the Enlightenment still matters is that it taught us to question how we got here, and what that might mean for where we’re going. And with questions like that, who can hope for easy answers?

Feb 14, 2018

A Critical Conspiracy Called Post-Colonialism

Makarand R Paranjape

TODAY, MOST OBSERVERS would say that post-colonialism is more dead than alive. Yet, by the very logic of academic canonisation and continuity, it continues to be ‘Wanted’. It enjoyed its heyday for over two decades after the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), facilitating many an academic career in the Western academy. But after 9/11, it suffered a gradual decline. One reason is that it failed to call out Islamist terror, violence, and intolerance, even as it continued to question and criticise Western power and hegemony. In the backwaters of empire, we suffered its rise and fall with relatively passive if dutiful glee, neither enjoying its spoils nor suffering from its withdrawal symptoms.

But what is post-colonialism? This is subject of much debate, even occasioning a few famous essays with titles echoing this very question. Let us try a different approach. Let us take a metaphor out of the world of criminal investigation to find out. Let us sketch a sort of composite portrait of post-colonialism. That the portrait has necessarily to be composite is because few people seem to have seen the subject so clearly as to be able to identify it accurately or reliably. To begin tracing our portrait, we need to notice the following features.

1. First of all, the inherent contradiction between the idea of post-colonialism and its practice. In other words, post-colonial studies become academically viable only through a series of exclusions that belie its professed inclusiveness.

2. Remember that post-colonialism has a somewhat tainted genealogy, implicated as it is in the whole project of colonialism. Thus, the ‘post’ may actually be a euphemism for ‘neo’, the attempt, first by the UK and then by the US, to extend at least their language if not territorial imperialism. But imperialisms are economic, cultural and hegemonic, whether territorial, economic, or ‘merely’ linguistic and cultural.

3. Because English Studies programmes all over the world have an almost proprietary interest in post-colonial studies, the latter can never free themselves from the stranglehold of the imperial ‘world language’.

4. This exposes yet another contradiction in the attempt of monolingual, largely monocultural disciplines, trying to deal with multilingual and multicultural cultures and societies.

5. Post-colonialism as a concept is mostly incapable of dealing with the totality of the Indian civilisational experience. Indian literature alone, if taken in its entirety, would overrun and overwhelm the limited spaces that post- colonialism offers to it. What, then, to speak of the full range of Indian history, society, and culture, which would be impossible to accommodate, considering how even the past 200 years show a significant colonial influence already too vast to be mapped adequately?

Post-colonialism, when it actually comes to who gets a seat on the wagon, seems to refer to a much smaller group of literary passengers

6. A new way of theorising post-colonial difference might be civilisational, more enduring than racial, ethnic, gender or class divisions. Post-colonial alterities, therefore, need to take these into account.

7. Post-colonialism is, somehow, trapped in modernity; it has no way of dealing with pre-modern, such as Islamic, forms of imperialism, aggression, and colonialism. No post-colonialist of note has even discussed the Ottoman colonisation of Egypt, though it happened after the Napoleonic invasion. Said himself has been silent on this, though he was born in Cairo.

8. Much of what passes for academics in the Third World is at odds or disjointed from the larger social, cultural or economic enterprise of these societies. This is one reason for the persistence of counter-systemic violence or dissent in various parts of the world. Large populations in our world find themselves disconnected and discontented, even if they are not starving or oppressed. That is why, in countries like India, people’s culture, whether folk or popular, is quite at variance from academic culture. If post- colonial studies hold any meaning or relevance in societies such as ours, then they will have to orient themselves much more sincerely and programmatically to the ongoing project of decolonisation. This, or rather swaraj, more than post-colonialism is what we require.

BEFORE WE CONSIDER how post-colonial difference is theorised, it would be desirable to examine how post-colonial similarity is posited. Ostensibly, this similarity is predicated upon the common experience of colonialism which vast sections of the world share. As Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffith and Helen Tiffin declare in the very first sentence of their admirable 1989 book, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literature: ‘More than three-quarters of the people living in the world today have had their lives shaped by the experience of colonialism.’

Notwithstanding such exclusions and inclusions, the bandwagon of post-colonialism is still rather overloaded and unwieldy, badly in need of jettisoning unwanted cargo. Despite the bold claim of carrying three-quarters of the globe on its back, which arguably is still a trifle modest and self-limiting, post-colonialism, when it actually comes to who gets a seat on the wagon, seems to refer to a much smaller group of literary passengers. Because its lingua franca is English, countries colonised by other imperial powers such as France, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy and Belgium, are mostly on the periphery. Also marginal, for even more flimsy reasons, are Black, Chicano, Native American and other small literatures. The bulk of what we are left with are ‘the literatures of African countries, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Caribbean countries, India, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, South Pacific Island countries, and Sri Lanka’ (Ashcroft et al). This mixed roll-call of continents, regions and nations suggests the motley and uncommon lot we post-colonials share. But when it comes to making sense of this vast and diverse area, English once again comes to our rescue. With its aid, we can banish all literatures which are not available originally in English or in English translation. The rather limited and truncated idea of post-colonialism is what remains, nothing as inclusive as the first grand gesture with which The Empire Writes Back opened.

The Commonwealth was a distinctly British invention. Its purpose was to retain a scaled down hegemony over its former colonies and possessions

The term itself is like a bespoke portmanteau made to order for the Western academy. It caters to the West’s need to study its Others, to accommodate them in some academic framework or the other, so that they are accessible without making too many demands on the West’s time and attention. As such, it is an academic suitcase (recalling a similar metaphor used by Stephen Slemon, who in Ariel 26.1 likens post-colonialism to a ‘suitcase blown open on the baggage belt’), which when opened splits into two neat compartments, one occupied by settler colonies, the other by invaded colonies. Stuffed in between, hybridised creole cultures, such as the Caribbean, half spill out at the ill-fitting joint. The metropolitan mind, with its manic urge to encapsulate, condense and contain other cultures has the satisfaction of believing that it carries ‘three-quarters’ of the world in such a portable holdall.

POST-COLONIALISM, WAS not our creation; though we pretend to interrogate it, there was never really a possibility of rejecting it. Our interrogation, as I have already suggested, was a camouflage for our subordination. If we seek better terms of exchange it is only to improve our share of the spoils of this discursive field. This largely sums up the whole agenda of our academics, a token protest to the metropolitan academy to take us into account rather than ignoring us completely. ‘Listen to us, recognise us, don’t take us for granted, don’t speak on our behalf,’ is all we seem to be saying to them. What this really translates into is a plea to be taken in, or, if that is not possible, a demand not to be ignored. Some will succeed in better positioning themselves in the international academic marketplace of jobs, publishing opportunities, invitations to seminars and conferences; the rest must content themselves with permission to dwell in the suburbs of their pleasure as occasional citations in footnotes or references.

For us, subservience and subjection are underwritten into the very discourse of post-colonialism like genetic codes transmitted through the DNA to each cell; the academic world system, of which post- colonialism is a product, is designed to reproduce inequality even as it proclaims equality as its goal. From such a perspective, the change from Commonwealth to post-colonial does not signify a fundamental difference in power relations between us and them, so much as a shift in power relations within the dominant metropolitan structures. The Commonwealth was a distinctly British invention. Its purpose was to retain a scaled- down hegemony over its former colonies and possessions. Commonwealth literature was only a by-product of such an operation. But when this by-product became lucrative, began to have a worldwide market, there was a further tussle over its control. In this tussle, post-colonial was introduced as the superseding enterprise, like a new multinational corporation taking over an old company.

Post-colonial studies is about who takes control not so much of the English empire as of the empire of the English language

That this is spectre cannot easily be exorcised is amply clear in the very title of The Empire Writes Back, a phrase out of Salman Rushdie. The empire, we had presumed, no longer existed; how and why should it write back? Can, should, it not write for itself if it is truly ‘post’-colonial? The decentring that the discourse of post-colonialism implies is thus belied by the title of its most eloquent exposition. Post-colonialism is, after all, not as anti-colonial as it is appears at first.

Across continents, post-colonialism is the site on which is waged the battle of and for english(es). Post-colonial studies, then, is about who takes control not so much of the English empire as of the empire of the English language. Clearly, this is a very high stakes game; language imperialism is very much a part of the global system of imperialism itself. The Empire Writes Back does not disallow the possibility of non-English literatures entering the discursive terrain of post-coloniality; to openly advocate such exclusion would be politically incorrect: ‘Although [post-colonialism] does not specify that the discourse is to be limited to works in english, it does indicate the rationale of the grouping in a common past and hints at the vision of a more liberated and positive future.’

Yet, there is a peculiar opacity in this sentence. The opening conjunction, ‘although’, suggests that the second part of the sentence will give reasons why, as a matter of practice even if not in theory, only works in English get included in the rubric ‘post-colonial’. However, no such reasons are forthcoming. Instead the second half of the sentence begins with a questionable assumption of ‘a common past’ and slides off into a vague postponement or promise of future redemption. The implication is, not now but some day, non-English literatures will be a part of post-colonial studies. Surely, English, spelt deliberately by the authors in lower case, not to speak of the vastly varied cultural constituents of empire, is an area of difference, not of identity as far as the enterprise of post-colonialism is concerned.

This promise, however, is not likely to be honoured—in a sense, it is impossible to honour. The very logic of international English studies makes it insupportable for works in other languages to be included, except in English translation. There is thus a mismatch between the culture studied and the medium of instruction. It is precisely this clash which renders Indian English literature vulnerable to the charge of inadequacy and partiality on the one hand and makes it imperative to suggest alternate models of bilingual creativity to account for its special features on the other. This is also the reason why Indian English literature ends up occupying most of the space given to Indian literature: in effect, because English is a dominant language, whether the original works are in English or not matters little.

Resistance to oppressive structures of power is required if India is to survive as a civilisation. Post-colonialism often blunts the edge of our urgency

In a later section which specifically examines select Indian theories, the authors of The Empire Writes Back address this issue directly: ‘It is frequently asserted that the work produced by contemporary writers in languages as diverse as Marath[i], Bengali, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, etc., far outweighs in quantity and quality the work produced in english. This may well be the case, though until much more extensive translations into english from these languages have been produced it is difficult for non-speakers of these languages to judge.’

But isn’t that precisely the point: if such a claim will be considered ‘true’ only when English critics ‘judge’ its validity, then the plurality and richness of Indian literatures will continue to be reduced to Indian English literature and Indian literature in English translation. Such a reduction is unacceptable not only to those who do not write in English but also to some of Indians who do. However unintended, such stray remarks signal the continuing cultural neo-imperialism of the English language. Wouldn’t it have much more accurate for the authors to admit that post-colonialism as they had defined it cannot adequately address the reality of India’s multilingual creativity? Why are such admissions of inadequacy rarely to be found in texts emerging from metropolitan or semi- metropolitan centres?

The incompatibility between monolingual, metropolitan theories and their multilingual post-colonial contexts is just the tip of the iceberg. To try to contain all of Indian culture in the discourse of post-colonialism would be not only to ignore the proverbial elephant in the room, but to take one’s denial to the point of trying to stuff it into a burlap bag. Even if the elephant were to fit in—and that would only happen if it were a very small elephant and a very large bag—it might suffocate to death. Much more likely, the elephant would burst through the bag.

The cultural richness and variety of India, not to speak of its population and size, are so vast that any notion of post-colonialism is insufficient to come to terms with them. India’s population alone would easily exceed that of the rest of post-colonial world put together. If all the literary production in India’s various recognised, not to mention unrecognised, languages were to be allowed entry into post-colonial discourse, it would resemble an overcrowded barracoon, quite unable to support so many residents. Indian literatures would invade, overrun and overwhelm the rest of post- colonial writing. Prominent post-colonial players like Canada or Australia might be dwarfed by the literature of just one Indian language. If, moreover, we were to take into account the historical depth and continuity of these literatures, it would be obvious that India is probably the richest national-cultural territory in the world, comparable to the entire continent of Europe. Can such a vastly rich and diverse cultural area be tagged on or fitted into some all-purpose carry bag? Without quite sounding the call to Indian exceptionalism, I only wish to underscore our need for independent and in-depth study of our culture and civilisation. Post-colonialism does not offer that to us. Instead, it turns a cultural majority into a minority. Some of us may revel in this diminution, but I hope the majority, if they have really come of age, will object to, and reject, it. Fair enough: but isn’t it time to break free now?

I have argued that post-colonialism as a problematic poses an invitation, if not challenge, to the thoroughly colonised intellectual class which directs India’s academic enterprises. Will this class buy into post-colonialism or opt for swaraj? This class, I am afraid, is almost congenitally incapable of questioning the fundamental rubric of post-colonialism as a received category. Like all elites, this class will, we must assume, continue to supplicate for better terms of exchange, contenting itself with various spaces of subservience and subordination in the world system of ideas. In the meanwhile, India’s civilisational enterprise will chug along, diffusing the brunt of neo-colonialism through apparent capitulation, while asserting its independence and resilience through its select mouthpieces. That these chosen spokespersons will be few is obvious; that they will not be negligible or insignificant is not so clear. Because when push comes to shove, India will line up behind them, magnanimously forgiving the not so petty or pretty betrayals of professional intellectuals as contingent and inconsequential in the long run, however powerful and alarming they might seem momentarily.

The more effective way of dealing with the contemporary cultural world system is not through the idea of post- colonialism, but through swaraj. The process of decolonisation, which did reach a certain peak during India’s struggle for freedom, needs to be renewed and redeployed. Resistance to oppressive structures of power is still required if India is to survive as a civilisation. Post-colonialism, I am afraid, often blunts the edge of our urgency. It drags us back into a discursive field in which we will remain secondary players. We may attempt to redefine, modify, expand or adapt its Orientalist designs, but we will not be free until we demonstrate the capacity of thinking of and for ourselves without recourse to the dominant epistemes of metropolitan academics.

But swaraj, as should be clear by now, is not only academic, but material and spiritual. It is not merely technological and economic, but is also cultural and ideological. On the first two fronts, perhaps we have fared better than on the latter two. The Indian economy has grown at least 5 per cent annually for 25 years. The success of Indian techies, not only overseas, but in India too has also changed our way of thinking irrevocably. This is real decolonisation, not just sloganeering.

(This is an edited version of the chapter ‘Alterities’ in Makarand R Paranjape's book Debating the ‘Post’ Condition in India: Critical Vernaculars, Unauthorised Modernities, Post-colonial Contentions | Routledge, 2018)
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